All 13 contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Mon 3rd Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Programme motion & Money resolution
Wed 13th May 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage
Wed 13th May 2020
Remote Division Result: Amendment 39
Commons Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & 3rd reading
Mon 18th May 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

1st reading (Hansard) & 1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 1st reading
Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 12th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Tue 20th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 4th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments
Mon 9th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent: Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent: Royal Assent (Hansard)

Agriculture Bill

2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Money resolution & Programme motion
Monday 3rd February 2020

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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[Relevant document: Tenth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2017-19, Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill, HC 1591]
Second Reading
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I must inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

18:02
Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill will introduce the first major reform of agriculture policy in this country for half a century. Now that we have left the European Union, we are determined to do things differently and to pursue the priorities of the people of this great nation. That means strengthening the Union of our United Kingdom by levelling up opportunity, to unlock our country’s potential. As we commence consideration of this landmark Bill, I want to highlight the huge contribution that farmers make to our society by putting food on our plates and conserving the natural landscapes that we all value so much. This Bill will provide our farmers and land managers with a chance to play a fundamental role in tackling the greatest environmental challenges of our time: protecting nature and tackling catastrophic climate change.

Brexit means that we can finally leave the common agricultural policy, to build a brighter, better, greener future for British farming. With its exasperating rigidities, complexities and perversities, the CAP is a bad deal for farmers, a bad deal for landscapes and wildlife, and a poor return on public investment for the taxpayer. We can do so much better.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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I hope very much that we will be able to do better. The Secretary of State talks about looking after our farmers and higher standards, but will she guarantee that those higher standards will not be undercut by cheaper imports that do not meet those standards? If they are, we will not be doing our farmers any favours at all and will simply be outsourcing lower standards. Can she guarantee a legal commitment that no imports will undermine those standards that we will have in our country?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I can reassure the hon. Lady that our manifesto is very clear on this. We will maintain our high standards of animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection. It is there in our manifesto, and we will defend that line in our trade negotiations.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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This weekend, I was approached by a young farmer who wants to succeed his grandfather as a tenant farmer. His landlord is the Church Commissioners—not so much a Christian organisation as a violently commercial one, which I suppose may be its right. Can my right hon. Friend assure all our good, solid tenant farmers, who are the bedrock of our support in the countryside, that we stand four-square behind them against rapacious landlords?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I can. My right hon. Friend will know that the Bill contains provisions to introduce greater fairness for agricultural tenants, which we believe is very important. That is one way in which the Bill has been strengthened since the version considered in the last Parliament.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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Speaking of rapacious predators, farmers and growers in my constituency and elsewhere have been victims of the habits and customs associated with monolithic retailers. We welcome in the Bill the powers that the Government will introduce to give a fair deal to farmers and growers. Will the Secretary of State speak a little more about how and when she intends to use those powers?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I will come to those later in my remarks, but as my right hon. Friend acknowledged, an important part of the Bill is introducing greater transparency in the supply chain, so that farmers get a fairer deal for the produce that they create.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Does the Secretary of State agree that the theory of productionism, which lies at the heart of the common agricultural policy, encourages farmers to put as much land as possible into agricultural use, thereby disincentivising room for biodiversity? Can she confirm that the Bill will reverse that trend?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The Bill enables us to provide financial assistance for environmentally friendly farming practices. Providing more space for biodiversity, trees and nature will, I hope, be at the centre of many of the environmental land management schemes that we will be able to take forward under the Bill.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Is the Secretary of State aware that providing modest support for small-scale farmers could be extremely valuable? That is part of my campaign for an Island deal similar to the one enjoyed by the Scottish islands. It could include support for small-scale abattoirs or humane slaughter on farms, which is the most humane way of slaughtering animals for human consumption, as well as milk storage, grain storage and vegetable box erectors on the Island. Those would work for not only my patch but many other parts of the United Kingdom. How will this excellent Bill help? Will she come to the Isle of Wight to talk to my farmers and see that for herself?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those important suggestions, and I would be more than happy to visit his constituency.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; she is being incredibly generous with her time. I want to take her back to the fact that the Bill lacks any legal guarantees to protect our food standards from being undermined. The Conservative party’s manifesto may have referenced that, but the Bill does not, so will she give us a cast-iron guarantee that the Bill will protect those standards?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Our manifesto is clear. We will stick to the commitments in our manifesto. The Prime Minister reiterated that only today.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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The Secretary of State knows Northern Ireland well, so she will know that the big issue facing agriculture is farm incomes, which have fallen by 23% in the last two years. What assurance can she give to farmers listening in Northern Ireland tonight that the Bill will encourage an increase in both farm productivity and farm incomes?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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My hon. Friend will appreciate that agriculture is a devolved matter, but the Government’s manifesto does commit us to maintain the same overall levels of support for our farmers in each year of the current Parliament. We do clearly recognise the importance of ensuring and securing prosperity in the farming community in Northern Ireland, and we will work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on these matters in the weeks and months ahead.

We are going to put the broken system of the CAP firmly behind us. We are replacing it with an approach based on the principle of public money for public goods. We have committed in our manifesto to support that new approach with an overall level of funding to match 2019 levels for every year of the current Parliament. The Chancellor has already announced that the Government will provide £2.852 billion of direct payment support for the 2020 scheme year.

The objective of the Bill is a productive, profitable, resilient farming sector, empowered to produce more of the high-quality food that is prized around the world and appreciated so much here at home, all the while meeting the highest standards of food safety and traceability, animal health and welfare, and stewardship of the natural environment. Now more than ever before we need to recognise the vital importance of the work that farmers do because our climate is changing, because our ecosystems are under increasing pressure and because by the end of this decade 9 billion of us will share this planet.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)
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I say to my right hon. Friend that we must not get too misty-eyed about farmers. There is far too much cattle slurry, from dairy farms in particular, going into our rivers and destroying those rivers, and we really do need to make sure that farmers are held accountable for what they do with the slurry their cattle produce.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Through a combination of regulation and farm support payments, we are certainly doing everything we can to ensure that farmers play their part in addressing and reducing pollution, and contribute to cleaner water and cleaner air.

Finding a way sustainably to feed a rapidly growing global population is essential if we are to have any chance of tackling the climate and nature crisis that we face. Getting Brexit done means that we are able forge ahead with the reforms that the United Kingdom has sought for so long from the European Union, but never managed to secure. For 40 years successive UK Governments of all political complexions have vowed to secure reform of the CAP, and for 40 years Ministers returned from Brussels and stood at this Dispatch Box with very little to show for their efforts. This Bill will therefore deliver one of the most important environmental reforms for decades. It shows that we can deliver a green Brexit, where we have a stronger and more effective focus on environmental outcomes than was possible while we were a member of the European Union.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is being characteristically generous in giving way. I agree with her entirely about the need to green and be environmentally friendly in farming. Against that backdrop, is she able to indicate her thinking about the support this Bill could provide to those farmers who are really keen to invest in agri-tech as a way of reducing the need for both insecticide and pesticides?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The new scheme of farm support will include support for agri-tech to support productivity enhancement in a sustainable way. My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I will refer to later in my remarks.

If we get right the reform we are contemplating today, we can be a beacon for others to follow. Over $700 billion is spent around the world on agriculture subsidies. If we successfully deliver a new approach to farm support here and that encourages even a fraction of those billions of dollars of farm subsidies to be diverted into environmental improvement schemes, we will have a created a massive boost to efforts to address the climate crisis. As Secretary of State, I want to emphasise that I fully recognise the urgency of that crisis. I have been driving forward this Bill as just one part of the biggest package of legislative reform in Whitehall, but I am determined to go further. In the coming weeks, I will be publishing documents outlining more detail on our proposals for the future of farming.

The Government have always been clear that we will seize the opportunity Brexit presents to deliver reforms that work for our farmers across our Union and that help to secure crucial environmental goals, but I am afraid that that cannot be said of the official Opposition. In all the years Labour Members had to change things, they did nothing. They wanted us stuck in the EU, locked forever into the CAP and anchored to a status quo that has been holding us back for decades. I am shocked that, in tabling a reasoned amendment, they have signified their intention to vote against this Bill.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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I speak here as a patriot, and I have quite a farming community in Weaver Vale, and I and Opposition Members certainly want to maintain good British standards. Why does the Secretary of State not be true to the Government’s words in the manifesto and put this into legislation, as the National Farmers Union has called for?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The hon. Member has heard my response on that. It is in the manifesto, and we will deliver on our manifesto commitments.

The first chapter of the Bill provides the framework for funding schemes to support farmers, foresters and land managers. Clauses 1 to 3, which contain the meat of the Bill, will empower the Government to devote public money towards securing the public goods that people value so much, but which the market does not fully recognise or reward.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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No, I will not give way.

That includes improving standards of animal health and welfare, managing land in a way that enhances cultural and natural heritage, and improving public access to the countryside. Of course, protecting the environment will be right at the heart of our new approach. The Bill will enable the Government to support farmers to deliver improved water and air quality, increased biodiversity—for example, through enhanced protection for our hedgerows—and measures to address climate change. We all here know that farmers and land managers are already doing a huge amount to meet these environmental goals, but, as in so many parts of our economy and our society, we need to do so much more if we are to have a chance of reaching net zero and preventing disastrous climate change. These changes in farm support will help us to meet our hugely ambitious target for planting trees and safeguarding peatland.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for the gracious and generous way in which she has given way. I point out to her that, as she will probably know, livestock farming contributes some 27% of methane production—methane is 85 times worse than CO2 for global warming—and, what is more, slurry contributes about 40% of the secondary PM2.5 in UK cities. Why does the Bill not contain anything about air pollution, despite her saying it is all about climate change and helping the environment?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I am sorry to hear that Labour wants to talk down British farming. The reality is that well-managed livestock production can provide important environmental benefits, including for biodiversity. I think we need a debate on livestock farming that reflects the facts, which include the fact that our livestock farmers are some of the most carbon-friendly in the world in the way they produce their products.

We know how vital it is to protect soil health. Soil is clearly one of our most precious national assets, and we have added it to the list of purposes underlying the schemes that we can pay for under the Bill. This is a direct response to the views expressed in this House about the previous version of the Bill. A further addition is to include in clause 1 the conservation of native breeds and plants, so that the species that sustained our ancestors are kept safe for future generations. Work is already well under way to prepare and implement these crucial reforms. Our environmental land management scheme is the cornerstone of our new agriculture policy. Extensive tests and trials are under way in different parts of the country. We will launch the ELM national pilot in England in late 2021, and the scheme will launch fully in 2024.

ELM will provide a powerful driver towards meeting the goal set out in our 25-year environment plan, which is to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Getting ELM right is crucial for meeting our commitment to net-zero carbon emissions, and to meet the tough targets set out in our forthcoming Environment Bill. I emphasise that our goal is to design ELM schemes that work for farmers and land managers, and in which a very wide range of farmers and land managers can take part.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I welcome the points that the Secretary of State makes about protecting our environment, because without a good environment we cannot produce the good, tasty, and traceable food for which Britain and the United Kingdom are famous. Does she recognise that the UK currently imports 16% of its milk? Why can we not buy more British milk from British farmers and close that deficit?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I would encourage everyone to do that. We produce some of the finest food and drink in the world, and I encourage everyone to reflect that in their shopping habits.

We fully recognise the particular challenges faced by upland farmers—indeed, I discussed that issue just a few days ago with a group of farmers in Northumberland National Park. We are determined that ELM will also work for upland farmers, and the incredible work they do to safeguard our beautiful natural landscapes will put them in a strong position to take part in our environmental schemes.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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No.

Reformed funding support for farmers and land managers will be an important part of our programme to level up the rural economy, and we will provide grants and funding to improve productivity and help farm businesses become more resilient and successful. We believe that farming efficiently and improving the environment can, and indeed must, go hand in hand. We will therefore support investment in green agri-tech, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and invest in research and development to help raise sustainable productivity levels.

Clause 4 includes a duty on the Secretary of State to set out a multi-annual plan for financial assistance, while clauses 5 and 6 include provisions that will require the Government to make annual reports on the amount of financial assistance provided in England. Those three clauses are designed to provide greater certainty and stability about assistance in the future, and are in direct response to concerns expressed by right hon. and hon. Members about the earlier version of the Bill. Clauses 7 to 13 provide that during a seven-year transition period basic farm payments will gradually be phased out.

I strongly believe that the changes in the Bill will be positive for farmers and the environment, but change of this magnitude will also have far-reaching impacts, and adjustment to the new approach will not always be easy. As I emphasised in the debate on the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, a managed seven-year transition period up to 2027 will give farmers time to adapt to the new system, and provide time for the new schemes to be fully tested before they are delivered across the country.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. She will appreciate that in that seven-year transition period farmers will be expected to cope with the loss of the basic payment scheme—according to her Department’s figures, 85% of funding for livestock farming comes from that scheme—and for all the likely and theoretical benefits of ELM it will not be functional for everybody until 2028. Does she agree that a wiser and more compassionate way of dealing with this issue would be to not phase out BPS until 2028, rather than starting before that?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. In part, we want our grants for productivity and investment to help plug that gap. But we have to get on with this; we must make progress in transforming the way we support land management in this country. I am afraid the climate crisis is urgent.

Clause 11 contains provisions to introduce delinked payments during the transition, and where we can, and subject to constraints in the withdrawal agreement, we will introduce simplifications to the existing BPS scheme. Our transition to the new schemes opens the door to a fresh approach to the rules that we expect farmers to meet, as provided for in clause 9. We are determined to have a far more rational and proportionate approach to compliance than the inflexible CAP regime that we are leaving. For too long farmers the length and breadth of this country have had to put up with systems of inspection, compliance, and penalties that often seemed to defy logic or common sense. Outside the EU, we can do better.

Clauses 18 to 20 provide that in exceptional circumstances the Government can act to support farmers through significant market disturbances in England. Our farmers want to be competitive, collaborative, and innovative, and to negotiate effectively at the farm gate to get a fairer return. We are using the Bill as an opportunity to take further action, and to improve fairness in the agriculture supply chain.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State accept the offer from the National Farmers Union to work with the Government on legislative provisions, in order to safeguard standards while allowing sufficient flexibility to conduct meaningful trade negotiations?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I am in regular touch with the National Farmers Union—indeed, I spoke to its representatives only today. Throughout the process of negotiating our new relationship with the European Union, and our trade agreements with the rest of the world, there will be strong engagement from the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade, and from the Government as a whole, with farmers and other stakeholders on those crucial matters.

Greg Knight Portrait Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I have to make progress because I know there is a long speakers’ list.

Clauses 21 to 26 on data will increase transparency and help to manage risk and market volatility more effectively, and clause 27 will help protect UK producers from unfair trading practices. The Bill enables us to make progress on our new multi-species livestock information programme. That addition to the Bill that was debated in the previous Parliament will support a game-changing initiative to strengthen biosecurity through traceability, and help to strengthen consumer confidence in the quality and safety of the food that reaches the supermarket shelf. Parts 4 and 5 include new UK-wide provisions on fertiliser and organic products, and on reform of agriculture tenancies in England and Wales. Many of those provisions will benefit farmers in every corner of our United Kingdom, delivering a fairer and more modern agriculture system.

The Bill includes new powers for the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, which they requested to enable them to bring forward new agriculture policy. We fully respect the fact that agriculture is a devolved matter, and we have worked closely with the devolved Administrations on this Bill. I thank them for the collaborative approach that they adopted. Where clauses cover devolved matters, we will of course seek the appropriate legislative consent motions.

Crucially, this Bill fully recognises the importance of food production and food security. In response to concerns expressed in this House, and beyond, about the previous version of the Bill, clause 17 places a duty on Ministers to report regularly on food security to Parliament. The Government are committed to boosting the best of British, and to championing our iconic produce on the global stage. Our manifesto commits us to maintaining and defending our high standards of food safety, animal welfare, and environmental protection as we embark on our trade negotiations with countries around the world.

We will give our farmers unfailing support as their businesses adapt to the bold and radical programme of change that this Bill ushers in, so that they can maintain and enhance the high standards that are the backbone of their success, play their part in tackling climate change and giving nature the space to recover, and continue their vital work of feeding the nation. I urge the House to back this historic change to agriculture policy in this country. Together we can seize this opportunity to deliver a better future for British farming, and I commend the Bill to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Opposition, I ought to give notice that there will be an immediate time limit, initially of seven minutes. A great many Members wish to make their maiden speech this evening and we want to ensure that those making a maiden speech do not have to do it in less than seven minutes, but that means that many people who have indicated that they would like to speak this evening will not have an opportunity to do so, because there simply will not be time. I call Luke Pollard.

18:30
Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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I beg to move,

That this House, whilst recognising that on leaving the EU the UK needs to shift agricultural support from land-based payments to the delivery of environmental and other public benefits, declines to give a Second Reading to the Agriculture Bill because it fails to provide controls on imported agricultural goods, such as chlorinated chicken or hormone treated beef, and does not guarantee the environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards which will apply.

The amendment, which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and others, would deny the Bill a Second Reading because it fails comprehensively to guarantee environmental protections and animal welfare standards in any post-Brexit trade deals. The United Kingdom’s history and identity are connected and integral to our countryside, to our farming and to our connection to the natural world. We are rightly proud of our high farm animal standards and our high standards of animal welfare and food hygiene. Today, I will ask some difficult questions about where the Bill takes us, voice serious concerns about the Bill and set out Labour’s genuine, heartfelt and reasonable concerns about a Bill that is silent on food imports produced to lower standards that risk undercutting the great British farmer.

What kind of country do we want to be? In which direction will Britain face in the future? Will our nation rise to the challenge of the climate emergency? Will we crash out of the transition period without a deal? Will we sell our values short for trade deals, especially with the United States? I have looked in ministerial statements for certainty and found plenty of words, but no answers—at least none that I genuinely believe. The Bill sets out a path to a wholly new system of agricultural support, and Labour backs many of its provisions, but as I will explain, legal protections to guarantee animal welfare, food hygiene rules, agricultural workers’ rights and environmental protections on the food we import are deliberately omitted from the Bill.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The hon. Gentleman knows I have a lot of sympathy with what he wants to end up with on those issues, but does he not agree that denying this important Bill a Second Reading when farmers want to know the direction of travel and have some certainty would be absolutely the wrong step? Those issues are quite properly addressed in Committee and on Report, and we should get moving forward quickly.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about giving certainty to our farmers, and I will come to that matter later in my speech, but Labour Members cannot accept a Bill that opens the door to chlorinated chicken being sold in Britain. We simply will not do it.

On the day when people are looking for certainty about where we are going as a country, this Bill does not provide that certainty—the key challenge that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and that I just spoke about. The United Kingdom has exceptionally high environmental and food standards, and an internationally recognised approach to animal welfare, which is a good thing.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Is my hon. Friend aware of the research in the United States about hormone-impregnated meat—beef in particular—giving rise to premature pubescence in children; premature breast growth and so on? Does he know that there was an attempt to pursue that, but the officials in charge were sacked by Donald Trump when he became the President?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There are valid questions about some of the farming methods used by some of our key trading partners and the reasons why they are used.

I do not want the legacy of high standards to be ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality foods following our exit from the European Union. Britain has a brilliant diversity of growers, farmers and producers. Our rural communities define what it is to be British. Our rural landscapes are beautiful, but they are not frozen; they are working environments. Our rural areas are an inheritance that we pass to our children, and that is why the rules that govern our stewardship of farms, fields, rivers and hills and valleys are so important.

Before I embark on my main argument, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I again declare an interest? My little sister is a sheep farmer in Cornwall, and I have been asked by my old man to add that he keeps a few chickens. I overlook the Pollard chicken coop at my peril.

There is much in the Bill that Labour supports. Public money for public goods is a philosophy that Labour backs. I am no fan of the common agricultural policy—it is probably one of the few areas where the Secretary of State and I agree. Incentivising farmers to protect wildlife, enhance biodiversity and restore habitats is a good thing, which my party supports. At what pace and by what mix of payments is still to be determined in detail. How this move will help smaller farmers as well as large producers is still uncertain, but the direction of travel is one that I welcome. Farmers have been looking after the land for generations, and it is not if they should do so but how that matters, especially as we scrutinise the Bill further.

As my hon. Friends the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) and for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) have said, the Bill is silent regarding the big promises the Prime Minister has made on standards. Indeed, this very morning, in his speech in Greenwich, the Prime Minister promised the British people that

“we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards”,

but the Bill contains no legal guarantee to put those words into law. So many of the Prime Minister’s promises have been broken, words twisted and responsibilities shrugged off. For any of those promises to be believed, they must be enshrined in law. For the British public, for our farmers and for anyone we do trade deals with in the future to see clearly, there must be no regression on standards—no undercutting of British farmers with food grown to poorer standards, poorer animal welfare, more damaging environmental impacts or poorer protections for workers.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is, as always, making a well-informed speech. The concerns he is voicing are not just those of the official Opposition or of other parties in this House. They are shared by organisations such as the NFU and other farmers associations—organisations that naturally support attempts to change agriculture in this country. It is not just us asking these questions. The Government need to listen to the NFU and the Farmers’ Union of Wales, which have genuine concerns and fears about the Government reneging on the commitments they made in their December 2019 manifesto.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I agree entirely. Sometimes there is a temptation to believe that, just because a dodgy socialist at a Dispatch Box said it, it must be untrue, but apparently there are an awful lot of dodgy socialists out there now.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
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I do not for one second suggest that the hon. Gentleman is in any way dodgy, but does he not realise that while the points the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) made are valid to him and would be perfectly reasonable to make the subject of amendments, by choosing to oppose Second Reading of the Bill, he would make amendments impossible? Will he withdraw his opposition to the Bill so that he can make the amendments that he purports to want?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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Perhaps the Government’s whipping arrangements are somewhat flawed tonight, but with a majority of 80 the Bill will proceed, unless the hon. Gentleman would like to join me in the Lobby. If he is so worried about the future of the Bill, he is welcome to join me in expressing the serious and heartfelt concerns not just of Opposition Members, but of organisations that work day in, day out with our agricultural communities, which are worried that while they are improving standards in the UK, we will leave the door open to their being undermined. That is not something I can accept.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he accept that the farmers of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a commitment to deliver high-quality products that they can sell all over the world, and they have no intention of changing the regulations that ensure that those products continue to be delivered? Does he accept the Secretary of State’s assurance on the need for the devolved Administrations to be part of that? They accept that being part of the regulations is the way forward.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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The hon. Gentleman is right. British farmers do not want lower standards; they are proud of the standards they uphold and we are proud of what they grow and how they grow it. What worries us is the risk that, despite those high standards, the door could be opened to lower-cost, poorly produced food imports. That concern is shared by farmers. That is why the importance of putting legal protections in the Bill is so clear. Why is the Secretary of State not proposing legal protections so that chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef will not be on sale in our shops, restaurants and takeaways? Why is she not insisting that our farmers’ best practice is not undercut by US mega-agriculture? Why does she not made upholding Britain’s example on animal welfare her red line that she refuses to cross?

Speaking frankly, few in this House believe that the Secretary of State will last long in her job with the reshuffle coming up, so she had nothing to lose in making the case to support our British farmers to stop them being undercut. If she had done so, she would have been the farmers’ hero—a protector of the environment, an upholder of promises to the electorate, someone we could all be very proud of—but her silence on the issue of leaving out legal guarantees from the Bill points to one inevitable conclusion: the promises made by the Prime Minister to uphold the standards are disposable. They are liable to be rejected and replaced at will to secure a bargain-basement trade deal with Donald Trump and usher in a potential for chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef and more besides to be sold. If the Government say that that is not happening, why is it not in the Bill? Why will that point not be put into law?

