Report (3rd Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Debate on Amendment 74 resumed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, for this amendment, which is a means to embed the needs and welfare of animals in agricultural policy and to partly fill the vacuum of this Government not transposing across EU animal sentience legislation or introducing their own legislation, which they had promised to do in their manifesto. The Liberal Democrats accept that animals are sentient beings with intrinsic worth. We have consistently argued this throughout the stages of this Bill, in my remarks at Second Reading when welcoming the fact that Clause 1 allows payments to be made for animal welfare, and in opposition to easing the regulatory framework on gene editing.
Animal sentience is the only issue not being brought across when we leave the EU at the end of the year. It marks the end of a proud era when the UK led the rest of Europe to better animal welfare standards. Indeed, it was the UK Government who first suggested and then got animal sentience accepted into the treaty article in 1997.
We support the intention of this amendment. If the Minister is not intending to accept it, can I press her to say when legislation on animal sentience will be delivered, and whether she guarantees that it will have comparable or stronger powers than the existing EU legislation? I ask her to be very clear on the latter point, as there are rumblings of a pushback in the Government on the way that Ministers report how they take into account sentience when making decisions. Only an open and transparent process will give people confidence about how the needs of animals are considered in policy decisions. Without a guarantee to at least match the existing powers, the sad reality is that our animals will have less protection than has been the case as members of the EU.
My Lords, during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill in 2017, there were several amendments in the Commons on animal sentience. There were also debates on the issue when the Bill was in the Lords and attempts to table similar amendments to other pieces of legislation. Theresa May’s Government committed to clarifying the legal position on animal sentience as part of their Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. This Government reintroduced the Bill in 2019, but it fell when Parliament was dissolved for the general election. A commitment to strengthen animal welfare rules was included in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, and, as I understand it, there is a Private Members Bill which will have its Second Reading in the Commons in October. We hope that it will be similar to the previous Government’s legislation and that if this is a substitute for a government Bill, Ministers and Whips will give it the time it needs to reach us in the Lords.
In the meantime, I express regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, felt that she needed to table the amendment in the first place, given that Her Majesty’s Government have not managed to deliver a Bill in three years on this important issue. We agree that there should be a strong protection for animals and a recognition of their ability to experience feelings and pain, with all the implications that has for our treatment of them. However, we are not convinced that this is the appropriate vehicle for it. As such, I hope that the Minister can clarify the point about the Commons Private Member’s Bill and, if that response is satisfactory, the amendment will not be pushed to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, we can be rightly proud that the UK already has world-class animal welfare standards, but this Government are committed to strengthening these further.
We have introduced a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens, known as Lucy’s Law, to clamp down on puppy farming. Through the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019, we have legislated to ensure that wild animals can no longer perform in travelling circuses. We supported the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, commonly known as Finn’s Law, to increase protections for police animals, and CCTV is now mandatory in all slaughterhouses in England; this will help maintain and improve welfare standards. We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets. We published a call for evidence in October 2019 that ended in January this year. This exercise has informed proposals on which we will shortly be consulting. On Thursday, we reiterated our manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that legal obligations towards animals should be enforced. That is why the Government are also supporting the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which will increase the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty offences from six months’ imprisonment to five years. The new maximum sentence will send a clear signal to any potential offenders that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in this country and provide one of the toughest sanctions in Europe.
I place it on record that it has never been in dispute that animals are sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain or suffering, and this fact is central to our commitment to strengthening animal welfare standards. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, should know, this Government have a manifesto commitment to introduce new laws on animal sentience, which we will do as soon as parliamentary time allows. However, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to legislate for animal sentience. As the noble Baroness recognises, the Agriculture Bill limits the scope of this amendment to agricultural, horticultural and forestry policy.
The noble Baroness’s amendment also extends the definition of “animal” to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs, alongside non-human vertebrates. This is an important step that we should not take lightly. The current science is clear that vertebrate animals can experience pain and suffering. It is on that basis that the definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is limited only to vertebrate animals. However, this Act also contains an important power to extend the definition to cover invertebrates where we are satisfied on the basis of scientific evidence that these too are capable of experiencing pain or suffering. Defra recently commissioned an independent external review of the available scientific evidence on sentience in decapods and cephalopods. The outcome of this review will be vital in determining whether our new sentience provisions and other laws should be extended to decapods and cephalopods. This review is expected to report early next year.
In line with our manifesto commitment, this Government will introduce effective, credible and proportionate proposals in due course. I recognise the strength of feeling across the House on this issue, and say to my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson, and to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is imperative that we allow appropriate time for debate to ensure that we get these important measures right. That is why I cannot accept this amendment as an interim solution, as was suggested in last Thursday’s debate.
As noble Lords will all be aware, parliamentary time has been at a premium in recent sessions, and I am afraid that, with other pressures, it has not yet been possible to find appropriate time to introduce these measures. However, I reassure your Lordships that this issue is a priority for this Government, and I hope that that gives the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, some comfort. When our measures are introduced, I very much look forward to discussing these issues in detail again.
I hope that I have given enough reassurance and that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have supported the amendment and spoken in its favour, and I thank the Minister for her considered reply.
Sentience is particularly important in the context of farm animals because of the trade in farm animals. They need to be seen as living, sentient beings, not as inanimate goods in the context of being traded. I agree that a limitation of the amendment is that sentience covers only farm animals, and clearly we want to see sentience brought in as a consideration for all animals.
I am concerned by the Minister’s statement that there will be new laws on animal sentience when there is time, as I feel that this is somewhat kicking it into the long grass, but I am glad to hear that priority will be given. At some point I would like to hear further when this will be, because it is so important that all animals, and farm animals in particular, are considered as sentient beings that feel pain and suffering.
For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I would like to hear more from my noble friend and may consider bringing it back at the final stage.
Amendment 74 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 75. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
75: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of pesticides: limitations on use in certain wind conditions
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purposes of agriculture at high wind speeds.(2) In particular, the regulations must make provision prohibiting the use of pesticides when wind speeds are high, near—(a) any dwelling;(b) any water source;(c) any public or private building or space where members of the public may be present.(3) Regulations under this section must specify a minimum distance between any of the locations listed under subsection (2)(a) to (c).”
My Lords, in leading this group, I make it clear that the wording of my amendments is inferior to that of Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will not waste time on mine discussing wind speeds and contamination, et cetera, because I hope that he will move his amendment and that it will be supported across the House in a Division. If not, I will call a Division on his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for arranging a most informative meeting with officials. They confirmed that, although some parts of EU regulations will be carried over into our legislation after next January, the unused powers on which nothing has yet been done will lapse.
There are three main pieces of relevant EU legislation. Regulation 1107/2009 permits individual pesticides and Regulation 396/2005 sets maximum residue levels for pesticides in food. But Directive 2009/128/EC, which sets a framework for action to ensure that pesticides are used responsibly and that alternatives are developed, is the most important here. It contains a mixture of things that member states “must” do and “may” do. The “musts” have been implemented in Great Britain through the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. However, at the end of the transition period the powers in this directive that allow, but do not require, particular actions can no longer be used, because the European Communities Act 1972 will no longer be in force. So we will have a lacuna, unless the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is accepted.
Over the years, Defra has been aware of the problems. In 2017, Defra’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, published a paper in the journal Science entitled Toward Pesticidovigilance. This paper is a damning assessment of the regulatory approach worldwide to pesticides sprayed on crops, including that the impacts of “dosing whole landscapes” have been ignored, and that the assumption by regulators that it is “safe” to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes “is false” and must change.
Many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors. Some of them mimic oestrogens, and it has been suggested that this could account for decreased sperm motility and sperm counts and male infertility, as well as for breast, bladder, thyroid and other hormone-dependent cancers, childhood cancers and even brain malignancies.
The other effect of many pesticides is to disrupt mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are like the engine in every cell in the body. Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to disability and chronic illness, and it interferes with the body’s efforts to heal. Recent studies show that chemical mixtures appear to have a cumulative deleterious effect, even when no single chemical in the mix is at levels defined as toxic, meaning that the “no observed adverse effect” level and the “lowest observed adverse effect” level need to be revisited. Worse still, pesticides are handed on to the next generation in the womb. Studies of umbilical cord blood have repeatedly shown hundreds of different chemical pollutants.
Monsanto, the producer of glyphosate and now owned by Bayer, admitted carcinogenic effects for large numbers, with out-of-court settlements for malignancies, including lymphoma. It has been suggested that such settlements avoid having to disclose secret internal documents in court, which of course is what happened to the tobacco industry. To quote a former civil servant in an email on this amendment:
“I only wish now … that I had been at the time braver and more able to speak out against the mulishly aggressive intellectual dishonesty and subservience to the pesticide companies that was behind so much of what I was asked to do.”
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will speak to his amendment and I urge all to support it at the vote. It will plug a gap after next January. Without it, the UK will be left with a hole in its legislative framework which will be extensively exploited by the pesticide industry, to the detriment of human health and the long-term improvement of a biodiverse ecology, which is what the Bill aims to achieve. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 78 and I need to make it absolutely clear that I intend to seek the opinion of the House on it when we reach it. I am very much indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her support and her indication that she will back my amendment. She has made a significant part of my case by identifying the medical impact of exposure to pesticides and the doubts about the authorisation process.
I also thank my co-signatories, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall—demonstrating the cross-party support for this vital but very simple and specific amendment.
I should also thank the Minister for the meeting to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred. It was useful but we did not agree. As the noble Baroness said, it appears that the department’s line is that there is no need for the amendment because, under EU law now transposed and retained in UK law, the Government already have the discretion to come forward with such regulations. Leaving aside the fact that they have not done so over the 11 years since that law was put in place, on closer examination that assertion appears to be only partly true, and from January, as the noble Baroness, explained, it will not be true at all. We therefore need to put such a provision in this legislation.
In this amendment we are addressing the effect of pesticides on human beings—on those who are exposed to doses of chemicals not designed for humans and in many cases, particularly among residents, on those subject to multiple exposures to multiple chemicals. We want to see a regulatory framework imposing minimum distances between the buildings in which people live and which the public frequent, and the spraying operations of pesticides.
Regrettably, we are not talking about unusual events. Most of the harm comes from everyday tractor-based pesticide spraying at certain times of the year. Local residents, schoolchildren, members of the public visiting public buildings, medical facilities and educational buildings, and other bystanders are all vulnerable.
We have rightly spent some time on this Bill talking about protecting wildlife, biodiversity, farm animals, watercourses and soil from harmful effects of agricultural practice. This amendment is a vital but limited step in the right direction to protect human beings—primarily, residents in rural areas—by requiring spraying to be well away from homes, public buildings and places where the public are congregated. In particular, it moves towards protecting those who live, full-time, adjacent to crops that are subject to blanket applications and those who attend public spaces adjacent to such fields. As I have said, this is a very simple amendment. It requires Ministers to come forward with regulations establishing a minimum distance between such applications and the buildings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has spelled out the terrible damage that can be done to humans by ingesting chemical pesticides directly into the lungs and bloodstream. Regrettably, pesticides—including some still used on UK farms and elsewhere—on their own or in combination, can cause the breakdown of the immune system and can poison the nervous system, and can cause cancer, mutations and birth defects. The noble Baroness has convincingly spelled that out.
Noble Lords will have received materials from campaigners on this issue, including from the redoubtable Georgina Downs, who has dossiers on rural families who have suffered. In Committee, I cited just a couple of those testimonies; I will now share a couple more. Chris from Sawtry said:
“We have farmers spraying near our home and school. The fumes cause headaches, dizziness and burn the throat.”
Victoria from Curry Rivel said:
“I have witnessed crops being sprayed just metres from my Daughter’s rural school and have had signs of chemical scorching on our fruit trees in our garden … Just meters from my Daughter’s sand pit!”
As I said in Committee, manufacturers rightly and responsibly label their pesticides, insecticides and herbicides with warnings, such as “Very toxic by inhalation”, “Do not breathe spray” and “Risk of serious damage to the eyes”. Farmers and farmworkers are advised under health and safety laws, and by manufacturers, to wear protective clothing, and most do so—but residents are not so protected. Guidance to users that they should inform residents, and that the chemical used should be clearly identified, is very frequently ignored and pretty well never enforced. Ministers and others have lauded the UK pesticides regime as one of the best in the world, but it is wrong to say that it, or the EU system, is safe. In particular, they are not protecting those who live close by.
This amendment would have the effect of protecting members of the public from hazardous health impacts near buildings. It is a simple, straightforward amendment requiring the Government to come up with minimum distances from the application of such pesticides. It is best to leave the precise distance for consultation and scientific measurement, but let us today establish the principle. My amendment is a very small but vital part of the journey to protect our rural populations.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I support these amendments wholeheartedly. I would like to speak at length about them, but I will keep my remarks quite short so that we have plenty of time for a vote.
It seems strange that in America, Monsanto—or rather the new company, Bayer—is paying out $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims that Roundup causes cancer, yet it still claims that this a perfectly healthy product, does not put warning labels on the product and says that it is safe. It strikes me as very strange that anybody could deny that this amendment is necessary.
The amendment does not do what I would like it to do—that is, ban all pesticides from 9 am this morning—but it protects the more vulnerable people in our country. In particular, it protects children in schools, childcare settings and nurseries, people in hospitals, and people in any building used for human habitation. It seems such a sensible amendment—I do not know why the Government do not see that it is necessary.
I urge all noble Lords to please vote for this and make sure that the Government get the message very clearly.
My Lords, I was pleased to be able to put my name to Amendment 78 from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and it is a pleasure to follow him. It is of course always a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Finlay.
There is no need for me to repeat the arguments that have been so ably put, except to say this. As Members who have been following our deliberations will know, I have been speaking about the importance of preserving our wildlife and biodiversity. One of the seminal works that I remember reading when I was very young was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in which she highlighted the devastating impacts of DDT on wildlife. However, this is much more fundamental: this is about protecting human life. If we have not yet learned that people sometimes assure us that everything is all right when it patently is not, we need think only of the tobacco industry—as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said—and of asbestos. We would be failing ourselves, the public and our fellow human beings if we did not recognise the harmful nature of pesticides.
I am not an expert to know whether they should be banned entirely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has suggested. I am sure that there are many in the agricultural sector who say that they are incredibly important. However, one thing we can do is to get this amendment into the Bill, because it would protect so many people. It is not just about protecting those in rural communities, because the fumes can waft over other areas. I have not heard so far—although I am willing to hear it—the reasoning of my noble friend on the Front Bench, but from what I have heard so far, I am happy to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
My Lords, I alert the House that we have been having some technical difficulties with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, but I hope that he is now on the line.
My Lords, I support these amendments on controlling the application of pesticides. The amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others helpfully consider the consequences of different wind conditions, calling for the analysis and monitoring of effects, as well as for immediate limitations on pesticides use in wind conditions that threaten dwellings, water sources and members of the public. Her Amendment 76 usefully urges that when pesticides are already labelled as harmful, it should then become an offence to fail to inform residents living within a certain radius of the pesticide application that such an application is to occur. I am also in favour of Amendment 78, from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, which seeks to ban pesticide applications near buildings where people live and work.
I come now to my own Amendment 80, which addresses two aspects: first, the need to develop targets for the adoption of integrated pest management associated with agroecological farming practices, including organic farming; and, secondly, and connected to these targets, to develop a system of analysis. This would monitor the reduction of harm to people and animals and the reduction of pesticide residues in food.
In Committee, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield gave a number of reassurances. These covered government backing for research into alternatives to pesticides and other chemicals. She pointed out that the transforming food programme, which includes methods such as robotics and vertical farming, might well cause pesticide use to diminish. As a result, does my noble friend agree that there is already consistency between what the Government confirm and what Amendment 80 seeks? Does she also consider that there is no divergence between confirmed government plans and the amendments in this grouping from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty? These latter amendments simply advocate safeguards and the expedience of good practice until alternatives to pesticides are successfully found.
My Lords, I too wish to speak in support of these amendments. I am pleased to learn that the Government say that they will carry on research into reducing the use of pesticides. There are perhaps somewhat controversial methods of reducing the use of pesticides, and one I will refer to is known as gene editing. This is a very significant variation on genetic modification, which was understandably opposed by many. Gene editing gives us an opportunity to do what plant breeders have done over the years and make plants less dependent on pesticides and more able to fight diseases. I would welcome a response from the Minister on the Government’s attitude towards gene editing as a contribution to the reduction in the use of pesticides.
My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as in the register. I wish to speak to Amendment 80 in this group, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. It seems to me that any government policy that reduces the use pesticides in British agriculture is, unarguably, desirable. Farmers, however, will be damaged economically if they are not able to use certain pesticides. Damage to the sugar beet crop in France, as reported recently in the Financial Times, is an example of this. If public money is to be used for public goods, reduced use of pesticides should be compensated by public money. The amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is a step in the right direction and I do hope the Government will accept it. Encouraging conversion to organic farming will, among other things, reduce pesticide use. But I completely take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in last week’s debate, that certified organic farming is not the only nature-friendly system of farming.
I really hope that the Government will give the opportunity for farmers from 2021—not 2024—to earn extra payments for nature-friendly farming practices, including by reducing the use of pesticides. Developing targets for integrated pest management and monitoring the effects of pesticide use, and reducing pesticide residues in food, are aspirations that I expect should be embraced by a Government committed to improving the environment, as this Government are.
My Lords, I spoke on similar amendments to these in Committee. I am happy to add my support to Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. My mind goes back to the days when the Countess of Mar was fighting a lonely battle against MAFF on sheep dips and the problems they caused. I am just concerned that the Government are perhaps not taking this issue as seriously as I would like them to.
I am attracted to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, because it gives the Government flexibility. As I said in Committee, there is a difference between the effects of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, depending on what you are spraying. Weather conditions make a difference, too. So further research is needed, but the principle of what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is trying to achieve is absolutely correct. There have been too many instances when the public have complained, particularly about nasty chemicals that have been sprayed, and some farmers do not take this issue as seriously as we would like.
I support my noble friend Lord Randall on the necessity of supporting biodiversity and wildlife. A lot of bees, birds and animals get caught up in spraying when they are nesting in hedgerows and the spray application is made in a bad way. So I give my support to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gardiner will be able to convince him that the amendment should not be pushed to Division, but I do approve of the principle of it.
My Lords, I am happy to participate in this debate and would like to lend my support to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
There has been a lot of discussion over the last 40 years about the impact of pesticides on the human health of rural residents and on biodiversity, flora, fauna, insects and animals. Therefore, I am very much drawn to Amendment 78, which I believe is a crucial amendment, trying to protect human health from agricultural pesticides. Rural residents and communities across the UK continue to be adversely impacted by the cocktail of pesticides sprayed on crops in our localities, reporting various acute and chronic effects on health.
I am a rural dweller. I did not grow up on a farm but I am very conscious of the impact of those pesticides because I am an asthmatic. I have talked to many people whose health has been impacted by sheep dip, by Roundup and by the emergence of diseases that hitherto there was no family history of, and that they had not suffered from before. Exposure and risk for rural committees and residents are from the release of those cocktails of harmful agricultural pesticides into the air where people live and breathe because, once pesticides have been dispersed, their airborne droplets, particles and vapours are in the air irrespective of whether or not there is wind.
In that regard, I take note of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Vapour lift-off can occur days, weeks or months after any application, further exposing those living in the locality, and it has nothing to do with the wind. The Government’s stated position that pesticides are strictly regulated and that scientific assessment shows there are no risks to people and the environment, is simply not correct. Since 2009, EU and UK equivalent laws legally define rural residents living in a locality of pesticide-sprayed crops as a vulnerable group, recognised as having high pesticide exposure over the long term. Further, the risks of both acute and chronic effects of such exposure are again recognised in article 7 of the EU sustainable use directive. I hope that the Minister will see fit to accept this amendment. If not, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will press it to Division. It should be given statutory effect because rural populations are looking for this direction and this protection.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
I congratulate the authors of this interesting group of amendments on the thought and effort that they have put into them. As I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, will realise, I have some concerns about her amendments, particularly regarding the drafting and how they might be interpreted; for example, the word “drifting” is open to interpretation. The noble Baroness herself highlighted some of the difficulties this group would have. It would be enormously helpful if the Minister could explain the current regulations when summing up. I am not totally familiar with this area but I understand that it is heavily regulated and that there is quite stringent provision in the current code of practice, which is operated by the Health and Safety Executive and was itself updated quite recently, I think in 2005.
I am also concerned about Amendment 78, which is loosely drafted. Subsection (1) includes the phrase,
“prohibiting the application of any pesticide … near”.
That seems very loosely drafted, so I would be interested to hear how the Minister thinks the provision could be implemented, were it to be passed today.
This is a good opportunity for the Minister to raise our awareness of previous research and commercial innovation relevant to air levels and other controls of pesticides. I am minded of the fact that a lot of work is going on, I think in Essex, breeding bugs that eat and destroy other bugs, which I presume would fall within the remit of Amendment 80 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dundee.
My concern is that, for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this area is already heavily regulated and the amendments could be very difficult to implement as drafted.
My Lords, because I do not want to detain the House, this is the only amendment that I am speaking on today.
I strongly support Amendment 79 and have personal reasons for doing so, so I need to tell a story. It is about the late Dr Bill Fakes, an old friend of mine, a former GP in my former Workington constituency who I met nearly 50 years ago. He was a brilliant man—yes, a bit eccentric, but that is often the case with gifted people. He was a biologist with an intense interest in entomology. He had been brought up in the Fenlands in the small rural community of Willingham. It was a market garden, an arable area, and with his love of nature he took a particular interest in the ditches and characteristics of the land where, with other children and friends, he would gather beetles and other insects, carefully logging their every characteristic. As a bright boy inspired by these activities as a child, he went on to study medicine at UCL in London, ultimately ending up in Workington as a young—yes, rather eccentric but brilliant—general practitioner.
In 1995 Dr Fakes was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and ended up, via West Cumberland Hospital, at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where a fellow medic and consultant took a particular interest in his condition. What they were not to know at that stage was that a number of his relatives and friends were subsequently to be stricken down with similar or associated conditions. They included his sister, his mother and one of his best young friends, Brian Haddon, all within a few years of each other and all from within the vicinity of the Fakes’ home in the Fens.
Dr Fakes’ response was to research his condition in detail, taking up much of his own time. Part of the research was to arrange for his pituitary gland, I think it was, to be removed from his body on death and sent for autopsy assessment at a special unit in Glasgow. Bill Fakes had been assiduous in making these arrangements as he believed that such an assessment would expose the danger of underregulated spraying arrangements. However, somewhere along the line the gland disappeared and was lost, and all the preparation came to nothing. Dr Fakes was convinced that his condition and that of his family and friends related directly to the use of pesticides in the vicinity of buildings and installations to which the public had access next to his home. He wanted all deaths in pesticide spray areas to be reviewed with a view to amendments to legislation dealing with pesticides, which brings me to Amendment 78 in the name of my noble friend.
I am told by Nick Mole of Pesticides Action Network that farmers can spray right up to the boundary—yes, right up to your garden boundary, bush, fence or wall. I am also told that not only can you use Roundup when doing so but you can spray with even potentially more hazardous and dangerous pesticides. I have to confess that when he told me this, I simply could not believe it and had to ask him to repeat what he had said. Furthermore, I am told that it is permissible under EU pesticide regimes, which have been described to me as not perfect but some of the best in the world. So, we now have climate change, plastic pollution and pesticides all destroying the planet while we stand and bicker over whether environmental protection is too high a price to pay.
This brings me to the national action plan, the consultation, the proposed review and the price we now need to pay. In my mind, the whole debate comes down to the risk approach versus the precautionary approach. We need to reject any risk approach that dilutes our pesticide regimes. We need far clearer pesticide reduction targets. We need a levy on farmers based on levels of toxicity. We need a chemicals regulatory regime with far tougher enforcement, which probably means splitting up the existing regime. We need a review of both the voluntary initiative and the immunity forum, both of which have been described to me as inadequate.
With Dr Bill Fakes in mind—sadly, he died from pesticide poisoning in 2003—we need a complete review of the spraying of pesticides near buildings used for human habitation and for work. We also need new law specifying minimum distances during the application of pesticides—all in Amendment 78, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Whitty. That is what Dr Fakes wanted. It would be a suitable epitaph to his lifetime’s work on occupational diseases and their cancer-related conditions if the amendment were to pass today. If Amendment 78 had been mine, I would have liked to have called it to “the Fakes amendment” in recognition of the work he did in this area, but of course it is not mine. Still, I hope my noble friend Lord Whitty, who is equally passionate on these matters, does not mind and understands the position I have taken.
My Lords, I declare my farming interest in Suffolk as in the register.
We are debating a number of amendments that could loosely be described as antipesticide. I am afraid I cannot support them because they would end up making the task of food production, which is the primary responsibility of the farmer, both harder and more expensive. As I have pointed out before, in Committee, some 70% of the taxable profit of farmers is composed of Brussels money; on my own farm the average figure over 14 years was 67%. As has been pointed out many times, switching money from the present system to environmental obligations inevitably reduces profitability, and it is in that context that we should consider these amendments.
I yield to no one in my devotion to sustainable and responsible farming that protects the environment and, indeed, enhances landscape, which in general is manmade—that is, made by farmers. I served three terms on the old Countryside Commission, two terms on the Rural Development Commission and five years as national chair of CPRE. A couple of years ago, I retired as president of the Suffolk Preservation Society after 20 years. I mention all this because, all too often, farmers are condemned without justification as people who are interested only in profit and short cuts and are not considerate.
We must make use of safe new technology when it is available, and this includes pesticides. Over the years, these chemicals have been more and more carefully tested and controlled to protect humans and animals, and all life in the environment. Many of the standards, rules and regulations on the use of chemicals are crucial; they must and will continue. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said that she would like all pesticides to be banned entirely, but, frankly, that is quite impractical.
I will give two examples where, lacking full justification and presumably formed on the precautionary principle—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has just mentioned this; it is all too often an excuse for sloppy thinking—the rules have actually been harmful to economic farming. These include rules on the use of treatments for seeds to grow two important UK crops, which are now banned. The first is on the use of a chemical called Cruiser for the treatment of sugar beet seeds to protect the crop from the devastating effects of a disease called virus yellows. This problem was mentioned a few moments ago by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
The second example is on the use of neonicotinoids for the seed of oilseed rape before it is planted to protect it from flea beetles, which can—and do—more than halve the yield. The ban on this seed treatment has led many farmers in the UK to give up growing oilseed rape. Of course, this merely means that the product is imported from Canada and the United States, where the bans do not exist. Obviously, I would have thought that there is no way in which the treatment of seeds under the ground can damage insects such as bees and butterflies, which feast on the nectar of a crop above the ground.
Of course, we must treat and use all chemicals with the greatest care and respect, but they are a crucial component of modern farming. I fear that these amendments are too wide and go too far, which is why I cannot support them.
My Lords, I hope I can contribute to this debate by drawing on my farming interests and my experience. Of course, some of the latter is now history: I remember personally hot water treating daffodil bulbs in mercurial dips and, in my part of the world, there was widespread use of aerial spraying. Quite rightly, we live in very different times, as all of us using chemical applications have become more aware. The prohibition of noxious and dangerous chemicals, such as DDT, is well known, and all farmers and growers have an awareness of selectivity in their use of chemical sprays and dips. The use of broad-spectrum sprays is now rare, and most applications are for specific purposes.
Noble Lords will know, as a result of this debate, that a robust regulatory system of comprehensive scientific assessments is in place to ensure that pesticides are not used where their use may harm human or animal health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. All these regulations include operator risk as well as risk to the general public. Assessments are carried out by a large team of specialist scientists at the Health and Safety Executive, and independent expert advice is provided by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. This system derives from EU Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009, which sets the rules for assessing and authorising pesticides, and Regulation (EC) No 396/2005, which sets limits for pesticide residues in food. All of these regulations will be carried over in full to UK law at the end of the transition period.
This brings me to the specific amendments in this group, and I have a great deal of time for all the signatories to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is a marvellous contributor to this House; I like, admire and enjoy listening to her, but it must be a long time since she was on a modern arable farm. Nowadays, she would see the precision with which sprays and chemicals are used; she would see the field margins adjacent to water courses and the headland nature strips. She would see modern sprayers, which bear no relation to the primitive things I used, with variable flow, nozzles and height. The operation of this kit is a highly skilled job and must be performed by a trained operator.
Farmers are a generous lot, but they do not spray their neighbours’ fields for them; neither do they spray the hedgerows, nor a neighbouring resident’s lawn. If noble Lords ever sought a contract with a multiple retailer—or even a third party who supplies a supermarket or chain—they would appreciate the high standards of husbandry and record-keeping that are required. Most farmers belong to accreditation groups as a consequence. When times are normal, I hope that the noble Baroness will join other noble Lords to visit our farm or, alternatively, attend a local LEAF Open Farm Sunday. Many people do. On our centennial open day last year, we had 500 visitors. If she stayed overnight, she would hear the sprayer go past between 5 and 6 in the morning, when winds are calm just before dawn, because that is the prime time to spray.
The thing that really upsets my nephew—he is responsible for our farming and growing and is active in many local farming groups and the drainage board—is that these amendments give the impression of a lack of trust. I will not repeat his critique of the well-intended but nightmare-inducing bureaucracy of the proposals in this group. We have over 100 fields on our farm plan, for example, and I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that our whole farm, except for 11 fields, is near one or two of the prohibited areas that he lists. How are noxious and persistent weeds and fungal infections going to be controlled with his measures in place?
I hope that my voice from the farm makes it clear that the use of pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals is not taken lightly by the industry and that the authors of these amendments will realise that, if we want more from our farmers in every way, we should maintain our confidence in them. This Bill will encourage farmers and growers, but we should not pass these amendments if we want the House and Parliament to retain their trust.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who has reminded us of the regulatory system in place at the Health and Safety Executive and given some examples of the impacts these amendments might have on farmers. I have added my name to Amendment 76, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and to Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I am grateful to both for their detailed and excellent introductions to this topic.
