Consideration of Lords message
Queen’s consent signified.
After Clause 42
Duty to seek equivalence on agri-food standards in relation to future trade
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 16B.
With this it will be convenient to consider:
Lords amendment 18B, and Government motion to disagree.
Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 16B and 18B.
I should start by declaring my farming interests and the fact that I come from a farming family, but that is not the only reason hat I think this is one of the most exciting Bills before the House this year. This Bill matters to everyone who sees a great future for British farming as we leave the EU and the confines of the common agricultural policy. As we have seen from the huge amount of public interest in it, this Bill matters to everyone who is interested in what we eat and in where and how it is produced. Food standards are important, particularly as we forge new trade deals around the world.
This Bill has been much improved during its passage through this place, and I must thank Members on both sides of both Houses for their assistance, starting with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Lord Gardiner and the Minister for the Environment, with whom I am working closely on future farming policy, and our marvellous Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), who is a strong voice for her farming community, as is Emma Pryor, our Spad. I should also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), Lord Grantchester and Lord Curry of Kirkharle.
I thank the many Members who voted for previous incarnations of the Bill, voicing their concerns privately to me and believing, rightly, that it would come right in the end. We must recognise that a large number of people outside Parliament have been involved in the debate on standards, including the National Farmers Union and the many members of the public who signed its petition, and many British farmers.
It would be remiss of us not to thank the Minister for the way that she has engaged in this process, listened to farmers and their representatives and got the Bill to such a good place. May I put on record my thanks to her?
That is very kind. We should also thank the farmers, who are rightly proud of the food we produce.
It has proved very difficult to find the right form of legislative words to protect our standards. It is important that we comply with World Trade Organisation rules and that we do not impose impossible conditions on future trading partners. I feel that, following the gargantuan efforts of many people, we have got to a sensible compromise. My concern about amendment 16B is that it would cause problems for our negotiators and impose burdensome administrative measures on our trading partners. Demonstrating equivalence of standards is a complex and technical task that involves delving deeply into the cowsheds, chicken huts and legislatures of other nations. I feel that our amendment in lieu is a better way to achieve the goal.
We stood on a clear manifesto commitment that in all our trade negotiations we would not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards. As I have said many times before, we need a range of tools to help us achieve that goal. The first tool is legislative. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 transferred all exiting EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, to the UK statute book. These include, as I have said several times before, a ban on chlorine washes for chicken and hormone-treated beef. Any changes would require new legislation to be brought before this Parliament, and I do not see any appetite for that.
The second tool is the regulatory body, the independent Food Standards Agency, and Food Standards Scotland. The third tool is consumer information. Earlier this year I committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling in promoting high standards and high welfare across the UK. We will consult on that at the end of the transition period, so very shortly.
The fourth tool is Parliament, which plays an important role in scrutinising our trade policy. The Government have provided a great deal of information to Parliament on our negotiations, including publishing our objectives and our scoping assessments before the start of talks, and we also work very closely with the relevant Select Committees. However, during the passage of the Bill it has made it clear that further parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals is desirable. That is why we have tabled an amendment requiring us to report to Parliament on the impact of new trade agreements on the maintenance of our food, animal welfare and environmental protection standards. This proposed new clause would add a duty on the Secretary of State to present a report to Parliament before or alongside any free trade agreement laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 procedures. The Secretary of State for International Trade has said that the Government will find time for debate. If Parliament is not satisfied, it can delay ratification through the CRaG process.
Turning to Lords amendment 18B, the Government will in fact go further than is proposed. We are putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing, with a provision to review it every three years. This will be done through a Government amendment to the Trade Bill, which has finished in Committee and is about be considered on Report in the House of Lords, where the amendment will be introduced. That will ensure that our trade policy is examined in detail by key experts. This House asked for parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, and I am delighted to provide it.
Can I take the Minister back to amendment (a), because she moved on before I got to make my point? Subsection (5) of the proposed new clause provides that any report would have to be laid before Welsh Ministers and Scottish Ministers. Can she outline what would happen if those Ministers, or indeed Northern Ireland Ministers, disagreed with the content of the report?
The whole purpose of the reporting mechanism is that it will not just be for Parliament, or indeed any of the devolved Administrations, to object to the report; it will be publicly available and, I suspect, widely scrutinised—we have all seen how interested the public are in these matters. In those circumstances, I am quite sure that we would find a way of discussing the matter in this place, so that the views of the Commons could be tested in the normal manner. Were that situation to arise, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would find a way of making his views and those of his constituents clear.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not, because many Members wish to speak and I have been asked to be as quick as possible.
We are putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing. The House asked for scrutiny of trade deals, and I am pleased to provide it. Parliament will have the reports from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and it will have time to study the texts and specialist Committees in both Houses to examine them in more detail. It will be the lawful duty of Ministers to present both Houses, and indeed the devolved Administrations, with the evidence they need to scrutinise future trade agreements.