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman about food imports: I want to see less food imports and more of the food that we consume grown here to assure traceability and guarantee food security. To get him off the hook, it would be much better for the Opposition’s credibility if they backed the Bill and made these arguments later. Not to back the Bill is to fail our farmers by not giving them the support that they need as we leave the European Union—surely he must know that.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: it is important to back British. Indeed, if he had been present, as many of us were, during debates on the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, he would have heard my call for us to buy British, buy local, and especially buy food from the south-west, a region that I and the Farming Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice)—can be very proud of. Look for the red tractor, because it supports our local businesses and our country.

This issue is fundamental for the future. This is not just a minor amendment that can be put in place; it is fundamental to the direction that we are going in as a country and whether we leave the door open to cheap imported food that undermines our standards. That is why we have tabled this reasoned amendment. That is why it matters and why I am making this case today.

Another fellow west country MP—the recently re-elected Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—put it very succinctly:

“Imports produced to lower standards than ours pose a very real threat to UK agriculture. Without sufficient safeguards we could see British farmers significantly undermined while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards abroad.”

He proposed a very good amendment in the previous Parliament that won cross-party support, although sadly, not the support of his Front Benchers. He said:

“Our suggested amendment calls for agricultural goods to be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced are as high as, or higher than, current UK standards.”

We could all get behind that.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I want to try to get my head around this: is the Opposition’s opposition to chlorinated chicken about chlorinating all foodstuffs? Every single lettuce grown in the United Kingdom is dipped in chlorine, so do they have a principled objection to using chlorine in foodstuffs, or is it just about Trump-bashing? [Interruption.]

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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A Member on the ministerial Bench says, “Tell us about the vegetables.” The important thing is to tell us about the standards and the produce. The hon. Gentleman raises a good point: some people in the House might not be familiar with all the agricultural practices that go into producing our food each day. The issue with chlorine-washed chicken is not the chlorine that washes the chicken—he is right that we chlorine-wash some of our vegetables in the UK that are on sale in supermarkets—but the reason why it needs to be chlorine-washed in the first place. That is because it frequently compensates for poor hygiene standards, such as dirty or crowded abattoirs, cages packed with birds, which would be unlawful in the UK, diseases and infections. The reason why the chicken is chlorine-washed, rather than the chlorine, is what is most concerning.

We cannot wash away poor animal welfare standards with swimming pool water. The realities of how the chicken was reared remain. Refusing to set out legal protections against that in the Bill leaves the door open to allowing such food into our food chains in future trade deals. Here is my challenge to the Secretary of State. She has heard, effectively, from both sides of the House—

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am only a shadow Minister just yet, but I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman favours my ambition.

Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson
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I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. The Americans use peroxyacetic acid, not chlorine. Will he comment on the fact that Americans eat about twice the volume of chicken as Europeans but have significantly fewer cases of campylobacter and salmonella? He makes the correct case that they have different animal husbandry standards from ours, but what metric would he use? If he goes on the outcomes of the food, based on the medical evidence, American food is safer or as safe as ours. What will the Labour party do in considering food that is produced under a different regime? How will it be judged, what data will be used, and how will he stop this, or propose that it is stopped?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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The right hon. Gentleman is right that acetic acid is used in many cases instead of chlorine. Whether the infection is killed by acetic acid, chlorine, or any other process, the concern is that there is an infection there in the first place through poor animal husbandry. I invite him to look at that and at the work produced by the EFRA Committee under his colleague, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton. It goes into detail to make sure that the standards of any imported food are as least as high as those we have in the UK.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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This goes to the heart of why Labour is supporting the reasoned amendment and does not want to allow Second Reading to go through. In the last Parliament, we supported the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill. I sat on the Bill Committee. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton tabled new clause 4 and I tabled new clause 1 to the Bill. The Government were terrified that they were going to lose, because we had such cross-party consensus on this—from the NFU to environmental groups, to farmers and to greener people—so they suddenly shelved the Bill. We have not seen anything of it since December 2018. We cannot trust the Government this time and allow Second Reading to go through without trying to raise this point now.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank my hon. Friend for that very good point. Farmers will be watching this discussion tonight who are unfamiliar with parliamentary process. For them, the idea of letting the Bill pass Second Reading without making a case for this might seem appealing, but unless the Government and the Secretary of State, in particular, will accept an amendment or propose one that sets the promises in law, it is important that we make the case now. I say to all the farmers who do not want their standards undercut, who are genuinely worried about this, that they have an opportunity to ask their Member of Parliament, whichever side of the House they sit on, to make that case, because that challenge about putting this into law is important. Every day that passes when it is not proposed, including in the Bill, we have to ask why.

We do not need to look too far back to find a precedent that would help the Secretary of State. Last week, the Government whipped their MPs to vote for the NHS Funding Bill to set into law their commitment to spend more on the NHS. Why do the Government need a law to implement promises on the NHS but not a law to implement promises on animal welfare and environmental concerns? Let us look at what the Health Secretary said about that Bill:

“The crucial thing in this Bill is the certainty: the Bill provides everyone in the NHS with the certainty to work better together to make long-term decisions, get the best possible value for money”—[Official Report, 27 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 566.]

Indeed, certainty is a good thing. The certainty that British farmers will not be undercut by cheap imported US produce grown at a lower cost with lower standards would help them as well. Why is legal certainty good for one election promise but not for another? We know the reason: one they intend to deliver, and one they do not. That fact has been pointed to by leaks from DEFRA officials that were unearthed by Unearthed. A report published in October said:

“Weakening our SPS regime to accommodate one trade partner could irreparably damage our ability to maintain UK animal, plant and public health, and reduce trust in our exports”.

That is why this matters.

I am proud of British farmers—not just the ones who are in my family, but all of them. Because the Bill fails to uphold animal welfare and environmental standards in law, Labour cannot support it. We need a legal commitment not to allow imports of food produced to lower standards or lower animal welfare standards. We need advice and support to help smaller farms transition to more nature-friendly farming methods that tackle the climate crisis, and we need the Government to set out a clear direction of travel for future agricultural regulation. Food grown to lower standards, some with abusive practices, must never be imported to undercut British farmers.

I have no doubt that Tory MPs will dutifully vote for the Bill tonight, but each and every one of them must know that my argument has merit. They might be wise to ask themselves why the NFU, the RSPCA and Greenpeace are saying the same thing as that Labour chap at the Dispatch Box. Why did the re-elected Chair of the EFRA Committee present a similar argument in the last Parliament? Could it be that collectively we are on to something? If we are—spoiler alert: we are—I encourage Members to make a beeline to the Secretary of State to encourage her to propose an amendment to the Bill as swiftly as possible to set in train the promises made at the general election, not only by the Prime Minister but, I believe, by nearly every Tory MP here.

I and my colleagues on the Opposition Benches will be voting for the reasoned amendment to deny the Bill a Second Reading because it omits the legal protections to prevent our British farmers from being undercut. I hope that the Bill can be improved—and swiftly—because in proposing a greener and better future it will also allow for that future to be undermined by imported food grown more cheaply and to lower standards. Who will eat that food? It will be the poorest in society. Who will be able to afford food grown to higher standards? The better-off. It will lead to deregulatory pressure to ensure that Britain’s farmers can compete with US industrial agriculture, which is the opposite of the spirit of the Bill and of what the Secretary of State said at the Dispatch Box, and it is the reason we need legal protection to ensure that no food is imported that has been produced to lower standards than we have today. The Secretary of State has the opportunity to do that. Every day that she lets that opportunity slip by is an indication that they intend to renege on their promise.

18:51
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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I will try be quick as there are maiden speeches to be made.

I welcome the Bill, and I urge the Opposition to vote for Second Reading and then to try to amend it in Committee and on Report, because the amendments I tabled in the last Parliament, which the shadow Secretary of State mentioned, I might well reintroduce at a later stage. Now is the time to let the Bill through, which I welcome as an historic moment.

We want long-term certainty, as we move forward, so I am pleased that the Bill now includes a reference to multi-annual financial assistance plans, but while the Government lay out clearly how they are to phase out direct payments, which is wonderful, they are not so clear about how the ELMS and other payments will kick in. I look forward to some proper pilots. I know that some have been done, but they were started and then stopped and delayed by the problems in the last Parliament. We must have practical schemes in place as we replace the basic farm payment, and if we have trouble rolling out the ELMS quickly enough, we should reconsider the level of basic farm payment paid in the interim, because we must make sure that the money gets to farmers and the agriculture community.

The EFRA Committee looked at the role of the Rural Payments Agency in overseeing and enforcing fair deal obligations for businesses and purchasers of agricultural produce. I am keen to see how the RPA will work with the Groceries Code Adjudicator and hold processors to account—for instance, in the beef or lamb sector, if a processor is not paying the right price for the carcase, will we be able to hold them to account? Will the RPA be able to fine them? If we are to make them change their practices, we have to get in there and make it work. As I have said, I am keen to hear how the RPA and the Groceries Code Adjudicator will work together.

On food standards, the point has been made across the House that we produce some of the best—if not the best—food in the world to high environmental and animal welfare standards. We cannot allow in food that does not meet those high standards, so I look forward to things coming forward in Committee and on Report. As we design our new policy for enhancing our environment—planting trees, stopping flooding, and so on—we must also seek to enhance the way we grow our food. Agritech will be important in helping to reduce our use of sprays and fertilizers while also producing a great deal of food.

There are more than 7 billion people in the world today and there will probably be some 8.6 billion by 2030. Seeking to enhance our environment and manage our land differently is very moral from an environmental point of view, but feeding the population of the world is also a moral issue, so as we import food let us be careful that we are not importing the water to grow it and taking food from those who can least afford it. Also, if, as we enhance our environment and plant more trees, we reduce our food production, where will much of that food come from? It will come from Brazil. I have been to Brazil, as have many others, and seen them ploughing up the savannah and driving their cattle towards the rain forest. They are destroying much of their environment in order to produce food. I am sure that hon. Members can see my point. Let us be careful to keep that production in this country.

Furthermore, we rightly make much of holding carbon in the soil and planting more trees, but we sometimes lose sight of the importance of the carbon that is locked in our permanent pasture, in the grassland and in the hills. We must maintain the level of production in this country, especially from grazing livestock, in part because it is produced to high welfare and environmental standards.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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We should be proud of the efficiency and productivity of our farmers. In this debate about the environment, much of which I respect and agree with, we must not lose sight of the effectiveness and efficiency that has made our farmers leaders across the world.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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My right hon. Friend is right, and I am looking forward to seeing that in the Bill. As we leave the CAP and develop our own agriculture policy, we will have an opportunity not only to enhance the environment, increase biodiversity, plant more trees, and so on, but to look at the efficiency of our production and livestock breeding—for example, by introducing native breeds and cross breeding in order to deliver that very high quality. On crop production, let us use genome technology and everything that is there so that we can produce lots of food.

It is also important, as we look to managing our landscape in the future, that we seek to enhance our hedgerows and field margins, but we must ensure good production where we have very good fertile land. One thing that worries me about our policies going forward is that it is very much at the high end of food production, and that is great, but much of the population also like to enjoy good-quality chicken meat that is produced intensively but is also very reasonably priced. We produce intensively reared chicken in this country according to very high standards, and I do not want us to phase out production in this country and then import that type of meat from other countries where it is produced much more intensively. Likewise with cereals: we must make sure that the types of crop protection used to produce cereals that we import are also available to our farmers. If we do not, all we will do is export our livestock and our poultry and pig production.

This is an important Bill, and it contains much that is to be recommended. However, we must be careful to ensure that as we enhance the environment and our biodiversity we also increase production. We have an opportunity now to produce more food in this country and to be more self-sufficient.

18:59
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I am sure I have seen this Bill somewhere before but, as it seems that we are destined to repeat this whole thing, and we will no doubt be going over the same ground, let me say upfront that the Bill does not respect the devolved settlement and that that cannot be a basis on which to proceed.

Let me deal first with the issue of farming support payments. We discussed it during the passage of the Bill that became the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020. That Bill was, of course, needed as a result of the Government’s failure to plan, which, I suppose, is why we find ourselves repeating a failed Agriculture Bill.

Questions that were asked during the passage of the direct payments legislation were not answered at the time. I wonder whether Ministers have had an opportunity to consider them yet, and whether they find themselves in a position to answer them now. In order to be as helpful as possible, let me refresh their memories. Like the debate itself, this may seem rather like an episode of déjà vu, given that I asked those questions twice, and other Members asked them as well. None of us received an answer, but I am eternally hopeful. It must be my Aussie optimism.

First, let me ask about currency fluctuations. Will any drop in the value of sterling see a corresponding uplift in farm payments to take account of the increased costs of the imported products that farmers will need in the event of legislation requiring the Scottish Government to make payments on the basis of existing EU rules? We know that the currency recently took another beating as a result of Brexit; do the Government propose to help farmers a little with that, and with future fluctuations?

Will there be a multi-annual framework for farm support, or will there just be ad hoc, “make it up as you go along” nonsense? We were told that the details had not been worked out. Has any thought been given to that framework since then? Even the merest idea of how the basic framework of the scheme will look would be a start. When will that be available?

When will we hear details of the shared prosperity fund—details of how much money it contains, and what conditions might be attached? When will we see the global funding figure, and the proportions for Scotland and Wales? Will we have any guarantees that they will be at least maintained in real terms and on international comparators? Will support for our farmers at least keep pace with the support that farmers in the remaining states of the EU will receive? Farmers need some idea of the long-term support that they will receive, or not receive, so they can plan their businesses. The Minister is a farmer himself, and he must be aware of that. Brexit is enough of a disaster for farmers without their not being made aware of the funds that they are likely to receive.

Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether it will be open to owners of grouse moors, shooting estates, private forestry and other such land to apply for the new English scheme for public goods. Will public money, having been directed away from food production, be finding its way to them? I personally think—and I believe that many other people think so too—that the proposed new English system will store up long-term problems in England’s food supply, which will, of course, affect Scotland’s production chain. I hope that we shall hear some answers from the Minister tonight, even if there is a timetable for substantive answers.

We have some other concerns. The viability of many of our farms relies on getting produce to European markets, but the only word that we seem to have had on the future relationship is the Prime Minister’s lukewarm hope for a trade deal. We do know that there are a couple of deadlines on the horizon in June, with the questions of financial services and fishing to be decided. We are fairly sure that fishing will be sold out in favour of the City of London’s access to the European markets. However, that wrangling and betrayal dance will mean less concentration on agriculture and the movement of goods—food produced here, to be sure, but also the fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other crop products that our farmers use, as well the animal feed on whose import they rely.

That, of course, feeds into the subject matter of part 2: food security and the supply chain. There will be little point in the Bill if farmers cannot farm in any case. What conversations are Ministers having about ensuring the free flow of goods into and out of the EU? Just this morning we read that the Prime Minister would rather accept tariffs than EU laws, and would not follow EU regulations. Imagine the feelings of farmers and crofters hearing that from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom! What guarantees can be offered on the future of their trade? Without some guarantees, the structures and rules being set up by the Bill are meaningless phrases and empty promises.

The other deadline in June is, of course, the decision on applying for an extension of the transition period beyond the end of this year. I do not think that anyone will be surprised if there is a great deal of hubristic chest thumping and a great many refusals to extend, but the truth is that farmers will need that extension while the deals to ensure their survival are being hammered out.

In the midst of all of that chaos, the Bill contains measures that cut into devolution, trampling on devolved competences such as livestock identification and organics. That is not acceptable, and it must be reversed if the Government want to respect the voices of the Scottish people.

One final issue worth addressing, given the promises made by the Government time after time, is the failure to include protections for food quality and protected geographical indications, of which we have heard much today. We have no guarantees, our food protections are being stripped away, our food quality and welfare protections are going, and support for farmers is under threat, as is their ability to farm. This is not legislation; it is a Brexit fire sale.

In an area of “government by clever wheeze”—or what the Government think are clever wheezes, anyway—good management and sensible government have gone, and we are left with assertion, bluff and bluster. Far from the ideal of evidence-based policy making, the Bill is a hope-and-prayer pitch at filling a giant hole with a tiny pebble. In Brexit England, evidence seems to be treated with the same suspicion as experts, and we are left with this nonsense instead.

This Bill does not respect the devolved Administrations, and the SNP will be withholding our consent for its progress.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Virginia Crosbie to make her maiden speech.

19:07
Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill is particularly important to my constituency. It will enable this Government to reward farmers for the work that they do to protect and improve our environment. I shall be working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure regulatory alignment, so that farmers in England and Wales can continue to work in partnership.

I am proud to say that the island of Ynys Môn is without doubt the best constituency in the UK. The island’s motto is Môn Mam Cymru: Anglesey the Mother of Wales. It was voted as one of the happiest places in which to live in Wales. Why? It is beautiful. The Anglesey coastal path consists of 125 miles of coastline, with beaches from Cemaes to Amlwch, Benllech, Beaumaris, Newborough Forest, Rhosneigr, Rhoscolyn and Trearddur. We have heritage, from the 13th-century Beaumaris mediaeval castle to Copper Kingdom Parys Mountain and Oriel Ynys Môn in Llangefni. Our lighthouse, South Stack, is surrounded by cliffs where puffins, guillemots and razorbills breed. The port town of Holyhead is the second busiest ferry port in the UK, and provides a key link to our Irish friends thanks to Stena Line and Irish Ferries. We are playing our part to keep the UK safe: RAF Valley trains fast jet pilots and helicopter crews, and Group Captain Chris Moon has promised me a tour.

We are home to Morgan Evans Auctioneers in Gaerwen and the legendary Anglesey agricultural show in Mona, which is held every year, and to which I extend a personal invitation to the Secretary of State. We have our own sea salt, Halen Môn, which, like the pork pies in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), has protected status, and which is the key ingredient in Barack Obama’s favourite caramels.

Orthios Eco Park is creating jobs and safeguarding our planet for future generations. My first job was with dolphins, so I am pleased to say that we even have our own zoo aquarium, Sea Zoo, and our own Butterfly Palace in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. For those who like racing, we have Trac Môn and Cartio Môn. We even have our own science park, M-SParc.

How do you get there? You do not have to swim. You do not have to sail. We have two bridges, the Menai suspension bridge and the Britannia bridge, and if you fancy flying, we even have our own airport, Anglesey airport. But most importantly of all, Ynys Môn has its people, and these are people who have put their trust in me. It is an honour to have been elected to represent Ynys Môn, and I want to use my background, my experience and my determination for all my constituents, however they voted.

My grandfather was a miner in Wales for 47 years, and my mother worked in a jam factory. I am the first person in my family to have stayed on at school beyond the age of 16. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Albert Owen. He leaves big shoes to fill. He was known for sticking up for his constituents and working cross-party. I hope to follow in his shoes, and I look forward to hosting Anglesey day here in Parliament. My focus will be on delivering the jobs, skilled employment and investment that Ynys Môn needs, and I am hoping that the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station will transform the island. It will deliver jobs and help the Government to deliver their 2050 net zero carbon target.

Wales is a nation with a language that has been spoken for thousands of years, and I give my personal commitment to support this beautiful language by creating a robust economy. I took my parliamentary oath in Welsh, and I am learning Welsh. I know my pronunciation needs work, and I thank you for your patience. I am not a linguist; I am a scientist. My degree is in microbiology. I worked in pharmaceuticals and more recently I taught maths. It is a privilege to be an MP, and with privilege comes responsibility. I want to be a voice in this place for those who have no voice. This is not the hardest speech that I have ever done. The hardest speech I have done was at my brother’s funeral. That is why I understand how important our mental health services are. I also understand how fantastic our NHS is. I nearly died in a car crash when I was just 19, and this is an opportunity to publicly thank Mr Brian Sommerlad—who has changed so many children’s lives at Great Ormond Street—and his brilliant team for their surgical skills. He gave me the courage to face university.

I am proud that I am one of the 220 women MPs in this place. I am only the 551st woman MP to be elected. Before the 2019 general election, there had never been a Conservative woman MP in Wales. We now have three. I am looking forward to working with my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), and with the whole Welsh team. I would not be here without the Conservative Women’s Organisation, 50:50 Parliament, Women2Win and, in particular, Baroness Anne Jenkin. I am most grateful for their support and I promise to continue the campaign to get more women elected. I would also like to thank the police at Llangefni and the friends who have supported me on social media. You angels know who you are.

I would like to end by saying that I am a mother, a wife and a friend. I want to dedicate my life to public service, to work hard and to use my enthusiasm and ideas to make tomorrow a better day for my constituency, Ynys Môn—Anglesey, the Mother of Wales. I have an active dialogue with the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales, and I know that they and the farming community are working hard to help us to tackle climate change and wildlife decline. I am looking forward to voting on the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill to ensure that they are rewarded. Môn Mam Cymru. Diolch am wrando.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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There are a lot of maiden speeches tonight, and I know that a lot of colleagues have come into the Chamber to hear those maiden speeches, but there is also a debate going on, so I would ask people to listen to the other speeches as well, without too much chattering.

19:14
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) on her maiden speech. Her Welsh pronunciation sounded absolutely fine to me, but what would I know? Perhaps my colleague here, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), is in a better position to judge.

I do not want to repeat everything that I said on Second Reading or in Committee last time round. I hope to be on the Committee again. I will start on a positive note by saying that an addition to the Bill will now give financial assistance to farmers to share information about agroecology. Those of us in the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology have been involved in this for a long time and we would like to see a little bit more clarity in writing from the Minister about how that will work in practice. We are rather disappointed that there is not more of a commitment to financially rewarding the transition to and practice of whole-farm agroecological systems. There is a concern that we are still looking at small tweaks to a system in which environmental stewardship will be located very much on the margins, rather than being done at farm scale. That is one of the weaknesses of the Bill.

We have talked in the past about county farms, and I know that there was a commitment to support county farms, but it is not in the Bill. I would like to hear more about that if the Minister has time when he winds up.

There is no commitment to net zero by 2040 in the Bill. The NFU supports that, and I would have thought that the Government felt able to commit to putting it in the legislation. That ties in with the whole debate that we need to have about land use, which ranges from the impact of the deforestation of the Amazon and the importation not just of meat but of livestock feed, which has a direct connection with our farming here, to the burning of peatlands—the natural carbon sinks that ought to be protected and preserved, not burned to a cinder because of grouse shooting.

It is widely acknowledged that the common agricultural policy was a failure. It was a blunt instrument that led to the inefficient and unsustainable use of farmland. Landowners and farmers were often rewarded for how much land they had, rather than what they did with it, so I very much support the public money for public goods approach, but there is concern that the future environmental land management scheme could end up failing in the same way if it does not adopt that whole-farm approach to landscape-scale delivery. We also need to build in natural climate solutions to that, and to have far more debate about rewilding, peatlands, the planting of trees, agriforestry and so on. I hope that we will do that in Committee.

The Bill is also silent on the baseline of environmental standards that all farmers should adhere to, whether they are in receipt of financial assistance or not. We discussed that in Committee before, and it is really important that we establish that baseline in law and make it clear not only that farmers will be rewarded for going above those standards but that they will be punished if they go below them. This morning’s report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy highlighted the fact that hedgehogs, birds and mammals could all be at greater risk because of the gaps in domestic regulation as a result of our leaving the EU.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
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As a member of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry, which I co-chaired, my hon. Friend will be aware that we made recommendations to the Government to establish an independent children’s food watchdog to implement policies that could improve families’ access to affordable and healthy food. Does she agree that the small nod to food security in the Bill by way of a report to Parliament every five years is just not good enough in this regard? Does she also agree that the Government should look into implementing a food watchdog?