The use of pesticides was mentioned at Second Reading and in Committee. It is a topic which raises a great deal of concern among those living in the countryside and rural areas. Farmers spray their crops with pesticides to protect them from pests and diseases. However, some farmers—not all—do not exercise care when doing this, and their chemicals drift over neighbouring lands and properties, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned. These chemicals can be extremely toxic and for citizens to breathe them in is likely to have a very adverse effect, especially for those already suffering from respiratory diseases. It is not unreasonable for those likely to suffer from pesticide drift to be notified by the farmer of the fact that they are planning to spray their crops on a certain day at a certain time, so that neighbours may stay indoors or be elsewhere during the process. Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is specific about the type of buildings which farmers would be prohibited from spraying near. It is essential that our young children should be protected from inhalation of toxic chemicals. Their lungs are fragile. Hospitals where the sick and chronically ill will be cared for by NHS staff should be similarly protected.
New pesticides and chemicals are being developed continually. It is important that all are tested extensively before being used in open countryside and close to human habitation. As a country, we are much more aware than previously of the dangers of toxic chemicals to our health. Like many in your Lordships’ House, I can remember when you knew when a farmer was spraying with DDT, as you could smell it on the wind as soon as you stepped outside—the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to DDT. Strong chemicals may have a smell, but others will have hardly any. The absence of smell could lull farming communities into a false sense of security. Far better to test extensively before allowing wholesale use. We must learn from our experience of sheep dips, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, gave us a salutary example of the impact of chemicals on somebody that he knew. I also support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and note the comments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
On previous occasions, the Minister has referred to the integrated pest management strategy. The harm that chemicals and pesticides do to people and animals must be minimised. It is not always easy to wash such chemicals off fresh fruit before it is eaten. Not everyone adheres to the very small print on the packets of fruit or vegetables saying “wash before use”. Often, it is assumed that cooking will deal with any substances on the skin of the produce.
On Sunday, our church had its first physical service for months. We all congregated, separated by two metres, to celebrate harvest. We could not sing the traditional harvest hymns, but the organist played them and we followed the words on our service sheets. I was struck by the words of “Come ye thankful people, come”:
“First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear.”
This is what every farmer hopes for in his crops, but it is not achieved without much effort, and often with the use of pesticides. I understand and support farmers in their efforts to raise good crops, but they must be healthy and must not damage the health of those living close to the fields. Similarly, agroecology and organic practices must be preserved from being contaminated with pesticides and chemicals.
I hope that the Minister has some encouraging news for us, and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is minded to divide the House. We on our Benches will support him if he does.
My Lords, I begin by referencing my interests at Rothamsted Research, as recorded in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for their amendments. They have all given powerful examples of the public health concerns that arise from close contact with pesticides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay said, sadly, all too often our experience has been that the health problems come to light when the damage has already been done. You cannot blame the public for their scepticism when they are assured that chemicals are safe, because the reality all too often appears further down the line.
My noble friend Lord Whitty specifically raises concerns about the impact on those living and working adjacent to fields which are regularly sprayed. Farm workers have the details of the chemicals involved and, we hope, the appropriate protective clothing, but no such provision is made for the local population, so the provision in my noble friend’s amendment for a minimum distance to be set by regulation between private land being sprayed and nearby residential areas seems eminently sensible.
When we debated this in Committee, we argued for research into alternative methods of pest and disease control, in keeping with the wider aspirations of the Bill to deliver integrated pest management and greater biodiversity. We also argued that targets should be set for the reduction in pesticide use. This becomes eminently achievable as precision farming techniques become more widespread, and these issues were rightly raised by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in speaking to his amendment. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that what he is describing is best practice, not universal practice, and this is where the problems lie.
In Committee, the Minister confirmed that once we have left the EU at the end of the year, we will take responsibility for our own decisions on pesticide use in the UK. She also confirmed that the Government will consult on a national action plan to reduce pesticide use later this year, so it would be helpful if the noble Lord could update your Lordships on the timetable for that consultation and the progress to date. Can he also confirm that any recommendations will continue to be based on the precautionary principle?
In the meantime, the challenge of my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment is more immediate and pressing. Whatever the Government’s overall plans for pesticide reduction, there are likely to be continuing problems for those living close to fields that are being sprayed. This is an immediate issue of public health protection. I therefore hope that the Minister is able to provide some reassurance to my noble friend that action to protect those residents is being planned as part of the wider review. If he is unable to satisfy my noble friend, I make it clear that if my noble friend pushes it to a vote, we will support him. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, bringing with them experience of agriculture or medical specialism. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.
Turning to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I should first say to all noble Lords that the Government are committed to protecting people and the environment from the potential risk posed by pesticides. As I will explain, the Government have a robust regulatory system in place to ensure that pesticides are not used where that may harm human health. The use of pesticides is allowed only where a comprehensive scientific assessment shows that people will not be harmed. The scientific risk assessment carried out before pesticides are authorised covers all situations where people may be exposed to pesticides, including risks to residents and bystanders from the volatilisation of the pesticide’s active substance after application of the product. Products found to have an unacceptable risk from exposure would not be authorised.
The risks of possible pesticide spray-drift from pesticide use are assessed before a new pesticide product is authorised. This includes the effect of different factors, including wind speed, and the results are used to set specific statutory conditions of use for that pesticide as we only authorise products that will not have any harmful effect on human health.
The label on a pesticide product is the main source of information for the user of that pesticide. Phrases such as those listed in Amendment 76 relate to the classification of the concentrated product rather than the diluted spray. The information is required to minimise the user’s exposure and to ensure that they use the product safely and effectively. All users of pesticides are required to follow the statutory conditions of use for any pesticides they use. They should also follow the guidance contained in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products. The code requires that all users take reasonable precautions to protect the health of people, creatures and plants, to safeguard the environment, and, in particular, to avoid pollution of water. The code specifies that users must ensure that pesticides are only applied in the appropriate weather conditions with the correct, properly adjusted equipment, and that applications must be confined to the area intended to be treated. Collectively, these controls ensure that people are properly protected, based on appropriate risk assessments. They allow pesticides to be used where this is safe and will help UK farmers to provide a supply of high-quality affordable food.
The Government are committed to monitoring the impacts of the use of agricultural pesticides. Indeed, monitoring schemes are in place to report on the level of usage of each pesticide and on residue levels in food. They also collect and consider reports of possible harm to people or to the environment. We will continue to review the monitoring arrangements to ensure that they remain effective in supporting the authorisation process.
Turning to Amendment 80, I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising integrated pest management and the more precise use of pesticides, including through new technologies and new concepts, to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred. Pesticide users can reduce the need for pesticides, further reducing risks to the environment, combating pest resistance and supporting agricultural productivity. This is very important for all farmers: pest resistance is another issue we must contend with. The Government have made a commitment in the 25-year environment plan to putting integrated pest management at the heart of their approach. There are advances in this area that we should all champion.
A number of points have been made by noble Lords, but I particularly want to pick up the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and deal with the precise issue of lacuna and gap. That is precisely why the upcoming consultation on the draft updated UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides will set out how the Government will deliver our 25-year environment plan commitment. I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend the Duke of Wellington that as part of this, the Government are considering the extent to which targets may support the delivery of integrated pest management. The consultation on the national action plan will be launched later this year and will set out these plans in more detail. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that in Committee we had an extensive debate on gene editing and as I said then, we believe that the best way forward is to have a full and proper consultation on those matters.
I turn now to Amendment 78. I was very pleased to meet the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to discuss these matters. The Government agree that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. By pesticides, we mean all the plant protection products commonly used in agriculture and beyond, including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. A robust regulatory system is in place to deliver that objective and to make sure that an authorised product, used correctly, does not harm people. As has been said by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that system derives from EU law and, in particular, Regulation 1107/2009, setting out the rules for assessing and authorising pesticides, and Regulation 396/2005, setting limits for pesticide residues in food. All this EU legislation will be carried over in full into UK law at the end of the transition period.
I say particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that the use of pesticides is allowed only where a comprehensive scientific assessment shows that it will have no immediate or delayed harmful effect on human health, including that of vulnerable groups. This issue was also referred to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I emphasise this because I well understand the spirit of what has been said by many noble Lords about pesticides. The assessment is carried out by a large team of more than 100 scientists in the Health and Safety Executive. After the transition period, the demands on this team will grow as it takes on tasks currently centralised within the EU. Staffing levels will therefore be increased and this process in already ongoing. Independent expert advice is provided by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. Most members of the expert committee are eminent academic or other specialists in fields relevant to aspects of the risk assessment. A similar technical body, the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food, oversees the substantial programme of monitoring and enforcement for pesticides in food and feed. I should note that the assessment specifically addresses the situation of people who live near to where pesticides are used. The assessment of risks is rigorous, and authorisation is frequently refused. I should also emphasise that authorisations are regularly reviewed.
I was, of course, saddened to hear about previous fatalities; the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, spoke with obvious feeling about someone he knew well. The regulation of pesticides dates back to the mid-1980s in the UK and the early 1990s in the EU. Since then, it has been tightened. Many pesticides that used to be permitted for use are now not authorised or are substantially restricted. Effects on rural residents are specifically considered, as I said, as part of the scientific assessment process. All pesticide users are required by law—the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012—to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment and to confine the application of the product to the area intended to be treated. When using a pesticide in areas used by the public or vulnerable groups, including those close to healthcare facilities or in parks, school grounds and playgrounds, operators must also ensure that the amount used and frequency of use is as low as reasonably practicable.
As I have already said, all users of pesticides are required to follow the statutory conditions of use for every pesticide they use. These conditions typically include the frequency, timing and amount of application. They may also, for example, include protective equipment for operators and buffer zones to protect the environment. Guidance on the use of pesticides is also provided in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products.
The Government’s priority is the protection of people and the environment. Exacting measures are in place through our domestic legislation and the specialists we have in place at the HSE. Pesticides are important in helping farmers produce the food we need—a point made by my noble friends Lord Marlesford, Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lady McIntosh, based on experience. We also need pesticides to protect infrastructure such as roads and railways. As my noble friend Lady McIntosh highlighted, in extending its scope to any pesticide and any building, the amendment is very sweeping and could well have undesirable and disproportionate effects. It would prevent the use of pesticides that are important for agricultural and horticultural productivity but pose no danger whatsoever to public health, such as products used in a permanent greenhouse. It could also, for example, prevent the use of pesticides for the effective control of Japanese knotweed. I pluck that example because it is a very difficult plant to control close to buildings. Because the amendment extends to
“any building or open space used for work”,
it would also appear to prohibit the use of pesticides in agriculture entirely.
I do not believe that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, intended, but it is my duty to say to the House that, having taken legal advice, this is how our lawyers interpret this amendment. If any particular pesticide needs to be restricted from use close to buildings or spaces used for work or recreation, that can be done through the authorisation system. We believe that the effect of the amendment would be to impose an unnecessary blanket restriction.
I spent a little time explaining the statutory bodies, requirements and protections for contemporary use of pesticides. I am well aware of previous times when pesticides were used and the rigour with which, through the EU and our domestic journey, we have addressed them. It is why I have spent some time explaining the expertise available to this country, on which we all rely. So I say this with all sincerity. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said he wishes to put this to the test—I do not want to take away his thunder, as I respect the noble Lord. But, having taken legal advice, I have sought to outline why I could not advise your Lordships to vote for an amendment that is well meaning but does pose difficulties. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is in a position to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the detail that he has afforded to this group of amendments and for his reply. I will make some very short comments. He speaks about consultation going forward; that is precisely the consultation required to inform the regulations to which the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, speaks. He talks about areas around railways and wastelands, which could become wildlife sanctuaries but are not at the moment because of the way they are handled.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that the lack of trust is not in farmers but in the pesticide manufacturers. The spraying kit that he is talking about is incredibly expensive, as I know from seeing it at the Royal Welsh Show. It is eye-wateringly expensive and costs a lot to maintain, so is not within the reach of every farmer.
I do not want to waste time discussing my amendments. I point out that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has rightly said that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is flexible. It is simply about making regulations; it does not state what has to be in them, in terms of distance or children, and they would go to affirmative resolution. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment and give notice that, in the event of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, being unable to call a vote on his Amendment 78, I will do so on his behalf.
Amendment 75 withdrawn.
Amendments 76 and 77 not moved.
78: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of pesticides: limitations on use to protect human health
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture near—(a) any building used for human habitation;(b) any building or open space used for work or recreation; or (c) any public or private building where members of the public may be present, including but not limited to—(i) schools and childcare nurseries;(ii) hospitals.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must specify a minimum distance from any of the locations listed under subsection (1)(a) to (c) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide.(3) For the purposes of this section “public building” includes any building used for the purposes of education.(4) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would protect members of the public from hazardous health impacts from the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and spaces used by residents and members of the public.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 79. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
79: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Planning guidance for agricultural smallholdings
The Secretary of State may create planning guidance for local authorities to facilitate the development of combined smallholding home and work spaces for the following purposes—(a) to encourage the construction of affordable rural houses;(b) to create employment in farming and ancillary enterprises;(c) to increase supplies of locally grown fresh food to improve food security;(d) to increase productivity and profitability through agroecological farming on smallholdings; and(e) to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, regenerate soil fertility and nurture biodiversity through smallholder farming.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would enable the Government to give guidelines to local authorities to encourage combined smallholding home and workspace development, thus promoting employment whilst also increasing local food supplies through productive and profitable agroecological smallholder farming.
My Lords, this proposed new clause would enable the Government to give guidance to local authorities. Many new entrepreneurs would like to set up agricultural smallholdings and to start viable businesses connected with high-quality jobs to do with farming and local food production, but are still prevented by restrictive planning regulations. The aim instead should clearly be to encourage innovative smallholding and workplace developments, promoting employment and affordable housing as well as increasing local food supplies through more productive and profitable agroecological farming. Since such smallholdings deliver significant public goods to the environment and society, they deserve full recognition and backing within planning policy.
I moved a similar amendment in Committee, not so much in terms of planning guidelines but instead to ask the Minister, my noble friend Lord Gardiner, what his views were on the scope and benefit of these projects. He could not have been more supportive. He pointed out that the Government, as stated in Defra’s Farming for the Future: Policy and Progress Update last February,
“intend to use the powers under Clause 1 to offer funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to invest in … opportunities for new entrants to access land”.
He also mentioned the Government’s resolve to “work with local authorities” and other institutions, mentioning that
“further details will be set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plan.”—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2134.]
He drew our attention to how local authorities would now be able to use rural sites for the delivery of affordable housing and how the National Planning Policy Framework will help the building of homes in isolated areas.
I am very grateful to my noble friend and, regarding smallholdings, much heartened by the positive background he explained. However, there are two different kinds of smallholding under discussion: county farms controlled by local authorities and the different kind of smallholding, not owned or controlled by local authorities yet entirely dependent on permission from local authorities to be able to establish or develop at all. Perhaps these two types may not have been sufficiently distinguished from each other in Committee. That is why I have brought back a revised amendment on planning guidance.
For instance, a modern agricultural smallholding might well combine farming with other work. Residents would have two occupations: farming some land and working from home. An example could be 30 houses and 180 acres of farmland, thus six acres per unit. A typical occupant might farm vegetables in polytunnels while also working part-time as an IT consultant via high-speed internet.
Post coronavirus, two interconnected trends emerge: a greater demand for property in the countryside and the growing potential of being able to work from home. The proposals outlined therefore fit in with those new demands and facilities. At the same time, such projects would provide excellent fresh produce to local urban markets, as a result strengthening the United Kingdom’s food security while advancing government plans for the countryside by increasing opportunities for rural employment.
In connection with the Bill, the farming methods adopted by these smallholdings would qualify for financial assistance for the purposes detailed in Clause 1. In view of their relevance to the purposes of the Bill, yet taking into account the tendency of local authorities hitherto to be restrictive, does my noble friend Lady Bloomfield agree, first, that the Secretary of State might now give planning guidance to local authorities to facilitate the development of combined home and work spaces for the purposes outlined in this amendment? Secondly, even if planning permissions are now less likely to be withheld or procrastinated over than they previously have been, there would be all the more consistency if the Government were to offer such guidance as envisaged. In any case, I beg to move.
My Lords, I briefly give my full-hearted support to the noble Earl and his proposal. Again, I draw on my own experience at both MAFF and Defra and, at one time, as the Planning Minister, when I had a predisposition to facilitate the use of what you could term redundant farm buildings for other uses, be they housing or small enterprises—sometimes start-up or incubator units. I realise that it is not easy, and I know local authorities are suspicious because there have been abuses in the past. I realise that they sometimes want to limit the footprint of redundant buildings being extended too much, but the fact is that we need a national guideline for the flexibility.
The noble Earl pointed out that there are two classes of situation here. Local authorities could be deemed to be giving planning permission to themselves— or, indeed, not giving it—where they own the county farms. It is always a problem when one has to have these separate walls in local authorities. It does not always look fair.
I give my support for all the flexibility the Minister can give, by way of encouragement to local authorities under the planning system, for more modern uses of agricultural buildings. The idea of affordable housing and issues ancillary to farming are fine; I would go much further than that, but I rest on supporting the noble Earl.
I first declare an interest as a member of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, which has done a lot of work on agriculture. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on an excellent amendment. We certainly need to encourage new entrants and young farmers.
Looking at some statistics about farming apprenticeships, I was interested that they talked about a 2.7% growth in the industry as a whole and something like 137,000 people leaving the industry, so there are plenty of opportunities there. Is it currently easy for new entrants and young farmers? All the evidence we see is that you have to be very determined.
This is a really worthwhile amendment. It falls in line with our new approach to farming subsidies and the 25-year plan. It is a golden opportunity to put the emphasis, as it says, on sustainability and care of the environment. New young people coming into the industry will give it a fresh look; they are much better versed in the new technology. The point the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, made about housing is also important. We need to recognise that it is not enough just to create the opportunity; we also need to enable people to live near their place of work.
The other point I would like to emphasise is that there is, as we have heard in this debate, an awful lot of best practice out there and a lot of good farming going on. Finding the opportunity for those farmers to buddy up with new entrants to act as mentors would be really good.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, mentioned food security and fresh produce. In addition, there would likely be less food waste. Giving guidance to local authorities also seems a sensible part of this amendment. I welcome the amendment and give it my full support. I trust we will have a positive and constructive response from the Minister.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, with whom I have the privilege to sit on the EU Environment Sub-Committee. I have just two questions for my noble friend the Minister. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for providing the opportunity to ask them in the context of Amendment 79.
What I find attractive about this amendment—and I hope my noble friend will agree—is that it is currently notoriously difficult for new entrants to penetrate national parks. Would my noble friend see some merit in an amendment along these lines to ease the restrictions, allowing new entrants to enter into agriculture, particularly in national parks such as the North York Moors National Park?
Another reason to find Amendment 79 attractive is subsection (a), which seeks
“to encourage the construction of affordable rural houses.”
It is often overlooked that one of the reasons it is extremely difficult for older farmers to retire and cease to actively farm is that there is nowhere for them to go. There are large houses and executive-style houses, but there is a lack of affordable homes with one or two bedrooms in rural areas. I have seen some in Hovingham, which are part of the Hovingham estate, and they are tastefully done, but I would hope that this could be more widespread. That is why I hope my noble friend will use an opportunity such as the wording of this amendment, perhaps in a more appropriate place than the Agriculture Bill, to ensure that there is a supply of affordable rural houses for those who wish to make way for younger members of the family to take over the farming commitment. We need somewhere for them to go.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has withdrawn from this amendment, so the next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.
My Lords, when this Bill was in Committee, I had the privilege of contributing on really critical issues to do with the protection of the environment and landscape, proper husbandry of soil for our future, the well-being of livestock, and the importance of protecting and securing our food supply, ensuring that it is environmentally friendly and good for our health. I believe that the amendment of the noble Earl contributes to this. It is clearly beneficial for smallholdings to be able to draw together all those key elements—the protection of the countryside and the decent ways we can grow our food and husband our livestock.
The intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is an important one. A third of the land-mass of the city of Sheffield is actually in the Peak District National Park, and a co-ordinated approach between local government and the park planning board to providing smallholdings and protecting those that still exist is really important, and that applies to national parks elsewhere.
The University of Sheffield is undertaking some creative and imaginative work on food production, which is being used around the world. That could be applied—expertise goes with the willingness of people to take on opportunity.
As the noble Earl described, the ability to work from home is now greater than ever, not just because people have learned during the Covid pandemic how to use the equipment but because the equipment is now more useable. People can combine one activity with husbanding the soil, and get a great quality of life from doing so. It also helps with local procurement, which will be an important issue, and therefore with the protection of our future food supply. It also benefits major urban areas, such as my own, where allotments have historically been critical, as well as smallholdings. Edward Carpenter, many years ago, was able to combine his wider activities with husbanding the land, and many examples of that sort exist.
I entirely support the noble Earl’s intentions this afternoon, but I offer one word of warning. I pay credit to Francis Wheen’s biography of Marx for this gem. Marx was once eulogising in one of the communist cells about how they would husband the land and livestock in the morning, then be able to write and have leisure and pleasure in the afternoon. One of those listening said, “And who will clean our shoes?” The answer came as fast as you would expect from Karl Marx: “You will”. Marxists have always felt that somebody would do something that would ensure that their lives were a little easier.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and others argued that we will need to take action to promote the development of smallholdings in the variety of ways that they may manifest. The noble Earl has proposed that there should be guidance for local authorities to encourage the development, through smallholdings, of affordable rural housing, as well as to provide employment, promote biodiversity, reduce emissions, and improve soil fertility and the supply of local food. These are very ambitious and imaginative aims, and he introduced his proposals in a very compelling fashion with some very experienced supporters.
There will be areas around the country where local authorities are supportive of this sector; there are others where the sense in the farming community is that the local authorities face the town and never look to the countryside. Challenges to the latter are never addressed, even though the countryside is, at the very least, important for those in the town.
There is considerable concern about how the Government are currently reducing planning guidelines. This looks like a benign way forward, but post Brexit and post coronavirus, local authorities will be even more overstretched. They may not have the resources currently to be looking at this area effectively as well; they will need imagination and expertise. If this amendment is agreed, the Government will need to make sure that any such extra task is properly resourced, or it may mean little. I therefore look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, Amendment 79 follows on from previous debates about how the Government and the devolved Administrations can support the agricultural sector and its workers in providing homes, job opportunities and so forth. Its specific focus on smallholdings is welcome and we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. The priorities identified by the noble Earl’s amendment are perfectly legitimate, particularly the emphasis on locally grown food and steps to improve environmental performance, which arguably go hand in hand. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, we need national guidelines so that flexibility can be given to local authorities for more modern uses.
Presumably, the amendment extends to England and Wales only, as is the case with Clause 34. It is important to recognise the doubly devolved nature of planning, whereby responsibility is split between national and local government, and for this reason it is not clear how quickly or effectively any new guidance would filter down. As a lifelong educator, I was particularly pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green’s suggestion of a buddy or mentoring scheme whereby farmers who are using new technology could be encouraged to support those in the industry who may need help in the use of those technologies. I would be grateful if the Minister identified any existing or planned schemes in this area.
My Lords, I detect a greater degree of consensus on this amendment than on some others we will debate this afternoon. I am grateful to my noble friend the Earl of Dundee for the amendment. For many years, local authorities and other smallholding estates have provided valuable opportunities for new entrant farmers, enhancing the rural economy and bringing new energy and skills into the sector.
Smallholdings, as we have heard, provide excellent opportunities for sustainably produced, locally sourced food, helping to deliver our environmental objectives and increasing food security, which a number of speakers have described as a priority. That is why this Government are committed to supporting local authorities to facilitate the development of smallholding estates. I assure my noble friend that the Government intend to use the financial assistance powers already provided under Clause 1(2) to deliver the kinds of outcomes he is seeking.
The Government’s future farming policy update, published in February, committed to offering financial assistance to local authorities, landowners and other organisations to invest in the development of small- holdings in order to create more opportunities for new entrant farmers in future. We believe this will provide greater incentives for local authorities and other landowners to invest in the development of more smallholdings than would providing planning guidance. We want to encourage investment that will not only create more smallholding opportunities but provide guidance and mentoring to new farmers in order to develop sustainable and profitable farming businesses.
In addition, local authorities can take advantage of rural exception sites to help the delivery of affordable housing, and the revised national planning policy framework includes new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm businesses with succession. I say to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who I recognise has a very relevant background in both Defra and housing, that in July 2018 the Government launched the revised national planning policy framework, which offers new support to rural areas. The rural housing chapter gives strong support for rural exception sites and the NPPF has new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm succession. Indeed, the Government have increased permitted development rights for redundant farm buildings from three to five dwellings.
In April 2018, the Government amended the national permitted development right supporting rural housing and agricultural productivity. The Government recognise that work and home smallholdings are also provided by other organisations and that these require council planning approval. Guidance to councils on planning matters is led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with which my department works closely and will continue to engage with on these matters. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised this issue, which we are well aware of, particularly since my noble friend the Minister has national parks within his portfolio. We recognise the importance of balancing the protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty with enabling the businesses and communities within them to flourish. I hope I have provided all noble Lords, particularly my noble friend, with enough reassurance and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
No noble Lord has indicated to me that they wish to come in after the Minister, so I call the Earl of Dundee.
My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their comments and support, as I am to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for her positive evaluation of this amendment. As already indicated, the focus here is not upon the merits of agricultural smallholdings, which are already recognised by the Government and by your Lordships. The issue instead is whether the Government should give planning guidance for local authorities to facilitate these developments. My own view, shared perhaps by many noble Lords, is that such government guidance would not unreasonably constrain or inhibit local authorities; yet at the same time, it would help to reduce restrictions and delays. I understand that my noble friend might feel that this cannot immediately be done, but I appreciate the very positive context in which she is considering doing it. As time moves on, the Government might increasingly take a view which is translated to local authorities to good effect. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 79 withdrawn.
Amendment 80 not moved.
Schedule 3: Agricultural tenancies
Amendments 81 to 87 not moved.
88: Schedule 3, page 56, line 8, at end insert—
“Requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms
30 Before section 28 insert—“27A Disputes relating to requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms(1) The appropriate authority must by regulations make provision for the tenant of an agricultural holding to refer for arbitration under this Act a request made by the tenant to the landlord where—(a) the request falls within subsection (3), and(b) no agreement has been reached with the landlord on the request.(2) The regulations may also provide that, where the tenant is given the right to refer a request to arbitration, the landlord and tenant may instead refer the request for third party determination under this Act. (3) A request falls within this subsection if—(a) it is a request for—(i) the landlord’s consent to a matter which under the terms of the tenancy requires such consent, or(ii) a variation of the terms of the tenancy, or(iii) the landlord’s consent to a matter which otherwise requires such consent,(b) it is made for the purposes of—(i) enabling the tenant to request or apply for relevant financial assistance or relevant financial assistance of a description specified in the regulations, or(ii) complying with a statutory duty, or a statutory duty of a description specified in the regulations, applicable to the tenant, or(iii) securing either or both of the full and efficient farming of the holding and an environmental improvement, and(c) it meets such other conditions (if any) as may be specified in the regulations.(4) The regulations may provide for the arbitrator or third party on a reference made under the regulations, where the arbitrator or third party considers it reasonable and just (as between the landlord and tenant) to do so—(a) to order the landlord to comply with the request (either in full or to the extent specified in the award or determination); or(b) to make any other award or determination permitted by the regulations.(5) The regulations may (among other things) make provision—(a) about conditions to be met before a reference may be made;(b) about matters which an arbitrator or third party is to take into account when considering a reference;(c) for regulating the conduct of arbitrations or third party determinations;(d) about the awards or determinations which may be made by the arbitrator or third party, which may include making an order for a variation in the rent of the holding or for the payment of compensation or costs;(e) about the time at which, or the conditions subject to which, an award or determination may be expressed to take effect;(f) for restricting a tenant’s ability to make subsequent references to arbitration where a reference to arbitration or third party determination has already been made under the regulations in relation to the same tenancy.(6) The provision covered by subsection (5)(e) includes, in the case of a request made for the purpose described in subsection (3)(b)(i), conditions relating to the making of a successful application for assistance.(7) In this section—“appropriate authority” means—(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State, and(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;“relevant financial assistance” means financial assistance under—(a) section 1 of the Agriculture Act 2020 (Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance),(b) section 19 of, or paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to, that Act (exceptional market conditions: powers available to Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers),(c) a scheme of the sort mentioned in section 2(4) of that Act (third party schemes), or (d) a scheme of financial assistance in whatever form introduced by Welsh Ministers;“statutory duty” means a duty imposed by or under—(a) an Act of Parliament;(b) an Act or Measure of the National Assembly for Wales or Senedd Cymru; (c) retained direct EU legislation.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides the ability for farm tenants letting under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 to object to a landlord’s refusal to enter into a specific financial assistance scheme in the same way as farm tenants letting under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.
Amendment 89 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 89ZA. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 35: Marketing standards
89ZA: Clause 35, page 32, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) where a product is imported, a statement of compliance with the relevant domestic standards and regulations specified under section (Requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards).”
At the start of the House’s considerations on day three of Report, I declare my interests as stated in the register, and that I am in receipt of funds under the CAP system.
I rise to move Amendment 89ZA in my name, and I thank my co-signatories to Amendment 93—the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—for transferring their support to this amendment as well. This amendment relates to subsection (2) of Clause 35, “Marketing standards”, in Part 5. That imported food products comply with British domestic standards needs to be backed up with certainty for the British consumer. Clause 35 also specifies Schedule 4, where agricultural products are made relevant to marketing standard provisions.