I believe that the Government amendment provides a comprehensive solution that really gets to the heart of this important issue. I therefore urge the House to reject Lords amendments 16B and 18B and to accept the Government’s amendment in lieu.
Before I call the spokesman for the Opposition, I warn Members that there will be an immediate limit on Back-Bench speeches of three minutes. We obviously have very little time and many people wish to speak, so the shorter the better. I remind Members that brevity is the soul of wit.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 16B. Like the Minister, I declare an interest: my little sister is a sheep farmer in Cornwall. I thank all farmers for their work throughout the covid-19 pandemic and the work they will be undertaking during the second lockdown.
We have been here before, and we may yet be here again. I welcome the Government’s adoption of large parts of Labour policy since the last time we spoke about the Agriculture Bill. I have to say to the Minister that we are not quite there yet, but we are nearly there. The vote on food standards today is being followed by people in all our communities. It is a decision about what type of country we want Britain to be. I want Britain to be a country of high standards that respects the welfare of animals and ensures that environmental protection is baked into our food chain. We therefore continue to press Ministers to put our high food and farming standards into law.
I turn to the Government’s concessions and the amendment in the Minister’s name, which puts them into action. I am glad that, after voting against attempts to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission a short time ago, the Government have changed their mind and listened to farmers, the National Farmers Union and Labour, in particular, on strengthening it. I thank Ministers for their efforts, and in particular the Farming Minister for her personal effort in trying to reach a compromise on that. I am grateful for all the work she has done. In particular, I thank Lord Grantchester, Baroness Jones and the Lords Minister, Lord Gardiner, for what has taken place. It has been a team effort, and it has included the work of the National Farmers Union and Minette Batters.
The Minister was up against a hard deadline to pass this Bill because of the Government’s decision to oppose an extension to the powers in the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, which Labour proposed when we discussed this on 21 January. We suggested that Ministers take an extra 12 months of power so that they would not be up against a deadline, and I recall Ministers saying that that would not be necessary. It turns out that a bit of forward planning is a good thing. I encourage Ministers to look at such amendments the next time we introduce them, rather than arguing against them simply because of where they came from. It is important that farmers are paid.
Working side by side with our nation’s farmers, we have helped to secure two key concessions from Ministers. The first is that the Trade and Agriculture Commission should be put on a statutory basis, renewable every three years. That will happen in the form of an amendment to the Trade Bill. That amendment has not yet been published, so we cannot see the words, the meaning and the effect that it will have. When will we see the Government’s Trade Bill amendment on strengthening the Trade and Agriculture Commission so that we can understand how it will work legally with the new clause in this Bill?
We know that the International Trade Secretary and the Environment Secretary have not always agreed on food standards. The truth is that I do not trust the Department for International Trade not to break any promises once this Bill is passed. It is clear that despite having one Government, we sometimes have two competing food agendas. Will the Minister confirm that discussions about the wording of the amendment will take place with the Opposition and will involve DEFRA and DIT Ministers?
Will the Minister also give a commitment on the membership of the Trade and Agriculture Commission? Although it is broad at the moment, we feel it could be strengthened by an enhanced consumer voice, and with trade unions being part of it. I know that there is a proposal for trade unions to sit on a small union sub-committee, but having unions—a voice of the workers in our food sector—as part of that main body would be important.
The second concession that the Minister accepted was to enhance the scrutiny of trade deals, in recognition that the proposals put forward previously were inadequate. Strengthening that is supported on both sides of the House. There is more that can be done here. That is an argument that the shadow International Trade Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), and I have been making consistently, but I feel that we can go a wee bit further.
I welcome that the Government will require a report to assess any trade deals against the standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and plant health, but this is extra scrutiny; it is not a vote on this matter. That is what we agreed and I think what should happen. The amendment the Minister has tabled only proposes that the report will be laid before parliamentary Committees and not to the House itself. It will not be subject to an automatic vote; only to a circuitous and fragile route. The House will know that, for a vote to happen, the CRaG process requires that the Government, in their generosity, would award the Opposition an Opposition day to challenge the trade deal if that trade deal falls below the standards we expect, regardless of what the TAC report may say.
The Minister mentioned that the Trade Secretary says she will find time for a debate, but having seen the Government refuse the Opposition Opposition days in the lead-up to the general election, I hope they will forgive us for not believing that until we see it in writing. I must say that should the parties swap places after the next general election, having that in writing would be useful for the Conservatives, too.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will carry on for just one moment, if I may.
The Minister says that a deal can be prayed against, but what we need is a proper system of parliamentary scrutiny, not a reliance on the benevolence of any Government Minister to afford the Opposition an Opposition day. To avoid any further ping-pong, I would be grateful if the Minister could guarantee now, and furthermore say in a published ministerial statement, that the Government will not unreasonably refuse an Opposition day for that purpose, in particular when it comes to a vote on any food standards in any future trade deals.