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Yes, I think that that is very much the case. As I am fond of saying, the F in DEFRA stands for food, not just farming. Food is quite cheap and there are question marks about who is paying the price. We only have to look at the breaches of human rights and the modern slavery that is prevalent in our food chain, as well as the difficulties involved in trying to find people to work here. Despite food being cheap, many people still cannot afford to feed their family in a healthy, nutritious way and are forced either to go to food banks or to buy food that is barely worthy of the name. It might have calories in it, but it has very little nutritional value. I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the brilliant work she has done with the Food Foundation and on school food. She has done so much to make the case that food is intrinsically connected with our health. That is such an important thing, and I hope that we can carry on talking about it.

On trade, I tried to introduce new clause 1 on Report in the previous Parliament, but the Bill mysteriously disappeared as we were gearing up for victory. It is so important to have a black-and-white commitment, because I do not believe that many Back Benchers are prepared to accept the Government’s word. Without such a commitment, we will offshore our nature and climate commitments, exacerbating the crisis we face, we will undercut UK producers, creating a race to the bottom here at home to compete on price, and we will leave consumers unprotected against low-quality imports produced to standards that would be illegal on British soil.

Whenever we question the Secretary of State, junior Ministers, the International Trade Secretary or even the Prime Minister, we must listen carefully, because they tend to say, “No lowering of UK standards,” but that is not good enough. This is about the standard of goods that we allow into this country, so it is completely irrelevant to make promises about UK standards. A leaked DEFRA briefing stated that the Department would come under “significant pressure” from the Department for International Trade to weaken our food and environmental standards to secure trade deals, particularly with the US and Australia. I happened to be in Washington at the same time as the previous International Trade Secretary, who was on television saying that he did not think there was a problem with chlorinated chicken.

Now, with the publication of the leaked US-UK trade talk papers, we can see just how determined the US is to weaken our standards. Taken with the evidence American farming lobbyists provided to the US Trade Policy Committee last year, the US wish list now includes: abandoning the precautionary principle for food and farming; accepting hormone-treated beef, chlorine-washed chicken and meat raised with high levels of antibiotics, when we know that there is a crisis in the routine use of antibiotics in farming and its impact on human health; lifting the ban on ractopamine in pork and stopping parasitic tests on pigs; allowing genetically modified foods to be sold with minimal regulation; scrapping mandatory labelling on GMOs and for E number additives and food colourings—if anyone is lost, this is what the US has said its priorities are—ditching rules that protect traditional food and regional specialities, such as pork pies and the salt from Anglesey; removing our safety-first approach to chemicals; and legalising hundreds of pesticides currently banned in the UK under EU law. The latter is a particular cause for concern if we are serious about transitioning to a sustainable food and farming system, because the US currently allows around 1,430 pesticides compared with just 486 in the EU.

That is why those of us who have been engaged in these issues for a while have always been clear that while chlorinated chicken has become totemic, it is just the tip of the iceberg. While the Secretary of State’s commitment on “Countryfile” that we would not import hormone-treated beef or chlorinated chicken was welcome, it does not cover the million and one other issues that we ought to be equally worried about. There are questions, for example, about how easy it would be to unpick the statutory instruments that underpin that position and, frankly, all SIs that contain transferred EU food safety legislation.

I look forward to serving on the Agriculture Bill Committee, Whips permitting, to bringing back my new clause 1 on Report if the Government do not make any concessions—and to winning this time.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. It is a pleasure to call Ruth Edwards to make her maiden speech.

19:23
Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like every new Member rising to give their maiden speech, I feel daunted at the prospect of speaking in this Chamber for the first time, but that feeling is dwarfed by my fear of failing to do justice to the achievements of my predecessor, the right hon. Ken Clarke. Ken served the people of Rushcliffe for 49 years and served our country in many of its great offices of state. He was a friend, sparring partner and mentor to many on both sides of the political debate. A real personality, Ken is known for his love of jazz, football, bird watching and Hush Puppies—although I have since been informed that he actually wears Crockett & Jones and by perpetuating the Hush Puppies rumour I am spreading fake shoes—[Laughter.] My oratorical skills may improve, but I am afraid that the jokes probably will not. Ken was the last Chancellor to drink brandy at the Dispatch Box. How I wish at this moment that the custom would be revived and extended to Back Benchers making their maiden speech.

By any measure, Ken’s record is more suited to a full debate than a single speech. He is one of the greatest political reformers of the 20th century. His reforms to the NHS, the police and the justice system provided many of the foundations for the institutions we have today. His skilful management of the economy resulted in the economic boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Following such a great politician is an immense privilege, and I am incredibly grateful for his advice, encouragement and endorsement as his successor in Rushcliffe. Ken’s experience, wisdom and commitment to one nation Conservative values are needed at this pivotal time for our country. I sincerely hope he will soon be joining our colleagues on the red Benches of the other place.

I am hugely grateful to the people of Rushcliffe for putting their trust in me. Rushcliffe is a very special place. It is consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the UK. We have world-famous sports grounds, such as Trent Bridge, Nottingham Forest, who will be promoted this season, and a thriving grassroots sports scene. The vibrant town of West Bridgford in the north of the constituency gives way to rolling countryside and the tranquil waters of the Grantham canal. It is dotted with villages, large and small, and we are home to many historic traditions, such as the annual wrestling match in the village of Bunny, for example, for which the prize was a gold lace cap. Sadly, I will not get the opportunity to compete, because the competition was discontinued in 1810—before even the tenure of my predecessor began. I will, however, be taking part in the Hickling scarecrow weekend this September—an ambition that far outstrips my artistic talents.

In Rushcliffe, we make tractors, wine, gypsum products and electricity. We are the home of the British Geological Survey. We are proud to host the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre and the brave veterans it works with. We care passionately about protecting our environment and supporting local producers. Cropwell Bishop and Colston Bassett are two of the handful of dairies that produce the pungent, blue-marbled goodness that is Stilton cheese. Packed local markets in Ruddington, West Bridgford and Sutton Bonington showcase our vibrant scene of local food and drink producers.

That brings me on to the Bill, and I should declare an interest as my husband has received direct payments for his smallholding. I welcome the stronger focus on food production and food security alongside environmental protections, because food production and protecting our environment are inextricably linked. Where our food comes from and how it is produced are key factors that will determine how fast we are able to reduce adverse impacts on the environment. I am delighted that the Government are encouraging the environmentally sustainable production of food, and I hope the high welfare and environmental standards adhered to by British farmers will be imposed on food imported into our market, so that our farmers have a level playing field. I also welcome the inclusion of measures to protect and improve soil quality as a public good for which financial assistance can be given.

Finally, I welcome the provisions in clause 27, which strengthen protections for producers across the entire agriculture supply chain from unfair trading practices imposed on them by some supermarkets and middlemen. For too long we have taken the food on our plate for granted. We have not questioned too closely where it comes from, its impact on our planet, or whether the people we rely on to produce it are treated fairly by those who sell it to us. That must change, and I welcome the significant contribution that the Bill will make in bringing about that change.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Steven Bonnar to make his maiden speech.

19:28
Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards). I congratulate her on a fantastic speech and tell her to listen out for a reference to Nottingham Forest later in my own speech.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech during this important debate. I encourage the House to join me in welcoming the SNP’s reasoned amendment as a significant step towards environmental sustainability, food security and the necessary protections of animal welfare in what are uncertain times for the hard-working farmers of these countries—a progressive step, I might add, already taken in November by our Scottish Government, which is world-leading on climate change.

It is an immense honour to be sent here to represent the good people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. I wish to take this opportunity to thank my election team, who have been with me from my first leaflet drop as a “yes” activist and have remained by my side until this day. Those activists took a very wet-behind-the-ears retail worker with a simple desire for self-determination for his country and made me into an elected Member of Parliament in a few short years. I am not quite sure how they have actually managed that.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who put their cross in the box of myself and the SNP. I will do my best, every day, to repay that trust. I also wish to take this opportunity to assure those who did not vote for me: I will work tirelessly to represent your interests, wherever they may lie, for as long as I am in this place. I will do so with the same vigour and determination that I always have since my first day as an elected representative. I have no doubt that, in taking forward our needs and desires together, my constituents and I will face some of the same disdain, derision and apathy that people in my constituency are well used to facing when it comes to the ruling hand of London upon our shoulders.

Friends, at this point I wish to take a moment to pay tribute to the former Member I have replaced here—Hugh Gaffney. I am sure that everyone will agree that he was a formidable voice in this place for postal workers. Hugh would certainly have been expecting longer down here than the brief time he got, but I would like to wish him and his constituency staff the very best of luck in their future endeavours.

The burgh constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is made up of a few large towns and many small villages. The large towns lend the constituency its name, but the villages and other new communities, such as Stepps, Muirhead, Moodiesburn, Bargeddie, Glenboig, Birkenshaw and my own home village—my beloved Viewpark—have strong individual identities of their own. Unlike many hon. Members before me, I cannot stand here and make the claim of having the most picturesque constituency; we are, by and large, a collection of housing schemes built to house the many who worked the pits and steelworks of industrial Lanarkshire and beyond. But my constituency is not without its breathtaking scenery, like the vista of the snow-topped Campsie hills, observed as we take in the view from the historic and much-loved Douglas Glen. But at our core, we are an industrial set of towns and an industrious people—hard-working, straight-talking and as honest as the day is long. That is who we are. We wouldnae do ye a wrang turn, but you wouldnae want to step on our toes either.

We are proud of our achievements, and those of our sons and daughters—many contributions to the worlds of politics, law, sports and the arts. Poet Laureate Walter Watson lived and died in Chryston. The great boxing champion Ricky Burns hails from the town of Coatbridge; a three-weight world champion and an inspiration to many, Ricky and his fighting spirit encapsulate the town perfectly. Then there is Bellshill’s own Matt Busby. Sir Matt will need no introduction in this place: the figurehead of Manchester United and that side known lovingly as the Busby Babes.

And then there is my own home village of Viewpark. An area much like Scotland as a whole, it is always punching well above its weight on the international scene, none more so than in the sporting arenas. With a population of under 14,000, the sporting achievements of Viewpark are surely unparalleled. This wee village has three UEFA European cup winners’ medals in its back pocket. Not anywhere in Germany, Italy, France or Spain—indeed, nowhere in any of the great footballing nations—will such an achievement be matched. There are two medals for the mercurial John Robertson, won under the stewardship of the great Brian Clough and his formidable Nottingham Forest teams of 1970 and ’71; and one for Viewpark’s greatest son—the late, great, Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone, won alongside that most famous team, Celtic FC’s Lisbon Lions. A statue to the wee man stands proudly in Viewpark today as a fitting memorial and a small measure of the esteem in which he is held. And then there is Michael Kerr, our double Paralympian for the Team GB wheelchair rugby team. The only Scot ever in the GB squad, Michael went on to captain the side, competing at both the London and Rio Olympics. His achievements also include European golds and world titles. I know you would not know it by looking at me, but we are a sporting lot.

I would like to place on the record my gratitude to my former employers and, more importantly, my work colleagues throughout the years, for the part they have all played in my journey to this place. My working life began with British Home Stores, where I had two spells before I was made redundant in 2008, when my daughter was only five months old. I wanted to take this chance to thank Philip Green for that harsh life lesson, which so many of us endured under his employment. I will not use his given title of “Sir”, as I think it is a disgrace that he still holds it. To see it stripped would go some way to repairing the damage that his immeasurable greed and indifference for his employees and their families created.

I went on to work for Debenhams in both Glasgow and Dublin and the iconic John Lewis partnership before becoming an elected councillor and now being elected to this place. Without the love and consideration of family, that would not be possible, as many Members will know, so to my Mum Margaret, KellyAnn and Sara, I say thank you and I love yous. It is that strong and loving family support that allows me to come to this place now and carry out the role requested of me.

As with many citizens of Scotland, the removal of our rights as European citizens has had a personal impact. My daughter is what I jokingly call “half Polish, fully Scottish”; with a Polish mum and a Scottish dad, it was by the grace of God she was born in Scotland and able to avail of the wonderful birthright of a Scottish accent. At least I will not have to apply for settled status for my own wean.

The good people of the towns and villages of this diverse constituency delivered an emphatic mandate for an MP committed to Scottish independence. The election results between 2017 and 2019 should crystallise one thing: my election to this place, and that of many of my colleagues on these Benches, is a direct response to our recent treatment from the UK Government. I have been sent here from a constituency that feels that it has very much been overlooked and underestimated by this place and its Governments. The contempt we have been treated with in respect of the Brexit negotiations, and how they have been handled over the last three years, will not be forgotten for a long time in Scotland—or easily forgiven.

The SNP’s emphatic victory in Scotland is in complete response to the disregard that has been held for our people and our democratic decisions, brought into sharp focus since the day we overwhelmingly voted for the retention of our European rights and privileges. It is a direct response to the treatment of the Scottish people, of our elected representatives, and of our Scottish Parliament. Madam Deputy Speaker, those days are numbered.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Greg Smith to give his maiden speech.

19:36
Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow three such eloquent and powerful maiden speeches.

I had originally intended to make my maiden speech on 15 January. However, something much more exciting happened at 1.30 in the morning that day, when my wife gave birth to our second child, Charlie. With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank the wonderful NHS staff at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for the care they gave my wife and Charlie. Most importantly, I would like to thank the 37,035 electors of the Buckingham constituency who voted for me in December. I will work tirelessly to repay their trust, determined and principled in my advocacy of all my constituents’ concerns.

As with all of us, my being here today is only possible due to the support I receive from those nearest to me—not least my incredible wife, Annalise, for whose support and patience I will remain forever grateful, plus our three-year-old son Jacob, who does not understand why Daddy is not around so much. I hope he will read this in Hansard one day and understand just how much of my daily motivation comes from him.

I also pay tribute to the dedication of my predecessor, John Bercow, who served Buckingham for over 22 years. During the campaign, many local residents remarked on how assiduous a constituency Member of Parliament he had been—a trait I seek to emulate. However, I am certain John and I would have clashed, certainly in more recent years, over our views on Britain’s membership of the European Union. As someone whose first interest in politics was sparked by horror at the treaty of Maastricht, it is with particular pride that I have been elected as part of this Conservative majority, mandated to get Brexit done, and to be making my maiden speech in the first debate since our country became an independent nation once more. As we forge a brave, new, outwardly-looking path in the world, I look forward to playing my part in supporting this Government’s positive agenda, on the side of aspiration and opportunity, low taxes and high wages, delivering world-class public services and spreading free markets across the globe.

The 335 square miles of the Buckingham constituency are as beautiful as they are dynamic. From the medieval market town of Princes Risborough and the oldest recorded parish in England of Monks Risborough, the market towns of Winslow and Buckingham accompany over 100 vibrant, community-spirited villages and hamlets, too many to mention here today. Steeped in history, Stowe, Ascott House and Waddesdon Manor all add to the rich heritage of the constituency—not to mention the Prime Minister’s country gaff, Chequers. We have a rural economy, where farming is so important, but that is coupled with manufacturing, retail and new, high-tech industry and jobs in our enterprise zones. The University of Buckingham, under the leadership of Sir Anthony Seldon, is the largest single employer. In an era of our universities having a reputation as seedbeds for left-wing radicalism, I was delighted to discover the Hayek library in the centre of its new Vinson building, complete with the country home of the Institute of Economic Affairs. And it is an absolute personal pleasure, as a motorsport fan since I was eight years old, to represent roughly half of the iconic Silverstone circuit. As an aside, going completely off topic, is it not time that the greatest living British sportsman, with six world championships and counting, should be recognised with a knighthood in our honours system?

My constituency faces threats on multiple fronts: HS2; the Oxford-Cambridge expressway; and over- development, not least from the outrageous, expansionist plans of Labour-run Milton Keynes. One of my early mentors in politics, a former Member of this House, the late Eric Forth, once said to me that the most powerful question in politics is simply “why?” So let me put it this way: why would we take people’s homes, cut their farms in two, blight the landscape, destroy 108 ancient woodlands and risk the chalk streams of the Chilterns, all for a 60p return on every pound spent and no benefit to my constituents, when other solutions exist? It is my passionate belief that our countryside is the defining feature of our United Kingdom. There may be those who believe it is somewhere to occasionally go for the weekend, and what does it matter if we build over it or slam a new railway through the middle, but they are wrong, for when it is gone, it will be gone forever. Nor should our countryside ever be treated as just the bit between the towns and cities, for we are dynamic, home to thousands of successful rural businesses, big and small; many of which, but by no means all, grow and rear the food everyone needs and enjoys.

Turning to the Agriculture Bill, I must declare an interest, in that my wife’s family are farmers, in receipt of subsidies. I have learnt so much from a real hero of British farming, my father-in-law, not least because at family dinners he only has two settings: silence; and talking about farming. It is extremely welcome that this Bill now recognises the central aim of food production. Freeing our farmers from the CAP is one of the major benefits of leaving the EU, but unwinding from decades of bureaucracy and building a system that properly rewards quality food production and the enhancing of our biodiversity is not straightforward—to give that classic countryside answer to the city dweller who stops to ask directions, “I wouldn’t start from here.” This Bill gives certainty, and I welcome it. But as the clock is against me, I cannot better conclude than by quoting Margaret Thatcher’s closing words in her speech to the National Farmers Union in 1986:

“There is an independence and a stability in farming upon which Britain depends and which Britain cannot afford to lose...Agriculture means so much, our farming future must be assured.”

19:40
Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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It is a huge honour to follow a quartet of excellent maiden speeches from Members from across the House, each of whom has big shoes to fill and a big personality to match. My advice, as someone who has been there, is: be yourself, and you will do wonderfully well and be a big personality in your own right.

The Secretary of State was right when she said at the beginning of this debate that farming is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland. Therefore, some of the issues could be wrongly dismissed out of hand when we consider farming, its impact and what it means for the British mainland. Northern Ireland produces an awful lot of the food consumed on this side of the channel, so it is important that we have a joined-up approach to our agrifood matters. I am delighted that my colleague in the Northern Ireland Assembly Edwin Poots is the Minister for agrifoods and the environment there. I hope it will make a relationship with the Secretary of State easier because of the good connections and good support we have had from the current Government.

However, the Secretary of State and this Bill have to address the fears that too many farmers in Northern Ireland have about potential tariffs east-west, on the movement of foods, grains and other products from the British mainland to Northern Ireland. The potential for those tariffs creates a volatility in prices and has helped to drive down farm incomes in previous years. Those and threatened tariffs will only serve to do much more. This Bill is important, providing a new opportunity for agricultural product and agricultural payments that should be flexible, to meet the needs of the regions of the United Kingdom. I say that because the needs of Northern Ireland and what we produce will be different from those of Wales, Scotland or England. Therefore, these things must be flexible. They must address and support the primary producer where it matters most; help increase his or her sustainable productivity; help put money back into the pockets of our farmers; improve food security; and protect our naturally beautiful countryside.

In Northern Ireland, agriculture is king, with 75% of all its land being used for agriculture. It is used to produce meat, dairy and eggs, which account for 80% of our food output. In Northern Ireland and Ireland, animals use more land than is used to grow any crops, including indigenous products, such as potatoes. Therefore, it is essential to understand how important land and agricultural produce are in Northern Ireland; our turnover is £4.5 billion, employing one in eight people, which works out at more than 25,000 farm businesses in our country. That is threatened by volatility in the market. The big issue is that farm incomes have fallen by 23% in the past year and a half, from £467 million to £360 million in the past year.

I go back to the key point: the tariffs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that could be introduced as a result of Brexit would drive that down further, which is why all the commitments made from the Dispatch Box about ensuring that those tariffs will be minimal or non-existent, and ensuring that things are frictionless, have to be met in reality, otherwise farmers will be put out of business in Northern Ireland. What will that do? It will help to destroy food security here in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, we produce most of the milk consumed on this island. We produce some 73% of the beef consumed on this island. Do not destroy your food basket in Northern Ireland, and make sure that our products are protected by this Bill.

We export about 800 litres of milk a year to the Republic of Ireland, so we are also an export nation in food production. I have already given the figure for the amount of beef eaten in the United Kingdom. We want to produce so much more of that product, and if this Bill does anything to encourage agrifood production, to increase the opportunities for farmers to produce more, that will do more to sustain farming and increase farm incomes, and will address many of the problems and concerns people have about cheap food coming into the UK.

Agritech has been mentioned in the debate. I am sorry to get on to this subject, but in Northern Ireland every year 1.1 million tonnes of solid animal waste is produced. Its calorific value is 15 millijoules per kilogram. At the same time, Northern Ireland’s heating demand represents around 24,650 GWh. If we bring those two things together with agritech, we will be able to utilise that solid waste, which could account for around 20% of Northern Ireland’s heating need. There is a huge opportunity that has to be grasped, but how? Can the Bill support such innovative technology? Can it ensure that those who wish to get behind such technologies have the financial support to allow them to invest and create not only jobs but the opportunities that arise from addressing those needs? Of course, that would also give environmental support. As we all know—it has already been raised—phosphates are destroying much of our land and affect water pollution, which can also be addressed by agritech.

The needs I have described require investment, and the only way that we can do that is to ensure that the Bill really gets to the heart of it and addresses the needs of the primary producers, who care most about the environment because they work in it and need a good environment to make the best, tastiest food on these islands.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Selaine Saxby to make her maiden speech.

19:51
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the debate on this key Bill for North Devon where, I am assured, we have a higher density of sheep per square acre than south Wales.

It is easy to be the one-woman tourist board for North Devon: it boasts stunning surf beaches at Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton; the Tarka trail connects our sand dunes from Braunton to Instow; and Members should not miss a stop at Fremington quay for afternoon tea—cream on first, for anyone not sure how to tackle their scones. We have the Lynton to Lynmouth funicular railway; miles of idyllic rural walks, by day or night, with Exmoor being the first international dark sky reserve in Europe; and our vibrant market and coastal towns of Ilfracombe, Barnstaple and South Molton. We are proud to boast 139 pubs that will warmly welcome last week’s announcement on reducing their business rates. I visited a mere 40 of them in the campaign, so there are still plenty to go in my support of the village pub, which is vital to North Devon’s rural communities.

Getting to North Devon is about to get somewhat easier, with the improvements to the North Devon link road starting this year, championed by my predecessor Peter Heaton-Jones. Peter stepped down as MP so late that many colleagues in the House were more than a little surprised to see me. I pay tribute to his hard work in putting North Devon on the map. In his maiden speech he referred to the need for more infrastructure, and in particular faster broadband. It is with some disappointment that, despite his best efforts and some hard-won improvements, broadband remains top of my wish list for infrastructure developments in North Devon.

I am what is known as a “blow in” back home in Devon. Drawn there a few years ago by its heady mix of sand, sea and rolling hills, I am far too old to ever become a local, but it is the best place to have blown in to. When I leave here and switch my work suit back to my wetsuit, I wake to the sound of the Atlantic crashing over the bar and into the double estuary of the Taw and Torridge, tucked behind a sand dune on Instow beach, which George—my rather plump Labrador—and I love to walk, with stunning sunsets and the idyllic view out to Lundy.

Over three quarters of Devon’s landscape is farmed, yet managed by less than 1% of the residents. I am therefore delighted to be speaking up for them in the debate on this Bill, which will both boost food production and champion our environment, which is another key concern in North Devon. The Bill will ensure that farmers are finally rewarded for being the stewards of the environment that they always have been, and that that is related to how the land is used, managed, protected and preserved, rather than solely to how much land is owned. The National Farmers Union is aiming for English and Welsh agriculture to be carbon net zero by 2040, and the Bill will ensure that that endeavour is rewarded. As the environment is so important to those of us who have the privilege of living in stunning North Devon—so much of which is highly designated to ensure that we are able to safeguard it for future generations—I will champion working towards net zero in the House.