It is vital that the Bill sets the vision for the future approach of the UK’s agricultural and food policy. It can also signal to existing and future trading partners that the UK is committed to championing high quality and high standards in food around the world. While the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission may have calmed some people, the temporary and limited nature of that body—which we will discuss in a later group of amendments—has served only to energise others.
There was a lot of debate in Committee on labelling, and this will be reflected today in discussions on amendments in the next group. In the UK, there are several quality schemes—the Red Tractor mark, Freedom Food, British Lion, organic and many others—which allow consumers to know at a glance that the products they are purchasing meet certain requirements. While these should continue to act as identifiers of quality British product, rather than being extended in their scope, Amendment 89ZA would allow the department to introduce the merits of some form of “meeting UK standards” badge. However, labelling would not work universally in practice, as 50% of food is consumed outside the home. The importance of the food service sector has been highlighted repeatedly throughout discussions on the Bill. That is why the amendment is linked intrinsically to Amendment 93 in this group, which I shall speak to now.
I am grateful that the Government agree that Amendment 93 is understood to be consequential to Amendment 89ZA. I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for adding her name to this amendment, signalling how important this is to her and her party. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for consistently championing high standards in production methods, the environment and the importance of nutrition.
The strong theme running through your Lordships’ deliberations on the Bill is that of standards. This is not just a matter of food safety. Standards are important in husbandry methods—agricultural, horticultural and forestry—environmental and climate aspects, food nutrition and labelling, and imported foodstuffs marketed in this country. This group of amendments will determine how the UK’s standards will be set at the outset of our EU exit, and how they will be maintained.
Low-quality food cannot be allowed to jeopardise rural communities by undercutting UK farmers with product made using methods that would be illegal here. The National Farmers’ Union mounted a campaign on production standards that attracted over 1 million signatures. A Which? report found that British people really care about their food and expect that the UK will maintain high standards and, with time, enhance them—95% of respondents agreed with such a statement.
Consumers care about the welfare implications of, for example, US production methods that necessitate that chickens need chlorination to be made safe. They do not want chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef to be permitted to be imported and available on supermarket shelves. Voters who voted to get Brexit done can be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be enshrined in legislation—after all, it was in the Conservative Party manifesto. Now certainly is the chance to get it done here. In the Commons, a previous Conservative Government Minister, Neil Parish, proposed a similar amendment. He is now chairman of the prestigious Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
This amendment makes various key improvements. It prevents any agri-food chapters of a trade agreement being ratified unless, first, the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement confirming that any products imported into the UK will meet the minimum production standards of British law at the time of entry into the country. Secondly, the Secretary of State must lay regulations specifying a process for determining that the standards to which an imported food product has been produced or processed
“are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health”.
Thirdly, the House of Commons must approve the relevant trade deal chapters, and your Lordships’ House must debate them, in much the same fashion as it did the Brexit withdrawal deal.
Supermarkets have also endorsed the commitment to protect British food standards from dilution in trade deals. Waitrose and Aldi have committed to not stock lower-standard imported food. Just recently, the first stage of the Defra-commissioned national food strategy, chaired by Henry Dimbleby, also called for such a verification programme of core standards for imported food.
I turn now to Amendments 94 to 96, in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. His explanatory statements claim that Amendment 93 as drafted is inconsistent with the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement as it refers to domestic, not international, standards. I hope noble Lords will indulge me if I read a short extract from the WTO’s own guidance on SPS agreements:
“The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. It allows countries to set their own standards. But it also says regulations must be based on science. They should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health. And they should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail. Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary.”
Finally, the last part says:
“The agreement still allows countries to use different standards and different methods of inspecting products.”
Noble Lords will know that, in agriculture, as in other areas, international organisations such as the European Union and the WTO set baseline standards and regulations with a view to ensuring some form of level playing field. However, they are just that—a baseline. In the EU, member states often exceed these standards and, by the WTO’s own admission, the UK is free to do so if that is based on evidence and it treats different trading partners consistently. As the Government have said, the UK currently has policies in place that restrict the importing of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. These policies are evidence-based, with studies showing that certain harmful bacteria can survive chlorine rinsing, and the ban applies equally to other countries. The US is often cited as an example, because it is one of the few producers that employs the technique in a widespread manner. Other countries, such as Australia, also have problematic animal welfare standards.
The noble Viscount, having long espoused the positives of leaving the EU and its supposedly overburdening regulations, now appears to be taking the position of arguing against the UK Secretary of State establishing a set of domestic standards in British law. Instead, he seems to be proposing that we fully align ourselves to international agricultural regulations, even in cases where this may undermine our own interests or those of our farmers. I will allow noble Lords to draw their own conclusions on the intention behind these amendments, but I do not regard them as necessary. I therefore hope that, if they are pushed to a vote, your Lordships’ House will reject them, allowing Amendment 93 to return to the Commons in the form printed on the Marshalled List.
I close by expressing my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Empey, for their Amendments 103 and 105. They may have taken slightly different approaches, but the theme is consistent: the legislation before the House should deliver on the Government’s own stated aim of maintaining the UK’s high agricultural and animal welfare standards. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for Amendment 90. We agree with the sentiments behind the amendment but cannot support it, as our amendment is much preferred. I hope that all noble Lords will feel able to support the amendments in my name and I signal my intent, at this stage, to call for Divisions on them. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and to support Amendments 89ZA and 93, both of which I have signed. Noble Lords have received repeated assurances from the Government that, to quote from the most recent Defra briefing note,
“in all future trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.
With this assurance, why is Amendment 93 needed? For me, there are unanswered questions and uncertainties about the Government’s statement. I will summarise some of them.
First, the wording of the Defra briefing notes that I have just quoted avoids saying that there will be no imported food of lower standards than UK-produced food. Perhaps this is because the Government consider that imposing certain domestic standards on imports may breach WTO rules as “technical barriers to trade”. This was just discussed in great detail by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. According to the interim report from Henry Dimbleby, we are already able to import certain commodities produced in ways that would not be allowed in the UK—for instance, using neonicotinoid pesticides. It is also unclear whether the pledge that the Government make applies only to novel foods, as it refers to the future, or to existing approved foods. My first question is: what is the Government’s position?
My second question is: what is meant by food standards? Standards is a vague term that can mean different things to different people. How do the Government define it? For instance, do they include food production standards in the definition?
Thirdly, it is not clear what role the Food Standards Agency and its sister organisation Food Standards Scotland will play alongside other bodies mentioned by Defra, namely the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive. This is pertinent, as the Food Standards Agency is an independent, non-ministerial department while the other bodies are not independent—they are executive agencies, or non-departmental public bodies, directly accountable to their parent departments. Will the Food Standards Agency advise on welfare and environmental standards as well as on food safety standards?
Fourthly, the Defra statement does not say who will police production standards of imported food as it crosses the border. The Food Standards Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency currently check food safety and phytosanitary standards, but not production standards.
Fifthly, the Food Standards Agency will have to carry out additional duties in future. Has it been given sufficient additional resources in its baseline to carry these out? If so, who has determined the amount of extra money required?
Sixthly, and finally, the briefing says that decisions on imported foods will be taken by Health Ministers informed by the advice of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. What are the other factors that Ministers will take into consideration when making these decisions? The briefing implies that they will not simply follow the advice of the FSA or FSS but will take other factors into account.
It is only by supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93 that we can be sure that the Government are bound to their commitment not to import food of lower standards than our own domestic products. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to my questions but, as things stand, I will support these amendments if there is a vote and urge other noble Lords to do the same.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs. I, too, thoroughly support the amendment. I apologise for my internet connection and hope that noble Lords can hear me.
Food is already in a mess, before we even contemplate lowering the standards that we have. For instance, we already know that chlorinated chicken is just the tip of the iceberg of bad food that comes into this country. I am greatly worried not just about the environmental impacts of cheap and bad food on the planet but also about its health implications. Bad food is the result of overconsumption and overproduction of processed, sugary foods, yet recently US negotiators have said that they were concerned that labelling food with high sugar content
“is not particularly useful in changing consumer behaviour”.
Anyone who has been involved in food politics knows that that is rubbish. It is like saying that labelling a packet of cigarettes as jolly good for your health is a way that will not help change consumer behaviour. This is completely contrary to over 20 years of UK policy to introduce clear, front-of-pack, traffic-light nutrition information to help shoppers easily identify which products are high in sugar, salt and fat. Reading any of the Government’s proposed new obesity strategies shows that this labelling is planned to be even clearer.
Across the world, labelling is already incredibly complicated. The industry likes it like that. It does not want things to be simple. However, there are people around the world trying to deal with this. For instance, the Health Minister in Chile recently decided that no cereal companies could use cartoons to sell their products, so Tony the Tiger disappeared, replaced by a black splodge. Children now tell their parents not to eat that cereal. If we do not set high standards, we will never be able to change things like this. We will not even be able to label sugar clearly.
I am also very worried about what will come into this country. Why on earth do we need more American biscuits? If you take a biscuit such as Tim Tams, a chocolate-covered cream biscuit, extremely like a Penguin, we will get this in spades and it will be cheaper than the Penguin, which already sells to 99.1% of households. Low-quality food is unhealthy food. It has usually meant deforestation in its production, terrible treatment of animals and, as I said the other day, there are over 60 billion of them; 80% of all living creatures on earth sit in cages waiting to be fed to us.
We have fought very hard for our high standards, and it seems quite extraordinary that at a moment of extreme crisis in health and the environment, we should even need to have this debate, let alone have the feeling that the Government might try to overrule it when this Bill goes back to the Commons. Even supermarkets are agreed that we cannot lower our standards. I listened the other day to Christiana Figueres say that we only have 10 years to get on top of the climate crisis, and that in 10 years we must cut our emissions by 50%. Food and agriculture contribute hugely to this, and if we do not have standards that look at the environmental impact, then quite frankly, we have not got a prayer. Next year, we are leading the COP. We should now be talking about achieving higher standards, not fighting to defend the ones that we already have.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is a leading light on the advisory panel of the Dimbleby report, which I will refer to shortly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for moving the lead amendment in this group. I do not intend to repeat many of the comments that have been made; he has very eloquently addressed the issues of the amendments in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and others, which purport to fall foul of the World Trade Organization.
I shall speak initially to Amendment 90, and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who have been on this journey with a similar amendment in the original rollover trade Bill, on which we made a lot of progress. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rather annoyingly, got in before me by tabling the amendment that was carried. We will discuss that further in the context of the trade Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said when moving Amendment 89ZA, this is an issue that consumers and farmers care passionately about. It was front and centre of the Conservative manifesto—not that I saw that—which we want to build on with this amendment, to then adopt what was originally government policy in the rollover trade Bill. I will not refer to it, but it complements Amendment 97 which follows later.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others, referred to part 1 of the interim report by Henry Dimbleby—I almost called him a noble Lord—in the National Food Strategy. On page 7 he refers to
“grasping the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide what kind of trading nation we want to be. The essence of sovereignty is freedom—including the freedom to uphold our own values and principles within the global marketplace. In negotiating our new trade deals, the Government must protect the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which our country is justly proud. It should also have the confidence to subject any prospective deals to independent scrutiny: a standard process in mature trading nations such as the United States, Australia and Canada. If we put the right mechanisms in place, we can ensure high food standards, protect the environment and be a champion of free trade.”
There we have it. We are taking back control. I applaud that in this sea change, for the first time in nigh-on 50 years, we will decide how we trade.
I am proud of the high standards that this Government and successive Governments have imposed on production, which our British farmers are only too proud to meet. Consumers set great store by them, as evidenced by the 1 million signatures on the petition to maintain those high standards. We need fair competition and a level playing field. Yes, I applaud the Government saying that we will keep our high standards, but as Henry Dimbleby pointed out, we need to have the other side of the coin. We need to ensure and have it on the face of this Bill, in this place, that we will not import agricultural foods especially, and other goods, that are produced to lower standards. Those are two sides of the same coin. The Government are half way there, and in Amendment 90 I hope to nudge them a little further, building on the conclusions of their own adviser, Henry Dimbleby. Obviously, I prefer Amendment 90 to Amendments 89ZA and 93, but that is something on which the House will decide.
I am reluctant even to consider Amendments 94 and 95, because the terminology is very confusing, and in any event, I worry about us leaving the EU with no deal because the dispute resolution mechanism of the World Trade Organization is in great jeopardy, given the position of the United States. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in that we need to differentiate the terminology that we use quite loosely regarding the difference between food standards and food safety. I have the highest respect for the work that is done in England especially, by our own Food Standards Agency, with which I am more familiar.
We must be clear that if anybody in this country were to eat chlorinated chicken, they would not get food poisoning or anything else that was unsafe in that regard. As I understand it, chicken is rinsed in chlorine because of the intensive levels of production. This is also why beef is injected with hormones: they are not reared outside, so farmers must compensate.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on his amendment, and refer to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because the argument has moved on. Even if we carry the amendments here today, I am extremely worried that they would not find favour in the House of Commons. It appears that the Government are seriously considering allowing in these substandard products, as I would call them, but placing tariffs on them and labelling them. That is completely unacceptable, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has encapsulated that possibility in Amendment 103. It sets out amending or revising UK global tariff rates, and specifically relates to having regard for the well-being of the UK agricultural sector and the importance of maintaining standards of imported goods which are equivalent to, or which exceed, the relevant domestic standards.
We could end up in a situation that the Minister, in summing up this debate, will remember only too well: the unilateral ban in this country on sow stalls and tethers. Yes, we had the red tractor system, to which the noble Lord referred, and all those accreditations which I entirely endorse and support, but the consumers went out and voted with their feet. They read the label, but they looked at the price and bought the cheaper imports. I do not want to place our consumers in that difficult position, and I do not want to see family farms where I grew up, and which I represented for 18 years, go to the wall because the Government will not sign on the dotted line the Bill with this group of amendments. I shall weigh up the level of debate when deciding on my own amendment.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I reassure noble Lords that I intend to speak only once, despite being listed to speak twice on this group.
I put my name to Amendment 90 because it echoed the form of words that the Government accepted in early 2019—only 18 months ago—and it was inserted into the Trade Bill. Now, the Government are no longer prepared to sign up to it. I puzzled over what had changed, but now, given the events of the past two weeks, the answer has become clear. The May Government intended to align the United Kingdom with European regulatory standards. The Johnson Government are not happy to do this and, instead, in the event of no deal or a very skinny deal, want the option to pivot to the United States regulatory regime.
It is clear that a choice has to be made, as the two regimes are very different. If we align with European standards, there will be no issue with our existing animal welfare, hygiene or food standards. However, if we switch to United States regulatory standards, without which a trade deal with the United States will be very unlikely, if not impossible, British agriculture and British farmers will face great challenges, and many, I fear, will lose their livelihood.
Some noble Lords argued in Committee that farmers would rise to the challenge and would find a way to compete successfully in the United States market, but I must tell them that, for a start, those exporting lamb would have great problems, as Americans generally do not eat lamb. My guess is that farmers would struggle to access United States markets, save perhaps in niche areas.
Since Committee, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has been published and has passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. This presents a further threat to British agriculture, as it would allow cheap food imports to circulate freely around the United Kingdom, except in Northern Ireland. This is of course exactly what United States farming businesses are seeking, and no doubt the United States Government are putting great pressure on the United Kingdom Government to deliver it. However active our National Farmers’ Union has been in mobilising extensive public support behind high food and animal welfare standards, I assure noble Lords that its efforts pale beside the relentless drive of the United States farming lobby, which has the weight and power of Congress behind it, plus close ties to a number of British parliamentarians, who are also putting pressure on the Government.
I can think of no greater impetus towards independence in Scotland than the Scottish Government being unable to ban cheap, often unhygienically produced, food imports. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, reminded us in Committee, the availability of cheap imported food across England, Wales and Scotland would cause huge problems for farmers in Northern Ireland and, as the United Kingdom is its biggest single market, would render them uncompetitive. Farmers in many parts of Wales and Scotland would also face similar challenges.
In Committee, we were assured by the Minister that existing laws on the statute book would safeguard our food and animal welfare standards, and that therefore amendments in this group were unnecessary. As we have also heard, clear promises were made in the Conservative election manifesto. I say to the Minister that laws can easily be changed by this Government, with their great majority in the House of Commons. Who, after the events of the last two weeks, can have any faith in Conservative manifesto pledges? I believe in the sincerity of the Minister but I do not believe in the sincerity of the Government.
Tens of millions of people in this country—over 80% of the population, according to recent polls—are looking to Parliament to uphold our existing high food standards and to keep out of the United Kingdom produce from the United States, in particular, which has been unhygienically treated and cheaply produced as a result of animal welfare standards which would not be allowed in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, so graphically told us in Committee. Unless and until our high standards are written into legislation, a large majority of people across the country will not believe that the Government will deliver on their promises. If and when they do not, that will be a much greater threat to British farmers, British consumers and our agricultural exports than the common agricultural policy ever was.
Given the way in which government policy has evolved since Committee, I believe that we now need a more comprehensive amendment than Amendment 90, and I am very happy to support Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, if moved, in this group in the hope that they command the support of as many noble Lords as possible. I believe that we need to send a clear message to the Commons and the Government, setting out what the people of this country very reasonably are asking of us.
Finally, I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that a Government who are willing to break international law can surely find a way to interpret WTO regulations flexibly. Many other countries find ways of reconciling WTO rules with maintaining high standards of food and animal welfare and hygiene, and I have no doubt whatever that the United Kingdom can do exactly the same if it wishes.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I commend Amendments 89ZA and 93, and Amendment 90, to which I have added my name.
There should be no compromises on food standards. Agriculture and trade are clearly inextricably linked. From the Northern Ireland perspective, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Empey, would agree, we want to protect our existing food standards. We do not want the import of inferior-quality food, because we regard the food that our farmers produce to be of such high quality that it should be safeguarded and protected. Therefore, there must be regulations that do not lower animal health, hygiene or welfare standards for agricultural products below established UK or EU standards.
Animal health and food standards are vital, particularly at this time of a pandemic. I go back to the report of our Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Select Committee produced earlier this year, Hungry for Change, for which we received evidence from Henry Dimbleby, who is leading the national food strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, he was quite clear that the consumer and the farmer want good-quality food. They do not want any compromise on standards, and they definitely do not want food imports of a lower quality. They do not want chlorinated chicken or hormone-infused beef. Such standards have to be protected, and that has to be written on the face of the Bill.
I remind noble Lords of the debates on the Agriculture Bill in the other place several months ago, particularly on the amendments concerning food standards. Farmers, farmers’ unions, environmentalists, the Food Foundation and the National Trust all believe that we and the Government need to hold food imports to the same standards that currently exist in this country. There must be no lowering or undermining of those standards in order to bring in cheaper food of an inferior quality. I would like to hear the Minister say today that he accepts these amendments—their words, their tenor and the sentiment behind them—and that they should be written on the face of the Bill. I support them.
My Lords, I support the first three amendments, Amendments 89ZA, 90 and 93, and Amendments 103 and 105. I shall ignore Amendments 94, 95 and 96 because they are inconsequential spoilers, and I think it is wrong to put them in this group.
At the very start of the Bill, I said to the Minister that the Government had managed to unite the National Farmers Union, Greenpeace, consumer organisations, supermarkets, the Green Party and the great British public, and that this probably meant the Government had got it wrong. This is possibly the most important amendment that we will discuss in the whole Bill because it is one that almost everyone in Britain cares about. One of the things that we get knocked around the head with, particularly when we talk about policing and counterterrorism, is Ministers telling us that this is “the will of the people”. Well, Amendment 89ZA embodies the will of the people to maintain our food standards.
When we talk of American standards, we all know that that is an oxymoron; they do not exist. Its farming practices and animal welfare standards are vile, and we should be ashamed that there is any idea that it might be able to import into our country. This is essential protection for British farming. There is no doubt that the amendment has to pass today. I hope that some of the MPs in the Commons will have a bit of backbone and support it as well.
As the internal market Bill, which has not yet arrived in your Lordships’ House, proves, we cannot trust the Government—on anything, really. They are desperate to make trade deals and are happy to bend and break laws and agreements. The Minister has been very helpful and given noble Lords repeated assurances but, as the resignation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, proves, no matter how honourable and trusted Ministers are in this House, Boris Johnson’s Government cannot be trusted and will ignore or overrule Lords Ministers. The only solution to this problem is clear wording in the Bill to protect British farming standards against this desperate Government. Again, I say that this is truly the will of the people.
My Lords, I declare again my interests as stated in the register. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Noakes for adding her name to mine on these amendments. I look forward to hearing her contribution and those of other noble Lords.
Like many noble Lords, I attended most of the seven days of Committee on the Bill. Although there were amendments that I thought would improve it, I felt that a large majority were either redundant or harmful. Many were proposed by noble Lords who have consistently opposed Brexit and, even if they now accept the decision of the people and the result of the general election of December 2019, still seek to align our rules and regulations as closely as they can with those of the EU, even in cases where the EU is a global outlier.
There is much that I like about Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, as I said in debate in Committee. It is right that any new trade agreements that we enter into should confirm the UK’s acceptance of its rights and obligations under the World Trade Organization’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement. As we start to participate in the WTO as a new independent member, it is important that we do all that we can to strengthen its relevance and remit, which have been weakened by the ambiguous attitude towards it held by the present American Administration. The US has refused to nominate new members to the appellate body, which is hampering the hearing of appeals. The UK should become a leading advocate internationally for rules-based free and fair trade because that is the way to build a more prosperous world. Indeed, given the US disregard for the WTO, the UK as the fifth-largest economy will be able to take the lead in reviving support for international trade liberalisation, which has lacked a champion.
The problem with the noble Lord’s amendment is that there is a conflict between proposed new subsection (2)(a), which would require trade agreements to conform to the SPS agreement, and proposed new subsection (2)(b), which would require all food imports to conform to domestic standards, which means EU standards. EU standards conflict in some instances with the SPS agreement, which encourages Governments to adopt national SPS measures consistent with international standards, guidelines and recommendations. Most of the WTO’s member Governments participate in the development of these standards in three other international bodies: the Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the World Health Organization; the World Organisation for Animal Health, or OIE; and the International Plant Protection Convention.
The SPS agreement aims to ensure that measures are applied for no other purpose than that of ensuring food safety and animal and plant health. Such measures should be based as far as possible on the analysis and assessment of objective and accurate scientific data. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, the SPS agreement permits countries to adopt standards higher than international standards if they think it appropriate but only if there is scientific justification, not if such standards are misused for protectionist purposes and not if they result in unnecessary barriers to international trade.
The EU is a global outlier in international food standards because it gives too much importance to the precautionary principle, which obstructs innovation and interferes with free and fair trade, thus driving prices higher than they need be. A case in point is the EU ban on hormone-treated beef, which the WTO ruled is not based on sound science and denies EU consumers access to US beef at affordable prices. I know there are noble Lords who might welcome the price of beef rising to such levels where economics will force people to change from a mixed diet, including a significant amount of meat, to a largely or all-vegetarian diet, but, besides interfering with the freedom of the consumer to choose what diet he or she wishes to eat at affordable prices, such restrictions will interfere with and limit the ability of British beef farmers to sell to new markets overseas at competitive prices.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said he thought I was seeking to prevent the Secretary of State setting UK standards and requiring him to conform exactly to international standards. I do not think I am trying to do that in any way. I believe that we import many products manufactured in countries with different labour laws, environmental standards and animal welfare rules. Of course we must set domestic standards at the high levels that we rightly wish to uphold.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said that chlorinated chicken was “bad food”. For a start, most chicken grown and reared in the United States is treated not with chlorine but with peracetic acid. Secondly, I do not believe that it is bad food; certainly, I have never found it bad when I have eaten rather good roast chicken on visits to the US. If people do not want to buy American food because they think American farmers’ standards are too low, they do not need to. However, we are not quite as good as we always think we are; there have been many articles in the newspapers recently about poor poultry food standards, pollution of rivers and so forth. Neither are the Americans anything like as bad as many noble Lords make them out to be; indeed, there is not much difference between American rules on poultry stocking densities and UK rules on the same thing.
If the UK adopts food standards compliant with the SPS agreement, no one will be forced to eat food produced in countries of whose animal welfare standards they disapprove. However, I have not heard any noble Lords on the other side of this argument call for clear food labelling to identify products such as chicken reared in Poland, Brazil or Thailand, where average stocking densities are higher than those permitted in the US or the EU. I understand that Poland does not yet comply with EU rules. It is also interesting that there is no criticism of animals killed in conformity with halal rules to conform with sharia law.
In common with most noble Lords, I applaud the fact that the UK has made a big contribution to the raising of animal welfare standards in the world and I sincerely hope that we will continue to do so. Our efforts in this regard should be made within the OIE, and not by trying to interfere with free markets in food by applying restrictions on imports which will drive up the cost of food, especially at a time when so many people’s livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19.
For decades, the time-honoured way of dealing with SPS and technical barriers to trade rules has been to rely on equivalence of standards and technical regulation. This is because an equivalence or recognition approach ensures that everyone’s overall approach to risk is the same—not that every country’s rules are identical. We are more likely to get better rules, and more pro-competitive ones, if we adopt an equivalence or recognition approach with regulatory competition. Pure harmonisation is unlikely to lead to the best result and tends to increase the regulatory burden on our farmers, making them globally uncompetitive. Moreover, this is the approach of most WTO members. The EU is seen as the outlier. Our trading partners are asking the question: will we truly be “global Britain” or will we be more protectionist than the French? In the former case, we will be welcomed into the community of trading nations; in the latter, we will not.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard; indeed, it was a pleasure to add my name to his Amendments 94, 95 and 96. This is the first time that I have spoken during the passage of this Bill. Until my husband retired, I sometimes described myself as a farmer’s wife—but I claim no special expertise in agriculture and, for the avoidance of doubt, I have no interests to declare. I do, however, have an interest in trade matters; that is what has enticed me into the Report stage of the Bill and these amendments.
I start from the position that the main amendments in this group are not necessary. The Government’s policy is clear: they are committed to high food and welfare standards. They have demonstrated that commitment in all the trade treaties negotiated to date—both the continuity ones and the latest jewel in our trade crown, the free trade agreement with Japan. I am sure that we will go over that ground all over again when we commence our scrutiny of the Trade Bill.
We do not need to write into law what the Government are committed to. I fully accept that Governments do that from time to time, but it is generally done when they have weak parliamentary majorities and need to appease their opponents. Writing into law what the Government will do anyway can be a cheap way out of a confrontation. Noble Lords will know that that is the background to the wording of the Trade Bill that was brought forward by the previous Administration. We are not in that position today. The Government have a solid majority in the other place, which has already rejected similar amendments—and if your Lordships’ House passes these amendments, I would expect a similar response.
There is another reason why these amendments are unnecessary. International treaties have to be ratified using the CRaG procedure, which gives the other place the power to refuse ratification. Amendment 93 contains the equivalent of the CRaG procedure, but I fail to see why we need, effectively, to duplicate CRaG solely for the purpose of agricultural and food imports. If the other place does not like what the Government have negotiated in a trade treaty in relation to food and agriculture, it is open to the other place to refuse to ratify the agreement. Parliament already has the power that it needs by virtue of CRaG. Nevertheless, I have added my name to my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s amendments because, as he has explained, without his amendments, Amendment 93 would not make sense.
Now that we have left the EU, the starting point for our international trade will be the World Trade Organization. I welcome Clauses 40 to 42, which give the Government the necessary powers in the area of agriculture. This means that we should be ensuring that our standards comply with WTO standards; at the moment they do not, because our standards are derived from the EU and are in some respects non-compliant.
Noble Lords may not like the idea of imports of genetically modified crops or hormone-treated beef—I do not want to debate that today—but the plain fact is that the EU has been ruled in violation of the World Trade Organization. Therefore, we will be in violation, too. It is not simply a question of so-called higher UK standards, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, sought to argue.
I am in favour of free markets; I stand against protectionism in its many guises, including protectionism around farmers. I favour science and innovation; that is one reason why being outside the EU is so exciting. But if we start our life outside the EU rigidly applying the rules that we have inherited from the EU, we will be missing a trick. We must start to act globally—and the WTO is where we should start, rather than by putting a wall around our own farming practices.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 103, which stands in my name; in so doing, I again draw attention to my registered interests. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will hardly be surprised if I do not follow their line on this matter. I support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, with which my amendment partly aligns itself.
It is not disputed that imported agricultural goods can have both negative and positive impacts for those in the UK agricultural sector. On the one hand, we may rely on certain imports to maintain and improve the viability of our farms, as well as to protect the health and welfare of our animals. On the other hand, goods which may very well meet the required WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards can nevertheless represent a major threat to the viability of our food producers if they are able to undercut them by incurring lower costs in meeting regulatory standards. Such unfair competition can undermine our domestic food production. It can consequently threaten food security if our domestic capacity is indeed eroded. This is particularly relevant as a consideration at a time when the global pandemic has laid bare our susceptibility to the disruption which extreme events can cause to global food chains.
Just weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, it was revealed that the UK Treasury had been advised that farmers were not needed in the UK, and that we could follow the example of Singapore, which, the Treasury was told,
“is rich without having its own agricultural sector”.
Yet, by the beginning of April, Singapore had announced drastic new measures to accelerate local food production, including desperate plans to grow food on the rooftops of public housing estates, as disruption of global food supply chains started to hit home.
The sort of lower standards that could undermine domestic producers would be ones which allow more lax regulations relating to plant health, animal health and welfare, and environmental standards. Equally important in this regard are employment and human rights issues. We should not abandon our principles in relation to food production, environmental standards, and the welfare of animals or people around the world. This amendment proposes that we ensure that tariff levels and tariff rate quotas are maintained at levels which minimise the risk of there being a back door to our market for those without a trade deal with the UK.