I want to press the Minister on the wording in Government amendment (a). We have spoken about this and I hope she will be able to give some clarity. The wording “consistent with” is used in relation to our own standards. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out where that has the same legal meaning as “equivalent to”. Many Lords had a similar concern about that and I would be grateful if she could set out the difference around what that means. I also think there is a logic to using production standards as one of the areas. I know the Government can ask the Trade and Agriculture Commission to look at things beyond what is in primary legislation, so I would be grateful if the Minister could look at whether production standards could also be used in relation to that.
Will the plans for parliamentary scrutiny include deciding negotiation objectives, consultation, access to texts during negotiations, and a statutory role for the relevant Select Committees as well as the TAC? The duty in the Government’s new clause is to report to Parliament on to what extent commitments in new free trade agreements relating to agriculture products are consistent with maintaining UK standards. Will the Minister explain if that will allow deals to let in imports of those products, provided that it is merely reported to Parliament, or will that provision enable goods produced to lower standards to be stopped from entering the UK?
One important factor for us in Northern Ireland, and especially in my constituency, is the milk sector. It is very important that the high standards we have in our products which are sold across the world are maintained. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that under the Bill the high standards we have will be maintained by every other country in the world that will have a chance to bring their products into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening. I think that is a point the Minister should address in her remarks as well. We should be a beacon for high standards. As the Minister herself moved an amendment to the Fisheries Bill on seal protection precisely to enable our trade with the United States, which had higher legislative standards on seal protection—not on other things, perhaps—we need to make sure that that works on both sides of the Atlantic. That is a good principle that I hope the Minister will adopt.
I am mindful of the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so will quickly run through this. We need to put our food and farming standards into law. Farmers have a genuine and widespread concern about that, and I think it is still missing from where the Government have moved to. The movement from the Government is welcome. It showed that the arguments the Government whipped their MPs to support could be further improved, an argument made by Conservative Back Benchers, as well as Labour. I believe there are further concessions that could help to undo the final concerns on this matter. I want to see farmers paid. I want to see the Agriculture Bill put into law. I expect that many of these issues will return to us when the Trade Bill comes back to this House.
It is a great pleasure to rise to support the Government amendments this evening. I am sure the Whips will be delighted to hear that. I thank the Prime Minister for his involvement in getting us to this solution. I also thank the Secretaries of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for the Department for International Trade, and I thank the farming Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for all her hard work in bringing us all together. I believe that this is a very good day not only for agriculture and food, but for the environment and animal welfare in this country and across the world.
The hon. Gentleman knows that his opinions are very well regarded in Ulster by many of the farmers there. What would he say to the farmers in my constituency? Does he believe that the Bill, with the amendments that he is supporting, now addresses the concerns that have been expressed by farmers and consumers across Ulster about food standards, and are they now properly protected?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I believe that it does, because it brings us the opportunity to have the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory basis for three years. That has to report on every individual trade deal and it will give us that opportunity to scrutinise them, but it will be up to all of us Members in this House to make sure that the Government do stand up to the high standards. That is what I would say to the farmers of Ulster.
The work that the Government have done to bring this forward over the weekend has been very welcome. We have recognised the need to put our manifesto commitments in law and give everyone confidence that our standards are a priority and will not be traded away. This new Government amendment to the Agriculture Bill, along with extending the Trade and Agriculture Commission in the Trade Bill, is very welcome and I will be voting for the amendment.
Our Lordships—I pay particular tribute to Lord Curry—have rightly kept the pressure up with their amendments and helped to bring this about tonight. Government Members, along with the National Farmers Union and others, have been working very hard to find a way that we can show our commitment to the highest standards of food production in law. The Government amendment to the Bill is not quite perfect, but I accept that it is very hard to put these things in legislation, and they have moved a very long way from where we were. I am very grateful for the fact that we are here tonight and I think that all my Government colleagues can very much come together on this. We all know that trade deals are a tough business. Every country wants the very best for its business and its people.
I think the hon. Gentleman is right. There is no reason why we would wish to reduce our food standards in the United Kingdom, especially since we export all around the world on the basis of our high food standards. Has he any concern that the role of the commission will be to look at trade deals and make recommendations as to their impact but that it will not have the ability to change the regulations if the Government should decide to go down the route of changing them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his intervention. The commission will not have the powers to stop proposals but it will have the powers to bring them to this House. Therefore, it is very much for us to make sure that we raise that and drive this through. The measures will also make it more difficult for the Secretary of State for International Trade to sign away animal welfare in a future trade deal because of the commission.
I have said from the start that I am pro-trade with any country, but we do need fair trade. We also need to make sure that we have good negotiating teams that will gather years of experience in negotiating, because it is absolutely essential that we get good trade deals. We need to use all our experience and expertise in Parliament, Government and across the industry so that we are wise to the challenge that new trade deals can present. I want deals that deliver for British farmers and help them to sell more brilliant produce across the world, such as lamb and cheese—dare I say it, from Devon, but also from the whole United Kingdom—into America and Scotch whisky to India, and I know that the Government are really keen to ensure that this happens. Let us use organisations such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which has a levy paid into by farmers, to get our market open in developing markets, with a high British standard of food and with us presenting it well across the whole of the world’s markets. We need to back British food and get it out into those markets, because until people have actually tasted our great British food, they will not realise how wonderful it is, and the moment they have tasted it, they will want more of it. We really can do this.