Levelling up will mean a lot to all of us in North Devon. We have the eighth highest percentage of people in work, but our productivity per head is £5,800 below the UK average. That is possibly no wonder given that our average broadband speed is only 60% of the UK average. That has to change. Connectivity is so poor that one village resident explained to me at a farmers market that they were struggling even to get “The Archers”. Having run a dotcom myself for 15 years, I know how important broadband is to small and medium-sized local businesses.

It is an absolute privilege to represent the community in which I love to live, and a particular honour to be its first ever female MP. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Baroness Anne Jenkin and the Women2Win team for their ongoing support. I suspect I am like many ladies on this side of the House in attributing our presence here in large part to Women2Win. I very much hope that I may go some way to inspiring young women and girls in North Devon to fulfil their dreams and reach beyond what they thought might be possible.

My personal journey to this point has been varied, as life’s paths so often are, and I hope that that rich experience will serve me and my constituents well. Members may have noticed that I like my statistics: my short time teaching maths opened my eyes to our education sector and the need to raise our young people’s aspirations. I never knew that my decades as a fitness instructor would be so much needed, given the miles I walk daily getting lost in the corridors of the House.

I stand here to champion the people of North Devon, however they voted last December. On countless doorsteps I said that I would get things done, and I will. I am delighted to speak in the debate on this vital Agriculture Bill in this, our first week as an independent coastal state, which I hope will lead to good news for my local fishermen. I hope that by the time there is another MP for North Devon—in many years to come, of course—they will not be asking for better broadband in their maiden speech.

19:57
Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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It is an honour and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), who represents a part of the country that I have been to with my family and that we very much enjoyed. More importantly, it has been really helpful to learn how to eat scones, making sure that we do the cream first. I am sure that she will continue to make excellent contributions for her constituency in this place.

I welcome the changes made to the Bill relating to the importance of soil and the plans to assist farmers, but the Bill is not robust enough and remains vague on key areas of importance. It provides many powers but very few duties for the Secretary of State to take action, and for a Bill on food production it remains remarkably vague on food. It is silent on action to reduce food poverty and there are no provisions to promote healthy foods. It is also a missed opportunity to provide a much clearer priority in respect of food sustainability. In the world’s sixth richest country, no one should be going hungry. Food is a basic human right, but the Government’s welfare policies have seen food bank usage rise, and continue to rise. The climate crisis and reckless post-Brexit trade deals could make food insecurity even worse.

I pay tribute to the volunteers who work so hard for the food banks in my constituency, including the Trussell Trust and the Whitefoot and Downham Community Food+ Project, which I founded to meet the increasing demand for food in my community. It is shocking that there are now more food banks than ever throughout the country. The latest figures from the Trussell Trust show that in 2018-19 there was an 18.8% increase in the number of emergency food parcels distributed, compared with the previous year. That is shocking. It is shocking that there are now more food banks than ever before across our country and in particular that children are in food poverty. Clause 17 requires a five-yearly report on food poverty, but the first report is, coincidentally, timed to be after the next election. That is not good enough. We do not need more talk and inaction. We need a robust plan to tackle food poverty head-on and to end food banks completely.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call Anthony Browne to give his maiden speech.

20:00
Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)
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The greatest thing about speaking in this debate on agriculture policy is that we are having it at all. The last Agriculture Bill passed by this House was in 1947. That means that no one under the age of 93 has had the chance to elect an MP who could vote on farming policy—until now.

It is a special honour to speak here on behalf of my home constituency, South Cambridgeshire. It is where I grew up, went to school and got married. It has lots of farms, one of which I grew up on. My predecessor, Heidi Allen, represented the constituency with great commitment, great passion—and great political versatility. She was diligent in attending local parish meetings and famous for dancing into the night at local events, and I certainly will not be able to follow in those dancing shoes. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that it is a fabulous constituency. One resident told me that South Cambs has more Nobel prizes than France and that is a fact too good to check. [Laughter.] It is true—apparently. It is certainly true that just one building, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, has produced 12 Nobel prize winners itself. We also have the global headquarters of AstraZeneca, one of the biggest drug companies in the world. We have Addenbrooke’s hospital, one of the top hospitals in the country, and one where I had my life saved when I had my appendix out. It has been joined by the newly opened Royal Papworth Hospital, the top heart hospital in the UK. Other MPs have urged Members to visit their constituencies if they want a great day out. My hon. Friends, I urge you to visit my constituency if you want a great heart transplant.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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I am not looking for one just yet.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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My hon. Friend will be very welcome to come.

The Government are planning a new children’s hospital and a cancer hospital. It is proof of our Government’s commitment to the NHS. We are the life science capital not just of the UK, but of the world. Even tiny villages boast their own science parks. Take Hinxton, which now has the Wellcome Sanger Institute, leading the world on gene sequencing. It is now decoding the genes of 500,000 people, starting a revolution in personalised medicine.

The traditional heart of my constituency is rural. Farmers are some of the most affected by EU membership. Many get subsidies from the EU and many export to it, but the overwhelming majority of farmers I met were pro Brexit. There is a good reason for that: the common agricultural policy is not fit for purpose. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are given to people basically for owning land, and with great subsidies come great rules—600 pages of them. There are 15 pages alone defining when a hedge is not a hedge. Farmers have to employ administrators just to help them survive the red tape.

I know that Brexit has its challenges. I spent five years as the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, which included negotiating Brexit with the EU institutions—the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. But on CAP, we can all agree. The left-wing columnist in The Guardian, George Monbiot— not often quoted by Conservative MPs—wrote recently:

“I’m a remainer, but there’s one result of Brexit I can’t wait to see: leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy.”

As we heard earlier this evening, Labour has long opposed the CAP. I remember meeting the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) 20 years ago when she was the Environment Secretary railing against the CAP.

As Europe correspondent of The Times, I covered the European summit where Tony Blair gave up a portion of the British rebate, which had been so hard fought for by Margaret Thatcher—hooray. He gave it up in return for a promise from Jacques Chirac that France would think about reforming the CAP. I can tell Members that the French President did not think very hard.

I am a former environment correspondent of The Observer and of The Times, and I now chair the all-party group on the environment. Green issues are close to my heart. Most environment groups, most farmers and all major political parties have long wanted to scrap the CAP, but there was nothing that we could do about it. I found it an affront to democracy, so nothing gives me greater pleasure than voting for this Bill. It uses public money for public goods, such as improving the environment and animal welfare.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has shown what can be achieved at its Hope Farm in my constituency, where environmentally friendly farming has led to a 1,500% increase in overwintering birds. This Bill has very wide support from farmers’ groups and from environmental groups. Certainly, there are questions to ask. It is good to have a seven-year transition from one scheme to the other, but what is the profile of that transition? Should there be a food security review every five years or every year to start with? The great thing is that we can now debate this and decide this. Voters can make their views heard and we will listen. It is part of the renaissance of British democracy.

Farming still faces challenges. It is essential that, when farmers export, they do so with a level playing field. They must not be undermined by competitors who cut costs by cutting environmental or animal welfare standards. The Bill does mean that many farmers will have to change the way that they do things, but the farmers I have spoken to are up for the challenge. They welcome being paid to protect the environment. Many are already diversifying what they do. Last week, I met a farmer who had started producing crisps and is now exporting them by the container load to America. Other farmers are improving productivity by automating. One company in my constituency, Dogtooth, is leading the world in producing artificially intelligent strawberry- picking robots. It is one of many agritech companies in South Cambridgeshire that are unleashing a new agricultural revolution.

Yes, there are challenges ahead that need managing, but we must have confidence in ourselves as a country. One millennial said to me recently that we could not possibly survive outside the EU, and I was left thinking, “How have we come to think so little of ourselves?” There are roughly 200 countries in the world, and only 27 are part of an international government that makes laws for each other. No one else has followed the EU, so there are roughly 170 countries that fully make their own laws and of those we are the fourth biggest economically—in the top 2%. If we cannot survive, what about the 98% of fully independent countries that are economically smaller than us? That includes such successes as Canada, Australia, Singapore and South Korea.

I am half Norwegian, part Irish, part French and married to a Canadian. I have lived overseas and worked and travelled in more than 70 countries. Often I see Britain as others see us—an extraordinary country capable of extraordinary things. But how has such a great country lost so much of his mojo?

We have left the EU. The new political divide is no longer between Brexiteers and remainers; it is between optimists and pessimists. Whatever side of the argument you are on, we must now come together and work together to embrace the opportunities. It starts here with this agricultural policy. I commend this Bill to the House.

20:07
Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne). One thing on which we can certainly agree is the wisdom of George Monbiot. I hope we will have many other opportunities to quote from his copious writings and agree with one another in the forthcoming months and years.

I welcome some improvements made in this Bill compared with the earlier version, but I want to set out where it still is not going far enough if the Government are serious about climate and nature. First, it is good to see stronger protections for farmers from unfair trading practices. Having previously tabled an amendment to bring the whole of the supply chain within the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and, indeed, any new regulator, I can say that is a step in the right direction. It would be better still if the Bill placed a proper duty on the Secretary of State to act rather than simply conferring powers to do so, and I personally cannot see the case against turning many “mays” into “musts” throughout this clause and indeed throughout this Bill. I am sure that others will applaud the excellent work of the Sustain alliance, but all eyes will be on the detail, delivery and, crucially, enforcement.

Secondly, the inclusion of soil in the public goods in part 1 is another welcome move. However, as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee that conducted a whole inquiry into soil health, it is disappointing to see so many of these recommendations still not acted on given the overwhelming importance of soil carbon storage. For example, the Committee called for rules with greater scope, force and ambition to deliver restoration and improvement of soil, so why have the Government still not banned practices that do unforgivable harm to soils, such as burning on blanket bogs or the use of peat in compost. With organic farms supporting healthier soils with 44% higher capacity to store long-term soil carbon and 50% more wildlife, why does this Bill not seek a major expansion of organic farming? Furthermore, if the objective is to have healthy living soils for carbon storage, biodiversity and fertility then surely we prioritise policies that minimise inputs that exterminate that precious biological life, yet there is nothing in this Bill to phase out pesticides either.

That illustrates a wider point—the gaping hole in the Bill is on the crucial role of regulation, not just on pesticides but to drive innovation and to deliver environmental, public health and animal welfare goals.

The third positive is the new mention of agroecology in the Bill. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) has championed that as chair of the all-party group on agroecology, but I suspect that she would share my mixed feelings. Although agroecology is recognised in the Bill, it is in a bizarrely minor way. In clause 1(5), the Bill states that

“‘better understanding of the environment’”—

one of the purposes for which the Secretary of State may give assistance—

“includes better understanding of agroecology”.

That seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of what agroecology is and what a wholesale shift to agroecological farming should deliver for nature, climate, public health and farmers. It should not be consigned to a legislative footnote—it should be at the very heart of the Bill and the Government’s wider farming policy.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Will the hon. Lady give the House guidance on what she thinks about meat eating and what sort of scale of meat eating is reasonable, given her environmental objectives?

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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I support the better eating campaign that suggests that overall in this country we should seek to reduce meat eating by about 50%, but in that shift to plant-based diets we want to eat less but better meat. In other words, we still want to support our farmers. Crucially, they need to be supported during that transition. It is no good simply setting up new goalposts and not supporting farmers with finance, help and advice to enable them to make that transition.

Over the past 18 months, an incredibly strong case has been made for a 10-year transition to agroecology. I would like that vision to take shape as a green new deal for the food and farming sector. One example of the growing mountain of evidence that makes that case is the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, a major, two-year, independent inquiry that includes leading experts from industry and civil society, as well as inputs from farmers and growers across the UK. It includes abundant detail on how to make that transition, including a proposal that every farmer should have access to trusted, independent advice, including through farmer support networks and establishing a national agroecology development bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition. Crucially, the inquiry found that

“most farmers agreed that they could make big changes to the way that they farm in five to ten years—with the right backing.”

It is that right backing that we have to make sure that the Bill provides.

Time is of the essence if we are to reverse the loss of biodiversity and meet climate goals. A goal of net zero by 2050 is in line with neither science nor equity, and climate delay is almost as bad as climate denial. The Bill needs more than one line on that topic, especially as that one line simply says that the Secretary of State “may”—not even must—give financial assistance for climate mitigation or adaptation.

The Bill desperately needs a link to carbon budgets, unambiguous duties to deliver, and the incorporation of Committee on Climate Change advice, in particular, strengthening the regulatory baseline. I hope that the Minister will explain precisely how the Government will deliver major emissions cuts during the seven-year transition period, not just afterwards.

On biodiversity, it is truly shocking that the Bill contains nothing really on pesticides. As a minimum, it should set bold, national targets to cut pesticide use and introduce regulations to protect the public from the hazardous health impacts of pesticide use near buildings and in public spaces. There was broad, cross-party support for my amendment on pesticides last time round, yet it is rumoured that DEFRA’s inadequate pesticide plans are being diluted even more as the Department caves in to agrochemical industry lobbying. Why do Ministers not listen instead to the 70 scientists who recently called for the phasing out of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers as an urgent, no-regrets action as part of a road map to insect recovery, designed to reverse the insect apocalypse?

What is DEFRA’s response to the letter from over 2,500 scientists across the EU that warns of the unequivocal scientific consensus on the intensification of agriculture and the ever-increasing loss of biodiversity that could soon become irreversible?

Another glaring omission is on trade. Many of us have raised it tonight, but the Bill needs a watertight requirement for all food imported into the UK to be produced to at least equivalent standards on animal welfare, pesticides, environmental protection and public health. It is simply unacceptable to ask our farmers to meet higher standards, then allow them to be undermined by cheap competition from countries that do not meet those standards. I refer the Minister to the amendment to the Trade Bill in the other place that sets out that argument clearly.

Finally, the Bill should be used to introduce new measures of success for our agriculture sector so that the payments for productivity in clause 2 do not undermine progress on biodiversity, climate and animal welfare. Just as there is growing consensus on the need to measure economic progress with indicators that incorporate ecological health and human wellbeing, which GDP fails to do spectacularly, so we must adopt new indicators for agriculture. The Bill should require the Secretary of State to begin that work to develop those new metrics, to steer us towards a truly sustainable future for food and farming, and they must include overseas as well as local impacts. Greenpeace research shows that UK chicken, for example, is contributing to deforestation due to the imported soya in its animal feed. We need to design new farm policy to deliver value, not volume; diversity, not monocultures; and people nourished per hectare, not tonnes of yield.

20:15
Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
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I should declare an interest, as my parents are tenant beef farmers, and I refer Members to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I rise to offer my maiden speech as the new Member for my home constituency of West Dorset. My family has farmed in West Dorset for almost 100 years. My grandmother, who during the second world war was in the women’s land army, met my grandfather when she came to work on our farm, and it is with nearly a century of farming insight and experience—of which I am the fourth generation—that I address this House today.

I am not an academic and I did not go to university, but I must pay tribute to two people in West Dorset who did. The first is my predecessor, Sir Oliver Letwin. Sir Oliver has been greatly contentious in more recent times in this place, and Members shall have their own view on that. As Sir Oliver’s association chairman since 2016, I can tell the House that there was no shortage of correspondence to tell me! But what the press and Members of Parliament would not have seen so prominently was Sir Oliver’s tireless efforts to support his constituents in the greatest of need—work that I have already committed to continue as his successor. But despite he and I having differences of opinion on the European Union, he was highly regarded by many as a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament.

I should also like to pay tribute to the vicar of Sherborne, Canon Eric Woods, who first came to my hometown in 1993—the year in which I started secondary school. Eric has been a good friend to West Dorset and announced his retirement last week after 27 years of service.

West Dorset is the home of the Jurassic coast, from Lyme Regis to Chesil beach. It is Thomas Hardy country. Glorious Sherborne Abbey stands proud above a town that is a world leader in education, where Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma code during the second world war, was educated. The oldest post box in Britain is in Holwell—the village where I went to primary school. There is even a village called Loders. Morcombelake is home to the famous Moore’s Dorset Knob—a savoury biscuit so famous that we even have a Dorset Knob-throwing festival! We are also home to Dorset Blue Vinny cheese— and to wash that all down, our very own beverages from Palmers brewery, Fordington gin and countless vineyards to name just a few, which can almost certainly be bought at Felicity’s farm shop! As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am living proof that you will rarely go hungry with such good local produce.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) told us last week of white chalk horses in his constituency. Now I am not one to boast about size, but it would be remiss of me not to point out to my hon. Friend that in West Dorset we have the Cerne Abbas giant—a 55-metre-tall chalk fertility symbol, standing to attention while dominating the hillside of the Cerne valley in all his glory.

As beautiful as it is, we still have many challenges and difficulties in West Dorset—including rural isolation, broadband speeds and the continued reduction of rural transport—made worse, I am afraid, by the recent announcement by FirstGroup of its intention to remove the No. 6 bus between Beaminster and Bridport. We have a three-hourly rail frequency, and the railway lines are mostly single track since the Beeching cuts some 50 years ago. There is much to do.

The idyllic countryside does not appear by accident. Our farmers work hard in all weathers, in all seasons and at all times of day. But we are seeing unprecedented levels of media depictions of our farmers as the enemy of our environment, even going as far as advocating criminal repercussions against them. Those who say that British beef, sheep and pig farming is the enemy of the environment are completely wrong. Farmers in the UK are the best and biggest advocates of our environment, and that has been the case for so many years.

This Bill is the most significant piece of UK legislation on agriculture for some 70 years. I recall the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), coming to Beaminster several years ago and telling me that he could not do lots of things because of the common agricultural policy. I am so pleased that that will no longer be the case. We will no longer be bound by the EU’s common agricultural policy, spending £44 billion a year and achieving none of its objectives. We can finally define our agricultural destiny, and I am absolutely delighted that domestic agricultural law and policy decisions have been returned to this House of Commons.

Agriculture contributes £8.6 billion to the UK economy every year, with 72% of UK land being used and cared for by our farmers. It is easy for everyone to see our farmers’ inborn environmental instinct just by looking at the rolling hills of our green and pleasant land. For far too long, farmers have been price acceptors, having to accept whatever price and conditions the supermarkets dictate, no matter how low. This Bill supports farmers, with provisions for fairness in the supply chain and assistance during times of exceptional market disturbance. British farmers need stability and certainty, and that is exactly what this Bill will provide.

The Bill is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will transform our farming sector. It is key to achieving a green Brexit, and will unleash our nation’s farming potential and make our environment better for all of us.

20:23
Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder). I congratulate him on a very impressive maiden speech, and have no doubt that he will make a great impression on this place and serve his constituents well.

As other hon. Members have said, this Bill will determine the future of agriculture for decades to come, so it is crucial that the course it charts is the right one. Several aspects will need to be addressed in Committee, but in the time allocated to me this evening I shall concentrate on two areas that have not been addressed in the second draft of the Bill: the need for a pan-UK intergovernmental structure to agree, establish and monitor common frameworks on agricultural policy and funding; and, as other Members have mentioned, the need to uphold UK farming production standards in the context of international trade negotiations.

On Second Reading of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill a fortnight ago, I made the point that replacing some of the CAP’s associated frameworks would be to the benefit of all four nations of the UK. As the nations develop future policy, the question of how they will co-operate to ensure the effective functioning of the internal market of these islands looms ever larger. It is disappointing that the Bill before us today does not answer that question, but luckily for the Government, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has produced a policy paper outlining how common frameworks could work in practice, and how the four Governments—in the form of an intergovernmental body—could come together to agree the principles underpinning them, oversee their operation and resolve any disputes that may arise.

Agreeing common objectives need not limit the ability of any Government to tailor policies to best support their respective industries, but by establishing common parameters and thresholds, damaging market distortion and disruption to supply chains can be avoided. This is not an academic or hypothetical concern. For example, reflect for a moment on the consequences of the Bew review into allocations for UK agricultural funding, which over the next two years will see the difference between average annual Scottish and Welsh farm payments diverge to about £16,200 a year, or 175%; or consider this Bill, which offers Welsh Ministers scope to maintain financial assistance to farmers in the form of the basic payment scheme in a way that is not replicated for farmers in England and is not even needed for Scotland. There are already signs of divergence. The only question is how harmful a distortion it will cause.

There is danger from divergence in other areas, such as equivalence in standards, labelling, eligibility rules for different schemes, rules defining what constitutes a farmer who is genuinely eligible for support and interventions, or the rates at which direct support, environmental payments, payments for providing public goods and other interventions should be capped. Agreeing common parameters in those areas will ensure a level playing field for farmers across the UK and should be prioritised in the Bill.

I turn to an issue that has already been discussed this afternoon: the lack of commitment in the Bill to upholding farming production standards in the context of international trade negotiations. In this regard, I support the efforts and comments of the NFU, particularly its call for a standards commission to ensure that any imports meet the standards of UK products. I suppose it is quite disappointing that the Bill and this evening’s debate do not give us an opportunity for a detailed and meaningful discussion on what sort of standards or outcomes we wish to see in international trade negotiations, or how best to determine equivalence and what we actually mean by the word. Instead, it seems as though we must persuade the Government of the importance of making such a commitment in the Bill, and of the futility of developing a comprehensive and ambitious domestic policy whereby our farmers produce quality food in a sustainable manner, only for their efforts to be undermined by the importation of products not produced to equivalent environmental and animal welfare standards. As far as I can glean, the Government’s argument is that such a commitment on the face of the Bill is not required, and that instead we should take Ministers at their word—after all, as has been said this afternoon, it was a manifesto commitment. But as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) will know, if manifesto commitments were always adhered to, particularly by this Government, I would have travelled here by an electrified south Wales main line from Swansea; of course, I did not.

When one considers the words of the Prime Minister at the UK-Africa summit only a few weeks ago, when he proudly proclaimed his wish to see more Ugandan beef shipped to the UK, it is no surprise that hon. Members from across the House are anxious to see a commitment in law that food imports will be of an equivalent standard to UK produce. It was good to see the Prime Minister recognise in his written ministerial statement today the importance of maintaining existing sanitary and phytosanitary measures, but as he stated that the Government’s goal is a Canada-style free trade agreement, the question arises as to whether that will apply to sectors such as beef and lamb. Although the Canada-EU trade deal eradicates tariffs on the majority of goods, sensitive products such as some food products—including beef—are not included. There is a danger of the Prime Minister, on the one hand, appearing to project himself as the champion of free and frictionless trade while, on the other, partly conceding that there will be some technical barriers to trade where once there were none. This inconsistency is a cause for concern, as is the Government’s apparent unwillingness to introduce some friction to UK-EU trade.

It must be stressed that this approach would be damaging to Welsh agriculture. I know that the Minister fully recognises the importance of the EU market for Welsh agricultural exports, particularly sheepmeat. It need not be highlighted again that approximately 35% to 40% of all lamb produced in Wales is exported, of which over 90% is destined for the EU market. Following today’s statement and the possibility that Welsh farmers will have reduced access to the EU market, it is even more important that we see a commitment in this Bill that future trade policy will not also expose them to competition from imports of a lower standard.

20:29
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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This is the first chance I have had, Mr Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to you for being back in your rightful place in this House.

I also pay tribute to the six excellent maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), for Buckingham (Greg Smith), for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), and for West Dorset (Chris Loder). They are a highly talented group of men and women in whom I think our party will have an asset for many years to come. They are fantastic advocates for their constituencies, and they will all no doubt have long and industrious—illustrious, rather—political careers.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
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And industrious too, no doubt—industrious in particular.