Were a UK Government to lower the UK global tariff significantly, and thereby encourage lower-standard goods to enter our market, they would be threatening the well-being of both consumers and the UK agricultural sector, undermining our rural communities and jeopardising our food security. There is more than one way to tackle this threat; we shall come later to other possible avenues—I am thinking particularly of Amendment 97 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which relates to trade deals. In the meantime, we should take the opportunity afforded by this bank of amendments to write into the Bill the safeguards which consumers need and which may be of existential importance to the future of agriculture in these islands.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made a number of comments when speaking to his amendments, including how he felt that a number of noble Lords have tabled amendments because they wish to stay wedded to EU rules, even though the UK has, theoretically, left the European Union. That may or may not be true, but people in my part of the country do not have the luxury of that choice, because we are left in the EU. That is the brutal reality of the situation.
On 2 October last year, the Government produced a document called Explanatory Note: UK Proposals for an Amended Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. That amended protocol used phrases such as “Border Inspection Post”. It said that products coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would be “exported” to Northern Ireland, and that people moving goods would have to notify the authorities of that fact. It talked about a “zone of regulatory compliance”, which is the 27 EU countries plus Northern Ireland. This is the first time that I can recall a Conservative and Unionist Government proposing a border between one part of the United Kingdom and another. To their eternal shame, the Democratic Unionist Party in the House of Commons endorsed that proposal, describing it as
“a serious and sensible way forward”.
It is neither serious nor sensible.
There are consequences to that. We export to Great Britain the vast majority of our agricultural products, whether milk or meat. Therefore, if the standards with which we are forced to comply begin to differ over time from standards here, our products would become uncompetitive. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, have attempted to communicate to us, by various means, that they wish to retain standards, but they may or may not be in their posts in the future, and we have to look long term. The worry I have, and which I know is shared by many others, is that once you have done a trade deal, if you try to then apply tariffs or to change your own standards and regulatory environment, it will start to break the deal you have done. You can then be brought to whatever adjudication processes are agreed, and no one knows what the outcome will be.
I do not believe we want a situation in which we put up food prices—that is not what I want to see. Other amendments that I put down earlier on Report sought to ensure that people at least had a choice and that the primary producer would, for once, get a decent slice of the cake, so that it was not always left to the supermarkets and processors. However, I fear that if things change over time, and because our farmers will be regulated by whatever the EU decides—which includes state aid, because we will be bound by state aid rules as soon as the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented—in such circumstances, we could very quickly become uncompetitive.
If noble Lords think it is only in my imagination that there is a border in the Irish Sea, I say this. In the first week of July, the Government allocated £25 million to help business deal with the consequences of the additional administrative work that would be required to handle a new situation. By 29 August, that had risen to £355 million. If there is no border, why are we spending £355 million, over two years, to help businesses with the transition?
For us, any diminution of standards in Great Britain is a matter of life and death for our farmers—it is as simple as that. It is a competitive issue. If EU and UK standards remain as they are, or if there is equivalence, that is fine. I hope that that is what happens, because you cannot freeze things in aspic for ever. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard points out, we are not perfect: we make mistakes and there have been examples of these. Nevertheless, if the balance changes over time, our farmers will effectively be hammered. In my belief, it is not in the best interests of the United Kingdom to see one of her four nations left in that situation. Although some of us warned of this in advance, the whole protocol has come about in a way that has the potential to break up the United Kingdom and cause huge damage. It is a very bad idea, but that is a debate for another day.
In Committee, I referred to the FSA and the Scottish equivalent. It is not entirely clear to me how an equivalence in standards would be enforced against the background of international trade deals being done and the fact that we are left in the European Union while the rest of the United Kingdom is not. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. Given all these things, and that Northern Ireland’s biggest food customer is Great Britain, we are very concerned. Our farmers are very concerned that they would be left in a hopelessly uncompetitive position.
There are a number of amendments in this group and there will be a sequence of votes. I reserve the right to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House in circumstances where some of the other amendments are perhaps unsuccessful. I have put that on the record and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I am glad that he gave his speech because, with all the either deliberate or inadvertent diversions of the debate on the internal market Bill, the reality remains that only three of our four nations will be covered by elements of this Bill. For the first time in our nation’s history, one of our home nations will be governed by a set of regulations and laws for which there will be no elected parliamentarians with the authority to make any decisions or to hold to account those making the regulations.
The well-argued speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Henig, reminded the House that we have debated this before. I rehearsed an argument in Committee about the merits of why it was necessary. I do not want to repeat that, but I want to highlight elements and remind the House of the debate we have already had and the cross-party consensus that was secured. There is merit in doing so. If the Government had had their way and the Trade Bill 2017-19 had passed, none of these amendments, or this debate, would be necessary, because that Bill had been amended. I do not recall the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, arguing strongly against a government amendment that was in that Bill. I may have forgotten, but I do not recall her making that case.
I want to remind the House of what was said. The cross-party consensus was for legislation that would create statutory provision under, as it would have been, new Clause 2 in that Bill, that
“in any of the areas … under subsection (4B), the provision must be consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in that area … The areas referred to in subsection (4A) are … the protection of human, animal or plant life or health … animal welfare … environmental protection … employment and labour.”
It goes on to say that
“‘UK levels of statutory protection’ means levels of protection provided for by or under any … primary legislation … subordinate legislation, or … retained direct EU legislation.”
That government amendment secured cross-party support.
I want to give some quotes from that debate, because I think that they will be helpful. The first is this:
“I am bringing forward amendments designed to maintain UK levels of statutory protection when implementing continuity trade agreements ... The fact that I am able to do so is testament to the cross-party working that makes this House so valuable, and I have no doubt that this process has enhanced the legislation.”
Further on in the debate is a reference to continuity in trading relationships, which is what we are debating:
“A key aspect of that continuity is to ensure that UK statutory protections are maintained. These protections are highly valued by our businesses and consumers and are an important component of the UK’s offer to the world.”
Later, it was said of the amendment:
“It makes it clear that the power can be used only in a way that is consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in the listed areas.”
In addressing the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others on the WTO, that debate was helpful to the wording of that amendment. I quote Hansard again:
“The purpose of this is to safeguard all legislative protections affecting human, animal or plant health. It may also be helpful to observe that this form of words is well understood in the WTO context, thus ensuring consistency with our wider international obligations.”
Finally, from that debate, it was said that it was
“an improvement to the Bill.”—[Official Report, 20/3/19; cols. 1439-40.]
Noble Lords may think that I have done a good Liberal thing and given a cross-party selection of various people from all the different parties that contributed to that debate—one might be forgiven for thinking that I took one quote from each Bench. But they were not my words, or the words of any Labour or Cross-Bench Peer moving an amendment from the opposition. All of those words are from the then Minister for trade, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, in moving the government amendment.
My simple question is: does the Minister here agree with the then Minister? What were the risks that the Government felt were inherent in the lack of statutory provision that meant that they felt that they had to bring forward statutory protection? Does he agree that the amendment did indeed improve the Trade Bill 2017-19? If he could say why it has been stripped out of the Trade Bill that we are now considering, that would be most helpful. It follows that if the Government are now removing government amendments, those risks would present themselves again. It would simply be sensible for them to maintain continuity of policy and accept Amendments 89ZA and 93.
It would surely be cynical to think that the Government only wanted statutory protection and to amend legislation to provide it because they wanted to get a Brexit Bill through at the time and that they no longer believe in it. I have been around politics for a long time and I would like to think that I am not a cynic. It might be that the Government are capable of making cross-party agreements only to remove the commitments made in those agreements a year later. If that is possible, how can we believe what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box now, when what he is saying directly contradicts what the Minister for trade said last year?
I had hoped that these amendments were not necessary, because I hoped that the cross-party consensus which was secured would continue. I hope that the Minister can explain why it has not and that the House will reassert its position that it believes in cross-party consensus when it comes to the highest standards that we have already resolved to protect on a statutory basis.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and to be reminded of our debates on the Trade Bill—it seem so many aeons ago—and the amendment which, as I recall, was not adopted in the other place in its revised form.
I have been reflecting for some time on how, if I was still a Minister, I would deal with the three related and important amendments before us: Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on which I will focus; and two amendments in a later group, Amendment 97 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Amendment 101 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who for many years has been a towering figure in farming. They raise some similar issues, and they all have lots of supporters and some detractors, led by my noble friend Lord Trenchard.
I am a supporter of the World Trade Organization and its predecessor, GATT. Having been trained as an economist, I know that trade brings great benefits in terms of world prosperity, as is convincingly explained by the theory of comparative advantage. This is particularly important when we face recession and the shock of the Covid pandemic affecting, I am afraid to say, every corner of the globe. That is a very different background from that when we were debating the Trade Bill. We must support the WTO and have regard to its rules. The Minister suggested in Committee that provisions of the kind we see in Amendments 93, 97 and 101 might be incompatible with them. We could be ushering in a new argument with the WTO and major problems of compliance, which would be particularly unfortunate given the current problems with the WTO—in particular with the Appellate Body, referenced by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. It is not easy to see a way round this, and there is a severe difficulty in establishing equivalence in order to implement the necessary criteria for maintaining standards, so we must tread a careful path.
Since this Bill was first presented in the other place, the Government have come a long way. They have established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, in which Red Tractor is involved—I should again register my interest as its chair. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was kind enough to mention it and the importance of high food standards in the UK, which I endorse. The comments of Henry Dimbleby, quoted by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, were also interesting and relevant.
The new trade commission, which we will discuss later, is a victory for the farming unions who fought for it, as they felt that their interests were being ignored. It has wider value as an excellent sounding board for Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and her teams on a swathe of current trade negotiations. The widely welcomed Japan agreement is the first green shoot and, to pick up the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has not bent the rules.
In closing, I shall revert to my question about what a Minister might do. I would try to address the substantive issues, without coming down in favour of one approach. I would build on what has already been done, by, for example, agreeing to extend the life of the Trade and Agriculture Commission for a few months and by planning some wider consultation to bring in the voice of those who might feel excluded from the commission once it has published first its interim and then its final reports. Among other things, I would do more to reassure, by repeating the promise the Government have made that they are not planning to change food regulations to let in chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef. Such undertakings could not be reversed in the other place, and I rather agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes that we do not always need to make amendments to have concerns addressed. I also agree with her that science and innovation matter a great deal.
The UK benefits greatly from the international order and enduring economic ties, especially free trade. This is the future and we must tread with care. Before there is a vote on any of these important amendments, the Minister may want to comment on whether they could fall foul of WTO rules.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Trenchard and agree with what he, and my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe, have said. However, listening to this debate, I have occasionally felt the House has been transported back to the debates on the corn laws in the early 19th century. Then, as now, landowners, supported by their friends—romantic believers in an unchanging rural England—argued that we should prevent the import of cheap food, protect the labouring classes from their predilection for it and require them to eat more expensive food and that if we did not, it would mean our farming industry would be destroyed, our fields would remain untilled and our agricultural capacity would be permanently diminished. We know, of course, that the protectionists lost and the free traders won. Most people look back and think that was one of the great victories for progressive legislation in this country which raised the well-being of the labouring classes, although it may have diminished rents of landowners for a time. I hope we will bear that in mind as we consider these amendments.
It is generally accepted that WTO rules permit us to ban foods based on their risks to human health. So it should, as long as those rules are scientifically based. It is also generally accepted that WTO rules do not, unless in rare and exceptional circumstances, permit bans on imports based on the production processes used if they do not have an impact on human health. That is why the EU ban on US poultry washed in peracetic acid or very dilute solution of chlorine is based on the supposed risk to human health, not on the welfare of chickens. We all know the scientific basis for the allegation of risk to human life is tenuous, otherwise the population of North America would not be so large. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and others, want a standard based on the welfare of poultry, not on the welfare of humans. However, to do so would be contrary to WTO rules. Paradoxically, they are asking us to set aside an international treaty, albeit for specific and limited purposes. There are reasons the WTO has these rules. First, when countries prohibit the import of goods, particularly food, based on the alleged inferiority of standards in other countries, it is usually done for protectionist reasons and not for the reasons they give. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to enforce rules about standards applied in another country, unless you adopt quasi-colonial controls reaching out into those countries from more developed countries, which many countries in the world do not want to see themselves subjected to. The WTO recommends where possible we adopt international standards, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, such as Codex Alimentarius and so on, as long as they are based on sound science.
I hope that the House will think twice before going back more than a century to introduce protectionism, flout international law and do something where the sole purpose is to raise the cost of food.
My Lords, I should begin by declaring the interests I declared earlier during the passage of the Bill. I shall speak to Amendments 89ZA and 93 and to the gist of the arguments behind others. It is important that UK agriculture and the UK public should be confident about the marketplace for food in this country.
UK farming—using those words in a wide sense—is operating in a global marketplace and needs to be sure that it will be playing on a level playing field not only because of the food implications of its activities, but because of the implications the revenues from food production will have on the delivery of all other public goods, using that word in a general sense, that we have been discussing during the currency of the Bill. That differentiates the debates that we are having from the arguments that pertained at the time of the repeal of the corn laws. I am afraid that as an individual I think that it is invariably the case that reassurances from any Government today are no guarantor of government actions tomorrow. Under our constitutional system, the best guarantor of such things is a specific provision in an Act of Parliament.
From the food perspective, for the entire population the problem is summarised as what has come to be known as the chlorinated chicken issue. It seems to me that chlorinated chicken, which may or may not be disagreeable, is not the issue. The problem is that the place where that chicken originates is so rife with damaging disease and practices that it is necessary to apply those techniques to it. That being the case, it is surely better not to have food from those sorts of places in the first instance. Finally, environment, welfare and other land use factors are important for the globe as well as for the United Kingdom. Encouraging and promoting bad practices elsewhere is something we should be ashamed of doing and we should not do it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who brings ministerial and practical experience as a farmer to this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Bakewell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
I spoke on food standards and other matters in my contributions at Second Reading and in Committee. I remind the House that I farmed on my own account for more than 20 years and had the honour of representing the rural constituency of Torridge and West Devon from 1997 until I retired from the other place in 2005. I still live in the constituency. In 2001, the constituency was probably the most adversely affected in the country by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Since 1976, and particularly since 2001, I have observed first-hand the agricultural industry making substantial investments in time and money in improving animal welfare, protecting and enhancing our environment and complying with rightly stringent provisions relating to food safety and hygiene, traceability and plant health. British agriculture is justifiably proud of the high standards it has attained in responding to all these challenges and of its ability to provide to good and safe food for the British people. I am aware that some Ministers have declared that the Government will not enter into agreements with countries that dilute these high standards. At Second Reading I stressed that Ministers come, and Minsters go. I gave other compelling reasons why the British public and the agricultural industry should have assurance of statutory protection in relation to high standards for all the matters covered in Amendment 93.
This was all before the Government took the momentous and deplorable decision to provide, or endeavour to provide, powers to renege on the international treaty with the EU, which they had negotiated and agreed less than one year ago. This has shocked most of us in our House and also the British public. In the past, this country has rightly been respected for our commitment to the rule of law and our compliance with international law.
This proposed legislation—which enables this country to resile from its treaty commitments—is outrageous and undermines the good faith of this Government, whose cavalier approach to the rule of law is the most compelling reason why this new amendment on food standards should be enacted. The British people and the agricultural industry must all have all the protections we can provide. Thank you.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 103, and I simply ask the Government to honour their election manifesto commitment that
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Amendment 93 would ensure, on a statutory basis, that import standards cannot be lowered to below equivalent domestic standards as part of free trade agreements. Such agreements cannot be a race to the bottom; environmental, animal welfare and food standards need to be protected and improved over time. Imported products produced to lower standards than required from UK farmers would undermine our farming industry and create unfair competition. Import standards have not been addressed in the Trade Bill, so they need to be addressed here. I do not accept the belief of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the Government can be trusted to stand by their word; we need statutory assurance.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was one of a number of Peers briefed by the Trade Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who said that such standards issues would be best dealt with by differential tariffing against substandard imports. I remain unconvinced that tariffs alone would effectively prevent the import of substandard products. However, I am very interested in Amendment 103 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which would ensure that tariffing, combined with other measures, also worked in the interests of maintaining standards. It would be a useful, but not sufficient, condition.
Others have talked about labelling, but, with regard to standards, this will not work. If you are poor and hungry, cheaper food will be attractive irrespective of standards. To enshrine the Conservative manifesto commitment in primary legislation is, in my belief, entirely in line with World Trade Organization rules, which allow countries to put in place non-discriminatory measures designed to protect human, plant or animal health or a limited natural resource. The Government need to use fine UK ingenuity and leadership to design and justify sensible import restrictions, which could be made compatible with WTO rules; that is what Governments and trade negotiations are for.
We know that the US negotiating mandate for a free trade deal sees harmonising standards as a central objective, and this means harmonising them to their standards. We know that statutory instruments introduced using European Union (Withdrawal) Act powers have already deleted from the statute book considerable amendments governing, for example, antibiotic levels in foodstuffs. That is just one example of what can happen if we do not keep our eye on government commitments.
Once the transition is over, the Food Standards Agency adjudicates on the risks of foods and treatments, but its chief executive officer has recently said that Ministers have the final say on whether food produced to lower standards can make it onto UK supermarket shelves. I think that UK supermarkets will have a view on that. Maintaining high standards is supported by farmers, by 75% of the public and by major retailers across the board, and they are responding to the concerns of their customers. They will not stock produce that they believe their customers do not want to see on their shelves.
I know that the Government will want to maintain wiggle room in the trade negotiations, but, to be frank, the more they wiggle, the more they will reap the wrath of the people they are here to serve, who are committed to high food, environmental, employment and human health standards.
My Lords, within this grouping, I support my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s helpful amendments. First, on United Kingdom and EU standards, he corrects a misapprehension or, maybe, he forestalls it before it has time within the Bill to solidify as a regular misunderstanding. For, as he points out, there is no difference between domestic standards and European Union ones. They are identical.
Secondly, what is also insufficiently known—and as my noble friend also usefully observes—in certain respects, the UK and EU are not compliant with World Trade Organization rules. I am in favour of Amendment 103 of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which urges that United Kingdom global tariff rates should take into account the well-being of the agricultural sector and that imported goods must be equivalent to, or exceed, domestic standards.
My Lords, I will make a brief contribution. In fact, I was going to opt out altogether because I did not want to repeat anything that anyone else had said. Certainly, I support the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked at the beginning of the debate and, frankly, I expect the Minister to answer all six of them. They were quite specific.
It is worth pointing out that, unlike Ministers, the Food Standards Agency is actually required to do things by law. I will read out Section 1(2) of the Food Standards Act 1999:
“The main objective of the Agency in carrying out its functions is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food (including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied) and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food.”
By law, Ministers do not have that obligation. They think they can hump it away in the Commons, but I have news for them: if they want to take on the role of Food Safety Minister, they ought to have a bit of a history lesson about salmonella, orange juice, BSE and CJD. Then they will realise why the FSA was put there in the first place. It was not a happy experience for previous Ministers without its support.
I will make one further point relating to what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has said about chlorinated chicken. I do not think I have got her wrong, but I do not want to mislead. She said that she could eat it safely because the issue was about animal welfare, not the safety of the food, and she is right. However, published research from the University of Southampton has shown that chlorine washing of food does not take away all the nasty bits. They started off, I think, by washing vegetables, but they have since looked at meat—I am not sure whether this was chicken or other meat. However, the fact is that this is not a solution to the problem.
The other thing that is also worth point out is that, in the United States of America, over 400 people a year die from salmonella. In this country, no one has died—I think there was one case in the last eight years—compared to 400-plus in the United States. I am not saying that it is because they ate chlorinated chicken, but I am saying that it is pretty unsafe in respect of deaths from salmonella in the United States, which seeks to push its food onto us without necessarily labelling it. Therefore, there are some issues here that must be carefully looked at.
As for the Minister, I have not been in my office or at my desk for well over 12 months, but I have a little file up there with at least a dozen quotes from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, who is a reputable Minister, on food standards over the last three or four years. He has more of a claim than any other Minister to reassure the public and Parliament.
The final point I want to make is relevant if one considers Ministers taking the final decision—as of course, under the law, they are entitled to do; the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency is quite correct. The reason that is okay is built into the legislation: Section 19 of the Food Standards Act 1999 gives the Food Standards Agency the statutory right to publish its advice to Ministers. It does not need Ministers’ permission to publish its briefs to Ministers. It will be a brave Minister who gets advice from the FSA that something is a bit below the standards, and who wants to take their own decision. They will certainly not be able to do it behind closed doors.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, removed some functions relating to food labelling and Defra from the FSA and took them behind the closed doors of the Department of Health because he wanted to abolish the FSA, and part of the price was that he had to take some of its powers away but leave it there. So, it is not quite the same. The agency in Scotland still has all the original powers: nutrition, labelling and composition. That is crucial, because there are differences. You can still have food that is safe to eat that may be an appalling composition. There is a difference between the two issues, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, originally raised.
The debate has been very interesting, but I want to hear the answers to the six questions from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
My Lords, at this late stage and given all the powerful speeches we have heard, I shall be very brief in my remarks, which are aimed at supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93. I also express my support for the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Grantchester in his opening contribution.
There have been many excellent speeches, but I was particularly struck by my noble friend Lady Henig’s telling analysis of the problems that we are in danger of creating in the UK’s internal market and the consequent political tensions between different parts of the UK if we do not stand firm on our commitment to high food and environmental standards. This danger of disunity has already begun with the Prime Minister’s dramatic U-turn, which resulted in a trade border being established in the Irish Sea.
In addition to listening to us—I know the Minister is doing so but I hope the Government will too—I hope that the Government will respond favourably to the impressive and wide-ranging coalition of farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and those who have signed petitions, emailed and written to us as parliamentarians on this issue.
Amendments 89ZA and 93 are an effective improvement to the amendment which, sadly, failed in the House of Commons. They are not identical to the earlier amendment and I hope that, as a result, the Government will accept them and translate their stated commitments into proper guarantees in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that we need this provision in the Bill. She is absolutely right. The reason why the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Grantchester and others is so important is that we have put considerable effort and commitment into build up the standards of food, animal welfare and husbandry and, as we were debating earlier, pesticides. It would be quite wrong, inadvertently or deliberately—and we cannot discount deliberately, given the way things are—to allow the commitment with which we have made all these improvements to be rapidly undermined. We need these amendments very seriously.
As a former Defence Minister—albeit long ago—I often remarked that we like to use the phrase, “The primary responsibility of government and Parliament is the safety of the British people”. Here, we are talking about a very real dimension of the safety of the British people, not to mention animal welfare; it is as strong and important as that. I therefore hope that there will be widespread support in the House for these vital amendments.
We get lots of interesting and well researched briefs from all sorts of people who are concerned about the Bill. The strength of feeling about our responsibility at this juncture to put our commitment firmly in place and reinforce it has never been more convincing. I am very glad, therefore, to be able to support the amendments.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I speak in support of these amendments, in particular, the requirement to meet environmental and other standards which are at least equivalent to, or exceed, those which apply to UK-produced agricultural goods.
Noble Lords may recall that I spoke in Committee in support of protecting and enhancing our countryside and of concerns about the pollution being suffered in the catchments of chalk streams such as the Rivers Alre, Itchen and Test, all in Hampshire. In particular, I referenced the activities of the agricultural processing and distribution group Bakkavor in its industrial plant close by the River Alre in Alresford. The abstraction and discharge of water from the Alre has been linked to the rise in pollutants exceeding the levels permitted by the Environment Agency.
I can now advise your Lordships that Bakkavor has since announced its decision to close Alresford Salads in October. The resultant job losses at a difficult time are, of course, a worry, but clearly, Bakkavor and similar businesses can operate their food processing plants from proper industrial sites anywhere, near or far. They do not have to pick sites that threaten the ecology and environment of unique chalk streams with their pollutants, or damage the infrastructure of historic towns with their 40-tonne lorries trundling through medieval streets. As the chairman of the Alresford Society has pointed out in a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle of 3 September:
“The focus now needs to be on what might happen to the Alresford site in the future. The market for ready to eat food, including washed and bagged salad, is large and growing”.
Could the current large water extraction licence held by Bakkavor be transferred to another operator? Could the discharge consent licence be renegotiated in the face of damning scientific evidence? If diversion into a mains sewage system was considered feasible and affordable, the town would still continue to suffer the daily stream of 40-tonne lorries through streets that were built to cater for stagecoaches.
I believe there is an opportunity within this Bill to avoid this. Alresford is just one example. It is on the boundary of the South Downs National Park. The local plan states:
“It will only permit development …. which has an operational need for a countryside location … or proposals for the re-use of existing rural buildings, which should not cause harm to the character and landscape of the area, or neighbouring uses, or create inappropriate noise, or light, or traffic generation.”
Nevertheless, the Minister will be aware that in 2018, the Government announced changes to the town and country planning order 2015, allowing adaptation of agricultural buildings, which could undermine restrictions set out in local plans. Could the Minister assure me that, in such sensitive rural areas, local planning restrictions will remain paramount?
This Bill can provide the means to protect towns like Alresford and surrounding villages, within the chalk stream catchment, from environmental vandalism for generations to come, if only by employing and reinforcing the regulations that are now in place. Unchecked industrial development should never take precedence over the preservation of our rural environment, particularly the unique chalk stream catchments of rural Hampshire. To that effect, I am very pleased to place on record that, following its inaugural meeting, I have become a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chalk Streams. Its intent, inter alia, is to monitor and hold to account, those agencies whose actions could damage chalk stream ecology and environment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on moving Amendments 89ZA and 93 and on his excellent introduction. These amendments would ensure that agricultural products could be imported into the country only if they met our high domestic standards for food safety, hygiene and traceability and the protection of the environment and plant health. They are not only important in terms of maintaining and improving environmental public health and food standards and addressing the wider ecological crisis, but they will also protect our farmers and environmental standards, which are vital for all our futures on this planet.
I have listened carefully to the many excellent contributions to this debate and have been convinced more than ever by the arguments in favour of Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 103. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and have sympathy with her Amendment 90. We must ensure that we have fair competition and a level playing field for our farmers. If we allow lower-quality imported foods to undercut our higher-standard national farming methods, we jeopardise not only UK health standards but national food security. We must not undermine our own interests or those of our farmers. The well-being of the UK agriculture sector and small farms is vital for our national self-sufficiency in food. Especially as an island nation, we need a thriving domestic agricultural sector, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made these points powerfully. We are talking about food, not widgets or cheap clothing imports or grains of corn. This is not the same as the Corn Laws debate. Importing cheap corn is a far cry from importing lower-standard meat or processed foods or risking the protection of the planet.
Following last year’s Trade Bill discussions, I regret that the Government no longer intend to align our standards—or seemingly no longer intend to do so—with existing levels across the EU. This would obviously have been safer both for the problem of the Northern Ireland border and for public health. My noble friend assured us in Committee that existing laws will protect our standards and that these amendments were not necessary. I do not doubt the intent and integrity of my noble friend, who is one of our most dedicated and knowledgeable Ministers, but I share the concerns expressed by so many noble Lords and am finding it pretty impossible to support the Government’s position. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to some of the questions from others—the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Rooker, in particular —including on whether our definition of food standards includes food production and whether Defra still rules out importing lower-standard foods, because it sounds from this debate as if that might not be the case.
Moreover, will my noble friend please explain how aligning with WTO food standards, rather than the higher standards that we have today, would impact the Northern Ireland protocol and the border flows for farmers on the island of Ireland, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Empey? Without reassurances on these questions, I wonder if the Minister, if he is unable to accept these amendments, could undertake to come back at Third Reading with the department’s own wording for a commitment to this effect on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. I have added my name to Amendments 89ZA and 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for setting out so clearly the rationale behind these amendments.
Farmers, retailers, environmentalists and the general public are all concerned about the importation of food produced to lower standards than we currently enjoy, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has already indicated. The National Farmers’ Union’s standards petition has reached over 1 million signatories, and recent polling shows that more than 75% of the public think importing lower-standard food from the USA would be unacceptable. Major retailers have promised not to stock chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef in response to the safety and animal welfare concerns of both their customers and farmers.
The Conservative manifesto promised—and I am sorry that we keep banging on about this—not to compromise high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in all their trade negotiations. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, rightly said that confidence in this document has waned. While the UK should not rest on its laurels, our current standards are some of the highest in the world and are higher than those of most of the UK’s prospective trading partners. These standards relate to animal welfare, pesticide usage, chemical safety and food hygiene. I appreciate that this presents the Government with something of a dilemma when they are attempting to enter trade negotiations with countries outside of the EU, but a manifesto promise is still a promise.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to sovereignty and taking back control. Safeguards have been promised in the Trade Bill, but so far they have been conspicuous by their absence. The Agriculture Bill is the correct place for these safeguards to be contained. Neil Parish, from the other place, has said:
“We are being led down the garden path”.—[Official Report, Commons,13/5/20; col. 300.]
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has already referred to this. Mr Parish has a long and proud history of representing rural and agricultural communities. He is right: now is the time to stand up and be counted.
Once the transition period has ended, the Food Standards Agency will assess the risks posed by foods and treatments before they are permitted or banned. If a change in practice is approved, the relevant SI will be amended. However, the FSA chief executive recently clarified that Ministers have the final say over whether food of lower standards will make it on to the UK’s supermarket shelves. This is not what the public want. They want to be absolutely sure of the quality of the food being imported and do not want it left to the whim of a Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to this, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, indicated that the powers of the FSA were unclear. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has also referred to FSA advice.
Now, as never before, the public are aware that animals are responsible for spreading diseases to humans. Those animals needing to be given excessive doses of antibiotics are more likely to be living in squalid conditions in which super-resistant pathogens can spread to humans. Imported animal products should not need to be treated with antibiotics, as the animals should have been living in humane, clean conditions.
I listened to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I fear I could find no correlation between the Corn Laws, which I studied during my education, and the amendment we are debating.
My noble friend Lord Purvis eloquently listed the previous debate on the Trade Bill from 2019. Like others, I am at a loss to understand the Government’s change of heart and approach. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Burnett on so excellently setting out the arguments.