I very much welcome what Ministers are doing and the beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission. We need fair trade, not just free trade; they are compatible. I believe that we will see good trade deals in the future but we will maintain standards. I assure the Minister that all of us on the Government Benches, and I suspect those on the Opposition Benches too, will hold the Government to account, and I look forward to us delivering these good and fair deals in the future.
My inbox has been full of messages from constituents looking for food standards to be maintained. I know from conversations with colleagues that their inboxes have been filled, too, and we know from comments that we have heard already today that other Members have had similar experiences. If Ministers will not protect those standards in legislation simply because it is the right thing to do, perhaps they will consider doing it because there is huge public pressure for it.
Throughout the passage of this Bill and in other debates, we have never been given an adequate reason why the Government are so determined to keep food standards off the face of legislation. We were told that they should not be in this Bill but in the Trade Bill; come the Trade Bill, we were told that they should not be there but somewhere else. We have been told to trust the Government to deliver, and that future deals could be scrutinised by Members. Indeed, we have just heard that from the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish).
We are always being told, “Not here, not now,” but we have never been told why exactly the Government are so opposed to putting food protection in legislation. The EU manages it and other countries manage it, so why not the UK, particularly in view of the overwhelming support from the public and our agricultural communities? I would be happy to give way if any member of the Government wanted to let us know what the thinking is there, and why the standards we are told will be insisted on are not written into law. It is an issue that causes grave concern to food producers and consumers, because the guarantees that help to protect farm businesses also help to protect the health of people who pick up their food from the shelves of supermarkets.
The hon. Lady says she has received a great many emails about this from her constituents. I hope she has gone back and told them about the triumvirate of checks and balances that are now in place from CRaG, the Trade and Agriculture Commission and the International Trade Committee. The Government have put in place the mechanisms to scrutinise all that. That is the solution to this situation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but of course he is talking about scrutiny in the face of a Government with a nearly 80-Member majority. We have no way of pushing that forward if we disagree with whatever comes up in whatever trade deal comes before this House. The Government’s majority means that those of us on the Opposition Benches will be completely overruled. That argument is spurious, frankly, and I am afraid that many in agricultural communities, and certainly many of my constituents, simply do not believe the Government.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I am going to get on for the moment —and I can see that Madam Deputy Speaker is encouraging me to do so.
Lords amendment 16B is a watered-down version of those protections, not the gold standard that people were hoping for, but it is what we have. Surely, it is something that Ministers can accept, given their repeated insistence that food standards will be respected in trade deals. Similarly, Lords amendment 18B would be a tiny imposition on ministerial life but, likewise, a little reassurance that is worth having. I recognise, however, that it will fall in the face of the Government’s amendment in lieu.
I am afraid that the Government’s amendments fall far short of offering us any reassurances or any meaningful way forward, and that the future for high-quality food production and consumer confidence in the end product is in danger. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) chuntering from a sedentary position about the National Farmers Union Scotland. Just today in the Scottish Affairs Committee, we heard from the NFUS on its concerns about the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—the potential for a dive to the bottom in food standards that comes with it, and its relationship to what happens in trade deals on the back of the Agriculture Bill and the forthcoming Trade Bill—so the NFUS still has its reservations.
Like the hon. Lady, I have had many emails from constituents raising concerns about this. Does she agree that part of those concerns stems from the time it has taken the Government to come back and the fact that they have repeatedly issued confusing messages about this matter? There is deep concern that the way the Government have responded has not really dealt with it.
I absolutely agree. That is basically what I am attempting to get across. I feel very much—the contact I am receiving from constituents across agricultural communities indicates that this is also how they feel—that this is a sop, really. The Government are encouraging Back-Bench MPs to vote for the Bill and ensure that it gets through, but this House will have no meaningful way to stop anything that endangers food standards in future trade deals when they come before us. I suppose it is a step forward that reports have to come before the House, but it is not enough. The future of high-quality food production, potentially animal welfare rights and consumer confidence in the end product are in danger.
I will mention in passing a point that I was going to make in an intervention on the Minister: there is still no representation of the devolved Administrations on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. That is a huge oversight, which I suggest and hope the Government reconsider.
We face a twin danger as we roll up to the end of the year. The pandemic will continue to disrupt lives and the working of society, but Brexit lurks and waits. The potential disruptions can be seen in the nature of the emergency planning that has been done, and we can sore do without any further disruptive elements flung into this fire. The National Audit Office report—out today—makes stark reading on that subject. I recommend it to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie).