I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in that I am a farmer and receive income from farming.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham reminded us, this is the first debate that we have had since we left the European Union—and we have well and truly left the common agricultural policy, so we now have the opportunity to design a new domestic agricultural policy that will recognise the unique characteristics and needs of the UK farming industry as opposed to 27 European countries.

The Government, in the shape of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), originally said that they would negotiate

“a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]

However, more recently, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the Financial Times of 17 January that farms have had three years to prepare for a new trading relationship. But to prepare for what—a free trade agreement with full benefits or a no-deal situation where beef and sheep exports face 50% to 60% adverse tariffs? The future of agriculture is very uncertain at the moment. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her excellent speech, this landmark legislation could not only boost productivity but give some of the highest environmental protection in the world, setting an example to others.

This is an industry that employs 474,000 people, with a net annual contribution to the UK economy of some £8 billion. Last summer, the National Audit Office produced a report with some frontline statistics, which it is very good at doing, saying that there were 85,000 recipients of CAP payments in England in 2017. It went on to say that of those, 82,500 would participate in the new environmental land management scheme by 2028. That seems a very high and optimistic target, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister, and it will be achieved only if the scheme has properly defined objectives, is relatively simple to apply for and operate, and, above all, has an absolute commitment from the Government to pay on time for the work done, in line with their commitment to other small businesses. As I said, this is a highly ambitious target. I remind the Government that only 20,000 farms, as opposed to 82,500, had enrolled in the countryside stewardship scheme after 42 years of operation.

The NAO report goes on to tell us that without direct payment, 42% of farms would have made a loss, assuming that everything else had remained the same. The Government are committed to making payments at the same level this year, thereafter moving to a system of public goods for public money. However, having tabled amendments to the previous Bill, which fell due to the general election, to ensure that food production is at the heart of this legislation, I find it somewhat disappointing to see that public goods do not secure more of our food supply. For farmers, it will be difficult to compete in the same market as those who either have a one-sided subsidy such as the CAP or regulations that discriminate against our farmers. I understand that this year, 95,000 tonnes of rapeseed was imported into this country from Ukraine—a country that is allowed to use neonicotinoids, which are banned in this country. So we are simply exporting environmental risk to other countries by doing this.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that it is perfectly legitimate to defend our producers against anti-competitive distortions being introduced into our market?

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is precisely what I am trying to get at—our farmers can compete with any farmers in the world, provided they have a level playing field.

It is not only regulation that could be an obstacle to them. There could be a tariff schedule that broadly supports European farmers and disadvantages British farmers. For example, lamb producers in the Cotswolds, who work in a very important farming sector, could be undercut by New Zealand lamb being brought into this country with zero tariffs, while they face an adverse European tariff that prevents them from continuing their lucrative export to Europe.

The new ELMS and productivity scheme needs to be implemented on time, to see how it works in practice and to play an important role in achieving net zero goals. If it is not introduced on time in 2024, there will be a gap in funding. Many experts believe that introducing it on time will be extremely difficult, and that it is more likely to slip from 2024 to 2028, which will produce a gap in funding. We have an opportunity, post Brexit, to create a progressive, carbon-neutral model of farming in the UK, with the NFU committed to an ambitious target of the sector being carbon-neutral by 2040.

The Bill prepares our farming industry for the future, so that it can meet the needs of this country, and with that comes consideration of the younger generation of farmers. The lump sum payment provisions should be more geared towards encouraging young people into farming. As they stand, the provisions could well lead to some areas of the country simply not being farmed, because there will be land without the ability to get any subsidy whatsoever.

Farming has experienced a huge technological transformation in the past 10 years, with better IT, better animal husbandry, better use of GPS, improved agricultural chemicals and soil sampling, and a host of other technological improvements. Those advances in the agricultural industry will no doubt continue at pace. Younger generations can quickly adapt to new technology, as I am finding with my son, who has just moved to my farm. We must support them, so that they can play a bigger part in British agricultural production, considerably increasing productivity and environmental and animal welfare standards.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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The time limit is five minutes with immediate effect. I call Tim Farron.

20:37
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great honour to share this debate with so many Members making incredibly impressive maiden speeches on both sides of the House. I did not expect there to be even one mention of Nottingham Forest, but there were two from our new colleagues. It is a team with a rich European heritage and, like the United Kingdom, I am sure, a prosperous European future at some point.

Today, Brexit goes from the emotional to the practical, and we are instantly reminded that “Get Brexit done” is the most misleading political slogan since David Steel told Liberals to go back to their constituencies and prepare for government. Brexit is not done and will not be done for perhaps 10 years or more, but our agricultural industries might well be done if the Government get this wrong—and there is every sign today that they will. We must design an agriculture policy that supports agriculture and food production and rewards farmers for the public goods that we rely on them for. We need to begin by acknowledging that this Bill will be a bad deal for Britain if it is not a fair deal for farmers.

First, we must address the transition from the current system. I have been horrified by the Government’s wilful deafness to the farming community over the phasing out of direct payments. ELMS may be a step forward, but the Government’s own figures show that 85% of livestock farm incomes come through direct payments. The phase-out begins in 11 months, even though ELMS will not be fully available until 2028. That is seven years of lost income and uncertainty, when we may lose hundreds of the farmers needed to feed us and deliver vital environmental and public benefits—how short-sighted and foolish. The answer is simple: the Government must not begin to phase out the BPS until 2028, when ELMS is available to all. The Government must listen to our farmers in Cumbria and across the country and make that announcement today.

In order to achieve a fair deal for farmers, it is essential that public goods are defined, to recognise the incredible work that they are already doing. The ultimate public good that farmers provide is food. We must have a coherent food production strategy, and yet the Bill fails to address that. It is a dreadful missed opportunity. Food production is the central motivation for most farmers, and food security is a real challenge for our farmers. Some 50% of the food we consume in the UK is imported, compared with 35% about 20 years ago. We are in a precarious position. How stupid would we be to put our farmers in a similarly precarious position?

We could solve so many of our problems if our farmers got a fair market price for their produce. The Liberal Democrats were proud to introduce the Groceries Code Adjudicator during our time in coalition, but of course the Conservatives limited its powers. The adjudicator could be empowered to take referrals from advocates such as the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association or, indeed, Members of Parliament. They could expand its scope to investigate unfairness in every element of the supply chain. It must have powers to penalise those who abuse their market power to pay farmers a pittance. In short, it must have the power to secure a fair price for farmers.

A fair price for farmers will be made harder by the Bill’s failure to impose import standards. The consequences of cheap goods flooding our market would be catastrophic. Cheap imports, a market watchdog that lacks teeth and the phasing out of farmers’ main source of income in less a year are threats to farms that are plain for all to see except, it would appear, by this Government. If we fail to support farmers to be productive and to survive, there will be no farmers left to deliver any public goods.

The public good that I fear is in most danger of being overlooked is the one hardest to quantify or reward—the work farmers do in maintaining the aesthetics of our land. It is a privilege to call the Lake district and the dales of south Cumbria my home. Two or three years ago, UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake district, largely due to the contribution of our farmers to the maintenance of our landscape. As well as being worth £3 billion a year to the economy, tourism in Cumbria provides 60,000 jobs. Without farmers to maintain the landscape, the entire industry would be undermined.

This is not just true of Cumbria. Helping farmers to deliver public goods and improving the productivity and resilience of UK agriculture mean releasing farmers from bureaucracy, badly run payments agencies and, worst of all, insecurity. If we want a diverse and bountiful ecology, we need farmers to steward and deliver it. If we want a better environment, we need farmers. The intentions behind this Bill may be good. In practice, though, it looks set to do more harm than good, because the Government have not listened to the farming communities that will bear the brunt of a poorly managed, detail-free transition.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. We have less than an hour before the wind-ups, and I still have 17 names on my list. If Members can make their speech in less than five minutes, they will help not to squeeze out somebody else—so no pressure at all on Fiona Bruce.

20:42
Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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I am delighted that leaving the EU means we can take back control of our agriculture policy, and there is much in the Bill to commend it. I want to make three points in the short time I have.

First—on part 1, chapter 1—it is encouraging that clause 1(4) states:

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food”.

That is right. The primary focus of any financial assistance must be to support our farmers in their production of food and their contribution to our food security. That is critical not only as our nation’s population increases, but as the global population is predicted to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050.

I admire the innovation and diversification of many farmers in Cheshire over recent years, but the priority for most of them is food production. It surely must also be the Government’s priority to have a robust and resilient agriculture sector. It should be a sector where, in my view, farmers have the dignity and respect due to them for the incredible hard work that they undertake to produce our food. Going forward, the emphasis on Government financial assistance must be to encourage the sustainable production of food. Supporting the development of a sustainable farming model both environmentally and economically is surely common sense. It is surely common sense that the more viable a farm business is, the more able a farmer will be to deliver positive environmental and animal welfare outcomes, while also contributing to our food security. Will Ministers confirm that this is indeed the Government’s priority?

On part 2, chapter 1, I welcome the fact that, under clause 17, the Government will be required to report on the state of the nation’s food security, but I suggest that every five years is too long a period. The clause states that a report must be produced

“at least once every five years”.

At a time of profound change for our country, may I suggest that such a report ought to be an annual requirement, at least during the seven-year managed transition period? Will Ministers consider that? The need is clear. The farming sector—certainly in Cheshire, and I believe elsewhere—has experienced substantial uncertainty, challenge, and change over recent years, and it is critical that the Government are appropriately agile in recognising and addressing those challenges and changes going forward. An annual report would better facilitate that.

As an example of some of those challenges and changes, let me mention, with great respect, a well-received speech that was made recently by Richard Blackburn, chair of Cheshire NFU, at Chester cathedral. He highlighted how many challenges farmers in Cheshire have had to address in the last two or three years, and emphasised their resilient ability to do so. Those challenges included the weather, with an exceptionally dry 2018 being followed by an unusually wet 2019. In 2018, more than 2,000 cows in Cheshire were put down because of tuberculosis, and protracted Brexit negotiations during the last Parliament led to uncertainty and a drop in many prices. Horticultural businesses faced the uncertainty, and in many cases the reality, of a shortage of farm workers. Cheshire also saw the closure of our county’s only market place at Beeston, and the collapse of a dairy at Wrexham. As we enter a new era having left the EU, an annual rather than a five-yearly analysis of our food security, and the other issues mentioned in clause 17 such as the resilience of the supply chain, would surely be preferable.

On the delegated powers that appear in parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to listening to farmers and involving them in the design of future measures that affect the farming industry? Will he confirm that opportunities will be taken to consult continuously with farmers? In that regard, may I repeat my request for a ministerial visit to Cheshire for a meeting with farmers in my county at an early date?

20:46
Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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I seek to underline the importance of the Bill, and the way that we transact and scrutinise it, and the provisions contained therein. My ambition is for a very different Scotland—a Scotland that speaks to the world on her own terms. We are not there yet, however, so it is important to my constituents, and those elsewhere across Scotland who are involved with the farming sector and food production, that the Bill is carefully scrutinised and amended where necessary. We must ensure that the priorities of the Scottish agricultural sector, and those of other devolved Administrations, are not swept aside in the interests of what is thought to be optimal for England, should any divergences exist in priorities or ambitions.

I raise that point because in my short time in this place I have witnessed Ministers offloading certain issues as simply “devolved” and therefore not requiring a response. Something can be a devolved responsibility when that suits the Government’s agenda, but they are much less enthusiastic to consult those devolved Administrations about meaningful ways to inform policy, with the principles of subsidiarity very much to the fore. A Union of equals? It does not feel like it if we consider the ways that powers are repatriated in post-Brexit Britain.

A key example of that is the total indifference of Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and their colleagues in the Home Office, when listening to calls from the agriculture sector—farmers, suppliers, processors, and others—who say that 10,000 seasonal agricultural workers are patently insufficient for the industry’s operational requirements. All we get from the Government is a deaf ear. That is simply not good enough, and it threatens the sector severely and imminently. I urge the Government to take urgent steps to address that matter soon.

The National Farmers Union of Scotland supports the application of Scottish Government policy and Scottish Parliament scrutiny of agriculture policy to the greatest extent. That must be unconditional in its application, not just when it suits UK Ministers—it should be a co-operative endeavour.

Confidence in UK Ministers is also an issue. We are reassured by the Prime Minister that

“There’s no question of there being checks on goods going NI/GB and GB/NI…we’re part of the same customs territory”.

Yet today, Stena Line, a key ferry operator in the Irish sea, confirmed its position that there will be checks and inspections on goods transiting between the two islands. The degree of inconsistency the industry is exposed to by the Government is simply not acceptable. It adds another layer of uncertainty for agricultural producers, processors and especially hauliers in Britain and Ireland.

We have, appropriately, talked at length about the need for producers and consumers in the UK to be protected from cheaper imports of meat produced to lower standards of animal welfare and environmental protection, but the Government must go further. Many people are choosing to eat less meat, for a range of personal reasons, but whether they are concerned about health, animal welfare or the environmental issues, including food miles, the Government can wring their hands or get on the front foot and try to ensure that when consumers are deciding what meat to buy in this country, they will choose the best prospect, which is meat produced in Scotland, Wales, England or Ireland. I see nothing in the Bill that will prioritise that.

Notwithstanding the minimal provisions of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, forecasting for future operational planning and the purchase of capital equipment remains far too uncertain for the sector. The Government must get their act together, and nothing in the Bill gives us any confidence that that will happen.

20:51
Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
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I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I warmly welcome this vital Bill. I support the broad aims of shifting support for the sector to public money for public goods, alongside support for innovation and productivity gains. The new public goods model could be good news for upland areas in Yorkshire and other regions, as farmers there will finally be able to get direct payments for providing public goods such as iconic landscapes, flood defences with upper river catchment management schemes, and maintaining the quality of the 70% of our drinking water that comes from the uplands. UK peat has capacity to absorb carbon similar to that of the Amazon rainforest, soaking up more CO2 than all the world’s oceans combined, so paying farmers to restore and maintain peatlands could make an important contribution to public policy priorities relating to climate change.

As chair of the all-party group on science and technology in agriculture, I stress that the new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are transforming agriculture as we speak. It is wise to concentrate support on facilitating the growth and efficiency gains of tomorrow.

The need to introduce the Bill afresh has allowed the Government to make substantial improvements incorporating many of the changes that would have been made via amendments to its previous incarnation. In the Second Reading debate on the previous Bill, I shared the sector’s concerns that food production and food security were not sufficiently central, so I am glad to see that clause 1(4) of the current Bill states

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers”.

That clear recognition of the importance of food production—something that was absent from the previous Bill—suggests that food has not been forgotten in the shift to public money for public goods.

There is also a specific legal requirement for the Secretary of State to conduct regular audits of food security. I welcome that, but share other Members’ concern to ensure that those audits are more frequent. I want reporting back to Parliament to be much more frequent than the recommended five-year periods. I am reassured by further evidence that the revised Bill shows greater awareness of the needs of agricultural production and a positive relationship between that and protecting the environment. These are entirely complementary goals and it is important that that is reflected. I am also really pleased that soil quality has been included in the Bill and recognised as a public good.

There is a lot to be positive about in the Bill. However, despite a lot of improvements, I urge the Government to remain alive to the possibility of unintended negative consequences, as with any such legislation. The Minister will be fully aware of the classic example of the notorious three-crop rule from the common agricultural policy. We cannot have a situation where policies incentivise farmers to take many acres out of possible food production, to cease farming altogether or to lay off workers and just to receive payments for managing land for public goods. We need balance and food production must be part of that. The new state-funded environmental land management system that the Government envisage must not serve to reduce our country’s capacity for domestic food production or drive down the numbers employed in agriculture.

In conclusion, I am really positive about the future of agriculture. The Bill is a great start, but we have to bear in mind our future trade talks and trade policies. They have to run at the same time as the Bill. If they do, we will be in a good place. If they do not, things might be difficult, but I support the Minister and the Department on what they are trying to achieve, and I look forward to seeing the Bill through Second Reading and into Committee.

20:56
Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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Although the Bill includes some welcome provisions for the future of our farming, including supporting public money for public goods, if the Government are serious about tackling the climate change crisis and putting the environment at the heart of our agriculture industry, they must go much further than this.

According to statistics from the Welsh Labour Government, agriculture contributed 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Wales in 2017. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended a target of a 95% reduction in carbon emissions in Wales by 2050, due to our reliance on our farming, steel and power industries. I praise the Welsh Labour Government’s work and commitment on that issue in promising to go even further and reach net zero before that date.

The Welsh Government are working with a number of agricultural organisations on policies for reaching net zero in agriculture and are consulting on their clean air plan for Wales, with consultation due to be completed next month. That is an example of what can be done under a Labour Government—one who truly recognise the severity of the climate emergency and put the wellbeing and futures of their citizens and industries first.

I am unable to see any such targets for reaching net zero emissions for the agriculture industry in the Bill, but the Government must address that if we are truly to tackle the climate change crisis, especially at a time when extreme weather is regularly impacting on our farming and food production across the UK. The Government’s track record on missing key environmental targets does not give me a great deal of hope, but I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take the decisive action that is necessary, set a target for net zero emissions in agriculture and show that we are serious about tackling the climate emergency.

With regards to food standards, we have heard—and as has been noted by various agricultural organisations, including NFU Cymru—that it is alarming to see nothing in the Bill to legislate against importing food produced to lower standards. Vague manifesto promises that we will not have chlorinated chicken and hormone or antibiotic-fed beef in our supermarkets, and that our agriculture industry will not be undercut by cheaper imports from abroad, are not enough. I urge the Government to rethink this now and work with the dozens of farming organisations that have voiced their concerns to provide real, legal safeguards for our food and environmental welfare standards as part of the Bill.

If the Government will not set up a trade and standards commission and will commit only to monitoring international standards, how will the Bill protect our farmers from being undercut in the trade deals that the Prime Minister plans to make with other countries? Will it encourage people to buy Welsh and British produce? How will it ensure that Welsh and British farmers can compete on a level playing field post Brexit? I hope that the Minister can give some answers this evening.

I pay tribute to initiatives in Wales and across the UK, such as Crucial Crew, that do great work to educate our young people on the vital issues of safety. I recently attended a Crucial Crew event with two schools in my constituency, Pantysgallog and Coed-y-Dderwen, where organisations such as the Food Standards Agency and other partners provided interactive workshops and important messages on issues, including food safety, for pupils to take onboard and apply to their daily lives.

As we have heard, there is in the Bill an alarming lack of consideration given to tackling food poverty. After a decade of harsh Tory austerity measures, the number of those living in poverty and relying on food banks continues to rise in Wales and across the country, while the latest figures from the Trussell Trust show an increase of almost 20% in the number of emergency food parcels distributed in 2018-19 compared with the previous year. There are more than 2,000 food banks in the UK, which means there are now more food banks than McDonald’s outlets, of which there are only 1,300. This is clearly unacceptable in Britain in the 21st century, and it is disappointing not to see any robust commitment in the Bill to addressing food poverty or any measures to promote and improve access to healthy and sustainable food.

Farmers in Wales and across the country have also had to deal with serious labour shortages since the Tories’ decision to scrap the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. This is another missed opportunity in the Bill. It could have been reinstated in the Bill, rather than the Government’s replacement scheme, which will allow for only 10,000 seasonal workers to come to the UK. The Bill does nothing for agricultural workers. It could have taken that step and reinstated the Agricultural Wages Board, which was scrapped by the coalition Government in 2013. Although the Welsh Labour Government quickly reinstated the board in Wales, despite operating on a budget from Westminster that has been cut by £4 billion since 2010, there are still many thousands working in the agricultural industry in England and the Bill does nothing for them. I urge the Government to take on board these legitimate concerns and give us reassurances this evening.

21:01
David Jones Portrait Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be called to speak after so many excellent maiden speeches on both sides of the Chamber today. I would invidiously single out the contribution of my constituency near neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who is one of seven Conservatives now representing constituencies in north Wales.

I strongly welcome and support the Bill, which ensures the Government’s continued support for all those across the United Kingdom whose livelihoods depend on the agricultural sector. It provides certainty and I am sure great reassurance to farmers across the country. I represent a Welsh constituency with a strong agricultural heritage in which a great deal of economic activity and employment are linked to and depend on farming, particularly livestock farming. Indeed, the importance of livestock farming to my constituents is such that the decision to include within the Bill changes to the red meat levy will be greatly appreciated. The current system of levy is seriously flawed, in that it depends entirely upon the location of the slaughterhouse rather than the place of production. In north Wales, the decline in the number of slaughterhouses means that animals reared in north Wales are increasingly sent to England for slaughter. The consequence has been a severe loss of income to the Welsh meat promotion entity, Hybu Cig Cymru, and therefore a reduction in its ability to promote Welsh meat, which is, of course, among the finest in the world.

The Welsh livestock industry has long been calling for reform of the levy basis. The provisions in the Bill to enable the creation of a more equitable scheme, under which those who rear the animal and add value benefit from the levy payments, have already been widely praised by industry groups. It is essential that, once the powers provided by the Bill are in place, the Government, the devolved Administrations and the meat promotion bodies work swiftly together to ensure that a fair and effective scheme is implemented as soon as possible.

It is also good that the Bill imposes an obligation on Ministers to report regularly to Parliament on the issue of UK food security, although, like other contributors, I would suggest that a more regular report might be appropriate. In an increasingly uncertain global environment, food security should be at the forefront of our minds and be subject to constant reassessment. It must always be remembered that farmers, although they are also certainly stewards of our landscape, are primarily food producers. While protecting our environment is of course a matter of fundamental importance, so is ensuring that as we move out into the wider world after Brexit, farmers do not just become ”land managers”. Rather, they must be given every opportunity to become efficient and highly competitive businesses in the global marketplace, and to enable even more of our world-renowned agricultural products to be sold in markets old and new the world over. I am therefore pleased to note the provision in clause 1(4) that, in framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way. It is, of course, an England-only provision, but I am sure that farmers in my constituency will hope that it will be emulated in the Welsh Government’s own agriculture Bill.

In that connection, I have to say that it is a disappointment that the Welsh Government have decided not to take powers in this Bill to operate new schemes in Wales post Brexit, as was the case under the 2018 Bill, but to introduce their own domestic legislation later. The delay may well push the implementation of a new scheme beyond the Welsh Assembly elections in 2021, with the risk that payments under the basic payment scheme will have to be reduced for the 2021 claim year. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give my constituents some reassurance about the level of support that they will receive for the 2021 claim year in the absence of timely legislation from the Welsh Government.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. After Nadia Whittome’s contribution, I will try to get everyone else in, but I am afraid that there will then be a three-minute speaking limit.

21:06
Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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Apart from Stonebridge City Farm, there are no farms in my constituency. However, like all the other Members in the Chamber, I represent people who need food to eat and a healthy planet on which to live, and a deregulated, race-to-the-bottom Brexit will put both at risk.

We have less than a decade in which to save the planet from climate breakdown. To do that we need post-war scale investment in infrastructure, and we need to decarbonise our economy by 20% every year in every industry, yet there are no targets in the Bill for the agriculture sector to reach net zero. Will the Minister explain why, despite the clear will of organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the Bill contains no targets for net-zero emissions in farming? In fact, while providing many powers, it provides very few duties for the Secretary of State to do anything.

I welcome the principle of a farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, but why are environmental public goods only possibilities for the Secretary of State, rather than requirements? Why does a Bill about agriculture not recognise sustainable food production as a public good? This Bill is a huge missed opportunity for the UK to take a lead on agroecology. It fails to prioritise sustainable food production, despite experts’ warnings about our future food security. It could have given us a chance to enshrine in law the “right to food” that Labour has promised, promoting the local growing and distribution of food to bring people closer to food production.