I share completely the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I know from recent and previous visits to our family in the USA that it has a very different attitude on animal welfare. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is right that salmonella is rife. The current American Administration have no regard for the WTO. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, accurately set out the difficulties of encouraging the USA to take our farming produce.
I listened carefully to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, especially his comments on the precautionary principle. Rather than lowering UK standards to the level of the WTO, it is better for the UK to take a lead and assist in raising WTO standards, while maintaining our own high standards. It is not true that those who sign this amendment are trying to increase the price of beef and meat out of the reach of consumers. We are trying to create a better-balanced, healthy diet.
Lastly, I return to the words of the honourable Neil Parish. Now is the time to make this change. Eighteen speakers this afternoon have spoken in favour of these amendments, with only five against. I urge your Lordships to make this change and place this amendment in the Bill.
My Lords, we have certainly had a fulsome debate on this matter. Whether it was in favour of or against these amendments, the opinion of this House was very clear. As I said, the Government’s manifesto commitment—I am pleased to add further to the record of my remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—is that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high standards of environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.
I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe. I would reply to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Rooker, by saying that none of the 20 continuity trade agreements signed to date would undermine domestic standards. This demonstrates the Government’s commitment not to compromise on our high standards in trade agreements. I am fully aware that until all the trade agreements have been signed and settled, some of your Lordships simply will not believe that this is the case. I look forward to those noble Lords who are determined that this is not the case at least having the courtesy to say, “Actually, our fears have been allayed”. I set that as a challenge.
I confirm once again that the Government are well aware of the vital importance of maintaining—indeed, enhancing—the UK’s farming reputation, as it serves as an excellent platform to increase demand for UK produce and consequently enhance export opportunities for our agri-food businesses.
On my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s Amendment 90, the Government are dedicated to improving animal welfare standards. For instance, we have committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling in monitoring high standards and high welfare across the UK market; we will consult on that at the end of the transition period. The animal welfare labelling consultation’s objective is to seek stakeholder views on different possible policy outcomes for improving consumer transparency in relation to the animal welfare standards of produce for sale. This could apply to domestically produced products and those imported from third countries, as well as animal welfare standards on farms, in transport and at slaughter. The Government will consider what possible labelling reforms might be pursued in the light of responses to the consultation, which at this stage they do not want to pre-empt. Changes to how products are labelled will not mean changes to our existing standards for how products must be produced. I also say to my noble friend that marketing standards in England are already very high, as they are consumer and retailer led and often go over and above the current EU standards. We will not use Clause 35 to lower standards for products either produced in England or imported, only to make or amend domestic marketing standards.
On Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 105, as your Lordships know, the Government made an unequivocal commitment in our manifesto not to compromise on our high standards in our trade negotiations. Of course, I understand concerns in this area; they have been aired this afternoon. I have already said that noble Lords’ immediate concerns can be allayed by the example of the 20 continuity agreements. I wish to highlight the risks of duplication and complication in what the amendments present, compared with our existing protections. I will tell your Lordships of the robust processes, bodies and systems in place to protect our standards.
The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains in law our standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health and food safety at the end of the transition period. This provides a firm basis for maintaining the same high level of protection for both domestic and imported products. Any changes to legislation would require these to be brought to Parliament and the usual parliamentary scrutiny processes to apply. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe referred to beef and poultry. Notably, this includes the EU law banning the import and production of hormone-treated beef, which has been transposed into domestic law and will continue to operate in the UK after the end of the transition period, applying in all parts of the UK.
I also reiterate that existing food safety provisions relating to pathogen reduction treatments permitted on poultry carcasses will continue to operate independently in UK law after the transition period. It remains the case in the UK that no substances other than potable water are approved to wash poultry carcasses.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked a number of questions. First, the Government’s manifesto commitment is clear and covers environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. This includes standards applied to the assessment of novel foods, which the FSA will continue to lead. Also, a range of physical and documentary checks will ensure that biosecurity is maintained, alongside protecting animals and plants in public health. Also, the border operating model—I am happy to send it to the noble Lord—has been published with much more detail.
Given not only their experience but the considerable work they undertook, the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Rooker, will know that the independent work of our food regulators—the Food Standards Agency, or FSA, and Food Standards Scotland, or FSS—and rigorous processes will continue to ensure that all food imports into the UK are safe and meet the relevant UK product rules and regulations. This will include imports under new free trade agreements. In addition, the FSA recently announced that its chief executive will develop a regular written assessment, which will provide the FSA’s view on the state of food standards and consumer interests. Regulated food products, such as food and feed additives, enzymes, flavourings or GM food and feed, undergo the FSA’s risk assessment process before being placed on the UK market. This process is rigorous, independent of government and based on robust scientific evidence.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that the process will bring a substantial weight of expertise to bear. The FSA has doubled the number of risk assessors since 2017. It can draw on the expertise of 100 scientific experts and support staff and has recruited 35 additional members to its advisory committees. It also takes wider consumer interests into account, such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security, drawing on appropriate expertise and stakeholders to do so. Moreover, the expertise of other government departments such as Defra, the devolved Administrations and agencies such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency may be brought to bear in the risk analysis process and when considering risk management options.
I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that decisions to allow new regulated food products or processes into the UK market will be taken by Ministers in the UK Government and devolved authorities, informed by the independent advice of the FSA and FSS. As I have described, the risk assessment process will be based on science, evidence and other legitimate factors, including wider consumer interests such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security, considered in advice to Ministers.
Any decisions by Ministers to authorise regulated products will require a negative resolution SI in each of the four UK countries to give legal effect to the authorisation. Such SIs will be subject to scrutiny in Parliament and the devolved legislatures according to the usual procedures. At the end of the transition period, we will repatriate the functions of audit and inspection currently carried out by the European Commission to ensure that trading partners continue to meet our import conditions for food and feed safety, animal and plant health, and animal welfare. This will include the capability to audit the food production systems and rules of other countries and carry out inspection visits to facilities in the countries themselves.
We will also be verifying that requirements are carried out as stipulated through checks at the border. A range of physical and documentary checks will ensure that biosecurity is maintained, alongside protecting animal, plant, environmental and public health. This will provide a robust system to maintain our high standards going forward. Our audits will ensure that trading partners have the necessary infrastructure and regulation in place to export safe food and animal products to the UK which either meet or exceed UK import conditions, and will then ensure that these standards are maintained.
The requirements set out in Amendment 89ZA and, more importantly perhaps, Amendment 93, would create a potentially vast set of conditions applicable to imports under trade agreements that do not apply under any agreement the UK, or indeed the EU, has today. This broad scope and application would create significant uncertainty about the terms of trade under any FTA and could lead to disruption under those that we are currently seeking to roll over but have not yet ratified. For future agreements, including those we currently have but will wish to update in future, the uncertainty inherent in this amendment would, in our view, cast doubt on the benefits any deal could secure for UK agri-food businesses.
The requirements set out in Amendment 105 would, in our view, similarly create considerable uncertainty about the terms of trade under any FTA, due to its very broad scope and potential application. Such uncertainty could again, we believe, cast doubt on the benefits any deal could secure for UK agri-food businesses. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that while I absolutely respect all the points he made, the UK Government want to develop and deliver a trade policy that benefits businesses, workers and consumers across the whole United Kingdom and in which we take into account the individual circumstances of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our commitment is clear that we will not compromise on our standards in trade agreements and that the FSA and FSS will continue to ensure that standards are met across the UK.
I say to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and other noble Lords that the UK has long championed the WTO and rules-based free and fair trade as a route to prosperity and security for all nations. If voted through, Amendments 93, 94, 95, 96 and 105 would, I am advised, impose an inflexible framework on negotiations and might make it more difficult to ensure that the positions we adopt in FTA negotiations are WTO-compliant.
Turning to Amendments 94, 95 and 96, as I have said, these amendments would not change the unintended disruptive effects on the UK’s trade policy that Amendment 93 would cause, as I have just outlined.
Turning to Amendment 103, I hope that I can provide the noble Lord with some reassurance that, in taking its decision on the UK global tariff, the Government had regard to the five principles set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. These include the interests of consumers in the UK; the interests of producers in the UK of the goods concerned; the desire to maintain and promote the external trade of the UK; the desire to maintain and promote productivity in the UK; and the extent to which the goods concerned are subject to competition. All existing UK import standards that products have to meet to enter the UK market will still apply. None of these requirements will be impacted by the level at which tariffs are set in the UK global tariff.
Given the measures outlined, the Government believe that sufficient protections are already in place. Along with very respected and independent bodies, whose duties I have spent some time outlining, we are committed to ensuring that trade agreements do not compromise our high standards, and we will continue to take into account the views of relevant stakeholders across the food supply chain on the impact of trade deals. We already have in place in the UK rigorous processes to protect our standards. With that, I very much hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am encouraged by all the support I have received, and many cogent points have been made. I know that several noble Lords, especially from the Cross Benches, have been unable to speak today, which has been very unfortunate at a very crucial stage of the Bill. Their contributions would have been very worth while.
I thank the Minister for his response. I know from previous meetings that this is a subject that he feels very passionate about, and he has done his best to present the line endorsed by the Secretary of State. I did my best to count, but I am not sure that I heard full cogent answers to the six tests asked by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in his remarks.
Remarkably, this is about the Government being unwilling to enact all of their own manifesto promises, due to their ideological obsession with realigning with a trade deal with the US—a deal which increasingly looks to be in peril, given the recent uproar over the internal markets Bill, which threatens to break international law, and the consequential interventions from members of the US Senate and Congress.
The Minister mentioned that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act carries into UK law the existing safeguards from being a member state. However, these provisions can be quickly and dramatically weakened through secondary legislation, which carries far less public and parliamentary scrutiny and amendment, and I would suggest that the noble Lord and his department are aware of this. If the Government think they can break international law, they will not worry about breaking electoral promises.
The most secure way to protect standards is to put them directly into the Bill. Without that, negotiations are left wide open to pressure for Ministers to agree that a trade deal is good for Britain on balance, while sacrificing what so many hold so dear: how we produce our food. UK standards will not be protected through higher tariffs, to price out lower-standard imports. This will merely invite tit-for-tat tariff wars, damaging UK exports. Stability for food producers and a supply chain are best achieved by certainty, by writing our standards into law.
The National Farmers’ Union has now come out and called for support for this amendment. When it comes to trade standards and taking legislative action to prevent the importing of inferior food products that undermine our own standards, there has been an unprecedented alliance between farmers, consumer groups, charities such as the RSPCA and the National Trust, supermarkets, the Green Alliance UK, and even a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Defra.
I have listened very carefully to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I do not agree that there is a contradiction between subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b) in the amendment. After all, imports should also comply with WTO and SPS agreements. I maintain that our amendment does not fall foul of WTO regulations, and that it stands up.
I wish to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, when she says that the amendment is unnecessary as it is in the Government’s intention: what of other Governments? Her disagreement falls.
The EU directorates on behalf of member states already come to audit and do many of the actions that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, claims are not undertaken internationally—those of inspecting food and denying access to the EU market, which those that do not comply have to abide by. We must be assured this continues. I also thank my noble friend Lord Rooker, with his ministerial experience, for his explanations of the vital work of the Food Standards Agency.
This is a case of delivering on promises made to the British people and preserving the high standards that make British agriculture what it is: that is, among the best in the world. I call on all Members of your Lordships’ House to support the amendments, starting with Amendment 89ZA. I now wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 89A. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions for elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 35: Marketing standards
89A: Clause 35, page 32, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision for the administration of marketing standards of imported wine products, including the digitisation of the information required on Vi-1 forms. ( ) The Secretary of State must—(a) review the need for detailed import certification for wine and consult industry and enforcement bodies as part of this review;(b) should the review under paragraph (a) conclude that specific information about wine imports is needed, not re-introduce any requirement until the information can be exchanged electronically and securely;(c) consult with international partners including the World Wine Trade Group and the International Organisation of Vine and Wine to develop a technologically driven electronic system;(d) determine how any secure electronic system can be included in a wider secure supply chain information system as part of the Government's plans for the 2025 Border Strategy.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes provision for all regulatory information relating to imported wine products to be permitted in electronic form.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to introduce this group of amendments. I will speak mainly to my Amendment 89A, but I also give a positive nod towards the other two amendments in this group, not least the one in the name of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, which is clear in its intent and its need. I thank all the organisations and individuals who have helped me with this amendment in Committee and on Report, particularly the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the WSTA.
What would Amendment 89A do? Effectively, it suggests to the Government that, come 1 January next year, it would not be a good idea to voluntarily introduce paper wine import forms. There is no obligation, regulation, nor even any international law that says we need to introduce this documentation. It is, by design, paper-based protectionism. That is not me maligning it; it is protectionist paper by design. The amendment suggests that a more fruitful route for the Government would be to pause and not introduce this paper-based documentation for the importation of wine. Although the amendment is specific to wine importation, in principle it could apply to the import-export business of a range of other sectors of our economy.
The Government are choosing to introduce the paper-based VI1 forms, as they are called, voluntarily. An alternative route—I hope that this makes the amendment appealing both to your Lordships’ House and to the Minister—and the beauty at the heart of this amendment, is asking the Government in the first instance to do nothing. Subsequently, they could look at more effective and efficient means of running such processes, with digital means and technologies such as distributed ledger technology underpinning all of our efficient, effective international trade, not least in agricultural and, in this case, wine products.
If you will, this amendment is a stop-start amendment. If the Government agree to it, we will stop businesses needing to relocate to continental Europe and the associated job losses, which will occur if we do not. We will stop that loss of tax revenue, and we will stop the mountain of paperwork coming in. We will start to underpin what we need for border 2025. We certainly have the opportunity to have a border that is the envy of the world. This amendment would be one tiny piece of that jigsaw and demonstrate what we could have if we had a truly effective and operationalised utility trade platform across all agricultural, horticultural and import-export products.
This is in no sense fantasy land. It is not speculative; it is proven. I was involved with and led a project on reducing friction in international trade that was specific to the importation of wine produce. The report on that can be seen on my blog—at lordchrisholmes.com—which has all the details underpinning this amendment.
Effectively, if the Government go ahead and reject this amendment there will be not a small amount of additional paperwork, but an estimated 600,000 additional forms, and the work of wine inspectors will triple overnight. This does not feel like the basis of the 21st-century, digitally enabled global trading nation that we all seek to achieve. In the words of the head of Chainvine, one of the organisations involved in this proof of concept, we need to have a “war on paper”. It is unsustainable and has no resilience, as the recent Covid crisis has all too effectively demonstrated. James Miles, the CEO of Liv-ex, one of our brilliant wine merchant businesses, says that this will put unbelievable pressure on his business, and his business alone would have an estimated 15,000 of these additional forms to complete, which is extraordinary. International trade, free flowing, frictionless—it does not feel like that at all. The amendment offers the Government the opportunity to do nothing in the first instance.
On finance, if we do not pass this amendment there will be a potential £70 million cost to all British businesses involved in wine importation. For the consumer, it will mean prices up and choice of product down. We are the world’s second largest importer of wine product by value and by volume; this industry matters. Businesses involved in the wine trade include the brilliant bottling plants outside Bristol and Manchester, and the wine merchants of the Midlands and all across the country. For those hundreds of businesses, the thousands of jobs involved and the millions of consumers, will my noble friend the Minister consider accepting the amendment? If not, will she commit to working with me to come up with something which can address this issue in time for Third Reading?
I reserve the right to push the amendment, depending on how the debate goes and where we get to at the end of this group of amendments. I look forward to noble Lords’ contributions. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Holmes. He has made an eloquent case against the bureaucracy of new paper-based controls on wine. This is very timely, because Covid makes digital much more appropriate in many areas, and I look forward to hearing what can be done.
I rise to move Amendment 91 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Lindsay—who, unfortunately, cannot be here today—and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. As we are talking about marketing standards, I again declare an interest as the chair of Red Tractor. This is much the biggest of a number of important agriculture assurance schemes; ours covers £14 billion-worth of food and drink, and benefits from regular inspections by ACAS-accredited bodies to enhance food safety, traceability, animal welfare and environmental protection. As I said in Committee, we carry out regular inspections for the FSA—which has been much mentioned today—and the Environment Agency and help to promote export success based on certified standards. We support government endeavour and try to be the flagship of British food and farming at a very difficult time.
Amendment 91 is important because it strikes at the heart of the debate about the use or abuse of powers repatriated from Brussels and Luxembourg now that we have left the EU. We have seen a taster of what can go wrong in the overuse of such delegated powers in domestic legislation in the Public Health Act 1984, which we will be debating prior to the renewal of Covid restrictions next Monday, ahead of the Commons vote on Wednesday.
I should start, however, by congratulating my noble friend the Minister. This is an extremely difficult Bill to steer through our House. Agriculture, food and the environment are issues that excite us all disproportionately. I have therefore appreciated his readiness to listen and to try to get impact assessments back on the right path—which was the subject of an earlier amendment. I know that he also believes in consultation with the farming industry and other stakeholders in developing ELMS and, no doubt, in setting marketing standards, which are the subject of this clause.
My noble friend helpfully confirmed in Committee that there will be consultation on regulations made under this section—although, rather curiously, this is because marketing standards are covered by EU food law, which is being carried over into UK law. The duty to consult is contained in Article 9 of Regulation 178/2002, as the Minister told the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, in Committee. However, the provision is rather too limited for my taste. It says:
“There shall be open and transparent public consultation”—
which is good—
“directly or through representative bodies, during the preparation, evaluation and revision of food law, except where the urgency of the matter does not allow it.”
The bad news here is that consultation with the public can be direct, which is fine, or through representative bodies, which is not, as they have their own interests and axes to grind. Worse is the very wide exemption
“where the urgency of the matter does not allow it.”
This is exactly the sort of provision used in the Covid crisis, in some cases—such as on mask wearing—needlessly, as the debate about that went on for weeks and would have accommodated as well as benefited from public consultation.
In order to withdraw our amendment, my first request is for an assurance that there will be a bias in favour of consultation—open consultation, including engagement with parliamentarians, not just representative bodies, who can take too narrow a view. During foot and mouth, which was not even fatal, I remember that the NFU—which has actually done a lot today—and the food chain of which I was then part dominated consultation. However, they failed to help the Government to spot the disastrous impact on the tourist industry of closing down the countryside.
Our amendment is narrow. That is my fault, but, since I have given notice of this, perhaps the Minister could also comment on the availability and progress of consultation and/or the applicability of Article 9 to Clauses 36 to 39 and Clauses 40 to 42, which I think might fall outside food law.
The second area where I would like an assurance is, I acknowledge, more difficult. The regulation the Government are relying on—as the House of Lords Library has kindly explained to me—is contained in retained direct principal EU legislation. Such a measure can theoretically be amended not only by an Act of Parliament or by a devolved legislature, but by certain delegated powers. So in principle the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018—or, I suspect, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020—can be used to modify the provisions of the regulation on which we are relying for consultation. The former has already been used on minor BSE, plant-protection and horse-testing regulations. I should add that all of this has emerged since my very helpful meeting with the two Ministers. Will there be public consultation if these two Acts are used to amend the powers deriving from Regulation 178/2002, on which so much weight is being put? If not, the Government should come forward with a short reassuring clause on consultation, as I have been arguing throughout the Bill.
We must ensure that the Executive are not given powers that are too sweeping, or we will get into an unholy mess. To save the agriculture and food area from this fate, I make a plea to the Minister for the reassurance I have asked for and, if need be, for the Government to rethink on consultation and to follow through soon on the very welcome promise last week on impact assessments.
My Lords, I will be brief. I will speak to Amendment 91. My interests are as listed in the register. In addition, I repeat what I stated when speaking to Amendment 18: I chaired the Better Regulation Executive from 2010 to 2015. It is pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, with her in-depth knowledge and experience of the subject matter, and I am delighted to add my name to this amendment. Like the noble Baroness, I appreciated the commitment from the Minister that impact assessments will be undertaken as the Bill progresses.
I fully endorse the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, in particular the risks we face through time pressures to get legislation through Parliament before the end of this year. We have a very crowded programme. There is a sense of significant pressure on Defra in having not only the Agriculture Bill but the Fisheries Bill and the Environment Bill to progress through the legislative process, against the huge diversion and all-consuming concern of the Covid crisis. It would be a huge mistake if, against this pressure, Defra were to short -circuit the consultation process just to get things done. I appreciate the difficulty that the Minister is under on this issue. However, the consultation process is in place for a purpose and it is essential that we adopt best practice. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 92A, which is in my name and enjoys the welcome support of my noble friend Lord Tyler and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.
I am sure that there is common ground across the House that geographical indication schemes, GIs, bring marketing benefits to a considerable number of products. This amendment is very similar to the one that I supported in Committee, tabled by my noble friend Lord Tyler. Although the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, gave some helpful responses on 23 July, I still seek important clarifications.
Protected geographical indication schemes provide rules designed to protect the geographical names of food, drink and agricultural products. As I noted in Committee, the National Farmers Union of Scotland describes the Scottish ones, not least the Scotch beef PGI and Scotch lamb PGI, as being of strategic importance to Scottish agriculture’s output. In speaking to his amendment, my noble friend Lord Tyler referred to the importance of protected GI schemes for Cornish pasties, clotted cream, Melton Mowbray pies and Stilton cheese. I am sure I do not need to remind your Lordships again of their importance to Scotch whisky.
As far as protection within the United Kingdom is concerned after the transition period, both the withdrawal agreement and the Defra guidance note indicate that there will be a UK scheme that will maintain a register of protected product names. This should ensure protection in the UK for a number of geographical indication products of importance to EU countries, as well as for UK produce currently given protection by the European Union schemes. The object of this amendment is to seek clarification on what continuing protection will be given to UK geographic indications in the EU and further afield after the end of the transition period.
In response to our debate in Committee, the Minister said that
“we fully expect all 88 geographical indications from the UK to remain protected in the EU after 31 December this year.”—[Official Report, 23/7/20; col. 2465.]
Article 54 of the withdrawal agreement is silent on the protection of British geographical indications in the EU, so can the Minister spell out the basis of that expectation? Is it that, once on the EU register, a British GI cannot be removed capriciously if it continues to meet European Union requirements, and does it give protection to third countries with which the European Union has a trade deal?
Clarification is particularly needed because it was reported in the Financial Times as long ago as 2 April that the United Kingdom is pushing to water down its commitments under the withdrawal agreement to recognise valuable European regional trademarks, such as Parma ham and champagne. This was followed up by a report in the Guardian more recently, on 28 August, which said:
“The UK government has renewed its attempt to reopen the chapter of the Brexit divorce treaty protecting specialty food and drink, such as Parma ham, roquefort cheese and champagne, in a move that left the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, ‘a little bit flabbergasted’.”
The report in the Guardian went on:
“The British proposal on protected status for food and drink was included in a draft free-trade agreement handed to Barnier by his opposite number, David Frost”—
now the noble Lord, Lord Frost—
“last week, according to two EU sources.”
I am reminded of the reply from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, to the debate on 23 July, when he said:
“What the UK is doing in negotiations with the EU is preserving its right to set its own GI rules in future.”—[Official Report, 23/7/20; col. 2465.]
Therefore, when the Minister comes to reply, can she spell out what she sees as a successful negotiation in that regard?
Against such a background of news reports, not least regarding a British proposal on protected status for food and drink in a draft free trade agreement, will she take this opportunity to clarify the position and dispel any notion that the UK seeks to renegotiate and allude to the important protections at home and abroad for products valuable to both our national and local economies?
My Lords, I am pleased to be here in person to speak in this debate. I hope that today’s announcement in relation to the pandemic does not reduce the number of Members who decide to come here in person. Due to a technical error, I had to ask my Question this afternoon virtually from across the road. The Opposition Leader said that I sounded a bit fuzzy. I do not like to sound fuzzy; I like to be as clear as possible, and I want to speak clearly in support of Amendment 92A, to which I have added my name, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly said. It would protect the UK’s speciality food and drink products currently covered very effectively under the European Union’s geographical indication scheme.
As Members know, I take every opportunity to speak up for Scotland and, in this case, its treasured food and drink products. They are really important to our economy, our community and our cultural heritage. The EU uses these geographical indications to protect and promote speciality food and drink products across the UK, including Scotland. Scotland’s prizewinning products include, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, said, most famously our whisky and salmon, but also the celebrated Ayrshire early potatoes and traditional Ayrshire Dunlop cheese; coming from my old constituency, I have a particular interest in that.
Under the current scheme, the quality of local ingredients, the method by which they are produced and the traditions adopted in certain geographical areas associated with these products are heavily promoted. That has helped the products to achieve competitive advantage and a very strong positive brand identity both domestically and globally.
The UK Government have said that they will put a UK GI scheme in place after we leave the EU but, as always with this current Government, there are still a number of questions and uncertainties over how the scheme will look and whether it will be able to guarantee protections for Scottish and UK producers alike. Indeed, it is not beyond this Government, while negotiating a deal with other countries, to forget about this issue. The EU protected GIs and firmly believed in them; it was strongly supportive of them. However, I understand that the United States is less in favour of such schemes and their protection, which means there is a substantial danger that the Government might be persuaded—or indeed forced—to water down GIs to negotiate a trade deal with the US.
Food and drink producers across the UK face huge challenges anyway because of the pandemic. Their difficulties are enormous, so they require greater certainty. I ask the Minister, and here I reinforce the question put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace: how will the Government ensure that? I hope the Minister, for whom we have the greatest respect, will give us an indication of how the Government will ensure that these products will remain properly protected when we take over the responsibility on 1 January 2021.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. He is not responding so we will move to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who, as ever, spoke so entertainingly.
I shall speak to Amendment 92A, and I echo many of the sentiments expressed by its authors. This is a very vexed area. I recall only too well that when I was MP for what was then the Vale of York, Shepherds Purse Cheeses produced feta cheese that was clearly produced not in “feta land”—Greece—but in North Yorkshire. I think the case went as far as the European Court of Justice, and the upshot was that the company had no protection and had to abide by the EU rules. Imaginatively, the company changed the name of the cheese to Yorkshire fettle, which is a best seller and has won a number of awards. I am delighted that it continues to have success.
The serious point here is that, according to figures from the Food and Drink Federation, the three greatest exports from the UK are Scotch whisky, then Scottish salmon and, lower down the list, chocolates. So this is immensely important to Scotland, but also to North Yorkshire and the whole Yorkshire region. I pay tribute to the marketing facility that was originally Yorkshire Pantry but has been renamed Deliciously Yorkshire. Because of the food cluster in and around North Yorkshire—in fact, in the whole Yorkshire region—the protected geographical indication scheme is extremely important to them. I hope my noble friend will pull something out of the hat to make sure that if we are to have a UK geographical indication scheme, it will be recognised across the EU and the EEA at the very least.
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, whose expertise in oenology is certainly far more tasteful than mine. I am devoted to the excellent products of the Camel Valley Vineyard in my erstwhile constituency, although when it comes to imports, my family are more broadminded. He has raised an extremely important point that does not just apply to these particular products and operators. What he described as “paper-based protectionism” has huge implications for a great many exporters and importers, and his point was very well made. I thought that at the end of the Committee debate on 23 July, the Minister had given him an undertaking that he would look at the issue of the VI-1 forms, and I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has not received a satisfactory solution to the problems he has identified.
I also find absolutely formidable the logic of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. The regulations will be of huge practical significance to many British companies operating in this field, so an extensive and effective consultation is surely essential. I recall from my time on the DPRR Committee how often we were faced by the Government saying that something was urgent and expediency would be used as a short cut to prevent effective scrutiny. In this case, it could be used to prevent effective consultation. Again, the noble Baroness made an extremely important point that goes far beyond the powers being taken in this Bill.
However, my primary concern is to speak in support of proposed new clause proposed in Amendment 92A in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness. This is the fourth time that I have supported attempts to obtain a clear, unequivocal and totally realistic ministerial statement from the Government on the future protection of the 88 UK specialist food and drink products which are currently covered by the excellent EU Geographical Indications Scheme. This new clause seeks to secure equal protection for the traditional speciality food and drink products for which the UK is famous and which bring such economic benefits to particular areas.
Members in every part of the House have previously expressed admiration for the scheme, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, did just now, especially since it was extended as the result of an initiative by British Ministers during the coalition Government. A succession of Ministers has kept assuring us that the protection of these products can continue within the UK, but as my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness has emphasised, that is the not the principal issue in question at the moment.
During the Committee stage of the Trade Bill on 23 January last year, I asked the then Minister for trade for an explicit assurance that GI protection would continue on exactly the same terms—that is, outside the UK. I was told that an amendment was unnecessary because it would be secured. But in view of the vagueness of that promise, on 6 March 2019 I tabled an amendment to that Bill on Report and withdrew it only when a slightly firmer assurance was given. However, as my noble and learned friend has reminded your Lordships, during the Committee stage of this Bill and again today, there has been a series of apparently well-informed newspaper reports indicating an admission that the current failing negotiations are putting that future protection at risk. It appears that there is no guarantee that, in the words of our new clause, all of these products
“currently protected under the EU Geographical Indications Scheme are covered by exact equivalent international protection after 31 December 2020.”
Given the No. 10 briefing that a no-deal outcome is both likely and perfectly acceptable, and given, too, the current question marks that hover over the whole withdrawal agreement signed by the Prime Minister on 19 October 2019, what confidence can we have in Article 54.2, which purports to give some legitimacy to the continued cover for GI products? I am, of course, especially exercised by the threat to genuine Cornish pasties, clotted cream and sparkling wine, but my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, are rightly exercised by the effect on world-famous Scottish products. To add insult to injury, we are told that a Trump trade deal, which may now be elusive as a result of the threat to the Northern Ireland protocol, would require abandoning origin labelling, as referred to in a previous debate. From the point of view of consumers, that will make matters worse. This echoes the previous debate on standards that meet UK public expectations. We want to take back control.