I regret the leaving of the EU and the loss of the protections that come with that exit. We were promised repeatedly by this Government and their predecessors that there would be no diminution in quality arising from Brexit. We were told by many that it would bring the opportunity to raise standards. The time is ripe for Ministers to prove that—at least in the very limited way offered by the Lords amendments. I invite the Government to accept that the road has been walked to the end and it is time to accept that compromise.
It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon. I thank Ministers—in particular the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis)—for the work that they have done and for listening to the concerns that we have all expressed. I also thank Minette Batters, the president of the NFU, for her tireless work with the EU this year, and Lord Curry, Lord Grantchester, Lord Gardiner and their other lordships for their work and for listening and putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing, as we have all been asking for.
This is a good moment, and not just because Government Members get to honour our manifesto commitments, which were sincerely made and taken by the public. It is also crucial for us to make Brexit a moment when we take back control of trade so that we can protect UK standards, ensure a level playing field for our farmers and go further by using our market leverage as one of the great markets of the world to promote UK leadership in modern farming: low carbon, low water, low plastic, low input, high productivity farming—the very farming that we need to be exporting around the world. To that end, we need to be looking in the Trade Bill at the use of variable tariffs to promote the export of British agricultural leadership around the world.
This battle now goes to the Trade Bill, where I will be pushing for three key things. First, I want a proper impact assessment for all trade deals, including the impact both for this country and for the third party. I congratulate the International Trade Secretary on renewing our trade arrangements with Kenya, which is an interesting and important market for us. I would like to think that we might be able to go further in due course and have a trade deal whereby we in this House could understand what it means for Kenyans as well as for agriculture in this country. After 15 years, we have lost the architecture for assessing the impact of trade deals, and we need to put that back in place so that this House can understand exactly what it is voting on.
Secondly, I want us to explore variable tariffs. What I mean by that is a world in which, yes, it is wrong that the EU imposes a 40% tariff on food from Africa—I am pleased that will be moving away from that—but also where we rightly do not accept food that is unsafe. I want us to imagine a world where we put a basic tariff on food that is safe but not produced to the standards that we would like to encourage, and zero tariffs on food produced in the way in which we need the world to produce it—with less carbon, less water and less plastic—and to use that to help drive our exports.
Thirdly, I would like us to put in place proper parliamentary scrutiny that is better than the CRaG process to ensure that we hold Ministers to account on the aims of trade deals and on the final terms, so that the House can show that we have used this moment genuinely to protect UK farmers, to make sure that they have a level playing field and to show our support for the best of British farming and all that it stands for.
I rise in support of the amendments from the other place. In recent days, the Government have moved to address some of the concerns that I and other Members have raised in this House, and we welcome that progress.
Let me make it clear that I do welcome the announcement by the Trade Secretary that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is to be placed on a statutory footing with an extended remit. It is good news, and it is of some comfort to the industry and to consumers. I would echo the sentiments expressed by the Ulster Farmers Union that it is a step forward and a win for those of us who have lobbied hard for enhanced protection for our agriculture industry. However, right now, as I see it, this is not enough.
Right now, with what we know—and I recognise amendment (a) tabled by the Government—I see no reason why Members who want to protect our standards and who really believe this must be done would disagree with the amendments from the other place. Indeed, if the Government’s good intentions are genuine, they ought to support these proposed changes to the Bill, legislate today and remove any question mark over the commitment to protecting our industry and our consumers.
The remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission still does not go far enough. It does not have the legislative power to stop the imports of food that do not meet the demands we place on our own industry. Yes, we can be told by the Trade and Agriculture Commission what to do, but it is advisory, and for that bar there is no legislative blockage. For me and my colleagues, that is simply not enough. It is not that cast-iron guarantee that legislative protection will be given.
In the election campaign one year ago, the Conservative manifesto stated that, in exchange for future funding, UK farmers
“must farm in a way that protects and enhances our natural environment, as well as safeguarding high standards of animal welfare.”
The message was clear: “If you farm in the UK and want to benefit from financial support, we have certain demands of you that must be met. Make the standards or derive no public funding. Make the standards or we will not do business with you.”
A huge burden is placed on our own industry, and it is a burden that it embraces at considerable cost, so why are this same Government unwilling to go further and legislate to place the same requirements on those outside this country? Why not legislate today, and remove any doubt? Today provides an opportunity to provide the absolute clarity our farming industry needs to say that we have its back.
In putting the environment at the heart of our new system of farm support, this is one of the most important environmental reforms for decades. I was proud to be the one to introduce the Bill to Parliament in my previous role as Environment Secretary.
Dismantling the common agricultural policy is, of course, one of the key benefits of Brexit, but there is no doubting that this legislation, although not a trade Bill, has been overshadowed by trade matters. Like the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), I warmly welcome the significant concessions the Government have made on trade. Setting up the Trade and Agriculture Commission, extending its duration and putting it on a statutory footing will toughen up scrutiny of our trade negotiations in this country. It will also provide invaluable support and an invaluable source of independent expert advice for this House. It will strengthen our ability to hold Ministers to account on trade and farming issues, as will the requirement in Government amendment (a) to report to Parliament on how any future trade deals impact on food standards.