I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Government have chosen to ignore the crisis in food poverty. More than a million people are being forced to use food banks as a result of their calamitous work and pensions policies. How can we rely on the Secretary of State’s good will to end that crisis when her own colleague, the Foreign Secretary, has dismissed people who are forced to turn to food banks as merely having a temporary cashflow problem? In Nottingham, more than 26,000 people, including nearly 11,000 children, have used food banks for emergency supplies in the last year, and, shamefully, there are more food banks than branches of McDonald’s in this country. While we subsidise food in Westminster, outside this building there are children going to school and to bed hungry. In the sixth richest country in the world, this is a political choice. It is also a political choice to remain silent on this issue in the Bill before us today. We know that many Conservative Members—like the one sniggering over there—fantasise about a deregulated post-Brexit world where laws and regulations on food and the environment are weakened, but the fact is that my constituents and those in constituencies up and down the country do not want chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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No, I will not.

Why has the Secretary of State ignored the sincere requests from Labour Members, from the NFU and from the DEFRA Committee to enshrine in law a guarantee that British farmers will not be undercut through the importing of substandard produce as part of new trade deals?

The Bill needs to say much more about access to healthy, sustainable food. It needs to say more about cutting emissions, and it needs a guarantee that British farming and food standards will not be undercut. I support the reasoned amendment today because the Bill fails on food standards, it fails on food production and, most of all, it fails to tackle food poverty.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. We have just about half an hour, so Members may have three minutes each. If anyone takes any interventions, they will be pushing one of their colleagues off the edge.

21:11
Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
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We have heard half a dozen maiden speeches today, all more eloquent than mine, and I congratulate my colleagues on both sides.

I welcome the Government’s opening statement that farmers put food on our plates. Domestic production is vital in a volatile world, and North West Durham has a bit of everything as far as production goes. We do poultry, beef, arable, milk and lamb. I thank the Secretary of State for her recent visit to my upland peat areas, which show that the environment and our grouse moors can go hand in hand.

Farmers in my constituency will welcome leaving the common agricultural policy and adopting a more flexible approach from the Government. They will also welcome the new measures in the Bill to deal with greater transparency in the supply chain, particularly when it comes to supermarkets, and the prominence of food production and food security in the Bill. As we move towards payment for public goods, environmental protection, public access and, crucially for my farmers, safeguarding livestock and plants, it is for many of my upland farmers the safeguarding of livestock that is important. I hope that any new regime recognises this as a crucial part of our environment. Our native breeds are an essential element of the environment. Furthermore, forestry is an important part of the future, particularly for my upland areas, and it is vital that the Government have a joined-up approach to ensuring that whatever is proposed in this area is viable.

There is concern among my farmers about the speed at which things are moving and about the seven years. There is a need to ensure real simplicity, especially with regard to the proposed environmental schemes.

I welcome the clear and balanced direction of the Bill and look forward to working with the Government at later stages to address the concerns of the rural communities in North West Durham.

21:13
Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)
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I commend my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), for taking a minute less than required under your strictures, Mr Deputy Speaker. He is obviously due for swift promotion.

I am pleased to speak in this debate, having sat on the Committee that looked at the previous Bill. I should declare at this point that I am a farmer and therefore have benefited from the structures that are being replaced by the Bill. I am pleased that the Government have followed several of our recommendations, in particular the requirement for a periodic analysis of food security and the provision for multi-annual financial plans. The initial transition plan is for seven years. I would prefer to see subsequent plans also covering seven years, rather than five, reflecting crop rotations rather than election cycles.

I should like to make three quick points. The first relates to the need for the Bill to ensure that British food producers are able to maintain viable businesses now that we have left the European Union, while also improving the environment. As we move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the CAP, we have the chance to reform and connect the support in a coherent way between schemes for different custodians of our land, including those responsible for farming, forestry, natural wilderness, wetlands and wildlife areas.

As this Bill is being debated before the imminent Second Reading of the Environment Bill, we can rewrite the rules and regulations governing land use in the UK. We must ensure that the Bill supports agriculture while being well aligned to improve the environment and that it is sufficiently adaptable that improvements can be made through regulations if we find that certain activities or aspects of land use inadvertently fall through the cracks. For example, the new ELM scheme will now be available only from late 2024, with significant reductions in direct payments before the new scheme can be accessed, whereas the previous Bill had envisaged such arrangements arriving in 2021.

Encouraging farm productivity is welcome to help farm businesses compete in a less protected trading environment, but many parts of the countries, such as the upland sheep farming areas mentioned earlier, have limited scope to diversify other than perhaps into forestry. That is where coherence and clarity are required in the interplay between different support schemes, and I will be grateful if the Minister confirms whether it will be possible for the House to see the detailed regulations that will set out programmes for different land use before Third Reading.

My second point is to agree with the sentiment already shared across the House about ensuring that we have world-class standards for British food and drink and for our environment. I expect further measures to be proposed in Committee to ensure that that is the case.

My final and main point is to encourage the Government to use the opportunity of leaving the EU to allow a “buy British” policy in food procurement for the public sector.

21:16
Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
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I congratulate all those who have made maiden speeches, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie): a hearty llongyfarchiadau—congratulations—to her. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and represent the many beef and sheep farmers in my constituency.

Now that the debate on leaving the European Union is over and the sky still has not fallen in, as was promised, we can begin an incredibly exciting chapter for our farming sector. We have been part of a common agricultural policy that has all too often acted like a straitjacket on UK farming. I know just how tight that straitjacket is, having been part of the UK Government’s negotiating team during the last CAP reform when we tried to work with the European Commission on the greening requirements—a particularly awkward piece of legislation that meant that farmers would lose 30% of their direct payment if they did not plant three different crop varieties. The Minister made excellent representations to the European Commission, but we were still prevented from implementing that policy in our own way. We are now free to design a policy that works for our farmers, our consumers and our environment, and that is the real prize at stake.

Tackling climate change is a priority. We need farmers on our side if we are to make any progress. Farmers are a small part of the problem, but an enormous part of the solution. Who else will maintain the hedgerows, watercourses and flower-rich meadows that we need and who else will steward a system based on grass-fed cattle that is part of a virtuous circle—good for our stomachs, good for our health and, above all, good for our economy?

As I said, I represent one of the largest beef and sheep farming constituencies, so I am here to promote the benefits of livestock farming. With six in Brecon and Radnorshire, we have more livestock markets than supermarkets, so it is incredibly important that we maintain a future for the livestock industry. This Bill gives livestock farmers the space they need to continue to deliver for the natural environment while producing world-class food.

I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) on the Bill’s reference to the red meat levy sector, which irons out an imbalance that is having a negative impact on farmers in my constituency in mid-Wales.

I also welcome the commitment to tackle unfair trading practices in the food supply chain. Farmers are very much price takers, not price makers, and it is essential to give them the tools to stand up to retail power, building on the excellent work of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

Much of the Bill will not apply to my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire as it relates to a devolved matter. While I fully respect the devolution settlement, I hope that the Welsh Government will copy this Government’s ambition.

21:19
Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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I start by welcoming the Bill. The core tenet of the common agricultural policy—subsidising farming—is vital. Farming is one of our fundamental industries, and it needs our support.

I ask the Minister to touch on two areas of detail. The first is the balance between environmental protection and food production. The focus on the environment will help tackle climate change, reduce pollution and make us a healthier, happier, more sustainable country. However, we need to make sure that all our countryside organisations are working together collaboratively. Much of the Meon Valley is in the South Downs national park; I would be grateful for some indication of how the Glover report will impact on the environmental land management schemes for farmers in Meon Valley.

I am glad that this version of the Bill will introduce a reporting requirement on food security. Will the Minister explain in more detail how the Government will ensure that they get the balance right between the environment and food production, and how the funding available will reflect that?

My second issue is how targets will be set for farms, both individually and on a national level, for the public goods that we wish them to produce. Farmers need clarity and an articulated, joined-up agenda that makes it easy for them to plan for the long term. How will the Government ensure that individual farmers are advised on and funded for the best use of their land? Is seven years enough time for farmers to adapt or should it be a 25-year timeframe, in line with the environmental plan, to allow farmers to plan for longer? Will there be national targets for, say, carbon capture, and how will those be set? If we are falling behind in a national target, will the subsidies change to reflect that? I appreciate that the Bill marks the beginning of a lengthy process, but I know that farmers would appreciate as much detail as possible.

Tree planting is excellent for healthier soil and absorbing carbon dioxide, but there are other carbon capture initiatives and we need to reduce pesticides. What will the targets be for improving the biodiversity of the soil, much of which is now lacking in basic nutrients? According to the Cranfield report, 80% of soil is now dead. For all farms, some environmental protections will be more viable than others. That will differ from region to region and by land type—for example, chalk, heathland, clay and so forth. Some 159 different land types have been characterised by Natural England. Will the Government reflect that in their planning and targets?

I look forward to hearing more over the course of this debate. I will support the Bill, which is an important step in the right direction, but I would like to know more about the balance between food production and environmental protection, and about how the targets will be set.

21:22
Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
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This is an excellent Bill, and I am delighted to support it. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

This Bill is the gateway to the future for an exciting and vibrant agricultural sector. I am particularly delighted that the Bill will allow financial assistance to the shepherds in my constituency, who I have been worried about. I like the direct payment element, although sadly there is more enthusiasm in the drafting of the Bill for cuts than for increases; I hope Ministers will keep an eye on that, although there are powers to modify the scheme as and when. There is an element of in-lieu payments, which is welcome for retiring farmers, although I suspect that death duties on agricultural land will delay that policy.

The food security element is vital, of course, to our whole population. The Bill is the perfect example of how Parliament should behave on a matter of national importance. The Government have not created a quango, as they seek to do in the Environment Bill—this Bill is a far better way of legislating. The elements on exceptional market conditions and fair dealing for food chain participants are welcome.

I am slightly worried about the red meat levy, because of course I care very much about native breeds, provision for which in the Bill is welcome. However, as with “pasture-fed”, there is an issue with the definition of what native breeds are—pedigree or cross-bred. The figure of 51% is not adequate: we need to amend that part of DEFRA legislation to ensure that pasture herd farmers are getting the rewards that they richly deserve. As the National Trust found, grass-fed beef production does not just reduce greenhouse gas emissions; when carbon sequestration and storage are considered, it is actually a carbon net gain. The nonsense from the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who intervened earlier, should be put to one side. The bit of the Bill that encourages organic production should be welcomed. This excellent Bill is good for my constituents, good for their food and great for our country.

21:24
Rob Roberts Portrait Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Con)
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As part of the all-party group on skills, I shall practise the skill of squeezing an eight-minute speech into three.

In leaving the EU, we have the opportunity to rewrite the book on agricultural policy, and rewrite it we have; this Bill is potentially the biggest victory for nature in a generation. Farmland occupies more than 70% of the UK’s landmass, and with more than 450,000 farmers in the UK, it is vital that we recognise the stark benefits that this Bill has over the CAP. It means that farmers are rid of the old, ineffectual direct payments system, which meant that some of our largest producers may actually have ended up worse off. The CAP’s method of rewarding farmers on the basis of land size unsustainably increases rents and land costs, while forcing farmers to use as much land as possible for production. Put simply, a farmer who gets funding on the basis of land size will cover their land in crops, whereas one who gets funding on the basis of their contribution to a better environment can use parts of their land to allow wildlife and natural habitats to grow; agriculture is, sadly, a contributor to biodiversity loss.

The “State of Nature” report by the National Trust found that 41% of species have experienced decline since 1970 and about a third of wild bee populations are decreasing, much to the frustration of my constituent Jonathan Thomas, who has a business producing local honey. Jon got in touch with me recently regarding this Bill, in the hope that it would produce a fairer system for farmers that incentivised them to promote biodiversity and assist in stemming the tide of this massive loss of bees.

I am sure we can all agree, perhaps some slightly more than others, that British food is among the best in the world, and people recognise that globally. We are opening up a new world of opportunities. Now that we can trade on our own terms and are no longer bound by Brussels, those on the world stage who see the results of what our farmers can do will flock to us for their carrots, peas and sprouts, and of course our wonderful Welsh lamb. They will see the UK as the agricultural giant that we in this country know we are. This Bill removes the restrictions on our farming and offers more money—the right money—to our farmhands.

With all this in mind, it is vital that any future trade deals that we have complement this Bill and allow us to both grow and import food to our own standards. As our soil quality and animal welfare standards increase, so does the quality of our foods and our meats. Do we not then deserve to have a like-for-like selection when we trade with other nations? Is it fair that our farmers are to put in the work and the effort to produce the best they possibly can when some of our trading partners are not meeting the commitments that we require of our own? All things that belong in future trade deals—

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. Sorry, but we must move on.

21:27
Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be able to welcome this groundbreaking Bill. Now that we are outside the EU, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform how we support English farmers. We have the chance to move away from the EU’s bureaucratic CAP. My constituency has a variety of farms, ranging from dairy to arable, and is one of the largest fruit producers in our region, so this Bill is of great interest to me.

Let me start by saying that I welcome the principle of public funds for public goods that this Bill recommends, but we must ensure that any future agricultural policy also supports farmers in their role as producers of food. I thank the Government for guaranteeing the current annual budget to farmers in every year of this Parliament, but we must ensure that farmers have the funding and certainty they need to plan for the longer term. Let me give a few examples from my constituency to illustrate that point.

It is difficult for local farmers to make long-term investment decisions if they are not guaranteed future payments. Buying a tractor can cost up to £100,000, and investing in a milking parlour or slurry system can cost several hundred thousand pounds. Everything farmers do, from buying livestock to ordering seed in advance or signing new tenancy agreements, requires forward planning and investment. Farmers in Staffordshire have done an admirable job of coping in the past few years, but the situation is challenging. So I am pleased that this Bill recognises the primary role of farmers as food producers, as it is a matter of national interest that our country can feed itself and continues to be self-sufficient. Last month, I brought the Secretary of State for International Trade to meet local farmers in Stafford, who expressed concerns about this issue. We should never compromise food security, especially as an island nation, but that does not mean that we should not incentivise farmers to allow room for nature to thrive. I do not see conflict between farmers’ roles as food producers and as environmental stewards.

Dearnsdale Fruit in my constituency has also spoken to me directly about the labour supply challenges facing large fruit producers. Already this season, there has been a 20% reduction in the number of responses to applications. The seasonal workers pilot scheme needs to be running quicker, or fruit will go unpicked this season. Local producers have told me that the Home Office permits have not yet been granted, meaning that they cannot recruit from non-EU countries. Labour supply is critical to the functioning of the agricultural sector.

In conclusion, the Bill marks the introduction of an important domestic farming policy for the first time in half a century and is a great first step towards a better and greener future for farming and our environment.

21:30
Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
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I wholeheartedly support the Bill, both in principle and in detail, but farmers in my constituency in Wiltshire are hoping for some assurances from Ministers about their future.

The context for the debate is a fact that is not often mentioned—it has not been mentioned much today—which is that we have very cheap food in this country. Households in the UK spend less on food than those in any other country in the world except for Singapore and the United States. Cheap food is obviously a good thing in itself, and no Government will want to see inflation, so the question is: how do we maintain it? We can do it in three ways: first, through science and improving yields, particularly through the use of pesticides; secondly, we can keep our food cheap by subsidising its production; and thirdly, we can use competition and import cheap food from abroad. The Government propose changes to all three methods of keeping food cheap, with less pesticides, fewer subsidies over time and more competition. All those things are welcome in principle, but all could impact on farmers’ livelihoods. I am sure they will not, but I hope we can get some assurances.

First, on the science, we can and should lead the world in the development of sustainable food, but we need to be pragmatic, not absolutist, in how we proceed. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) about the use of neonicotinoids, and particularly their impact on the oilseed rape crop. We either need to allow neonicotinoids or prohibit imports that use them.

Secondly, on the subsidies, the principle of public money for public goods is absolutely right, but surely the primary public good—the most essential good there is—is food itself, so I welcome the fact that the new system will

“encourage the production of food”.

I urge Ministers to emphasise that and reassure farmers that they will not be turned into mere wardens of the landscape.

Lastly, on competition, farmers support the principle of free trade—or at least I hope they do and think they should. We want to sell our beef and lamb to America, and we do not fear American produce coming here, but that works only if we have a genuine free market in which producers compete on a like-for-like basis across a genuinely level playing field. In that market, Britain—and Wiltshire most of all—will be a winner.

21:33
Anne Marie Morris Portrait Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con)
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I welcome the Bill, which is a fine transition between the EU and the UK and a real opportunity for Britain to be British and do it our way.

The Bill is underpinned by a concept of public money being paid for public good. I absolutely welcome the broadening in respect of how money will be paid, and the reduction in its being paid just for the size of the land in favour of more being paid for what is done with the land, but if the motto is that we are going to pay public money for public good, what do we mean by the public good? It is not defined in the Bill. It worries me that the technical, economic definition specifically excludes food production, which does not quite fit with clause 1(4). It seems to me that clarity on and a definition of “public good” would be a good thing. It seems to me to be equally important that the productivity necessary to deliver increased food security should be specifically included as a public good. The Bill simply provides for measuring it; there needs to be a measure to ensure that we actually do it.

There is an issue in respect of what public money is—it is also not defined. Is clause 1 exhaustive? I hope not. Given my very rural Devon constituency, I have particular concerns about the support in the Bill for beef and sheep. Currently, they are the most subsidised parts of agriculture. Although several of my colleagues have said that sheep will be well provided for, I have my doubts and would like to know exactly how that will be done.

I have a significant coastal area in my constituency, which is difficult to support, and it is difficult to make it productive. We have done very well in Labrador bay. We have special methods to ensure, as far as we can, that we increase productivity and, at the same time, environmental stewardship. That is undoubtedly something that we could spread by way of best practice across all coastal communities, but there is nothing specific in the legislation that would help.

I support the provision that means that, when there are adverse market or climatic conditions, farmers will be subsidised and supported—but I should like to know how. The definition is not there. At one point, a Minister had suggested that there should be an insurance scheme. I should like to know whether that is still under consideration.

Marketing standards are absolutely critical to this legislation, but what then are the implications for food labelling and for ensuring that we have a proper campaign for buying British? Not dealing with those two issues is very much a missed opportunity. That said, I will support the Bill as it is a great step forward for British agriculture.

21:35
Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)
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I know from farmers in my constituency that there is an appetite to see a UK agriculture sector that delivers public good for public money. We will not solve our biggest environmental challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, without helping farmers to become more sustainable. Farmers do not see any conflict in their role as food producers and environmental stewards. Healthy and fertile soil, efficient agrochemical use, resilience to the impact of climate change, and abundant pollinator populations are all necessary components of productive and profitable farming.

We talk about public money for public goods. The intention behind the policy is right and proper. The Bill is welcome, not least because its primary role is to support the production of food and oblige the Government to

“have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

The Agriculture Bill is crucial for shaping a more sustainable, prosperous farming sector. There is an appetite in Cornwall, particularly in west Cornwall and Scilly, which I represent, to play an active part in shaping a more sustainable, prosperous and skilled farming sector. Work is already under way to explore what are known as “novelty” crops to see how alternative crops can help to decarbonise farming while offering an attractive opportunity for existing farmers and “new blood” to make a living and to provide well-paid jobs. There is also an appetite in Cornwall to grasp the concept of regenerative farming.

This Agriculture Bill and the Government’s flagship Environment Bill have the enabling ability to transform how we provide food for our nation, and, I hope, as the Bill passes through this House and the other place, that none of this worthy intention is lost.

Finally, there is an appetite to see a UK agriculture sector that delivers high-quality and high standards and refuses cheap poor-quality low-standard imports. We should not underestimate how important confidence in good food is to the British public. When it comes to agreeing new trade deals around the world, British consumers are concerned about the likelihood of increased liberalisation of the UK food market through trade deals with new international partners post Brexit. I agree that it is futile to develop a comprehensive and ambitious domestic support policy simply for UK farmers’ efforts to be undermined by the importation of products not produced to the same level of environmental or animal health welfare standards expected of them domestically. The Minister is a friend, colleague and neighbour. He understands the challenges and opportunities that exist in Cornwall, and I know that he will do his best to make sure that this Bill works for farmers and food producers right across the UK.

21:38
Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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This will be less of a speech and more of some slightly connected bullet points. I welcome this Bill. In particular, I welcome the fact that the Front-Bench team listened to the previous Agriculture Bill Committee when it comes to the importance of food security. I hope that clause 17 will be explored further in Committee and on Report. It talks about a report at least once every five years. I suggest to the Front-Bench team, that we should have a report annually or biannually, particularly in the early years. The Bill is silent on what is to be done with these reports once they have been produce; it is silent on what will happen to them, and how we will act. The National Farmers’ Union is very keen to make sure that there is greater reporting, and I support it in that endeavour.

I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what she said in support of the agritech sector and the good work that that can do in terms of driving forward environmental improvements. Again, there is some stuff in the Bill, but I think that it could be much clearer. Likewise, we have a great estate of county farms in Dorset, but they need support. I urge my right hon. Friends to read, if they have not done so, the report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England about reviving county farms.

The Bill is a golden opportunity to support our smaller, family-owned farms. Blackmore vale, which is at the heart of North Dorset is, in Thomas Hardy’s words, the

“vale of the little dairies”.

They are an integral part of our agricultural tapestry, and those small, independent farms need and deserve our support. The Bill allows us to remind ourselves of the importance of food, food production and the role that agriculture plays in the economy.

In closing, I want to turn to the Opposition amendment. Now is not the time to put the handbrake on the progress of the Bill. Farmers have waited too long and they want certainty. I urge Ministers to put Government Members out of their misery on what I would call the equivalence clause. It is fine and dandy that we are not going to reduce standards here, but if we are going to throw open our doors to foodstuffs produced to lower standards, there is absolutely no point in having an agriculture sector. The amendment will not be supported by Government Members, but the Minister should be aware that if the Bill proceeds to Report or Third Reading and an equivalence clause is not included, the Whips and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should expect some trouble on these Benches.

21:41
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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There we have it—an Agriculture Bill that is not really about food or public good; without public voice; an open door for our food producers to be sold out in a trade deal with Trump; and English farmers put at disadvantage compared with other nations in the UK, while doing too little to tackle the climate emergency. No wonder farmers will be here in droves on 25 March. I hope that Government Back Benchers heed that last call and wake up to the problem, because the Opposition are not prepared to sell out English farmers, workers and our countryside.

Yes, of course we want public money to be used to buy environmental benefits, and we have argued for reform for decades, but the Bill needs massive improvement. It needs deeds, not worthy aspiration, and a much tougher Environment Bill alongside it to make sure that it works.

We have heard seven maiden speeches tonight, and a number of Members had the delicate task of paying tribute to somewhat troublesome predecessors. It is quite a list they had to deal with—Ken Clarke, John Bercow, Heidi Allen and Oliver Letwin—but they all managed that delicate task with great tact and grace. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) paid full tribute to her predecessor, Albert Owen, which is much appreciated by the Opposition. She invited the Secretary of State to the Anglesey show. The right hon. Lady is unable to attend, but I am sure that shadow Ministers are willing to oblige. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) had the best line of the night, about fake shoes. The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) had a list of sporting heroes that any constituency would be proud to borrow, especially Cambridge United, which could do with Jimmy Johnstone or John Robertson. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) delivered a speech that was probably every Cambridge leftie’s nightmare, but we could agree on one point: we do not want the Oxford-Cambridge expressway. The hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) took us on a tour of the most beautiful parts of the west country, and tactfully reminded the Government of the NFU’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2040. My near neighbour, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), highlighted the hugely important role of life sciences, and many of the wonderful institutions that abut the city of Cambridge. We have a slightly different take on the European Union, but I am sure that we can work together on the future of life sciences. Finally, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) gave a delicate account of the status of the Cerne Abbas giant, and it was deftly delivered.