At the conclusion of the debate in Committee on 23 July, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, could only assure us that
“the Government are determined to work in support of all the 88 geographical indications from the UK, which will remain protected after the end of the transition period”.—[Official Report, 23/7/20; col. 2465.]
What does the determination amount to if, as seems so very likely now, the UK Brexit negotiators fail to get a deal in the precious few weeks now remaining? What if the EU, understandably bruised by the bad faith of the retreat from the withdrawal agreement, simply removes the relevant entries after we have taken our leave and have no further say in the matter? This was implied as being quite possible in the Government’s response to the GI consultation paper, to which my noble and learned friend referred. Where does this leave these British products, hitherto protected by the EU scheme, when it comes to current and future EU trade treaties with third countries?
In Committee, the Minister claimed he had been very clear. Sadly, and very unusually for him, there is no such clarity. Much as we would all prefer a firm assurance, it would be better to hear an honest assessment from the noble Baroness this evening that the Government cannot now be absolutely sure that long-term, precise and exact equivalence is guaranteed. Then, all concerned would know exactly where they stand.
I thank the noble Lords who have returned with these amendments from the debates in Committee on provisions in Part 5, Clauses 35 to 37, on marketing standards. Regulations around marketing, labelling, traceability, country of origin and GI schemes remain critical to providing accurate and appropriate information to the consumer.
The complexities behind the list of EU Commission delegated directives cover various product sectors, including wine, and are the subject of Amendment 89A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. These regulations under the withdrawal Act also include country of origin, protection of designations of origin and geographical indicators, and traditional terms are important to facilitate frictionless trade with the EU and enhance the future of UK exports, which have been established so successfully.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, return with their Amendment 92A on the importance of geographical indicator schemes not only for fantastic products for Cornwall but for many artisan food products, such as Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and Melton Mowbray pies. The House also discussed these schemes on the Trade Bill proceedings in the last Session, as spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. The adding of value to local specialisms is a crucial element in encouraging skill, pride and prestige in rural entrepreneurship. We agree that it is of considerable importance that a successful trade deal is concluded with the EU. It is also great that my noble friend Lord Foulkes is able to be with us in the Chamber; his words were gin-clear on the merits of Scottish produce.
These regulations will be subject to the affirmative approval procedure, which should not only contain an impact assessment but be subject to consultation. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry, for highlighting the importance of a widespread and exhaustive consultation on their Amendment 91. Alteration of existing requirements should proceed only on the basis of proper and widespread consultation with producers, the supply chain and the consumer to ensure an appropriate balance.
I am sure that the Government appreciate the merit behind these amendments and that the Minister will provide additional reassurances to satisfy the House.
My Lords, I will start with Amendment 89A. Marketing standards establish detailed rules on the quality of agricultural products and the provision of product information to consumers. They are intended to make sure that products offered to consumers are accurately and consistently labelled and of acceptable quality, and that unsatisfactory products are kept off the market. They are overall in the interests of producers, traders and consumers. They encourage high-quality production, improve profitability and transparency and protect consumer interests. At present, certain agricultural products marketed in the EU must conform to marketing standards and associated labelling requirements set out in EU law. The marketing standards apply at all marketing stages, including import and export.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, asked why we could not do nothing. We all despise unnecessary bureaucracy, but VI-1 forms are needed until the end of the transition period under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. We will be looking at these rules again at the end of the transition period. I reassure him on digitalisation: the administration of maintaining marketing standards of imported wine products, including the digitalisation of VI-1 forms, is included in the current scope of Clause 35(1). These provisions do not therefore need to be explicitly added into the clause. The scope to replace VI-1 forms with an electronic document is also covered under retained EU law, specifically Article 27 of retained EU delegated regulation 2018/273. Therefore, the purpose of this amendment is already covered. The Government cannot digitalise unilaterally, but it is already an option under retained EU law, and we are looking at introducing it. It is likely that South Africa will be the first partner we seek to do this with at the end of the transition period.
I turn to Amendment 91. Clause 35 will give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations and amend existing EU and domestic legislation concerning marketing standards to ensure that they are tailored to meet the needs of domestic farmers, retailers and consumers. A full review of the marketing standards is going to be undertaken. As part of this, detailed policy thinking, stakeholder engagement and consultations will need to take place. Any changes would be made with the purpose of tailoring the marketing standards to fit the needs of the domestic farming sector.
I can confirm unequivocally that any use of the powers in Clause 35 would be covered by an existing duty to consult. As for the question about the bias towards consultation, I say that the Government’s preference is to consult the public on these matters. We would never rely solely on the views of representative bodies, and we will not bias our consultations towards one group.
Marketing standards are covered by food law, and a duty to consult is contained in Article 9 of regulation 178/2002. This regulation states that
“There shall be open and transparent public consultation, directly or through representative bodies, during the preparation, evaluation and revision of food law, except where the urgency of the matter does not allow it.”
This regulation will become retained EU law via the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
One of the principles of good law making is not to repeat law which already exists, in order to protect the coherence of the statute book. We are aware that there is an exemption for urgent situations in Article 9 of Regulation 178/2002 and I place on record that there are no plans to make any urgent amendments using the Clause 35 power. Urgent changes would usually be made under food law instead. There are specific regulations which cover food information and safety and there is no future intention to broaden the powers in Clause 35 to cover any such areas.
It is standard procedure that a summary of the responses to a consultation be published on GOV.UK within 12 weeks of it closing. Further to this, any statutory instruments made using the power will also be accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum and a proportionate analysis or full regulatory impact assessment where the net direct cost to business is above £5 million. The Explanatory Memorandum will include details on the outcome of any consultations which have taken place. A more detailed analysis of the consultation outcome will also be published on the departmental website at the time the statutory instrument is laid before Parliament. The impact assessment will provide the rationale for government intervention, details of all the options considered and the expected cost and benefits, particularly for businesses. Clause 35 is subject to the affirmative procedure. Any statutory instruments which are introduced must be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament. This procedure ensures that Parliament can properly scrutinise the statutory instrument before it comes into force.
Turning to Amendment 92A, I assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, that we fully expect all 88 geographical indications from the UK to remain protected in the EU after 31 December this year. I understand the point made by the noble and learned Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about the relevance of these to the Scottish economy, particularly whisky and smoked salmon. I am not sure I got the reference to potatoes. Geographical indications do not have to originate from EU member states to be protected under the EU’s geographical indications scheme. The EU currently protects products from many non-EU countries such as Japan and China.
If the EU wanted to remove UK geographical indications from its register, it would have to go through the burdensome process of changing its rules. Of course, the Government cannot guarantee what the EU will do, but it has given no indication whatever that it is considering such changes. It would be, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, “capricious” of the EU to try to do so.
If the UK does not secure a new trade agreement with the EU, we will, under the withdrawal agreement, continue to protect EU GIs in the UK. There would therefore be no incentive for the EU not to reciprocate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked me to be more specific on that point. I cannot, because we are in the process of negotiating these issues. The UK is definitely not seeking to loosen its GI rules. GIs are very important to the UK and the Government will establish robust GI schemes at the end of the transition period. All UK GIs will continue to be protected in the UK from 1 January 2021. The Government’s objective in trade negotiations with the EU will be to secure the best outcome for UK GIs and, obviously, the UK economy as a whole.
I hope that I have given enough reassurance, and that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these three amendments, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, our own little Ayrshire parliamentary potato. I thank the Minister for her thorough and thoughtful response to all the amendments. I am sure that, like me, noble Lords are extremely grateful for the time and thought she put into the detail of her response. There are a number of issues that I would like to pursue between now and Third Reading but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 89A withdrawn.
Amendments 90 to 92A not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 92B. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 40: Power to make regulations for securing compliance with WTO Agreement on Agriculture: general
92B: Clause 40, page 36, line 40, after “may” insert “, following consultation with relevant stakeholders,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders when making regulations as specified.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 92B, for which I have the welcome support of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering—it is nice to get the support of a Scots advocate for this amendment—I will speak briefly about a matter I raised in Committee relating to Clause 40. It concerns powers for the Secretary of State
“to make regulations for securing compliance with WTO Agreement on Agriculture”.
As presently drafted, there is no requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to consult any parties prior to making regulations under this clause. The purpose of this amendment is to impose a requirement on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders if making regulations under this clause.
As I have highlighted on other aspects of the Bill and previously, it is important to provide an additional layer of scrutiny of the Government’s actions by stakeholders who have a direct interest and a relevant responsibility. This is particularly pertinent, with respect, given the Government’s lack of formal consultation during the ongoing trade negotiations and their seemingly taking action behind closed doors. Incidentally, I wonder what has happened to the joint ministerial committees, which were set up to ensure consultation between the UK Government and the devolved Parliaments and Governments.
The requirement I am seeking, to consult on intended regulations under this clause, will help to ensure openness and transparency and also ensure that any draft regulations are exposed to critical comment from stakeholders. That might actually improve the instrument. Perhaps the Government do not fully appreciate that such scrutiny is not always critical; it can be helpful.
Looking more widely at the WTO provision in the Bill, I understand that the Scottish Government intend to recommend that the Scottish Parliament withhold consent to amended provisions. While I understand that Scottish government officials are content with the amendment to Clause 42, it is almost irrelevant, as the Scottish Parliament’s consent to the whole of Part 6 of the Bill is required. With no more amendments to that part of the Bill, consent is likely to be withheld. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government will now consult the Scottish Government to try to ensure that this consent is not withheld. It would be much better to go forward with agreement than with conflict. I beg to move.
I am delighted to support the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I point out for the benefit of the House that I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates. There is concern in some quarters, not least the Law Society of Scotland —as alluded to by the noble Lord—that there may be insufficient consultation of all the parties in this regard. I welcome the opportunity for my noble friend the Minister, in summing up this short debate, to address the role of the devolved Assemblies and, in this case, the Scottish Parliament in negotiating future trade deals. We will discuss Amendment 97 and others in that group, but the Bill is silent on the role of the devolved Assemblies and the extent to which they will be consulted and involved in drafting and negotiating these trade agreements. It behoves the Government to set out their plans at this stage.
My Lords, it seems to me that this interesting amendment bridges very nicely the gap between the last group and the next, because there was some discussion in the last group about the importance of consultation—albeit in a different context—and the next group is about the role of the devolved assemblies and parliaments. This one sits rather squarely in between.
From the point of view of our Benches, there are a couple of points we wish to make. First of all, it is increasingly becoming the case that delegated legislation is rushed and is not always particularly well drafted. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and it is a weekly task to go through imperfectly drafted regulations. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said, it is much better to pick these things up earlier rather than later. Therefore, proper consultation and some almost pre-legislative scrutiny by the devolved assemblies could only be helpful.
We need to be clear about how serious it would be if the Government were using these powers. Many of the things we would all support and like about the WTO provisions do not cover agriculture at all, so with the possibility of high tariffs and the removal of quantitative restrictions, the impact on agriculture could be very serious indeed. Therefore, the involvement of the devolved parliaments and assemblies, both in preparing for it and hopefully mitigating some of this, would be important. I am definitely supportive of the principle behind this amendment and interested to hear what the Minister says.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Foulkes for tabling the amendment to probe the process envisaged by the Government when they use the powers under Clause 40, and, in particular, for his suggestion to consult with the Scottish Government and go forward with agreement. Of course, I add that consultation with Wales and Northern Ireland is also necessary.
As we have seen in relation to certain powers within the internal market Bill, the Government seem to exercise, let us say, a degree of discretion when it comes to their understanding of compliance with international law. While the amendment presents a perfectly sensible proposal, there is a serious worry that the Government’s approach to trade matters—and with it the future prosperity of the United Kingdom—is largely driven by ideology rather than evidence from stakeholders. Indeed, in the Commons yesterday, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, said she would not back the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which contains the provision, and gave a strong warning that it would
“lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/9/20; col. 668.]
and threaten the union.
I therefore hope that the Minister can give some indicative examples of how the powers may be used, as well as providing an estimate of how frequently the Government expect to make such regulations. Ultimately, while it is not much of a safeguard and may not be a completely acceptable substitute for meaningful engagement with affected stakeholders, the regulations will at least be subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the affirmative procedure.
My Lords, as we said in Committee:
“Part 6 of the Bill allows regulations to be made to ensure compliance with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture”,—[Official Report, 28/7/20; col. 130.]
particularly those related to domestic support. The regulations will set out procedures and arrangements to ensure that the whole of the UK continues to comply with existing obligations under this international treaty.
Amendment 92B seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders when making regulations under Clause 40. Relevant stakeholders in this instance are the devolved Administrations, since it is they who will be required to abide by spending limits and work together with the UK Government to classify and notify domestic support at the WTO.
We do not anticipate any direct impact on farmers because the devolved Administrations will retain the freedom to design and implement their own domestic support policies within the overall spending limits. As I outlined in Committee, consultation is already well advanced. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, Defra Ministries work very closely with their DA counterparts through a regular interim ministerial group on agriculture, which I believe is the same body that he referred to earlier. Government officials work closely with all their counterparts from all Administrations to draft the regulations under these powers. I can again report that good progress has been made and that the views of officials from the devolved Administrations have been taken into consideration throughout the whole of the drafting process. In terms of Scottish consent, we have received confirmation that the Scottish Parliament has recommended consent for provisions in the scope of the LCM procedure.
The Government fully recognise the devolved status of agriculture. Indeed, Clause 40(1) is drafted in such a way as to specify that regulations can be made only for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. It is this narrow function of ensuring overall UK compliance with an international treaty that remains reserved for the UK Government and that Part 6 addresses. The UK Government consult the devolved Administrations and all relevant stakeholders appropriately, but it is not efficient or constitutionally proper for the UK Government to be bound to consult on all matters that are reserved.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked what functions are envisaged under these powers. In order to ensure that the UK remains in compliance with obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, it will be necessary to collect data on agricultural support schemes from the four nations of the UK in order to classify and report this information at the WTO. Additionally, spending limits will be placed on each country of the UK to ensure that the UK as a whole honours a commitment to limit spending on certain types of trade-distorting support.
Where reserved matters overlap or intercept with devolved areas of competence, the UK Government of course recognise that the devolved Administrations will have an interest. The Government therefore work with those Administrations, as we are currently doing, to accommodate their comments and concerns when we can, to the satisfaction of all those involved. I am pleased that Defra officials have particularly good relations with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations.
We already have a bilateral agreement in place with the Welsh Government on the making and operation of regulations under Part 6, and we have offered to extend this agreement to the Scottish Government and DAERA ministers in Northern Ireland. Additionally, my honourable friend the farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, placed on record in the other place a commitment to consult with the devolved Administrations on the making of regulations under these powers.
Lastly, I understood that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was concerned about how these regulations impacted directly on farmers. These powers allow for a framework of regulations to be made for ensuring UK-wide compliance with existing international obligations. Within this framework and within the boundaries of existing WTO agreements that seek to limit the use of trade-distorting financial support to agriculture, each Administration will still be able to design their own schemes to deliver their policies on supporting farmers and managing the farmed environment.
I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for a very comprehensive and indeed helpful response. I just want to make two points. First, this is one of many debates that I have been involved in in which Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative Members have all raised issues in relation to the devolved Parliaments, the consultation and the roles and responsibilities. That issue comes up more in the House of Lords than anywhere, and it is not always appreciated in the devolved Administrations.
Secondly, I have sat through only a small number of the debates on the Agriculture Bill, but I would personally like to pay tribute to the Ministers and their staff and to the shadow Ministers and their staff for doing a huge amount of work on this very important issue. I hope that that is recognised not just in the parties and in the House of Lords but well beyond this place. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 92B withdrawn.
93: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
“Requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards
(1) Chapters of an international trade agreement that contain provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the United Kingdom may not be ratified unless the conditions in subsections (2) to (5) have been met.(2) The condition in this subsection is that a Minister of the Crown has laid before Parliament a statement confirming that—(a) the agreement contains an affirmation of the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under the World Trade Organisation Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, and(b) any agricultural or food product imported into the United Kingdom under the agreement will have been produced or processed according to standards which, on the date of their importation, are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to—(i) animal health and welfare,(ii) protection of the environment,(iii) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and(iv) plant health.(3) The condition in this subsection is that the Secretary of State has by regulations specified—(a) the process by which the Secretary of State will determine—(i) that the standards to which any agricultural or food product imported into the United Kingdom under a trade agreement is produced or processed are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health, and(ii) that the enforcement of standards in relation to any product under subsection (3)(a)(i) is at least as effective as the enforcement of the equivalent domestic standards and regulations in the United Kingdom;(b) the “relevant domestic standards and regulations” for the purposes of subsections (2)(b) and (3)(a)(i).(4) The condition in this subsection is that the chapters have been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown.(5) The condition in this subsection is that a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the chapters has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and—(a) the House of Lords has debated the motion, or(b) the House of Lords has not concluded a debate on the motion before the end of the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the first Lords sitting day after the day on which the House of Commons passes the resolution mentioned in subsection (4). (6) A Minister of the Crown may, where the Minister considers appropriate, make regulations amending any regulations made under subsection (3).(7) Regulations made under subsection (3) or (6) are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.(8) In this section—“chapters” means any individual section or sections of an international trade agreement;“international trade agreement” means—(a) an agreement that is or was notifiable under—(i) paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the 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 the 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 paragraph (a)(i) or (ii);“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;“ratified” has the same meaning as in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010;“World Trade Organisation Sanitary and Phytosanitary 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 Agreement” means the agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994.”
Amendment 94 (to Amendment 93)
94: After Clause 42, in subsection (2)(b), leave out “their importation, are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations” and insert “its import, are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant international standards and regulations and which are consistent with the United Kingdom's obligations contained in subsection (2)(a),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the others in the name of Viscount Trenchard to Lord Grantchester's amendment, recognise that domestic standards are identical to EU standards and in certain respects are not compliant with WTO rules, correct the conflict between subsection (2)(a) and subsection (2)(b) as drafted, and ensure that international trade agreements will be compliant with WTO rules.
Amendments 94 to 96 (to Amendment 93) not moved.
Amendment 93 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 97. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
97: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade and Agriculture Commission
(1) The Trade and Agriculture Commission must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high as, or higher than, standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for agricultural goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.(2) “Agricultural goods” under subsection (1) includes, but is not limited to, standards relating to—(a) animal welfare,(b) protection of the environment,(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and(d) plant health.(3) Her Majesty’s Government may not make any international trade agreement that contains provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the United Kingdom unless the Trade and Agriculture Commission has expressed in writing to the Secretary of State that it is satisfied the criteria under subsection (1) have been met in relation to the draft of the agreement.(4) The Trade and Agriculture Commission may submit recommendations to the Secretary of State for how the draft agreement could be revised in order to meet the criteria established under subsection (1).(5) Where the Trade and Agriculture Commission submit recommendations to the Secretary of State under subsection (4), the Secretary of State must—(a) respond in writing within 14 calendar days, and(b) lay the recommendations and response before Parliament.(6) The Trade and Agriculture Commission may appoint staff and advisers.(7) The Trade and Agriculture Commission may authorise staff to do anything required or authorised to be done by the Commission.”
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this group of amendments and speak to Amendment 97. I thank the co-signatories for their support: the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Henig, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger.
I will speak briefly to other amendments in the group, but I would first like to set out how developments have taken place since we discussed an earlier version, Amendment 270, in Committee. The most significant development is that we now have a Trade and Agriculture Commission and it has met a couple of times.
The second development is the interim report, which has been published by Henry Dimbleby. Spoiler alert: I have carefully read Amendments 98 and 99 in the names of my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lady Noakes, and want to dispense with them before I discuss Amendment 97 in depth. They are interesting: Amendment 98 is self-explanatory. However, along with Amendment 99, while they could be seen as fairly innocent or innocuous, they are not. In many cases they touch a raw nerve because this is a contested area of the World Trade Organization agreement. Amendment 99 refers to being
“consistent with the terms of the World Trade Organization Agreement”.
That poses problems for me. It would be far better if it read “considered to be consistent”. This is an issue on which the WTO rules are silent.
The Government clearly stated their commitment to animal welfare in their 2019 general election manifesto. Therefore, I would be surprised if the Minister supported that amendment. Amendments 97 and 101 are not deemed to be strict alternatives. They have been considered by the clerks in the Public Bill Office not to be inconsistent and not incompatible. It is almost a mirror image of Amendment 101, which I am sure those who have signed that amendment will speak to.
What I am calling for here is that we must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high or higher than those applying to imported agricultural goods. I then go on to set out what “agricultural goods” should cover, and obviously I have referred to
“animal welfare … protection of the environment … food safety, hygiene and traceability, and … plant health.”
That relates to Amendment 90 earlier.
The key paragraph in subsection (3) states that the
“Government may not make any international trade agreement that contains provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the United Kingdom unless the Trade and Agriculture Commission has expressed in writing to the Secretary of State that it is satisfied the criteria under subsection (1) have been met”.
The importance of this is that Parliament will have to decide a number of questions in the context of the Bill. Does Parliament want to have a Trade and Agriculture Commission which winds up its work at the end of December? If so, it would therefore not be permanent and its advice would not be binding, and it would not be a statutory authority, which is currently the case. Or does Parliament believe that there is a need for a permanent statutory body, operating independently of the Department for International Trade, with its own staff, offices and facilities, and whose advice would be binding on the Government, in the sense that they would have to give good reasons to Parliament as to why they did not follow the recommendations?
Subsection (4) of my amendment says that:
“The Trade and Agriculture Commission may submit recommendations to the Secretary of State for how the draft agreement could be revised in order to meet the criteria”
that I set out earlier. In subsection (5) it says that:
“Where the Trade and Agriculture Commission submit recommendations to the Secretary of State under subsection (4)”,
which I just referred to, the Secretary of State will have 14 calendar days to respond and then that response and the recommendations will be laid before Parliament. The key is that those recommendations and the report will be debated in the usual way—it will be for Parliament to decide whether it should be through the Select Committees in each House, most likely the new Select Committee on international treaties.
The reason I put in subsections (6) and (7) is that I would fervently like to see the Trade and Agriculture Commission be independent, have autonomy and operate apart from the Department for International Trade, so that the commission is independently staffed and its press releases are not written by the department, which currently appears to be the case. I have set out that:
“The Trade and Agriculture Commission may appoint staff and advisers … and … may authorise staff to do anything required or authorised to be done by the Commission.”
My understanding is that that is currently not the case.
I have drawn inspiration for this amendment from the Dimbleby report and his recommendations for government. I assume that as the Dimbleby report was requested by the Government, my noble friend the Minister and the Department for International Trade will draw on the report’s recommendations. On page 79, the report helpfully sets out that:
“The Government should give itself a statutory duty to commission an independent report on all proposed trade agreements, assessing their impact on: economic productivity; food safety and public health; the environment and climate change; society and labour; human rights; and animal welfare. This report would be presented alongside a Government response when any final trade treaty is laid before Parliament. Sufficient time must be guaranteed for the discussion of these documents in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and by the relevant select committees.”
It goes on to say that any impact assessment should adopt a “holistic” approach; that it should be “independent”; that the impact assessment should be “performed by experts” and that this function “would be permanent”; and that parliamentary scrutiny would be set out on a “statutory basis”. That is what I have endeavoured to do in Amendment 97—no more, no less.
I am further indebted to other recommendations made in the Dimbleby report. On page 77, it helpfully sets out how trade agreements are scrutinised across the world. We are obviously most familiar with EU trade agreements where,
“The International Trade Committee of the European Parliament reports on the proposed agreement”.
The agreement then has to have the approval of the majority of the members of the European Parliament, and then it passes to the Council of Ministers
“for their agreement by qualified majority (55% majority representing 65% of the EU population).”
I put it to the House that we would not want a situation in which any scrutiny in this place or the other place was less than that which we currently enjoy for negotiating trade agreements through the European Parliament, as has been the case for as long as we have been a part of it. I will not rehearse this in detail, but every other major parliamentary legislator representing countries that we would hope to do trade deals with—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America, Japan and Switzerland—all have some form of advanced parliamentary scrutiny, although none goes as far as a veto.
I prefer my Amendment 97 and would like to hear other voices in the debate before I decide whether to test the opinion of the House. It is for the House this evening, and for Parliament as a whole, to take a decision on whether we want to see the Trade and Agriculture Commission continue in its present form beyond the end of this year. I have tabled a similar amendment but calling for a different body—a permanent international trade commission, for the Trade Bill—and we will obviously consider that at a future date.
I am grateful for this opportunity to set out my stall. I hope that my amendment will find favour. With that, I beg to move.
Amendment 98 (to Amendment 97)
98: After Clause 42, in subsection (1), leave out “as high as, or higher than,” and insert “which (a) are equivalent to or exceed”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the other in the name of Viscount Trenchard to Baroness McIntosh’s amendment would ensure that the Trade and Agriculture Commission would establish criteria which would ensure that United Kingdom standards comply with WTO rules.
My Lords, in moving my Amendment 98, I will speak to Amendment 99, both of which are amendments to Amendment 97 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. Once again, I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for adding her name in support of my amendments.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh seeks to require the Trade and Agriculture Commission to retain UK standards, which means EU standards. She does not refer in her amendment to the importance of conforming to WTO rules or to the benefits of being free to decide our own regulations.
I believe that standards are not two-dimensional, high or low, but that equivalent outcomes for regulations on animal welfare, the environment, and food and plant safety may be achieved through the adoption of a less cumbersome, more proportionate regulatory system.
My noble friend, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, in his Amendment 101, seek to strengthen the powers of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I believe that this is not necessary, for the reasons given by my noble friend the Minister on 28 July, when he said that he is
“committed to ensuring that trade agreements do not compromise our high standards and will continue to take into consideration the views of relevant stakeholders across the food supply chain on the impact of trade deals. A range of established stakeholder groups is already in place to advise the development of government policy on trade.” —[Official Report, 28/7/20; col. 197.]
Since then, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has set up 11 new trade advisory groups, including the agri-food trade advisory group. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that if your Lordships’ House were to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, it would then be amended to require adherence to WTO rules.
If I may, I will also refer to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about the Food Standards Agency in a previous debate. He mentioned that there were 400 cases per year of salmonella in the United States, and implied that this showed how awful—I think he, or another noble Lord, used the word “vile”—American food standards were. I think this is a bit of an overstatement: the incidence of salmonella in the United Kingdom, adjusted for our population, is actually about 20% to 25% higher than in the United States. Further to that, the incidence of campylobacter in the United Kingdom is five times higher than in the United States. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the Food Standards Agency to advise against importing American chicken, which obviously presents much less of a risk to the consumer than chicken produced in this country, where poultry farmers are forbidden to use treatments such as peracetic acid, which is used in the US.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh has not indicated that she wishes to divide the House; she said that she wants to hear what other noble Lords and the Minister have to say. I, similarly, would therefore like to wait to hear what the Minister is going to say—my noble friend Lady McIntosh has the benefit that I must make a decision before her.
I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I put my name to Amendment 97 and support other amendments in this group because, while I supported the establishment of the Government’s current Trade and Agriculture Commission, I wanted it to be set up on a more permanent basis, rather than simply operate as a six-month ad hoc body. Again, I am listed twice in this group. I am not sure whether this is good or bad, or what somebody is trying to tell me, but “I shall say this only once”. I will, hopefully, be reasonably brief.
I agree 100% with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who said in Committee that a Trade and Agriculture Commission should be established on a permanent basis, that it should report to Parliament regularly and that
“it needs to have its advice acted upon by the Secretary of State.”—[Official Report, 28/7/20; col. 164.]
I very much welcome the considerable detail and structure, set out in Amendment 101, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, regarding how such a commission would operate.
We heard in Committee that similar bodies exist in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and that such an indispensable, independent voice, which mediates between farmers and consumer interests in their Governments, can advise on trade and agricultural matters and, indeed, on trade mandates and treaties. They have been found to be extremely useful. Why not, then, set up such a permanent body in the United Kingdom? I am only guessing, but perhaps this Government want to keep as much as possible of the decision-making in these areas in their own hands and veiled in secrecy. That is why such a committee, reporting to Parliament, needs to be written into the Bill, and I hope many noble Lords will support Amendment 101, if not Amendment 97. The reason why, in some ways, I prefer Amendment 101, now that I have seen it, is that it is a more comprehensive version of Amendment 97.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, talked about food standards in America. It so happens that I have just been reading Bill Bryson’s latest book, on the body, and he has done a lot or research on food standards in America and has gathered a lot of evidence. He describes how food problems and related illnesses in America derive from American food production—he describes it as a hidden epidemic. I have to say to noble Lords that his research into this area seemed, at least to me, to be more comprehensive than that of the noble Viscount. Of course, we may differ on that matter.
In conclusion, I hope noble Lords will resist putting forward superficial historical arguments to oppose these amendments. I gently remind the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who I regret is not in his place, that one of the central threads of the Corn Law debates was the potential economic gain to be achieved by pursuing free-trade policies at a time when Britain was the workshop of the world and British workers, who were working incredibly long hours for very low wages, needed access to cheap food to keep going. I hope the noble Lord has not given us a vision of the future under this Government.
Perhaps the noble Lord also overlooked the fact that the present Government are actually sacrificing substantial economic benefits by leaving the EU —the destination, of course, I remind noble Lords, of 50% of British exports currently—in their purist pursuit of national sovereignty. This seems to me, as a modern historian, to be very different from the rational economic policies pursued by mid-19th century British Governments. As I might have said to a student in one of my seminars in a former life, “Debating skills, first rate; historical arguments, perhaps rather less impressive”.
I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I support Amendment 97, so ably moved by my noble friend Lady McIntosh and supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Henig. I concur with the point my noble friend has already made regarding this amendment: we need fair competition and a level playing field. As we know, none of us, particularly farmers and those involved in food production, wants to be undermined by cheap imports of substandard produce and husbandry from other countries.