I welcome the statement at the weekend from the Trade and Environment Secretaries that the bans on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef are staying on the statute book and will not be lifted, even if our negotiating partners ask us for this. Real progress has been made, which is why I will vote with the Government this evening, but this is not the end of the campaign on trade and food standards. This Government were elected with a stronger commitment on animal welfare than ever before. We must use our new status as an independent trading nation to build a global coalition to improve animal welfare standards.
Many countries use trade agreements to impose conditions on their partners. Even the US has fought lengthy battles in the WTO over protection for turtles and dolphins. It is possible, so while the debate on the Bill is drawing rapidly to a close, the task of scrutinising UK trade negotiations is really only just beginning and will require continued vigilance by all of us in this House. We must ensure that our negotiators stand firm and refuse to remove any of the tariffs that currently apply on food unless it is produced to standards of animal welfare and environmental protection that are as good as our own. The UK market for food and groceries is around the third largest by value in the world. Greater access to it is a massive price for any country. We should not sell ourselves short.
I rise to support the Lords amendments, but I acknowledge the progress that has been made in putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing. I do not think that I am being churlish when I say that the Government were dragged kicking and screaming to do this; I am just stating the blindingly obvious.
The progress that has been made is testament to the campaigning prowess of the NFU, Minette Batters and, indeed, the whole farming community; otherwise this matter would not have come to this place a few weeks ago, would it? So it is blindingly obvious that the Government’s heart is not in this. Nevertheless it is a step—[Interruption.] Government Members grumble from the Benches opposite. Why did they not fix this a fortnight ago if they meant it?
The reality is simply this: we support free trade and fair trade, which is why we are deeply concerned that, still, this Government amendment, which is an act of progress, will finally be subject to a scrutiny process that culminates in a CRaG procedure. In other words, it is take it or leave it from a Government with an 80-seat majority. We know what matters to this Government—the getting of a deal not just with America, but with other countries. Let us make sure that we remain healthily sceptical, as I know every single farmer in the country will be.
There is a reason why we think that fair trade as well as free trade matters to British farmers: we fear the undermining of the very unit that makes up British farming, makes it special and, indeed, underpins the animal welfare and environmental protections of which we are rightly proud, and that is the family farm. I just want to draw to the Minister’s attention something that she could mistakenly do in just a few weeks’ time that could do as much damage as an unfair trade deal. It is the phasing out of basic payments in just eight weeks’ time, which is seven years before the new environmental land management scheme will come into force. That is 60% of the revenue of livestock farmers that will begin to be phased out from January. It is between 5% and 25% of their BPS incomes from January.
I am simply saying that we want our family farms to survive through to ELMS being available. We support ELMS by the way, but we cannot surely take away people’s major income and then make them wait seven years until the new one comes in place. If the Government are committed to maintaining and protecting family farming and the benefits that it brings to our landscape in the lakes and dales, to biodiversity, to food production, to tackling climate change and to preventing flooding, they need to keep those farmers in place in the first place. I respectfully ask the Minister to look again and maintain the basic payment scheme at its full level until ELMS is available for everyone.
There is a quote that says, “There are two things that you should never see made—laws and sausages.” We are in a unique position today to be discussing a law that will help to make sausages. The reason that quote is said is all this bartering that we see going on back and forth, with ping-pong from our unique position here in the UK Parliament.
Following on from what the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said in the previous speech, we can discuss how we got to here, but surely we celebrate the fact that the Government have listened to the Opposition parties, to those of us on these Benches, to the NFU and to the NFU Scotland. Minette Batters has been mentioned many times in this debate, but I want to pay credit to Andrew McCormick, the president of the NFU Scotland, and his leadership team—his vice-presidents and his policy advisers Clare Slipper and Jonnie Hall—who have constructively worked with the Government to get to the stage that we are at today. That is positive for the way that we do politics in this country and for the way that we can improve legislation going through this Parliament.
It was not an easy decision for me to oppose the Government a couple of weeks ago, but I supported the amendments at that time because there were no alternatives on offer from the Government. Tonight, the Government have brought forward a positive alternative, and even those on the Opposition Benches, through gritted teeth, have accepted that the Government have gone a long way to meet the demands of Opposition parties, and all those who have contributed to negotiations on the Bill. I think that is welcome, and we should celebrate a Government who are willing to improve their legislation to deliver the needs of MPs and the campaigning groups that engaged with us. We will have a better Bill as a result of that, and I am therefore pleased to support the Government tonight.
This important Bill has been worked on by the Minister, who has engaged constructively with Back-Bench Members and partners across the country. The Bill delivers for Scottish farmers, English farmers, Welsh farmers, and Northern Irish farmers—in an intervention, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee provided that reassurance to Ulster farmers, just as a farmer from Ullapool now also has that reassurance and commitment from the Government. That is progress. We want our farmers to be represented in this Parliament and for their voices to be heard. We want legislation that comes from the UK Parliament, for the first time in more than 40 years, to have a direct impact on agriculture in this country, in a way that was so distant when such things were governed by the European Union. I welcome that, and the way that the Government have approached this issue.