While we can all agree in the House on the need to shift financial assistance in the way proposed in the Bill towards the principle of public money for public good, particularly to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment, it is worth briefly reflecting on why the CAP was needed in the first place. Historians will be well aware of the cycles of dearth and plenty that afflicted previous generations, with miserable and long agricultural depressions still living in the memory when I moved to eastern England over 40 years ago.

The CAP was intended to deliver stability of food supplies and security for farmers, and it did what it said on the tin, but it was of its time, had unintended consequences and has come at huge environmental cost. It is right that we now reshape our own agricultural systems to meet the new challenge. But there is a glaring omission, as has been pointed out. While supporting greater environmental, animal welfare and production standards at home, the Bill does absolutely nothing to prevent food products with lower standards than our domestic products from being imported in future trade deals. Without any legal commitment protecting us against that, the door is wide open to products such as American hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken and so on flooding our markets. Statements and manifesto commitments from the Government saying that they will not allow such lower standards are nothing but warm words. Just look at what US Secretary of State Pompeo made clear last week—the US Administration want this as part of any future trade deal.

We heard from the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that it concluded in its scrutiny report of the previous Bill that the Government should put their money where their mouth is and accept an amendment to the Agriculture Bill stipulating that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards. There is an unprecedented coalition of agreement on this, as 62 farming and environmental organisations wrote to the Prime Minister just last week, urging him to amend the Agriculture Bill with this guarantee, and farmers are planning to rally outside Westminster to press the point. Labour simply cannot support the Bill without that cast-iron guarantee, which is why we have tabled our reasoned amendment.

There have been some improvements. Thanks to the work of farming and environmental organisations, there have been some positive changes. The inclusion of soil quality as a public good is particularly important given that our soil fertility is in decline. The reforms to agricultural tenancies and the new requirement in relation to multi-annual plans are also welcome. But in what is essentially a Bill about food production, we find ourselves asking, “Where is the focus on food?” As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) made clear, the Bill contains no clear vision for the future of the nation’s food supply and no commitment to protecting the people of this country from food poverty. There is no recognition of the production of food as a public good, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) explained so powerfully.

For all its faults, the CAP was at least focused on ensuring stability of food supplies and prices. All this Bill does is require the Government to have regard to encouraging the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way. We have to ask whether the Bill actually matches up to the scale of the environmental and climate crisis that we are facing. At the moment, I think the answer is no. There is no duty for Ministers to do anything, and crucially there are no targets for the agriculture sector to reach net zero emissions—points powerfully made by my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) and for Nottingham East. There are no provisions to secure the high baseline standards of farming and land management that we are going to need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) powerfully stated in a particularly thoughtful speech. That is particularly important if we are going to tackle the ecological crisis that we are facing, including standards for those agricultural actors who choose not to engage with the environmental land management schemes.

By granting the Secretary of State mainly powers rather than duties, the Bill leaves farmers in the dark as to how and when the Government will implement the supply chain provisions included in the Bill that are designed to secure a fairer price for farmers for the food they produce. Where is the advice and support for farmers to help them in the transition? The Bill is silent on protections for workers, lacks overall vision for the future of rural communities and misses key opportunities to support agroecology. And then there is the question of whether the key provisions in the Bill will actually work, how quickly and successfully a new system of ELMS will be brought into operation, and the key matter of handling the devolved issues, which was raised very effectively by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). We should remember that there will be different approaches in the different nations; while England will go down one path, Scotland and Wales will take a different one.

So there we have it—the Bill is 14 months late, and there is ultimately no plan for food and no plan for public goods, and there are standards that will be unachievable if they are open to being undercut. It is a policy devised by some very clever people in Notting Hill; I think the House probably knows who they are, and, quite frankly, one has to wonder whether any of them has ever been on a farm. But the good news is that the Government can start making progress, by committing tonight to our amendment to guard against imports with lower standards. They do not even have to agree with the Opposition. They just need to agree with themselves, because the Secretary of State has made the promise and it is in the Conservative manifesto. Our challenge to the Government is: put it into law. If the Government do not want to listen to me, they can listen to the president of the NFU, the chief executives of the British Poultry Council, the National Sheep Association and the RSPCA, and the Chair of the EFRA Committee, who are all saying the same: put it into law.

I extend a welcoming hand to Government Members, and ask them to join us in standing up for the English countryside. They may not know this, but it is not just the Women’s Institute who sing “Jerusalem”; it has always been a Labour anthem. We will defend our green and pleasant land, and Government Members can help us to do it: put the amendment into law. Today is the first big post-Brexit test for the Government. I fear they are about to flunk it.

21:49
George Eustice Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
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It is a real pleasure to close this debate. This is the second time that I have taken this Bill—or a similar version of it—through Parliament for Second Reading within the last two years, following the difficulties that the previous Parliament encountered. But we have now had a general election. We have a new Parliament and we have a newly elected Government who have a clear mandate to chart a different course for our country to become a genuinely independent sovereign country again and to make our own laws again.

The Bill means that, for the first time in half a century, we have the ability and the chance to create a new, independent agriculture policy. It is very encouraging to see so many hon. Members embrace that responsibility with so many thoughtful speeches today. It is particularly encouraging that so many chose to make their maiden speeches today in addressing this important Bill.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) talked about the importance of his family, the support that he had there, and some of his less than favourable experiences at the hands of certain employers in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) gave a moving speech in which she referred to a family tragedy. I am sure we all recognise from that that she is going to be a champion for mental health issues. She will also clearly be a champion for the agricultural industry. I or, I am sure, a fellow Minister would be more than happy to attend the Anglesey show at some point.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will not give way as I want to cover as many of the issues raised by hon. Members as possible.

My hon. Friend the new Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) talked about the importance of high animal welfare and environmental standards, and the Bill provides for that. As she pointed out, her predecessor was a long-standing incumbent in this House. He was a big figure in politics—somebody who I did not always agree with, it has to be said, but nevertheless a highly experienced operator.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) referred to some of the great opportunities contained in this Bill. I think he is right and I am sure that, if we get it wrong, his father-in-law will have something to say about it and my hon. Friend will have something to talk about around the dinner table. He finished with that fabulous quote from Margaret Thatcher about the importance of our farming communities.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) will, I know, be a champion for rural broadband. As a Cornishman, I have to take issue with her particular interpretation of the correct way to put cream and jam on a scone—it is of course jam first. I am pleased that the Prime Minister recently endorsed the Cornish interpretation of such matters during the election.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) highlighted some of the ridiculous rules that we have in the common agricultural policy, which is far too complex, with hundreds of pages of guidance. We now have an opportunity to do things very differently. Hope Farm in his constituency, run by the RSPB, is a fabulous example of some of the nature-sensitive farming that can be done, and we are keen to learn from projects such as that.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) gave a fascinating account of how his grandmother, as a member of the Women’s Land Army, met his grandfather. It was a reminder of the great struggle that farmers and members of the WLA undertook to ensure that the nation was fed in the last war—something we must never forget. He talked about the importance of fairness in the supply chain and of provisions in the Bill to address that.

To turn to the points raised by the shadow Secretary of State, the emphasis of his speech was on the importance of food standards and making sure that we project British values on food standards in trade deals that we do. That was a clear commitment in our manifesto, as was dealt with by the Secretary of State earlier. The hon. Gentleman asked why a prohibition on the sale of chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef was not included in the Bill. The answer is that it is already on the statute book as retained EU law, so it already exists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) asked whether the Bill’s conclusion had stalled as a result of some of the difficulties in the last Parliament. The answer to that is: most certainly not. The trials and pilots remain on course. Indeed, we already have more than 30 different trials in place across the country testing scheme. We will deploy a full pilot in 2021. Our progress in delivering the agricultural transition remains on course. He also mentioned the fact that food security is a global challenge and that we have a responsibility, in common with other temperate parts of the world, to ensure that we play our part to produce food for a growing world population. He is right, and clause 17(2)(a) provides for that, because the global availability of food is a consideration.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) raised the issue of currency fluctuations. She will know that, under the old regime, farmers had no certainty from one year to the next what they would be paid, since a euro volatility exchange rate was introduced to the system. We have now set that at the same level as it was in 2019, so Scotland has clarity about exactly how much funding it will receive in 2020 and 2021. That is more clarity and more certainty than it has ever had while a member of the European Union.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) talked about the importance of frameworks for the UK. I recently met members of the Farmers Union of Wales. We work closely with all our devolved counterparts, but I remind him that this is a devolved policy, and it is for each constituent part of the UK to design a policy that works for them.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) talked about the importance of food production and suggested that we have not reflected that in the revised Bill. I take issue with that, because clause 1(4) is explicit in saying that in designing any scheme under the clause, we must have regard for the need to encourage food production. That is a new addition to the Bill. He also talked about the lump sum payments that are provided for in the Bill. We know from all the work done in this area in the past that, if we want to help new entrants on to the land, we also have to help older farmers retire. That is why allowing farmers to retire with dignity and supporting them to do so is an important area to consider.

My hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) suggested that we should have a more frequent review of food security than every five years. We have to see this requirement through the prism of clause 4, which envisages five-yearly multi-annual plans. It makes sense to align any review of food security with that provision. I would of course be happy to travel to Cheshire to meet the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton.

The hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) talked of the importance of agro-ecology. We are clear that whole-farm, holistic schemes can be provided for under clause 1. We are looking, for instance, at integrated pest management, catchment-sensitive farming and hedgerow schemes to encourage whole-farm approaches.

I turn to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I recognise that agriculture is a very important industry in Northern Ireland. This is a devolved policy. Both Northern Ireland and Wales have chosen to take schedules in the Bill that give them powers to continue the existing scheme but also modify and improve it.

The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) talked about seasonal workers. He has to recognise that we have increased the provision for seasonal workers from 2,500 to 10,000, largely due to the great campaigning work of his predecessor. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) gave a very upbeat, positive assessment of what we could do in future. That is what I want to conclude on. I grew up on a farm and spent 10 years in the industry. We have a chance now to design a modern policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. I therefore commend this Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

21:59

Division 27

Ayes: 206


Labour: 161
Scottish National Party: 35
Plaid Cymru: 4
Liberal Democrat: 3
Alliance: 1
Independent: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 320


Conservative: 318
Democratic Unionist Party: 3

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Agriculture Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Agriculture Bill:
Committal
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 10 March 2020.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
Other proceedings
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Iain Stewart.)
Question agreed to.
Agriculture Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Agriculture Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(1) sums required for—
(a) giving financial assistance to any person by virtue of powers of the Secretary of State under the Act;
(b) continuing to make direct payments, under the basic payment scheme as it operates in relation to England, for one or more years after 2020 by virtue of the Act;
(c) making delinked payments in relation to England (in place of direct payments under the basic payment scheme) by virtue of the Act;
(d) providing support under the Rural Development Regulation (EU No 1305/2013) as it operates in England in consequence of amendments of that Regulation made by virtue of the Act;
(e) operating the public market intervention or aid for private storage mechanisms under retained direct EU legislation as it operates in relation to England in response to exceptional conditions in agricultural markets;
(2) any administrative expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State by virtue of the Act;
and
(3) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided by virtue of any other Act.—(Iain Stewart.)
Question agreed to.
European Statutory Instruments Committee (Temporary Standing Order)
Ordered,
That the following Standing Order shall have effect for the remainder of this Parliament:—
(1) There shall be a select committee, called the European Statutory Instruments Committee, to examine and report on—
(a) any of the following documents laid before the House of Commons in accordance with paragraph 3(3)(b) or 17(3)(b) of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—
(i) a draft of an instrument; and
(ii) a memorandum setting out both a statement made by a Minister of the Crown to the effect that in the Minister’s opinion the instrument should be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament (the negative procedure) and the reasons for that opinion, and
(b) any matter arising from its consideration of such documents.
(2) In its consideration of a document referred to in paragraph 1(a) the committee shall include, in addition to such other matters as it deems appropriate, whether the draft instrument—
(a) contains any provision of the type specified in paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 in relation to which the Act requires that a draft of the instrument must be laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament (the affirmative procedure);
(b) otherwise appears to make an inappropriate use of the negative procedure; and shall report to the House its recommendation of the procedure which should apply.
(3) The committee shall have regard to the reasons offered by the Minister in support of the Minister’s opinion that the instrument should be subject to the negative procedure.
(4) Before reporting on any document, the committee shall provide to the government department concerned an opportunity to provide orally or in writing to it or any subcommittee appointed by it such further explanations as the committee may require except to the extent that the committee considers that it is not reasonably practicable to do so within the period provided by the Act.
(5) It shall be an instruction to the committee that it shall report any recommendation that the affirmative procedure should apply within the period specified by the Act.
(6) The committee shall consist of sixteen Members.
(7) The committee and any sub-committees appointed by it shall have the assistance of the Counsel to the Speaker.
(8) The committee shall have power to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee’s order of reference.
(9) The committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from time to time.
(10) The committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees and to refer to such subcommittees any of the matters referred to the committee.
(11) Each such sub-committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report to the committee from time to time.
(12) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the evidence taken before such sub-committees, and the formal minutes of sub-committees.
(13) The quorum of each such sub-committee shall be two.
(14) The committee shall have power to seek from any committee of the House, including any committee appointed to meet with a committee of the Lords as a joint committee, its opinion on any document within its remit, and to require a reply to such a request within such time as it may specify.
(15) Unless the House otherwise orders each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament, or until this Standing Order lapses, whichever occurs sooner.
(16) This Standing Order, to the extent that it relates to a regulation-making power provided to the Government under sections 8 or 23(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, shall lapse upon the expiry of the power to make new regulations under those sections and shall lapse entirely upon expiry of the last such remaining power.—(Iain Stewart.)
Positions for which Additional Salaries are Payable for the Purposes of Section 4a(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009
Ordered,
That the resolution of the House of 19 March 2013 (Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009) be amended, in paragraph (1)(a), by inserting, in the appropriate place, “the European Statutory Instruments Committee” .—(Iain Stewart.)
Paragraph 3(3)(B) or 17(3)(B) of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018: Presentation of Documents
Ordered,
That where, under paragraph 3(3)(b) or 17(3)(b) of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, any document is to be laid before this House, the delivery of a copy of the document to the Votes and Proceedings Office on any day during the existence of a Parliament shall be deemed to be for all purposes the laying of it before the House; and the proviso to Standing Order No. 159 (Presentation of statutory instruments) shall not apply to any document laid in accordance with this Order.—(Iain Stewart.)
Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure
Ordered,
That the Measure passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, entitled Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure (HC 299), a copy of which was laid before this House on 4 November 2019, in the last Parliament, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee.—(Iain Stewart.)

Agriculture Bill

Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Wednesday 13th May 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Report stage Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 13 May 2020 - (13 May 2020)
[Relevant documents: Tenth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill, Session 2017-19, HC1591, and the Government response, Session 2019-21, HC273, and evidence taken by the Committee on 11 March 2020.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now come to the remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill, designated for remote Divisions. My provisional determination is that remote Divisions will take place on any new clauses relating to agricultural imports on which a decision is called for, new clause 7, amendment 39 and Third Reading, and that the Question that Government amendments 20 to 22 be made will not be subject to a remote Division.

New Clause 1

Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

“(1) After IP completion day, agricultural goods imported under a free trade agreement may be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to—

(a) animal welfare,

(b) protection of the environment,

(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and

(d) plant health.

(2) The Secretary of State must prepare a register of UK production standards, to be updated annually, to which goods imported under subsection (1) would have to adhere.

(3) ‘Agricultural goods’ for the purposes of this section, mean—

(a) any livestock within the meaning of section 1(5),

(b) any plants or seeds, within the meaning of section 22(6),

(c) any product derived from livestock, plants or seeds.

(4) ‘IP completion day’ has the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”—(Simon Hoare.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

14:14
Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—International trade agreements: agricultural and food products—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the UK unless they have first made 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 UK under the agreement will have been produced or processed according to standards which are equivalent to, or which exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to—

(i) animal health and welfare,

(ii) plant health, and

(iii) environmental protection.

(2) A statement under subsection (1) shall be laid before each House of Parliament.

(3) Before the first statement under subsection (1) may be made, the Secretary of State must by regulations specify—

(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 UK 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, plant health and environmental protection, and

(ii) that the enforcement of standards in relation to any product under sub-paragraph (3)(a)(i) is at least as effective as the enforcement of the equivalent domestic standards and regulations in the UK;

(b) the “relevant domestic standards and regulations” for the purposes of subsections (1)(b) and (3)(a)(i).

(4) The Secretary of State may make regulations amending any regulations made under subsection (3).

(5) Regulations under subsection (3) or (4) shall be made under the affirmative procedure.

(6) In this section—

“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 sub-paragraph (i) or (ii);

“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;

“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.”

New clause 3—Groceries Code Adjudicator—

“The Adjudicator established by the Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013 shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with Part 3 of this Act.”

New clause 4—Agriculture: duty to promote exports—

“(1) The Secretary of State must take steps to increase opportunities for any person carrying on agriculture to export an agricultural product.

(2) Steps under subsection (1) may include measures to seek to secure the lifting of any—

(a) ban on export of an agricultural product,

(b) tariff or other form of barrier to trade,

(c) excessive regulation, or

(d) controls at national borders, local content rules or other barrier to entry for an agricultural product.

(3) The Secretary of State must, no later than twelve months after Royal Assent has been given to this Act, lay before each House of Parliament a report setting out measures taken under subsection (2) and the impact of such measures.

(4) The Secretary of State must within twelve months of laying a report under subsection (3), and once every calendar year thereafter, lay a report setting out measures taken under subsection (2), and the impact of such measures, in the period since the previous such report was laid.

(5) In this section—

“agricultural product” shall mean anything produced in the course of carrying on agriculture, and

“agriculture” shall have the meaning given in section 22(6) of this Act.”

New clause 5—Application of pesticides: limitation on use to protect human health—

“(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purpose of agriculture near—

(a) any building used for 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, schools, nurseries, and hospitals.

(2) Regulations under this section may specify a minimum distance to be maintained during the application of any pesticide between the place of application and any place under subsection (1)(a) to (c).

(3) For the purposes of this section—

“agriculture” has the meaning given in section 15(6), and

“public building” includes any building used for the purposes of education.

(4) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

This new clause would have the effect of protecting members of the public from hazardous health impacts arising from the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and spaces used by the public.

New clause 6—Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day (No. 2)

“(1) After IP completion day, agricultural goods imported under a free trade agreement may be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to—

(a) animal health and welfare,

(b) protection of the environment,

(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and

(d) plant health.

(2) The Secretary of State must prepare a register of standards under UK law relating to—

(a) animal health and welfare,

(b) protection of the environment,

(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and

(d) plant health which must be met in the course of production of any imported agricultural goods.

(3) A register under subsection (2) must be updated within seven days of any amendment to any standard listed in the register.

(4) “Agricultural goods”, for the purposes of this section, means anything produced by a producer operating in one or more agricultural sectors listed in Schedule 1.

(5) “IP completion day” has the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”

This new clause would set a requirement for imported agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards which are at least as high as those which apply to UK produced agricultural goods.

New clause 7—Coronavirus emergency food plan

“(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of Royal Assent being given to this Act, prepare and lay before Parliament a document (a “coronavirus emergency food plan”) setting out measures to address the impact of coronavirus and coronavirus disease, and action taken in response, upon the supply of food.

(2) The coronavirus emergency food plan must assess and address—

(a) the matters listed in section 17(2);

(b) the following matters—

(i) the incidence of hunger, malnutrition and food poverty measured (a) nationally and (b) by local authority area;

(ii) the level of demand for emergency food aid and the adequacy of services to meet that demand;

(iii) the availability, distribution and affordability of nutritious and healthy food;

(iv) the ease of access to nutritious and healthy food across different socio-economic groups and communities;

(v) the functioning of the food supply chain, including stock levels of individual food items and any cross-border issues impacting upon the import and export of food; and

(vi) the level of any financial assistance provided by a public authority to farmers, growers and the fishing and fish processing sectors as a result of coronavirus or coronavirus disease.

(3) The plan may take account of information provided in response to a requirement under section 25 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 (power to require information relating to food supply chains), subject to the restrictions on the use and disclosure of information set out in section 27 of that Act (restrictions on use and disclosure of information).

(4) In this section—

“coronavirus” means severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2;

“coronavirus disease” means COVID-19 (the official designation of the disease which can be caused by coronavirus);

“financial assistance” means assistance provided by way of grant, loan, guarantee or indemnity, and any other kind of financial assistance (actual or contingent).”

Member’s explanatory statement This new clause would require the Secretary of State lay before Parliament a coronavirus emergency food plan, within six months of Royal Assent.

New clause 8—Duty and regulations governing agricultural and horticultural activity—

“(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to establish a regulatory framework relating to agricultural and horticultural activity for or in connection with the following purposes—

(a) the management of land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment;

(b) supporting agriculture and horticulture businesses in enabling public access to healthy food that is farmed in an environmentally sustainable way, including food produced through whole farm agroecological systems;

(c) public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment;

(d) the management of land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural or natural heritage;

(e) improving public health;

(f) the management of land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change;

(g) the management of land or water in a way that prevents, reduces or protects from environmental hazards;

(h) the protection or improvement of the health or welfare of livestock;

(i) the conservation of native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any such animal;

(j) the protection or improvement of the health of plants;

(k) the conservation of plants grown or used in carrying on an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity, their wild relatives or genetic resources relating to any such plant; and

(l) the protection or improvement of the quality of soil.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must include provision about the standards to which activity for or in connection with all of the purposes in subsection (1) must conform.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) may include provision about enforcement, which may (among other things) include provision—

(a) about the provision of information;

(b) conferring powers of entry;

(c) conferring powers of inspection, search and seizure;

(d) about the keeping of records;

(e) imposing monetary penalties;

(f) creating summary offences punishable with a fine (or a fine not exceeding an amount specified in the regulations, which must not exceed level 4 on the standard scale);

(g) about appeals;

(h) conferring functions (including functions involving the exercise of a discretion) on a person.

(4) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

See explanatory statement for Amendment 30.

New clause 9—Duration of provision in relation to Northern Ireland—

“(1) Section 45 and Schedule 6 expire at the end of 2026.

(2) Regulations made under paragraph 8(1) of Schedule 6 (power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to public market intervention and private storage aid) cease to have effect at the end of 2026 (so that any amendment made by them ceases to have effect and any enactment repealed by them is revived). But see subsections (4) and (5) for saving provision.

(3) Otherwise, subsection (1) does not affect the continuation in force or effect of any regulations made, or other thing done, by virtue of Schedule 6 before the end of 2026.

(4) Despite subsections (1) and (2), paragraph 7 of Schedule 6, and regulations made under paragraph 8(1) of that Schedule, continue to have effect in relation to any period which ends after the end of 2026 and for which DAERA is giving, or has agreed to give, financial assistance under paragraph 7 of Schedule 6.

(5) Subsection (2) does not affect the lawfulness of anything done in accordance with retained direct EU legislation as modified by regulations made under paragraph 8(1) of Schedule 6 before those regulations cease to have effect.

(6) DAERA may by regulations make transitional, transitory or saving provision in connection with this section.

(7) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (6) includes provision modifying primary legislation, retained direct EU legislation or subordinate legislation.

(8) Regulations under this section which contain provision modifying primary legislation (with or without other provision) are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.

(9) Other regulations under this section are subject to negative resolution procedure.”