The announcement of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission under the Department for International Trade was timely during the previous stage of the Bill. The Minister stated that it will
“shape the future of trade and agricultural policy in our current negotiations and in those to come”.—[Official Report, 28/7/20; col. 198.]
It will also provide advice to help promote our agenda at the WTO and other international fora, including on international standards for animal welfare and environmental protection, and to advance and protect consumer interests and those of developing countries. I add my voice to the calls for this commission to be permanent and to have a legislative footing, rather than be a six-month flash in the pan. It must be both truly independent and accountable, and its recommendations must have weight and be given true consideration by the relevant Secretaries of State. I was also pleased to see that there is a specific working group looking at standards, including animal welfare standards.
In Committee, I mentioned the concerns surrounding stocking densities of meat products and the amount of antibiotics pumped into them to keep them healthy, not just in the US but in other parts of the world where we know even less about production methods. I hope the Minister will feel able to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 98 and 99, in the name of my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I will not spend any time going into the substance of whether the Trade and Agriculture Commission should be extended in time or scope beyond the arrangements that the Government have already made. I support the Government in this and will not support those amendments. The Government have been clear on their policy, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard explained, and I believe that that should be enough for Parliament.
As with the earlier group—when we debated Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—if we have to have something in this Bill, which I hope that we do not, it should be drafted to reflect our post-EU place in the WTO as a full member again. It is those standards that should be driving international trade of all kinds, including agriculture and food products. The WTO is the place to argue for standards rather than using a parochial approach that might well put us at odds with the WTO, as has happened with the EU. For this reason, I will support my noble friend’s Amendments 98 and 99 if he chooses to press them.
My Lords, Amendment 101 is in my name; it is not dissimilar to Amendment 97, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. My interests are as recorded in the register. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for supporting this amendment. I also thank the Minister for his open door, his willingness to make time available and his helpfulness throughout the passage of this Bill. His graciousness, tolerance and patience are very much appreciated.
I have been reflecting on what UK agricultural history will record in the chapter titled, “Membership of the European Union”. This has effectively now ended after more than 40 years. It just happens to span most of my farming career. One constant concern was what we termed “the level playing field”, which always proved to be rather elusive. We believed, perhaps mistakenly, that other member states knew how to game the system and we were committed to the rules of cricket. We are now entering the next important chapter of agricultural history and we will be trading on the global playing field. The purpose of this amendment is to try to avoid being bowled a googly from an experienced spin bowler to an unsuspecting batsman on a poor wicket.
I compliment the Government for establishing the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It was a very welcome decision and I look forward to the report it has been commissioned to deliver by the end of the year. While we are debating this Bill, the commission are researching the fine print of WTO rules. I absolutely agree that those rules should be what determine our trade policy. They are researching what is possible and what is not and what good trade deals might look like. By the time they complete their investigations and research, we will have established a wealth of knowledge on the subject. My challenge is, why, having established that resource, would one send them all home for Christmas, never to be seen again? The logic of retaining that valuable knowledge—that talent—to scrutinise future trade deals to make sure that they comply with the standards and terms in their initial report is obvious. I am disappointed that the Government have resisted the pressure to give the commission an ongoing role.
This amendment has the wholehearted support not only of the farming unions of the United Kingdom and of the CLA, but of animal welfare groups, the environmental bodies and, very importantly, the British public. Rarely in my limited experience has a single amendment had such widespread support. Many of the comments made in the debate on the group of amendments beginning with Amendment 89ZA, led by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, apply to this amendment.
Let me counter the accusation that this is a protection measure, that this is an amendment that will create a barrier to trade. This is absolutely not the case. We have no choice but to negotiate trade deals. I too am delighted that the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, has a deal with Japan over the line. She, together with the Defra Secretary, has already established the Trade and Agriculture Commission to provide guidance on the standards and principles that should apply to imported food. This amendment is to ensure that these are applied and adhered to when the deals are agreed.
I speak for all stakeholders in saying that we want to raise the standards that apply to all globally traded food. If I might use another metaphor: all the boats rise on the tide of improving global standards. I would like to further this line of reasoning from a slightly different, more holistic approach. This is a framework Bill, as has been clear from the outset. We have debated at length what should be eligible for support—particularly through the ELM scheme—as well as who should be eligible, and how improvements in productivity might be encouraged and fair dealing obligations in supply chains be protected.
The commercial reality is that farmers and land managers in this new era—this new chapter—will generate income from three main activities: they will produce food and, potentially, energy; they will have alternative enterprises, including the provision of services which will add value to their businesses—over 50% are doing this already; and they will, I hope, participate in the ELM scheme. The majority of income for the majority of farmers will come from growing food. So their returns in the marketplace will still have the biggest single influence on the viability of their businesses, even with the investment in ELMS.
We have a unique opportunity to transform the management of the countryside through the ELM scheme. We can clean up the water and the air, help restore habitats, create valuable ecosystems, improve soil quality and enhance our natural capital. We can continue to improve our animal health and welfare. I am also sure we can deliver the ambition of the NFU to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from agriculture by 2040—10 years ahead of the national target. We can do all this by, I hope, investing a few billion pounds of taxpayer funds each year through the ELM scheme and delivering excellent value in the process.
However, we will not deliver these essential outcomes if our market is undermined by cheap food imports produced to lower, unacceptable standards. I will give noble Lords one stark example. Through significant investment in management systems, buildings, infrastructure and data capture, UK farmers have reduced their antibiotic use in farm animals by 50%—by half—in four years, and progress continues on the journey to reduce it even further. In the United States, antibiotic use is still at least twice that of the UK and up to five times more per animal in some species. We can help set the bar for global standards, giving our consumers and those in our export markets the confidence that the UK is a leading influence.
I conclude by asking: why would we put all this progress at risk by not making the simple change set out in this amendment? It places on the Trade and Agriculture Commission the responsibility for expressing its opinion on individual trade deals, the equivalence of the production standards, and how standards will be monitored in countries from which we import food. Importantly, this amendment requires the Secretary of State to lay reports from the Trade and Agriculture Commission on each trade deal before Parliament. This is a key feature of the amendment. I look forward to the response from the Minister and hope that he will accept this amendment. Depending on that response, I may wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I very much support the amendment, the purposes of which have been so well articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle; I was pleased to add my name to it. The noble Lord clearly sets out the progress that has been made, and the need to ensure that that is sustained and not undermined.
In Committee, I subscribed to and supported a similar amendment in the noble Lord’s name. On that occasion, I quoted from a letter which the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Mr Andrew McCornick, had sent to MPs during the passage of this Bill in another place. It was admittedly before the Government announced their Trade and Agriculture Commission; nevertheless, I believe that the sentiments expressed are still relevant and worth repeating.
Mr McCornick wrote
“it is vital that future trade deals do not curtail our ability to grow our reputation as a nation of provenance and quality by undercutting domestic production with imported produce, with which we cannot compete on price and production method.”
This amendment is drafted in similar terms to the one tabled in Committee, but there is a crucial difference. We have heeded the concerns expressed during the debate in Committee about the short life of the Trade and Agriculture Commission which was proposed then. So this amendment proposes a continuing existence for the commission, after producing its important primary report, to make recommendations to the Secretary of State to promote, maintain and safeguard current standards of food production through international trade policy, including standards relating to food safety, the environment and animal welfare. This continuing role may be achieved by the Secretary of State prescribing further functions for the Trade and Agriculture Commission after its initial report is published, and in any event, because the TAC will have a continuing responsibility to report on any trade agreement negotiated by the Government, to consider its impact on the trade of agri-food products and to assess its impact on the ability of the Secretary of State to promote, maintain and safeguard standards of agri-food production, including in relation to food safety, the environment and animal welfare.
The amendment would give the commission an explicit additional duty to advise Parliament on all trade deals and how they would impact on food and farming standards. That is one of the reasons the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland has indicated that it would encourage support for the amendment.
I shall conclude by giving two compelling reasons why this amendment should commend itself to Parliament, and an equally good reason why it should appeal to the Government. While providing for the Trade and Agriculture Commission to make recommendations, the amendment gives a key role to Parliament to consider recommendations as well as to determine Motions on the Government’s response to them—so Parliament would have a direct role.
Secondly, the provisions in relation to the new trade treaties supplement the rather limited role given to Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 in relation to the ratification of treaties. Both bring back more control to Parliament. As for the Government, the amendment would help them to secure their pledge set out on page 57 of their 2019 manifesto:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
It seems to me that this is a win-win situation all round.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in supporting this amendment. Indeed, it is the only amendment tabled on Report which has my name attached to it. I shall be brief.
The point encapsulated in the last two speeches is very important. The National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union, which I worked very closely with when I was the farming Minister in Northern Ireland, all support this amendment. It is also supported by the CLA. That is incredibly widespread support that should enable the Minister to grab it with both hands. It cannot be anything but good for the Government to have the kind of support from the farming community that an amendment such as this carries.
Before I make my other comments, I want to respond to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who was kindly paying attention, or partly paying attention, to what I said in the previous debate. What I said was that in the United States of America, over 400 people a year die of salmonella. You can get the figures from the Centers for Disease Control. I did not say that they all died from eating chicken. What I also said was that nobody has died from this in the UK in the past 10 years. There may have been one case, but there was a dispute about it.
So it is not a question of looking at populations. The number of deaths in America is huge. Per head of population, food poisoning cases in the United States are 10 times higher than in Great Britain—although I did not go into that. People in America die from salmonella, but here it is not a cause of death. That is the difference, and the point I was making.
This amendment is very important for providing the checks and balances for what is a somewhat haphazard Government. I am not criticising the Minister or his team in this respect, or indeed the Bill team, but it is a haphazard Government, and this would provide checks and balances. The Government cannot rely on the existing structure. For example, I do not think that the Food Standards Agency is resourced or has the overall competence to get involved in the details of trade deals, as the proposed commission would. Of course, bodies such as the FSA and Food Standards Scotland would advise the commission, but the commission would have the main role.
It is also quite important that Amendment 101 not just involves but respects the primacy of Parliament, which Amendment 97 clearly does not. As I read that amendment, it seeks to give a veto over trade deals, and that cannot be right. I shall not recite the contents of Amendment 101, as that would be quite wrong. However, proposed new subsection (4)(d) in Amendment 101 is quite useful. In fact, I think that the Minister himself would probably quite like a list of the existing powers of the Minister, as it would be useful to know. Basically, we would like to know which powers they have got that they are not using. The powers are spread throughout a massive amount of legislation and it would be useful to have a list of them so that we could check which ones they are not using. Proposed new paragraph (f), which ties in with paragraph (c), would make the monitoring of imported foods—something that will not be easy—practical and workable.
We also have to remember that the EU does that for us now. The EU, on behalf of the member states, sends inspectors all over the world to check that farms and food factories are safe and of sufficient quality to supply the EU. We will have to repeat all that ourselves, and therefore it is very important that we have a system for monitoring the situation.
On the efficiency of UK agriculture—I am speaking from memory here—I think that the UK is so efficient in producing milk from dairy cattle that, if the rest of the world replicated our systems, there would be less than half the number of dairy cattle in the world. In other words, we are very efficient, and if we could spread that technology around the world, we would have fewer dairy cattle, less methane, less pollution and much more efficient production.
In short, on the idea of a standing rather than a temporary commission, a standing commission would consist of consumers, traders and producers, and it would instil far more confidence than the six-month commission that the Government have set up. The Minister and his team would be very wise to embrace Amendment 101.
My Lords, I too will speak on Amendment 101, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, to which I have added my name. The previous three speakers have more than adequately spelled out why it makes a great deal of sense, so I can limit my comments.
The Government, through the joint letter from the Environment Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Trade, have assured us that standards will not be compromised as part of trade negotiations. Furthermore, I am reassured by the breadth of experience among the agri-food trade advisory group. However, welcome though these developments are, fundamentally they lack the legally binding requirement that properly guarantees that Parliament will have recourse to ensuring that our standards are not diluted.
We all recognise the value of our agricultural standards in promoting the well-being of consumers, producers and the environment. As part of the Government’s ambition to conclude new trade deals, compromises will be required, but it is imperative that they do not encroach on our standards, which must remain a red line. The amendment seeks to turn verbal and written guarantees into a comprehensive legal mechanism that combines independent expertise with parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that the necessary measures are taken to protect our agricultural sector, the environment and, above all, consumers.
This amendment echoes the recommendations of the Government’s own independent review into developing a national food strategy, which states:
“The Government should adopt a statutory duty to give Parliament the time and opportunity to properly scrutinise any new trade deal.”
It also advises that impact assessments be
“published well before the ratification of any trade agreement, to allow appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.”
By extending both the mandate and lifespan of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, I believe the correct balance of independent and parliamentary oversight would be established to truly assess the consequences of future trade deals for the agriculture sector and, if need be, the potential avenues for a course to ensure that measures are taken to uphold our standards. I hope the House will support Amendment 101.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the four signatories—proposers and seconders—to Amendment 101, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I support this amendment and added an amendment to it because I wanted to ensure that this Trade and Agriculture Commission had full representation from some of the people who should be on it. I notice that my noble friend Lord Naseby has added another amendment. Actually, I am not sure that my amendment is necessary; it was more to point out the lack of representation in these areas.
In the previous Division, I supported, some what reluctantly, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I did not do so because I doubted, even for one moment, the sincerity of my noble friend Lord Gardiner—I have immense respect for him—but I have been around politics for a while now, and I know that all parties can change manifesto commitments and find some way out of them. Sometimes it is more difficult to explain how they have changed them; for example, I remember a Conservative manifesto pledge about the expansion of Heathrow—“no ifs, no buts”—and that soon changed. I will not get on to that hobby horse at the moment, but I am saying that, despite assurances, things can change.
Therefore, I will address this amendment’s extension of the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission beyond the short period for which it has been set up. I believe it was set up because the Government needed something to try to quell those who were anxious about where the Government were going. I do not think it went far enough. We just sent something back to the Commons, having agreed the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and—from my 12 years’ experience as a Whip in the other place—I think there is every chance of it being overturned.
However, as has been said, the Government have a wonderful opportunity; as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, put it, what is not to like about this amendment? As we heard, it has the support of the NFU, the CLA, environmental bodies and that well-known left-wing organisation the Mail on Sunday. Therefore, this is not some bearded environmentalist’s amendment; this is something that I think the public would like to see as a matter of reassurance. The Government could take credit for accepting this amendment—or tabling their own modification—to reassure the country that we will not be sacrificing our standards to gain a particular trade benefit. Of course those trade deals are incredibly important, but not at any price.
I urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to have a good look at the amendment and to think that if the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, puts it to the House, I will be supporting him. I am sorry to say to my noble friend Lord Naseby that I will not be pressing my own amendment, but we ought to look at some sort of compromise that will sort out this remaining issue.
Most of the time when I have spoken, it has been about the environment and so forth. This is one issue where I am fully supportive of farmers and their livelihoods.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Trenchard on the question of criteria to ensure that UK standards comply with WTO rules. However, in this grouping my main consideration is the composition of the Trade and Agriculture Commission itself. So far, the suggested membership comprises larger industry representation and experts covering quite a narrow group of issues. It does not take in those for environmental matters, climate, pesticides, food safety and other public interests; nor does it those from small and family farms. Consequently, arising from current proposals for this type of restricted TAC membership, there is the worry that problems raised by the public and farmers’ organisations would not be sufficiently addressed, the public interest thereby becoming neglected and even undermined.
That is why Amendment 104 in my name seeks to broaden the composition of the TAC to make it more representative and effective, hence the proposal that its membership instead should look after a much wider field of public interest. That would include animal welfare; climate; pesticides; food safety; hygiene and traceability; agricultural livelihoods; the protection of the environment, including forests; and fair trade with developing countries. I am sure the Minister would agree that this might be a better way to proceed.
My Lords, I support Amendment 101 in the name of my noble friend Lord Curry of Kirkharle. The Government are well aware of the great concerns shared by farmers, the veterinary profession—of which I am a proud member—animal welfare and environmental bodies and, above all, the public about maintaining standards in food, animal welfare and the environment as we embark on negotiating trade agreements in a global market where standards and prices vary greatly and low prices may correlate with low standards, environmental exploitation and, indeed, human exploitation. We must set a threshold of high standards to our global trading partners and, to use a familiar term, level up where necessary.
I hear the Government’s repeated assurances that standards will not be compromised but assurances, to use an old English proverb, butter no parsnips. I regret to say that I am still unconvinced by the Government's arguments explaining their reluctance to incorporate a commitment to standards in this Bill. I also still wonder at the inconsistency of a situation where there is a determination to maintain a legally dubious ban on chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef but not to provide our trade negotiators with minimum requirements for much more significant animal welfare, public health or environmental concerns.
That said, the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is to be welcomed, and the Government are to be commended on this pragmatic step. The commission incorporates much expertise and has been given important goals. But—I am sorry that there is a “but”, and it is a big one—born in July, the commission will be dead by December, which is hardly enough time to grow some feathers, let alone fly. With such expertise at its disposal, as we just begin to negotiate trade agreements—a process that will continue for years in a rapidly changing environment—would it not be wise to maintain the commission until it is clear that it is no longer required?
We understand that other existing bodies will ensure the maintenance of current standards. The Food Standards Agency has a proven track record of assuring food safety and I am confident that our food safety will not be compromised, partly because its independence is guaranteed in statute—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in an earlier debate. But which body or bodies will be monitoring, auditing and inspecting, if necessary in countries of origin, animal welfare and environmental standards in the future? If it is to be the FSA, it will need much enhanced resources and expertise.
The recent trade agreement with Japan is welcome news, and we have been assured, in a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, of 11 September, that
“we have maintained all existing protections for our high standards of … animal welfare”.
But in the World Animal Protection ratings for farm animal welfare legislation, Japan has a G, which is substantially lower than the UK’s rating. Japan has no specific legislation on animal transportation, the rearing of pigs, laying hens or chickens, and still permits sow stalls and conventional battery cages, in contrast to the UK, which prohibits sow stalls, veal crates and conventional battery cages for laying hens, and has extensive legislation on animal transportation. While the UK has legislation preventing the import of meat not slaughtered to UK standards, will that prohibition be maintained for all countries and, if so, how?
Echoing a question from my noble friend Lord Krebs in the debate on Amendment 93, which body or bodies are going to ensure animal products imported from Japan or anywhere else are produced to standards of welfare and husbandry, and with due regard to environmental standards, that are not lower than we demand of our own farmers? In reply to Amendment 93, the Minister said that we will repatriate audit and inspection capability hitherto provided by the EU, but I ask the Minister, who is going to carry out these vital audit and verification functions? Are they ready and fit for purpose? What about their independence?
This whole issue merits continuing oversight of welfare and environmental standards by an independent group of experts analogous to the Food Standards Agency. The BSE and other food crises demonstrated, historically, the need for and value of an independent body to oversee aspects of our food. It led to the creation of the Food Standards Agency. It separated the conflicted interests of Defra, which quite properly supports the producers and suppliers of our food, from the role of protecting our consumers. Surely it is in the Government’s interest and is a basic tenet of good regulatory process that these two functions—supporting providers and safeguarding consumers—be separated.
I have a last question. While the TAC is due to be wound up after it reports in December, the minutes of its first meeting in August show that it is considering the enduring need for a similar group or groups in the longer term. I ask the Minister, if the commission advises that it ought to have a continuing role or that a similar body be created with a similar role, will the Government give that genuine and serious consideration?
In conclusion, I strongly support this amendment to ensure that, for imported food products, there is an independent body of expertise in animal welfare and environmental standards to advise the Government on future trade agreements.
My Lords, I support Amendment 101 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. It ensures that the Trade and Agriculture Commission that the Department for International Trade has established will not be toothless, transitory and a bit of a fig leaf. Your Lordships can hear that I am being rather less complimentary about the establishment of the commission than many other noble Lords. In my view, it defies description that it can be expected to carry out this valuable role in the time it has been given. I will come on to talk about the inadequacies of its composition.
We absolutely need the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, to ensure that the commission has an ongoing, effective role in ensuring standards and holding the Government to account through all the successive trade negotiations, that it has that valuable, essential ability to report openly to Parliament and that Parliament has the opportunity to influence successive agreements.
I also support Amendment 102 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which provides criteria for appointment to the commission. One of the reasons I am anxious about the nature of the commission is its reporting arrangements. At the moment it reports to the Department for International Trade and is a bit of a poodle body of that part of government.
I know the Minister will tell us that Defra is fully involved and working jointly with the Department for International Trade, but the impression I get is that the environment is very much an afterthought. There is only one environmental member of the commission, and there has been very little discussion of any environmental issues in the commission’s two meetings so far. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just admirably demonstrated how the arrangements for oversight of issues such as animal welfare and the environment are inadequate in its current construction.
I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, because it clearly lays out the criteria for membership of the commission and would help plug the gap that very much exists at the moment, in that consumer and environmental organisations and experts are, if not underrepresented, totally missing. It would mean that the commission has the right range of skills to go with the full set of teeth that the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, would give it. I think we should support both those amendments.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and I agree with her comments on the TAC. This group of extremely important amendments completes our debates on this issue. A large number of your Lordships have spoken knowledgeably and passionately on the subject.
During previous debates on this subject, many noble Lords reiterated the inadequacies of the Trade and Agriculture Commission as currently proposed. It is advisory only; there is no compunction on the Government to follow its advice or recommendations. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked the Minister whether the Government are satisfied with the temporary commission or whether an amendment to make it permanent would be better, so that it had some teeth and would therefore be able to respond to the first Dimbleby report.
There are no members representing the views of environmentalists or animal welfare or consumer groups. Can the Minister say how the commission as set up will inspire and maintain the confidence of the public, given that its chair referred to public concern over chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef as “alarmism”? Making such a statement does little to reassure the public of his independence.
Amendment 101 from the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, sets out how the TAC should be established and operate. This is very specific, and I will avoid making a Second Reading speech. It is bizarre that the Government do not wish the TAC to continue its work into the future. This amendment will not create a barrier to trade. The majority of farmers’ income will come from producing and trading food.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, in his Amendment 102, seeks to correct the deficiencies of membership of the original commission and ensure a more inclusive membership. This is an amendment to the splendid amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has similarly spoken to his amendment on membership of the TAC.
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness has reminded us of the view of the NFU in Scotland that the standards of our farmers should not be undercut by trade deal standards and should be safeguarded.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made powerful speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, reminded us that the NFUs of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together with the CLA, all support this amendment, which respects the primacy of Parliament.
With a few notable exceptions, every speaker is in favour of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which had enormous support during previous stages of the Bill. Ensuring the TAC is independent, representative and has the necessary legislative backing is vital if it is to be successful.
This group of amendments is all about protecting farmers and ensuring that the public can feel confident in the food we buy and eat. I feel certain that the Minister understands the strength of feeling in the House on this issue. I trust that his response to the questions posed this evening will be positive, and that those of us concerned about this subject can be reassured. And I apologise for my croaky voice.
This has been another good debate on another key issue in the Bill. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments, which cover the key variances of opinion on approaches to food standards for imported product through the mechanism of a Trade and Agriculture Commission.
In Committee, I expressed anxiety about the approach of a Trade and Agriculture Commission, should this be the only way that UK food and production standards could be maintained as future trade deals are negotiated. From these Benches, we wanted to secure the enactment of the UK’s minimum level of food standards by enshrining it in legislation. That your Lordships’ House passed this measure earlier tonight has added to our confidence that the House of Commons is being asked to think again on this issue.
This allows us to approach these amendments with confidence that the Trade and Agriculture Commission could provide valuable insights and independent analysis on all trade deals concerning food standards, which would encompass the equivalents of production methods, welfare standards and environmental conditions that apply in the UK.
There are essentially two amendments from two very eminent Members of your Lordships’ House, although they are subject to further amendments. Amendment 97 is led by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. She has come into the House from the Commons, having served as a very successful chair of the other place’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. I pay tribute to the way she steered that prominent committee.
Amendment 101, also with amendments, is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and others. It has the backing of the National Farmers Union, which has been prominent in discussions throughout proceedings both here and in the Commons. The NFU could not team up with a better proponent for agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, spoke of his reflections on his career in agriculture. Over many years, he and I met at several key moments of agricultural policy developments. They might be designated as crossroads for agriculture. Here is another: he will probably say that he has met me too often.
While I commend the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, we much prefer the reconsidered amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lady Henig in her summary of the situation. We will support Amendment 101 rather than Amendment 97, should that be pressed to a vote.
We welcome the developments that took place over the summer and I can signal that we will approve the amendment, with or without the further amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. Amendment 102 widens the representation on the commission and further enshrines its permanence beyond the temporary nature that was the Government’s very limited concession on this proposal. That amendment provides better clarity on Amendment 101 than Amendment 104 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, puts the commission on a statutory and permanent basis, with key powers to make recommendations to the Government and Parliament on all future trade deals. This key improvement should be taken back to the Commons for reconsideration, underlined by the widespread approval of this House. This key mechanism to adjudicate independently on trade deals is needed for consumer confidence and demanded by farmers, endorsed by all their unions in all parts of the United Kingdom. The NFU has secured the agreement of the British public through a petition signed by over a million people.
The potential loophole that exists for food that goes into the food service sector needs to be plugged by the commission. We would contend that your Lordships should return this amendment to the Commons with a powerful majority. The commission could build up considerable expertise that will be crucial for the future of food standards and an excellent resource in parliamentary scrutiny of future trade deals.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for contributing to another thought-provoking debate. I will deal with the amendments as one because they are so interrelated.
As noble Lords will be aware, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains in law our standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health, and food safety at the end of the transition period. The independent advice of our food regulators, the FSA and FSS, and the rigorous processes they have developed, will continue to ensure that all food imports into the UK are safe and meet the relevant UK product rules and regulations, including imports under new free trade deals. A range of other government agencies, such as the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Health and Safety Executive and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, will ensure that the full range of standards and import requirements within their remits are upheld.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, will remember what I said in response to an earlier group of amendments, but I will repeat it. The FSA has doubled the number of risk assessors since 2017. It can draw on the expertise of 100 scientific experts and support staff and has recruited 35 additional members to its advisory committees. It also takes into account wider consumer interests such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, also spoke about the Japan trade deal. The audit and verification function is currently being developed within Defra and will be in place and operational before the end of the transition period. All existing import standards will continue to apply to the new Japan trade deal, as they will for other trade agreements.
In addition, a range of established stakeholder groups is already in place to advise the Government on trade policy development. These include the DIT’s agri-food trade advisory group, which has a recently renewed membership of more than 30 representatives from the industry who will provide close technical and strategic advice to the Government as negotiations progress. This approach has been welcomed by these stakeholders as a way to input meaningfully into ongoing trade talks. Defra also continues to run various supply chain advisory groups, such as the arable group, the livestock group and the food and drink panel. These groups already provide valuable expert advice to help the Government develop trade policy and they will continue to do so.
In addition to this, the Government listened closely to valuable feedback from Parliament and stakeholders, most notably the NFU—of which I should declare my membership—to strengthen these existing arrangements. In July we established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which operates under the auspices of the Department for International Trade. Defra is closely involved in this work and Defra officials are part of the commission’s secretariat.
I should also say that the Government have ensured that there is a cross-section of representatives across agriculture, animal health, international development, hospitality, food SMEs, retail and the environment. The Trade and Agriculture Commission will help shape the future of trade policy, both in our current negotiations and in those to come. It will also provide advice to help promote our agenda at the WTO and other international fora, including on standards for animal welfare and environmental protections, and to advance and protect consumer interests and those of developing countries.
The commission has already met five times and recruited additional representatives to working groups to assist in its work. There are more than 20 additional individuals sitting on three groups covering consumers, competitiveness and standards to provide even greater depth and breadth of knowledge to the commission’s work. This number will continue to grow. The commission is also fully open to evidence and input from any organisation or individual and will reach out as guided by its members and working group participants. Specifically, a stakeholder engagement exercise was recently discussed by the members, as the public summaries show. It is important that I should emphasise “the public summaries show”. The Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report will come before noble Lords at the end of year when the Department for International Trade presents it to Parliament.
With regard to Amendment 101, the established Trade and Agriculture Commission is fully free to consider and make recommendations on any of the issues laid out in the amendment, including on the need for other groups, trade policy measures or duties on government relating to the examination of trade agreements. Indeed, work is already under way considering these issues. The establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and the wide inclusion of authoritative figures are testament to the fact that the Government recognise the need for advice on these matters and will listen.
I should also say that if, at a meeting held with my noble friend Lord Grimstone, the commission came forward and said that it needed somewhat more time to conclude its work, I have no doubt that both departments would look on that favourably.
I also note that Part 1 of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy review has recommended a role for the Trade and Agriculture Commission, to define a set of core standards covering animal welfare, environmental and climate protections, which could be linked to tariff reductions in new trade deals. It is also worth noting that in the same recommendation the review reflected that broad legislation on the standards of imported products would create negotiability challenges. The independent membership of the existing Trade and Agriculture Commission has already started considering these recommendations and will report publicly with its view.
I should also say, particularly to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, that the working groups set up by the Trade and Agriculture Commission are equipped with appropriate expertise to consider in depth the recommendations of Henry Dimbleby’s report. They are examining all details thoroughly and, as I say, will provide a clear view.
With regard to Amendment 97, I note that the Trade and Agriculture Commission has been set up as an advisory board, not another regulatory body with a fixed term and a tight scope. This is a deliberate decision, which may not find favour with some of your Lordships, taken to avoid duplication of the work of our agencies. It is important that our established regulatory bodies continue to be a defining voice. The advice provided by the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be taken very seriously and the expertise provided will be essential to the development of trade policy.