Farmers across the country in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland will recognise that their Parliament has united around the common aims of upholding the standards for which they have worked so hard over the years, and we can continue to trade in a positive way not just in the United Kingdom, but around the world. The products that our farmers produce will continue to be world-beating and world-leading.
As a relatively new MP, I have been astonished by the commitment of this Government, the ministerial team and the Parliamentary Private Secretary to put the rights of farmers and this great nation at the front of this outstanding Bill.
On my election, I became forged to representing the interests of farmers and the farming industry in my constituency. Farming comes up on a daily basis, and I would like to speak personally about that, rather than about the international scene. The farmers of Derbyshire Dales are of hardy stock. They are wedded to the rugged land and the livestock they raise. They are farmers such as Simon Frost, who picks me up in his Land Rover and takes me around the land that his family has farmed for centuries, and his wife, Suzanne, who has spent her working life in science and animal welfare. They are custodians of land, such as Sir Richard FitzHerbert at Tissington, who showed me around the dales that he and others love so much.
I am also grateful to the agricultural team at Bakewell, and to Alastair Sneddon, auctioneer, who goes out of his way patiently to brief me on the ins and outs of what is happening. Because of those constituents I stand here today to support this outstanding Bill. My constituents have also been well served by the National Farmers’ Union, represented by Andrew Critchlow in Matlock, by Jane Bassett from Hartington, and by Andrew Broadley from Derbyshire Dales.
Derbyshire farmers were understandably wary of newcomers, and I was one of them. Although I had small landowners and tenant farmers in my family, it took them a while to accept me, and to understand that I had their interests at heart. Once elected, I made it my mission to badger the poor ministerial team—they know what I mean—and I sat on the Bill Committee, and worked jolly hard for my constituents whenever I could. I know and am confident that this Government have the interests of farmers and the rest of the population at their heart, and that includes local issues in constituencies such as mine. I think about Hartington Stilton, Dovedale blue cheese, Peakland White, and Peakland Blue, and I know that Ministers have the backs of my constituents who work in those small businesses, and who possibly wish to go global.
We were elected on a manifesto of commitment and of not compromising our standards, and we will not do so—the passage of the Bill has proved that. We have maintained existing protections in law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and the Bill contains many safety and reviewing features. I am so proud of what we have achieved. This is a listening Government. The jewel in the crown has to be the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I am delighted by the expertise of those who contribute to that. I therefore support the Bill.
I shall keep my remarks brief, out of courtesy for those further down the call list, but also because there is little left to say about the Bill and the Government’s ambitions therein. I support amendment 16B and its provisions on equivalence for agrifood standards in relation to future trade. The amendment places a benign requirement on the Government to have, as a negotiating objective in trade deal negotiations, the ambition of achieving equivalence of standards. While noting that, I would point out the Secretary of State’s insistence that proponents of protecting food standards, environmental protections and animal welfare standards are seeking to mandate precisely the same standards as we produce here in the UK. That is a tendentious misrepresentation of the pursuit of equivalence, encompassing as it does the same or higher standards.
Amendment 16B does not tie the Government’s hands when negotiating or bind them to any requirements and outcomes, meaning that the Government would still be free to prioritise other negotiating objectives above the duty to seek appropriate equivalence thereby representing the wateriest of all provisions, which if the Government oppose it—as they will—should leave us all very concerned.
I have to say that the Minister has been very generous with her time in discussing these matters with me and listening to my deeply held concerns about the Bill. She debates in such a conciliatory and kind way that I come away believing that she has agreed with me when in fact she has done no such thing in any given instance. [Laughter.]
If this is the last thing I say on this subject, I will observe that I believe the Government have wilfully lost sight of the fundamental importance of the material we are legislating for. We are transacting frameworks for the import of production domestically, not of timber or textiles or televisions, but of the foods that we will eat, and that is what is at risk when the Bill passes unamended, as it inevitably will. The food we prepare and feed to our children has not received the protection it deserves, and nor has its intrinsic worth been recognised—a theme which is manifest in the Agriculture Bill, but also in the Government’s Trade Bill and, of course, the detestable smash-and-grab United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. Everything I have done and said in the passage of this Bill has been in the interests of those working in farming and food production in Angus, in Scotland and across the whole of the UK. The people of these islands deserve better than this, whichever nation they call home. Scotland will have better than this, as the dawning of independence supports.
I thank the Minister for her incredible work on the Bill, and may I thank the Conservative party—every other Member has thanked their party—because we put this in our manifesto and we have delivered. We promised high standards on animal welfare, and we have kept that promise. We promised that our farmers would be protected, and we have done that. We have fulfilled and honoured what we said we would do. We have taken the EU commitments that we had, and we have brought them into statute.
I thank the Government for listening to farmers, and I am proud that our party is the voice for the British farmer. I welcome the new partnership with the Department for International Trade, but I hope that we will look not only at how we can protect ourselves, but at how we can promote the British farmer; how we can package ourselves; how we can put our delicious cheeses, apples and wines on the lips and in the stomachs of our North American colleagues so that they long for the delicious food quality standards that only we can provide.
Look at the success of Yorkshire Tea, which increased its consumer value in the US by 950% this year alone. That shows what can be done with a strategic plan to market our amazing agricultural products abroad. I welcome the Bill—
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am wrapped up. One more thing I would say is that I am grateful that chlorinated chicken will not grace these shores.
Much of the debate on this significant and ambitious Bill has homed in on animal welfare, food and environmental standards as part of our future trading relationship as we leave the EU. It is fair to say that this has been a difficult issue that has caused tension and concern, meaning that at times it has been easy to forget that we all want the same thing—namely, not to compromise on the UK’s already high standards in each of these important areas. Indeed, my objective has always been to ensure that Cheshire farmers are at the heart of a trade policy that maximises opportunity and does not undermine those standards.
That is why—as those on the Front Bench know very well—I have pressed upon Ministers the need to widen the remit and increase the length of the Trade and Agriculture Commission so that it has the real teeth that we now see in the amendments. Those amendments before us and those to future Bills will go a long way to enabling many of us to support the position we have now reached. I think they also reflect well on the work that has been done by the NFU—including NFU Cheshire and its chairman, Richard Blackburn—and many others to get us to this position. By putting the commission on a statutory footing and ensuring proper parliamentary scrutiny of all trade Bills, we have reached a sensible, legally sound template for ensuring the maintenance of our animal welfare, food and environmental standards, which will put us in a strong position to export our standards and our great British goods and produce further and wider across the world.
We have more time than I thought. I call Wera Hobhouse to speak for two minutes.
Goodness—two minutes! I will just rush though this. The Lords were absolutely right to try to strengthen the Bill. They are listening to British farmers and British people, and this House should, too. My constituency of Bath is home to one of the first farmers’ markets in the UK, where local producers sell directly to local people who can be reassured that they are buying quality food produced to high standards. Our city’s UNESCO world heritage status is strongly linked to our green surroundings, and our fields, hedges and trees are all symbols of our agricultural heritage. Many towns and cities across the UK are the same. They are home to small family-owned farms that are run by people who want to farm and who know farming.
I have watched this Government slowly renege on their promises to British farmers, telling them to compete internationally or die. Are we to subsidise them to run their farms as public parks for the recreational benefit of city dwellers? Can the Government not understand why this is causing a great deal of anger? One million people signed the NFU’s petition to protect the British food standards, and this issue is not going away. The Government say that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will have teeth and that there is therefore no need to enshrine British food standards in law, but teeth for whom? Concerns about chlorinated chicken and hormone-produced beef have been dismissed as alarmism, and attempts to protect British food standards have been brushed off as protectionism disguised as self-sufficiency. The Government are not the people who will stand up for British farmers; we on this side are. Instead, they will force farmers to lower their standards in order to compete. That is not good enough, and we will support the Lords amendments.
The Bill has been much improved by more than 100 hours of debate, and I do not mean to give it much more. On the trade and agriculture amendments to the Trade Bill, we will work closely with DIT throughout the drafting of this amendment, and we will together agree the final version. Union reps have been involved in TAC roundtables, and I am happy to ask DIT to explore what more can be done. I do not know who the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) thinks NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru and the Ulster Farmers Union represent if it is not farmers from the devolved Administrations. All those bodies are represented on the Trade and Agriculture Commission at the moment.
The report that we promised today would be laid before Parliament, and it would be public. If standards in a future trade agreement were lower than ours, there would rightly be a public outcry. We would expect the Government to give time for debate, whether as an Opposition day or otherwise. The situation in the last Parliament has undoubtedly left us scarred, but it was, thank goodness, very unusual. It would be extraordinary, in the circumstances of the Government laying such a report, to refuse all requests to provide time. I have had a meeting with Clerks from both ends of this building to discuss that and they confirmed that that was the case.
“Consistent with” means exactly what it says. We would look at whether an FTA was consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection. That is different from equivalence of standards.
As much as I love this Bill, we have probably debated it enough. It is time to focus on our future farming policies, which the Secretary of State will set out in more detail later this month. The Government will continue to support family farms. There is a great future for British agriculture, with public money paid for public goods, that is sustainable and productive. The Government are committed to agriculture and to high standards in agriculture, both of which the Bill protects. I therefore commend our amendment in lieu, which is exactly the position that we need to be in to protect standards.
One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the debate was interrupted (Order, 12 October)
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 16B.
4 November 2020
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendment 16B disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Lords amendment 18B disagreed to.
Amendments (a) and (b) agreed to.