In contrast to bodies foreseen in both amendments, the commission’s work is already under way and we do not have to wait until the Bill is passed. Moreover, its existence could not have come at a more opportune time, as our trade negotiations with the United States, Australia and New Zealand are live and it is perfectly placed to feed into the talks.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have heard from many noble Lords about trade-related bodies in other countries. I did look into this, and I would like to highlight the strengths of the government department, agencies and bodies that we have in this country which carry out a wide range of trade-related activities, including research, analysis and adjudication. Your Lordships will also be aware that the Government have recently set up 11 trade advisory groups, including one dedicated to agri-food to which I referred earlier. These groups have been designed to provide the blend of strategy and technical expertise necessary to support UK trade policy.
Some noble Lords have pointed to the US International Trade Commission as a model to be followed. However, the ITC has no direct policy-making or negotiation responsibilities and, unlike the Trade and Agriculture Commission, it does not have a food or agriculture-specific role, or provide advice on the policies that the US should adopt in trade agreements to protect standards.
The Government are committed to a transparent and inclusive trade policy. As your Lordships are aware, Parliament already has a clear scrutiny role under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRaG—which provides parliamentarians with a period of 21 sitting days to scrutinise the final treaty text before it can be ratified.
International treaties cannot themselves amend domestic legislation. Should any changes to our law be needed to implement a future free trade agreement, legislation will need to be scrutinised and passed by Parliament. However, the Government have gone well beyond the statutory requirements of CRaG, in line with our commitment to transparency in our trade policy. We have provided extensive information to Parliament on our negotiations, including publishing our objectives and economic scoping assessments prior to the start of talks. We have continued to keep Parliament updated on negotiations as they progress, including close engagement with the International Trade Committee in the other place and the International Agreements Sub-Committee in your Lordships’ House.
At the end of negotiations, we will lay the final agreement text in Parliament under the CRaG scrutiny procedure for 21 sitting days, alongside an Explanatory Memorandum and a final impact assessment. In the case of Japan, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, we will also work closely with the International Trade Committee and International Agreements Sub-Committee so that those committees may produce an independent report on those deals. We believe that this approach strikes the right balance between respecting the UK constitution and ensuring that the Government can negotiate in the best interests of the United Kingdom, while also making sure that Parliament has the information and time it needs to scrutinise effectively the UK’s trade policy.
This is a key issue—I well understand that—and that is why the Government set up the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We have retained laws relating to imports and we have a range of statutory bodies whose members have experience and expertise. I think that, with those statements of mine as to the bodies, institutions and expertise that we have at our disposal, and, as I say, the way in which Parliament can scrutinise these matters, we have, in setting up the Trade and Agriculture Commission in the way we have, come forward with an arrangement which provides the clear advice that we desire for these trade deals, with a continuing statutory requirement of bodies of very considerable expertise.
It is for those reasons, and not because I dismiss the points that have been made—I know that some noble Lords will not want to accept the Government’s bona fides on their manifesto, which is why I said on an earlier group that it will only be when the trade deals are done that we can demonstrate, as we have done with the 20 already rolled over, that these standards have not been compromised—that I perceive that I will be able to satisfy your Lordships. But I can assure your Lordships, and I emphasise again, that the Government’s setting up of this Trade and Agriculture Commission was designed so that it did not duplicate or overlap with the work that statutory bodies have in place and will be fulfilling. So it is with all of those points in mind that I hope my noble friend Lady McIntosh will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I would like to thank everybody who has contributed to this debate, and the small number of noble Lords who have spoken in favour of my amendments. In particular, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Dundee for seeing merit in my amendments—as indeed I do in his amendment. But I wonder why my noble friend has included the necessity to have representation of the public interest on fair trade with developing countries, without having it on fair trade with developed countries. Many—in fact, all—of the countries with which we are currently in trade negotiations are, I believe, developed countries. But I certainly congratulate him on his thoughts and ideas on that subject.
I also rather regret that I did not put down an amendment to Amendment 101, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, which seeks to do the same kinds of things as the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, but goes somewhat further. That was a missed trick on my part; I had thought of putting down these amendments early in the process, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Curry, had not put down his amendment at that time.
As I said in my remarks, I am of the mind and the opinion that it is unnecessary to strengthen the powers of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, for the reasons that I mentioned. I am also persuaded by my noble friend the Minister’s explanation that the existing regulatory bodies and the new committees are well equipped to take care of the interests of your Lordships’ House in maintaining our high standards and regulations.
I regret very much that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is also silent on the need to conform to WTO regulations, because it is of the most extreme importance that this country should be a strong advocate and ambassador for free trade around the world, and should play a leading part in the WTO. If we start out also as a second outlier, like the EU has become, we will not be able to realise our potential as an influencer of the best emerging trade standards around the world in the future.
In these circumstances, and having heard my noble friend the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 98 (to Amendment 97) withdrawn.
Amendment 99 (to Amendment 97) not moved.
I think we have had an excellent debate and I thank everyone who has contributed for their gracious remarks about all the amendments. Those who have spoken and who have put the amendments forward have gone to great lengths to consider the topic this evening and in Committee. Just to put my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s mind at rest—I am sure the Minister will confirm this—I cannot imagine for a minute that any Minister of the Crown serving Her Majesty’s Government would put anything forward that does not comply with World Trade Organization rules. We are, first and foremost, a nation that plays by the rules and abides by the rules and we have a good track record in that regard.
I would just like to express disappointment. I understand from the notes that came round that the Minister is prepared to answer a couple more questions if I raise them at this stage, and, if we are to vote on amendments tonight or at a later stage, I think this would be helpful to know. My noble friend listed again the bodies that look at food safety, but my concern is that we are continuing to confuse food standards and food safety. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has done the House a great service this evening by pressing the Minister on which body will actually carry out the audits and inspections. I want to put that as a direct question to my noble friend, for the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, gave. If he is asking the Food Standards Agency to do this work, it is work that it already does when it is food coming in from third countries, as the EU and other countries will be when we have left.
I think there is a confusion here. My Amendment 97 is about food standards, animal welfare and all these other things, not whether they actually meet the food standards regulations that the Food Standards Agency applies. So, when my noble friend reels off a list of all the bodies that are going to be looking at food safety, I think we are missing the point. What we would like to have this evening is a reassurance as to why, in his view, Amendments 97, 101, 102 and others are not needed —because I have not been convinced. I am desperately worried that we are potentially going to put our farmers in a very difficult position, and our consumers when they are making choices going forward. So will he answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, about which body will carry out these audits and inspections and which body will uphold these standards?
My noble friend said that Parliament will have 21 days to scrutinise any free trade agreement, I presume, that comes before the House. What is the precise procedure? Is it CRaG or are we going to go further? What will happen in those 21 days that Parliament is being given to look at that? I hope that those of us who do not happen to sit on those Select Committees will be able to have a view. When do the Government intend to respond to the Dimbleby report? It is most unfortunate that we have had what I believe are very helpful recommendations from Henry Dimbleby—that the Trade and Agriculture Commission should take a holistic approach, should be independent, should be formed of experts, should be permanent and have a statutory basis—and I would find it very unsatisfactory if my noble friend were to say that we are not going to have a response even to part 1 before the Bill, and indeed the Trade Bill, have received Royal Assent.
My noble friend went to some lengths to say why we should accept what the status of the advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission would be. I would be satisfied—and I am sure other noble Lords would be as well—if my noble friend would confirm that the advice would have the same status as that from the Migration Advisory Committee, which is followed by the Government more or less to the letter. That would be very helpful indeed.
I will conclude by saying why I think Amendments 97, 101, 102 and others that have been put forward this evening are necessary. We find ourselves in a very weak negotiating position, and I do not accept that either the advisory group on trade or the Trade and Agriculture Commission as currently formed are up to the job. That is why we have tabled the amendments this evening. We find ourselves with no one from this country having the trade and negotiating experience that we need. We have reached out to New Zealanders and Australians to perform that duty for us. So that is why, in my view, subject to what my noble friend says, we need to have a vote on some of the amendments this evening.
My Lords, for the sake of the record, I will repeat for my noble friend my replies to the noble Lord, Lord Trees. I said that since 2017, the FSA has doubled the number of its risk assessors. It can draw on the expertise of 100 scientific experts and support staff, and it has recruited an additional 35 members to its advisory committees. In addition, I should say to my noble friend that it takes wider consumer interests into account, such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security. I also said in my reply that the function of audit and verification is currently being developed within Defra and will be in place and operational before the end of the transition period.
I am not going to repeat my speech about the number and range of trade advisory groups and the people who have been asked to join the working groups on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I said specifically that the wide inclusion of authoritative figures was a testament to the fact that the Government recognise the need for advice on these matters and will listen. I am surprised at the suggestion from my noble friend that this country does not have within its midst—because it does—people with great expertise in trade negotiations. That is why we want the Trade and Agriculture Commission to have within it people with a range of expertise. The commission was specifically asked to undertake this work in the context of there already being statutory bodies in place, and I think I have given, in very long and detailed responses to both this and an earlier group, details of the capability and the range of work that the FSA and other bodies will undertake.
On the arrangements for a commitment to a transparent and inclusive trade policy, I shall repeat again what I said, so that it is clear. Parliament has a clear scrutiny role under CRaG which provides parliamentarians with a period of 21 sitting days to scrutinise the final treaty text before it can be ratified. Those are the provisions that I set out. I also said that we would be going beyond the statutory requirements of CRaG. I shall not repeat the long passage I set out earlier, but we will set out the way in which Parliament will be informed and updated, and the way in which Parliament and the committees of both Houses will have a very considerable opportunity to opine on these arrangements.
On the national food strategy, I am sorry, but Henry Dimbleby has been asked to do a very thorough piece of work and he has been undertaking that. My noble friend may say that it is not satisfactory that his final report will not be available until the end of the Trade Bill, but I have no doubt that during the passage of that Bill, Parliament will have a lot to say—I am convinced that parliamentarians in both Houses will have a great deal to say. It does not mean that we should stop the Trade Bill because we are awaiting the very important final report from Henry Dimbleby. As I have already said, the Trade and Agriculture Commission has been asked to look into some of the early recommendations in Henry Dimbleby’s report. I have nothing more to say on the matter. I have explained why I think the Government’s bona fides are strong, but I sense that your Lordships will think to the contrary.
Amendment 97 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 100. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear during the course of the debate.
100: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
“Contribution of agriculture and associated land use to climate change targets
(1) In performing functions under this Act, the Secretary of State must have due regard to—(a) the target for 2050 contained in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008, and (b) international climate change treaties to which the United Kingdom is a signatory, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.(2) Within 6 months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must by regulations introduce an interim target for 2030 which would provide for agriculture and associated land use to reduce and sequester climate change emissions in a manner commensurate with meeting the target for 2050.(3) Within 12 months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a strategy outlining the policies Her Majesty’s Government will pursue to meet the interim target for 2030.(4) Before fulfilling the requirements under subsections (2) and (3), the Secretary of State must—(a) consult the devolved authorities, and(b) obtain, and take into account, the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.(5) Regulations under subsection (2) are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.(6) In this section—“Committee on Climate Change” means the body established under section 32 of the Climate Change Act 2008;“devolved authorities” has the meaning outlined in section 40 of this Act.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for adding their support to this amendment.
Our amendment would require the Government when applying this Act to have due regard to their national and international obligations set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Paris Agreement. It also requires the Government within six months to set an interim target for 2030, setting out how agriculture and land use could play their part in reducing and sequestrating emissions. This would be followed within 12 months by a strategy setting out how this will be achieved. We have additionally required the Government to obtain and take account of the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.
There are very good reasons why these steps are necessary. Climate change is a global challenge, and the UK has an obligation to play its part. The Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050 is welcome as far as it goes, but noble Lords will know that we are way behind in meeting the fourth, fifth and sixth carbon budgets that would make the commitment a reality.
To be successful, every sector must play its part, whether it is energy, transport, housing or, in this case, agriculture, which is currently responsible for about 10% of total emissions. So we welcome the addition in Clause 1(1)(d) of the Bill that financial assistance can be given for
“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change.”
But what does this mean if there is no strategy and no targets to deliver it? As the Committee on Climate Change points out in its report this year,
“the current voluntary approach has failed to cut agricultural emissions, there has been no coherent policy to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector, and tree planting has failed outside Scotland.”
This is pretty damning, and it is why our amendment seeks to deliver legislation and a mechanism for detailed policy design, which the committee recommends is necessary to deliver the transformation that is needed. Even the Government’s own progress report on implementing the 25-year environment plan, published in June, shows emissions of greenhouse gases from natural resources in a downward negative trend, with agricultural emissions remaining stagnant. So overall we seem to be going backwards.
In her response to similar amendments in Committee, the Minister tried to put a more positive gloss on progress, citing efficiency gains in dairy and pork. I am sure that that is good progress and we welcome that. But you cannot cherry pick when the Government’s own analysis is saying overall that there are different trends.
In her response, the Minister also argued for a generalist approach to climate change, saying that we do not have sector-specific targets under the Climate Change Act. That is true, but all the steps that the Government have taken since are focused on actions by different departments—for example, in renewable energy, electric cars and housing retrofit. Despite the criticisms of the Natural Capital Committee for the lack of meaningful metrics, even the 25-year environment plan also aims to have specific targets. So agriculture must step up and play its part in reducing emissions.
The Paris Agreement requires signatories to set long-term climate plans as well as shorter-term 2030 goals. This is why we have included an interim 2030 target in our amendment. Meanwhile, the Committee on Climate Change has written to the Defra Minister, Victoria Prentis, setting out how ELMS could be shaped to meet our climate change obligations. It has identified four important areas that need to be addressed and has offered to support Defra in setting out how climate change risks can be incorporated in the delivery of the ELMS outcomes.
We welcome this offer of help and support, which is why we have specified in our amendment that the advice of the Committee on Climate Change should be taken into account. We believe that the amendment is central to delivering the Government’s aspiration of net zero and ensuring that the farming sector plays its full part.
We had hoped to meet Ministers or their civil servants to discuss the progress being made in other departments. For example, we particularly welcomed the Government’s addition to the recent Pensions Bill, requiring pension trustees to take account of the Paris obligations. But, sadly and uncharacteristically, we had no response to our letter last week. So, unless a positive response is given today, I have no option but to give notice that I might divide the House. In the meantime, I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has laid out the need for this amendment with great clarity, and perhaps I can inject a little bit of the emotion that this amendment gives rise to for me. Earlier, I said that the amendment on food standards was probably the most important one, but in fact, this is of course the most important from a long-term point of view because it is all about survival. I am trying to save the planet and the people on it; even the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, is part of the group that I want to save—from itself, really.
We know that farming is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is likely to grow as a percentage of our emissions as we decarbonise other parts of the economy. Therefore, it is going to get worse and worse if we do not have a clear plan for how to go forward. For me, this Government have shown no urgency; I cannot convey the urgency I feel when I think about what is happening to our planet and the destruction caused by our burning fossil fuels. The Government have not shown any logical trajectory towards zero carbon emissions; they are just dabbling, with a good idea here and an idea there that is probably not quite so good. There is no coherent vision.
The Government have to start budgeting carbon in exactly the same way that they budget money. I realise that budgets are out of the window at the moment due to the coronavirus, but the fact is that we do need to think about it like that and say that, if we allow one area to have more carbon, we have to decrease it in another. Actually, the Green Party has been calling for a “carbon chancellor”: somebody who can take an overall look at this issue, understand how the systems and the economy work and try to make a coherent plan.
This Bill has been bouncing around for three years now and has been delayed several times. It was written two years before the Government adopted a net-zero carbon emissions target, which means that we need to update it because it does not reflect the new net-zero target that the Government have set themselves. Amendment 100 is a genuinely cross-party amendment and will set British farming on a trajectory towards net-zero emissions. We desperately need it, and I very much hope that the Government will listen.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The hour is late, but it is also late for our planet. While I do not take quite such a pessimistic view of the Government’s actions in this field as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—in fact, they should be congratulated in many respects—for many of us, things are not moving fast enough, and we need to encapsulate some of this in the Bill.
I agree that the NFU has brought forward its own ideas, but there is a lot more to this. For example, I know that Defra is looking at the issue of burning blanket bogs, but surely, under ELMS, we will not be able to give money to land managers who consistently burn peat bogs. That should also be part of the Bill.
I will not detain noble Lords any longer. I support the amendment and I recognise that the Government have taken steps towards it. Perhaps we are too impatient, but we need to get on with it.
My Lords, this amendment has been most ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I want to briefly re-emphasise the reasons why I strongly support it. As the noble Baroness said, agriculture has to play its part in meeting our net-zero commitment. At the moment, as she also said, agriculture may account for only some 10% of UK emissions, but by 2050, if nothing is done about agriculture and other parts of our economy play their part, it could account for about a third.
In earlier debates, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to an excellent new book by Professor Bridle entitled Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air. Professor Bridle expresses the challenge by calculating that, at the moment, the average daily food-related greenhouse gas footprint for each of us in the UK is six tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, we need to halve emissions by 2030. In other words, if food and agriculture are to play their part, the footprint of every one of us has to go down from six to three tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence per day within 10 years.
We have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the climate change committee has repeatedly reported that agriculture and land use are not making their required contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This leaves an intolerable burden on other sectors, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has already said. I will share a different quote from the climate change committee’s 2020 report to Parliament:
“Agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry … have … made little progress.”
It concludes that there has been no net change in emissions over 10 years, and no coherent policy framework to deliver change.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to peat bogs. Last Sunday’s Observer reported that there are currently no plans to stop burning peat bogs this autumn. Peat bogs are a major carbon store and burning them releases significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Surely, if the Government are serious about their green credentials and about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from land use and agriculture, they should ban this burning now.
Agriculture is not delivering the necessary greenhouse gas reductions. This Bill is the chance to change that and ensure that the right policies are put in place. The Climate Change Act is, in the argot of the day, an oven-ready framework within which to place both agricultural emissions reduction targets and climate adaptation to make our future agriculture resilient to climate change. That is why we need to support this amendment.
My Lords, in my capacity as chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and as a member of the Cumbria Leadership Board, I have recently been involved in debates about carbon in that county. One of the things that concerns me is the debate around emissions which, inevitably, is not quite as simple as one might expect at first blush.
It is clear, however, that any strategy has to begin with where we are now. It must also recognise that it is almost inevitable that those with some kind of an interest are inclined to engage in special pleading. In the case of agriculture, I know that farming contributes; I am a farmer, and I know that my farm does. However, farmers, including myself, have to react and deal with what may be the considerable and costly implications of the appropriate response. As has already been said by one of the Baroness Joneses, the first thing is to have agreed metrics, and then to use them impartially to map the journey into the future, based on the information they give us.
Business accounts are compiled with agreed metrics and standards to present a true picture of the underlying economic activity. The same must be true with carbon accounting. I fear I may sound like a cracked record but, once again, the economic implications and consequences of effecting change must not destroy the agricultural industry and other rural land uses. As the Financial Times pointed out last weekend, the economic future for much of the UK industries in these sectors looks pretty parlous.
In the case of rural land uses, a number of activities are natural carbon sinks and cleaners. Those responsible for the framework of the new world must give proper financial recognition for that. In many cases, what they are doing now is being done for nothing, both for the general benefit of the wider public and the financial advantage of the polluters. Were polluters to actually have to pay, it not only would be a major step towards reducing emissions elsewhere but would help underpin the rural economy, parts of which are pretty fragile and part of left-behind Britain. The short truth of the matter is that insolvent businesses cannot deliver a brave new world in rural Britain. Furthermore, if that happens, a great deal of what we have been considering over the past days and weeks will turn out to have been pure fantasy. It is as simple as that.
My Lords, I welcome Amendment 100 and echo many of the sentiments in it, but pay regard to the role that farmers, landowners and the landscape have in reducing the challenge faced by climate change and helping to restore biodiversity, much of which has been discussed through the passage of the Bill.
There is a potential role for farmers in ELM schemes going forward. There is a lot more that the natural landscape can do, not least in areas such as national parks. I know that the North York Moors National Park is keen to play its role and is waiting to hear from the Government about how it can do that under the ELM scheme; in particular, what advice it can offer to farmers and rural businesses that can help. There will be opportunities to plant trees and to help carbon sequestration. Pasture-fed and grass-fed livestock will also help.
There are other opportunities in the Bill, which I hope my noble friend will explore in summing up this group of amendments. There are possibilities to adapt to and mitigate climate change. I always get excited about Slowing the Flow at Pickering and the possibility of rolling out other such schemes, working with nature to store water temporarily on the land. We must not lose sight of the fact that many farmers are small or tenant farmers. They do not own the land, so will not benefit from any of these schemes. I hope that my noble friend and the Government bear that in the back of their mind. The Bill already reflects a commitment that helps farmers to manage livestock in a way that mitigates and adapts to climate change. I welcome the opportunity provided by Amendment 100 to discuss those issues.
My Lords, it really is quite obvious that this amendment is vital, and I congratulate my noble friend on having introduced it.
We talk a good deal about the impact of climate change on farming and all the difficulties and challenges that it presents, but we do not talk enough about the negative impact of farming on the climate and the acceleration of climate change that results from such negative realities. We also know that that need not be so and that a great deal can be done in farming at least to ameliorate the negative contribution but also to find ways of not contributing at all to the negative impact. From that standpoint, I believe it is essential that we have in place real and effective arrangements to measure and monitor changes in agricultural performance, habits and styles to meet the challenge that we are talking about.
I think that at last we are beginning to move on from the age where we talk about climate change, wring our hands and say that we must do something about it but do not provide the mechanisms to ensure that we do something about it. Here is a chance; it is a good chance and I cannot believe that the Minister will not be prepared to accept the amendment.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. All noble Lords who have taken part in this debate have spoken passionately and knowledgeably on the subject of climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, believes that a real plan for how to move forward is essential, but the Government have no vision on how to achieve this.
Unlike many of your Lordships, I am not an expert, but I can see all around me the signs that the planet is warming, and this is having a detrimental effect on all of us. Farming is often blamed for contributing to climate change, and certainly it does not help, but the blame cannot be laid entirely at the door of farmers. We are all responsible and have our part to play in reducing carbon emissions.
The target of 2050 for the reduction of our emissions is far too far away. In order to monitor our progress as a nation, an interim target of 2030 is essential. Agriculture and the NFU have estimated that they will be able to achieve their net zero target by 2040. It is a pity that the Government cannot follow this example.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to the burning of peat bogs, and I ask the Minister whether such a practice would qualify under the ELMS. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, stressed how important it is to reduce our emissions by 2030, and I am sure we all agree. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, expressed concern around the debate on emissions that farmers need to respond to the problems before them, taking into account the economic consequences. He said that the rural economy is very fragile and that a degree of realism is needed.
As I have said previously, I will not be here in 2050, but my children and grandchildren will, as will the children and grandchildren of the majority of noble Lords taking part today. I will give just two very different examples of the effects of climate change globally.
I am lucky enough to have stood in the Maasai Mara very close to a white rhino. I was absolutely terrified and did not move a muscle. What a magnificent beast it was. Soon, if we do nothing, the 3,000 that are left out of the previous 65,000 will be gone. On a more parochial level, the bullfinch is one of my favourite birds and used to be seen in our hedgerows. This bird has all but disappeared from our countryside, and it is nearly five years since I saw a solitary bullfinch.
UK agriculture alone has not directly caused these two instances, but it has not helped. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we need to address this and have effective targets. Now is the time to take action; now is the time to set an interim target for 2030; and now is the time to stand up and be counted. I hope that the Minister is able to agree with this amendment and I look forward to his comments.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this very important debate on the noble Baroness’s Amendment 100. The first thing I would like to say is that I am most terribly sorry if a letter has not been attended to, but the messaging I have had is that, whatever the noble Lady decides, my door is always open and we can arrange meetings if there are—as I know there will be—continuing discussions on a range of things relating to climate change and agriculture. I want to put on record that I try my best to attend to correspondence and it seems that this one has slipped through the net—so I apologise for that.
This is a crucial matter and, as far as I am concerned, we must all work together on this. In June 2019, the Government amended the Climate Change Act to legislate for a target of net zero by 2050 and introduced carbon budgets, which cap emissions over successive five-year periods. The Government have set these as interim targets on the road to net-zero emissions. I am particularly interested in this matter, and I went through the noble Baroness’s amendment. The Secretary of State is already required to have due regard to the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero as set out in the legally binding Climate Change Act 2008, and in reference to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Committee on Climate Change advised that emissions reductions will be needed in all sectors to achieve the UK’s net-zero GHG emissions target by 2050. Targets are set by the Act, but we do not have sector-specific targets under it; this is true across all sectors and departments. The absence of legally defined sector-specific targets ensures that we can meet our climate change commitments in the most cost-effective way across the economy, maximising social and environmental benefits and mitigating damaging trade-offs.
In the United Kingdom, agriculture at this moment constitutes 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. I entirely agree that agriculture must—and I underline “must”—play its part in addressing this grave matter. I note, for example, the 2019 report from the Committee on Climate Change on achieving net zero, which says:
“It is difficult to reduce agriculture emissions to near-zero given the inherent biological processes and chemical reactions arising from crops, soils and livestock.”
Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 16% since 1990, with many farms using more efficient agricultural practices. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised land-use change and forestry: all of these can continue to provide benefits in carbon sequestration. I would be the first to say that more needs to be done, and much more needs to be done.
I am obviously pleased about the ambition shown by many in the sector, including the National Farmers’ Union. Climate change represents a significant challenge. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, quite rightly feels passionately about this matter, so perhaps the words “significant challenge” are a terrible understatement. This is a very grave matter that we need to address. However, I will say that there are great opportunities for the sector, and we will continue to work closely on this issue with the NFU and other leading stakeholders, including through the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan partnership.
Another point the noble Baroness made in her amendment was on the devolved Administrations. Agriculture is a devolved matter, as we all know, so each national Administration is responsible for their own policy to address climate change in the direction of agriculture. The nations are united in a desire to reach net zero and reduce emissions from agriculture. This can be seen, for example, in DAERA’s efficient farming implementation plan, or in the Welsh Government’s Prosperity for All publication that outlines their low-carbon delivery plan. We will work together across the union to ensure we are delivering a solution that will work for the whole of the United Kingdom. This includes agreeing common frameworks, which include a framework on the best available techniques for preventing and minimising emissions.
Defra takes a key role in supporting emissions reduction from agriculture and land use by providing scientific advice and evidence. This includes long-term breeding work to develop more efficient, productive and resilient crops and livestock, as well as research on more efficient feeding strategies for livestock. Such research includes the clean growth through sustainable intensification project, which is due to complete in November of this year. This research has been carried out alongside academics, government officials, stakeholders and farmers, and will outline productivity and land management options, as well as advice on actions and innovative technologies that will reduce emissions from agriculture. These options will be the most effective, best value for money and most feasible for the sector to action. This research has influenced, and will continue to influence, development of future farming policies such as ELM.
I am very pleased that Clause 1(1)(d) of the Bill already enables the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for the purposes of
“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change”.
ELM will be the key delivery mechanism for this and a powerful vehicle for achieving goals set out in the 25-year environment plan, our net-zero target and commitments made in the Clean Growth Strategy. Schemes such as the productivity grant scheme, the Woodland Carbon Fund and the expanded Countryside Stewardship scheme will also contribute to emission-reduction goals alongside ELM. I agree with the point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh made: working with nature will be an increasing imperative and feature of our work.
As set out in the ELM policy discussion document published in February, it is proposed that tier 3 of the scheme should focus on delivering landscape-scale projects that can make significant contributions to national priorities such as net zero. This could include funding for afforestation, peatland restoration and wetland creation. We have proposed that the scheme should also incentivise environmentally sustainable farming through tier 1 and the delivery of locally targeted environmental actions through tier 2.
The provisions of the Environment Bill will bring all climate change legislation within the enforcement remit of the office for environmental protection, also known as the OEP. Under the robust governance framework established through the Climate Change Act, our independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, scrutinise government actions and hold us to account. The OEP will work closely alongside the Committee on Climate Change on climate issues, ensuring that their individual roles complement and reinforce each other.
The OEP is required to monitor the Government’s progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the content of environmental improvement plans, the first of which is the 25-year environment plan, and—I emphasise—targets. It must produce an annual report on its findings. When undertaking this independent assessment of the Government’s progress, the OEP may consider that the Government could improve progress in meeting one or more of the goals within the 25-year environment plan. For example, this could include a recommendation that additional funding be provided to deliver the purposes set out in Clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill.
Having now been given a sight of her letter, I also say to the noble Baroness that Defra is not the only department responding to climate change. Reducing carbon emissions and enhancing the environment are priorities for the Government. Indeed, there is a new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change to oversee this effort and drive forward action across the whole of government. BEIS leads across government on climate change and net zero, and all departments are working to deliver. For example, DfT published the first phase of our transport decarbonisation plan in March 2020 and MHCLG aims to publish a heat and building strategy later this year. Next year the UK will host the vital COP 26 climate negotiations, and we are determined to use this conference to promote ambitious action to deliver the transformational change required by the Paris Agreement.
I looked very closely at the detail of the noble Baroness’s amendment. I think I have covered all the components of the amendment in terms of what the Secretary of State is already required under law to have due regard to in this matter. I have spoken of our work with the devolved Administrations, which again is imperative because there is no point us all spinning in our own orbits. This will need a collaborative approach.
I appreciate that noble Lords have had to deal with the Fisheries Bill and the Agriculture Bill, and your Lordships will have the Environment Bill. If there had been an omnibus Bill which involved all three, I might have gone quite mad. However, that might, conceivably, have helped noble Lords to see the context of how the governance and interrelationship of all these matters engage. I understand why the noble Baroness has sought what I hope are genuine assurances about what my department intends—and needs—to do to work with agriculture so that it plays its part in the reduction of emissions; and so that it does not become a predominant producer of emissions as other sectors reduce theirs. We need to work with agriculture and the research we are doing will be very helpful.
I hope that, with my full reply on the elements of her amendment, the noble Baroness will understand why I am asking her to consider withdrawing it, mindful that I believe its components are being dealt with and that there are legal requirements on the Secretary of State.