This new clause is designed to introduce a sunset clause so that provisions relating to Northern Ireland are timebound, whilst allowing suitable time for the for the development of bespoke legislation within the next Assembly term and taking into account disruptions in future planning as a result of the Covid19 crisis.

New clause 10—International trade agreements covering agricultural goods: standards and approval—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the agreement meets the conditions in subsections (2) and (3).

(2) The condition in this subsection is that the agreement prohibits the importation into the United Kingdom of any agricultural product unless the standards to which that product was produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to—

(a) animal welfare,

(b) protection of the environment,

(c) employment rights, and

(d) food safety.

(3) The condition in this subsection is that—

(a) upon conclusion of the negotiations on the agreement, the text of any element of the agreement which concerns trade in agricultural products has been laid before Parliament,

(b) the House of Commons has approved by resolution a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown which approves the text of any element which concerns trade in agricultural products, and

(c) the House of Lords has debated a motion in the same terms as that approved by the House of Commons.

(4) A motion under subsection (3)(b) shall be framed in terms which permit amendment.

(5) For the purposes of this section—

“agriculture product” shall mean any product which falls within an agricultural sector listed in Schedule 1 or which is derived from any such product,

“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 agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994 (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 sub-paragraph (i) or (ii);

“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.”

New clause 11—Mandatory labelling of animal products as to farming method—

“(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring meat, meat products, milk, milk products and egg products (including those produced intensively indoors) to be labelled as to the method of farming.

(2) The labelling required under subsection (1) shall be placed on the front outer surface of the packaging and shall be in easily visible and clearly legible type.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) shall (among other things) lay down—

(a) the labelling term to be used for each product;

(b) the conditions that must be met for the use of each labelling term.

(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may exclude from the labelling requirement products containing meat, meat products, milk, milk products or egg products where the total proportion by weight of one or more of these items in the product is less than fifteen percent.

(5) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations that require meat, meat products, milk and milk products, and egg products, including those which have been produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming method. Eggs are not included as legislation already requires eggs to be labelled as to farming method.

New clause 12—International trade agreements: agricultural and food products (No. 2)

“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the agreement—

(a) includes an affirmation of the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under the SPS Agreement, and

(b) prohibits the importation into the United Kingdom of agricultural and food products in relation to which the relevant standards are lower than the relevant standards in the United Kingdom.

(2) In subsection (1)—

“international trade agreement” means—

(a) an agreement that is or was notifiable under—

(i) paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of 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 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 subparagraph (i) or (ii);

“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;

“relevant standards” means standards relating to environmental protection, plant health and animal welfare applying in connection with the production of agricultural and food products;

“SPS Agreement” means the agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time);

“WTO Agreement” means the agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994.”

New clause 14—Carbon emissions: net-zero and interim targets

“(1) When considering the provision of financial assistance under sections 1(1) and 1(2) of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that the likely impact of that funding is compatible with the achievement of any emissions reduction target set out in subsection (2) or (3).

(2) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to—

(a) set an emissions reduction target for the net UK carbon account for agriculture and related land use for the year 2050 which is at least 100% lower than the 1990 baseline, and

(b) ensure that the target is met.

(3) The Secretary of State must, within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, publish interim emissions reductions targets for agriculture and related land use that align with budgetary periods as they relate to carbon budgets.

(4) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for agriculture and related land use for a budgetary period does not exceed any interim emissions reduction target published under subsection (3).

(5) The Secretary of State must, within twelve months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, publish a statement of the policies to be delivered in order to meet the interim emissions reduction targets published under subsection (3).

(6) In this section—

(a) “net UK carbon account” shall have the meaning given in section 27 of the Climate Change Act 2008, and

(b) “budgetary periods” and “carbon budgets” shall have the meaning given in section 4 of the Climate Change Act 2008.”

This new clause would set a target of net-zero green-house gas emissions for agriculture and related land use in the UK by 2050 at the latest. It would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish interim emissions reduction targets – and policy proposals to ensure those targets are met.

Amendment 26, in clause 1, page 2, line 9, at end insert—

“(aa) supporting agriculture and horticulture businesses in enabling public access to healthy food that is farmed in an environmentally sustainable way, including food produced through whole farm agroecological systems.”

This amendment would add to the purposes for which financial assistance can be given that of ensuring access to healthy food produced sustainably including through whole farm agroecological systems.

Amendment 27, page 2, line 13, at end insert—

“(ca) improving public health;”

This amendment would add “improving public health” to the list of purposes for financial assistance given under clause 1, with ‘improving public health’ defined in Amendment 29.

Amendment 3, page 2, leave out lines 19 and 20 and insert—

“(g) protecting or improving the management of landscapes and biodiversity through pasture-fed grazing livestock systems including the conservation of native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any such animal;”

Amendment 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“(k) protecting or improving the health, well-being and food security of citizens.”

Amendment 18, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“(k) establishing and maintaining whole farm agroecological systems.”

Amendment 36, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“(k) supporting upland landscapes and communities.”

Amendment 28, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

“‘environmentally sustainable way’ means in a way which employs factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis and avoids the depletion of natural resources.”

This amendment defines “environmentally sustainable way” for the purposes of clause 1(4) and Amendment 26.

Amendment 29, page 3, line 12, at end insert—

“‘improving public health’ includes—

(a) increasing the availability, affordability, diversity, quality and marketing of fruit, vegetables and pulses,

(b) reducing farm antibiotic and related veterinary product use, and antibiotic resistance in harmful micro-organisms, through improved animal health and welfare,

(c) providing support for farmers to diversify out of domestic production of foods where there may be reduced demand due to public concerns over issues such as health, environment, and animal welfare, and

(d) reducing harm from use of chemicals on farms, and reducing pesticide residues in food;”

See explanatory statement for Amendment 27.

Amendment 19, page 3, line 17, at end insert—

“‘whole farm agroecological systems’ include any whole enterprise system for farming or land management which is designed to produce food or fuel while delivering environmental and social benefits, and may include organic farming.”

Amendment 4, in clause 2, page 3, line 27, at end insert—

“(2A) In every case such conditions shall include the following restrictions to the eligibility of a recipient of financial assistance—

(a) financial assistance may only be made to individuals or groups of individuals, natural or otherwise, operating land where the predominant use is agricultural as defined by section 96(1) of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986; and

(b) financial assistance may only be made available to individuals or groups of individuals, natural or otherwise, who are—

(i) in occupation of or with rights of common over the land for which the financial assistance is being claimed;

(ii) taking the entrepreneurial risk for the decisions made in relation to the management of the land for which the financial assistance is being claimed; and

(iii) in day-to-day management control of the land for which the financial assistance has been claimed.”

Amendment 30, page 3, line 27, at end insert—

“(2A) Financial assistance may not be given to any person who is not compliant with standards set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State under section [Duty and regulations governing agricultural and horticultural activity].”

This amendment and NC8 provide a duty for the Secretary of State to set baseline regulatory standards governing agricultural and horticultural activity, which must be met by any recipient of financial assistance.

Amendment 17, page 3, line 33, at end insert—

“(4A) Financial assistance may only be given for or in connection with a purpose under section 1(1) or (2) if the owner of the relevant land takes the action described in subsection (4B).

(4B) The action is that the owner of the relevant land will not restrict access for any person on any inland waterway or lake which forms part of that land for the purposes of open-air recreation, if and so long as the person—

(a) exercises that right of access responsibly, and

(b) observes any restrictions which are imposed in—

(i) section 2 of,

(ii) Schedule 2 to, or

(iii) Chapter II of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

(4C) A person does not exercise a right of access responsibly if their conduct while exercising that right is not in accord with the provisions of any code of conduct issued under section 20 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

(4D) For the purposes of subsections (4A) and (4B), “relevant land” means land which includes the land or premises on which the activity for which financial assistance is given under section 1(1) or (2) of this Act takes place or is to take place and includes any inland waterway or lake.”

Amendment 42, in clause 3, page 4, line 18, at end insert—

“(e) development of a target or targets for the uptake of Integrated Pest Management based upon agroecological farming practices, including organic farming, and a robust system for monitoring progress towards such targets.”

This new amendment would enable the Secretary of State to set and monitor progress towards targets for the uptake of Integrated Pest Management based on agroecological farming practises, including for organic farming, in order to ensure that financial assistance granted under the Agriculture Bill is meeting its objectives in terms of environmental outcomes.

Amendment 5, in clause 4, page 5, line 14, at end insert—

“(d) set out the budgeted annual expenditure to be used to achieve each of the aforementioned strategic priorities for the plan period.”

Amendment 6, in clause 8, page 7, line 40, leave out “2021” and insert “2022”.

Amendment 1, in clause 16, page 12, line 42, at end insert—

“(ba) making provision for future contributions to existing rural socioeconomic schemes;”

This amendment would safeguard the availability of financial provisions to continue the socioeconomic programmes under Rural Development Programmes in the event of delays in the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Amendment 23, in clause 17, page 14, line 20, leave out “five years” and insert “year”.

This amendment would make the Secretary of State’s report on food security annual instead of five-yearly.

Amendment 24, page 14, line 27, at end insert—

“(ba) food poverty and progress towards achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on hunger, malnutrition and food poverty (SDG 2);”

This amendment would add food poverty and progress towards the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 to the matters to be covered by the report.

Amendment 25, page 14, line 32, at end insert—

“(f) food insecurity.

(3) For the purposes of this section “food insecurity” means a person’s state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.

(4) Before laying a report under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must—

(a) consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, the relevant Northern Ireland department, and such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and

(b) have due regard to international best practice on food insecurity, including but not limited to the United States Household Food Security Survey.

(5) A report under subsection (1) must include—

(a) an assessment of trends in food insecurity, broken down by different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England, and

(b) a summary of actions to be taken in areas of high food insecurity by the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive.

(6) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland;

“regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”

This amendment would add food insecurity to the matters to be covered by the report.

Amendment 7, page 14, line 32, at end insert—

“(3) As part of the report, the Secretary of State must set out food security targets and specify and implement any actions required to ensure that those targets are met.”

Amendment 8, in clause 18, page 15, leave out lines 2 and 3 and insert—

“(a) there is an acute or chronic disturbance in agricultural markets or a serious threat of an acute or chronic disturbance in agricultural markets caused by economic or environmental factors, and”.

Amendment 31, in clause 27, page 23, line 15, leave out “a specified person” and insert “the Groceries Code Adjudicator”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office.

Amendment 32, page 23, line 23, at end insert—

“(8A) The Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013 is amended, by inserting after section 2 (Arbitration)—

2A Fair dealing: determination of complaints alleging non-compliance

(1) If a complaint relating to alleged non-compliance is referred to the Adjudicator under section 27(8)(a) of the Agriculture Act 2020, the Adjudicator must determine the complaint.

(2) In determining any allegation of non-compliance under subsection (1), the Adjudicator must act in accordance with any regulations made under subsection (1) of section 27 of the Agriculture Act 2020 which make provision for investigation of complaints, imposition of penalties or a requirement to pay compensation, as specified by subsection (8) of section 27 of that Act.’”

This amendment would specify the process to be followed by the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office in determining a complaint made under the Agriculture Act 2020.

Amendment 33, page 23, line 25, after “any” insert “competent and appropriate”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to a body which is competent to undertake qualitative assessments; for example, the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office.

Amendment 34, page 23, line 26, after “provide for a” insert “competent and appropriate”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to a body which is competent to undertake qualitative assessments; for example, the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office.

Amendment 38, in clause 33, page 30, line 44, at end insert—

“(2A) The scheme must be made by 1 April 2021.”

Amendment 39, in clause 42, page 38, line 28, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

Amendment 12, in schedule 3, page 50, line 15, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

Amendment 11, page 50, leave out lines 25 to 36 and insert—

“(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) to secure either or both of the full and efficient farming of the holding or an environmental improvement, and”.

Amendment 13, page 51, line 34, at end insert

“, or

(d) a scheme of financial assistance in whatever form introduced by Welsh Ministers;”.

Amendment 16, page 54, line 20, at end insert—

Succession on death of tenant

21A In section 35, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) In sections 36 to 48 below (and in Part I of Schedule 6 to this Act)—

“close relative” of a deceased tenant means—

(a) the wife husband or civil partner of the deceased;

(b) a brother or sister of the deceased;

(c) a child of the deceased;

(d) a nephew or niece of the deceased;

(e) a grandchild of the deceased;

(f) any person (not within (b) or (c) or (d) or (e) above) who, in the case of any marriage or civil partnership or other cohabitation to which the deceased was a at any time a party, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage or civil partnership or other cohabitation;’”.

Amendment 15, page 54, line 20, at end insert—

Succession on retirement of tenant

21B In section 49, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) In this section and sections 50 to 58 below (and in Part I of Schedule 6 to this Act as applied by section 50(4))—

“close relative” of the retiring tenant means—

(a) the wife husband or civil partner of the retiring tenant;

(b) a brother or sister of the retiring tenant;

(c) a child of the retiring tenant;

(d) a nephew or niece of the retiring tenant;

(e) a grandchild of the retiring tenant;

(f) any person (not within (b) or (c) or (d) or (e) above) who, in the case of any marriage or civil partnership or other cohabitation to which the retiring tenant has been at any time a party, has been treated by the latter as a child of the family in relation to that marriage or civil partnership or other cohabitation;’”.

Amendment 14, page 54, line 24, at end insert—

“Termination of tenancies of 10 years or more

22A Before section 8 insert—

7A Termination of tenancies of 10 years or more

(1) Where a farm business tenancy has been granted for a fixed term of 10 years or more without any provision for the landlord to terminate the tenancy on a specific date or dates during the fixed term, the landlord may serve notice to quit on the tenant of the holding using the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 Schedule 3 Parts I and II in accordance with the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 Schedule 4 and all Orders introduced as mentioned in that schedule in respect of the following cases—

(a) Case B

(b) Case D

(c) Case E

(d) Case F

(e) Case G

(2) In addition to any compensation required to be paid to the tenant by the landlord following the termination of a tenancy using Case B, the landlord shall pay additional compensation to the tenant at an amount equal to ten years’ rent of the holding or attributed to the part of the holding upon which notice to quit has been served at the rate at which rent was payable immediately before the termination of the tenancy.””

Amendment 10, page 55, line 19, at end insert—

“Requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms

25A 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) to secure either or both of the full and efficient farming of the holding or 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);

(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 (powers of Secretary of State to give financial assistance),

(b) section 19 of, or paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to, that Act (powers of Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to give financial assistance in exceptional market conditions), or

(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;

(c) retained direct EU legislation.’”

Amendment 40, in schedule 4, page 56, line 21, at end insert—

Pigmeat

Products falling within the table in Part XVII of Annex 1 of the CMO Regulation, but excluding any entry in the table for live animals”.

This amendment adds “pigmeat” to Schedule 4. Clause 35 enables the Secretary of State to establish marketing standards in relation to products that “fall within a sector listed in Schedule 4”. Sectors listed include beef and veal, poultry and poultrymeat, milk and milk products, and eggs and egg products, but not pigmeat.

Government amendments 20 to 22.

Amendment 9, in schedule 5, page 61, leave out lines 25 and 26 and insert—

“(a) there is an acute or chronic disturbance in agricultural markets or a serious threat of an acute or chronic disturbance in agricultural markets caused by economic or environmental factors, and”.

Amendment 37, in the title, line 17, after

“with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture;”

insert

“to require animal products to be labelled as to farming method;”.

This would amend the long title to enable the Bill to require the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring animal products to be labelled as to farming method.

I call Simon Hoare, who is asked to speak for no more than eight minutes.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I welcome this Bill. It is the first piece of agricultural legislation to come before our country since 1947, and what a glorious opportunity it is to set out what is important to us both in what our policies should be and how we can help to shape and lead future thinking.

The events of the past few weeks have given our country pause for thought as we have evaluated what is important to us—what we value, what we stand for, who we are. While covid has presented that as an opportunity, this Bill does the same with regard to agriculture: what does a global Britain in a non-membership of the European Union world look like? Just as this country has been a trailblazer against female genital mutilation, modern slavery and the trade in ivory, so I believe we can be in our high standards that prevail in agriculture today with regard to animal welfare, food production, agricultural practices and environmental standards. So important are these issues that they were writ large in the Conservative party manifesto of only December last year. Every Minister—the Prime Minister, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary and others—when questioned on these important issues before, during and after the referendum campaign has asserted their absolute, cast-iron guaranteed support for them.

Our farmers and food producers work under those high standards of regulation willingly. They understand their importance and the consumer confidence that they bring. They understand that they add value to the provenance of our food and drink exports. I was therefore not very pleased to have to table new clause 1. The thrust that lies behind it says, in essence, that any food product imported into the United Kingdom under a free trade agreement should be raised to standards either equal to or greater than those that prevail within the UK, and that the Secretary of State should annually update a list of standards. That would not force countries that have entered into an FTA with us to change all their practices. It would simply be up to producers to work out if they were not hitting our standards and then, if they wished to access our lucrative markets, to change their practices in order so to do—the ordinary operation of the market.

My new clause is not about stymieing free trade agreements, and neither is that in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—we understand the huge potential benefits that can accrue from them. But this is not about firing the starting gun for a race to the bottom. There is no merit in deliberately setting out in Government policy the creation of an unlevel playing field. Food imports to this country would be cheap for no reason bar the fact that they were raised to lower standards. Anybody can look at a variety of websites and realise some of the pretty horrendous ways in which livestock is raised in a number of countries across the world. We should shun that and be a beacon for excellence and high standards.

Those cheap food imports would remain cheap only while there was a viable scale of domestic production to create some sort of viable competition. As soon as it was choked off or choked down—reduced to a scale no more than meeting the artisan market or a farmers’ market—those prices would start to rise, and we would have lost our agricultural sector. I represent the constituency of North Dorset, where agriculture and farming is absolutely pivotal. My manifesto in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 elections was very clear that I would speak up and stand up for farmers, understanding the importance that they play in our economy.

The new clause is not anti-free trade or anti-American, but pro our standards being a beacon and pro ensuring that there is a future for our agricultural sector and for our consumers to purchase securely and safely. The new clause has attracted support from across the House and from both wings of my party: people who voted to leave the European Union and people who voted to remain. Anybody trying to dress this up as some sort of closet attempt to remain within the European Union does so at grave peril.

The new clause is also supported by a host of radical crypto-anarchic organisations: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; the Country Land and Business Association; the Soil Association; that well known anarchic group the Wildlife Trust; LEAF—Linking Environment and Farming; the Tenant Farmers Association; the National Farmers Union; and, worst of all, that Leninist organisation the Woodland Trust.

This is not a crypto-communist move against capitalism; it is about trying to create a level playing field. It is not a coercive approach to those who might enter a free trade agreement, but an invitation to meet our standards if they wish to trade. If one accepts that food production and food security are important, it would require an incredibly brave Minister of the Crown, and an incredibly brave Parliament, if our farmers came to us and said, “Look, we are just about on the brink. You will have to lower our standards and change our regulations in order to allow us to compete.” I do not want to see that, and nor does my party.

Our Prime Minister takes animal welfare very seriously, as do the Farming Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), and the Secretary of State. However, most countries in the world value their food production, value their food security, and seek out and adopt policies in order to ensure that they have a viable future. New clause 1 does just that, and I hope that either the Minister will be in a position to accept it this afternoon, or we will see what the House has to say about it later.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the shadow Secretary of State, Luke Pollard, who is asked to speak for no more than eight minutes.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will speak to the amendments that stand in my name and that of the Leader of the Opposition. Food policy has been overlooked and sidelined in our politics for far too long. Empty shelves, crops underwater in flooded fields, food bank growth and the growing obesity crisis demand that it enjoys more of our focus in the next decade than it had in the last. I want to see a greater focus on the quality and resilience of the food that we eat and the quality of the air that we breathe. Our new focus on food is for life and not just for coronavirus.

I place on record my heartfelt thanks to all the food heroes—the hidden heroes—who have kept the nation fed throughout the coronavirus crisis. From the fishers and the farmers, the distributors and the drivers, the processers and the pickers, to the shelf stackers and the supermarket workers, these people are finally getting the recognition that they deserve as key workers. The pay, conditions, pensions, protections and political focus on them must now follow. In declaring my interest, may I remind the House that my little sister is one of those key workers, as a sheep farmer on her farm in Cornwall?

At the very heart of this debate today is a very simple question, which the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) mentioned in his opening remarks. What kind of country do we want to be—one where farm standards are a pawn in a trade deal with our values traded for market access, or a nation that says Britain is a force for good in the world and upholds our high standards for food grown locally and food imported alike? At a time of climate crisis, we must choose to rebuild a better, greener, more sustainable and fairer Britain than we had before.

The path ahead of us is uncertain, but we must learn the lessons of those who came before us. We must not trade away the values that make us British and make us proud to be British: high environmental standards in food production; decent pay for those who tend our fields—at least, they should be paid well; animal welfare standards that increase, not slide; and a determination that we will never, ever again be held hostage by our inability, by choice or natural cause, to feed ourselves.

The Agriculture Bill is not a trivial matter; nor is food production. The Bill will fundamentally change the system of farm support, so it deserves our attention. However, an Agriculture Bill without a focus on food is an odd beast. It almost entirely omits food, and therefore does not even begin to solve all the problems that the virus has both caused and revealed. I would wager that the Environment Secretary and the farming Minister did not have the whip hand in the timing of this Bill, and that it is down to Downing Street and its free marketeer agenda, seeking to see off a rebellion of Tory MPs rightly unhappy and uneasy about leaving the door open to imports of food produced to lower standards, that we are here today on a contentious piece of legislation in the middle of a national crisis.

The new clauses in the names of the Chairs of the two Select Committees—the hon. Members for North Dorset and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—and those in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and me all seek to do one very simple thing, which is to put Government promises into law. The promise from the Conservative manifesto says:

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

These words are meaningless unless they are backed up by law. The amendments today reflect a cross-party concern that the promises of high standards will not be kept unless they appear in black and white in the Bill. The right place to deal with farm standards is a Bill about farming. Indeed, the Leader of the House has just said from the Dispatch Box that he is about delivering on the manifesto and that this is essential. I agree on this point: those standards are essential, and they must be delivered on in law.

I suspect the Minister will shortly say that the subjects of these amendments would best be dealt with in the Trade Bill. I disagree with her on that and, unfortunately, so do her own Government. It seems the Government’s trade team are arguing that the Trade Bill is actually not for setting up trade architecture. They argue that it is a continuity Bill for rolling over existing agreements that Britain is a party to as part of the EU, so we will need another trade Bill that has not been published, written or designed yet to deal with matters such as democratic oversight of trade deals. There is zero chance, as the Minister knows, of such a Bill appearing or passing before the 31 December deadline, so we come to the necessity of this issue being dealt with in this Bill, where it can be discussed and implemented ahead of the 31 December deadline. It must not be parked or lost in the long grass of future Bills that have not yet appeared.

These amendments are being opposed, to my mind, simply because they would make it harder to have a trade deal with nations for which lower food and farm standards are the norm. The inescapable truth of Ministers refusing to put these sensible amendments into law is that allowing British farmers to be undercut by cheap imported food is part of the Government’s plan, and it should not be. Labour has tabled the amendments because we will not allow British farmers to go out of business because they are being undercut by cheap imports that would be illegal if they were grown or produced in the UK.

There is no urban-rural divide on high farm standards or on animal health and welfare, no divide when it comes to wanting high environmental standards preserved and no divide between feeders and eaters when it comes to food safety and food quality. This Bill is, by and large, a reasonable Bill.

DEFRA officials and Ministers have worked hard to get the detail right, but the political handcuffs placed on the Environment Secretary and his Ministers to tie them to oppose these reasonable, sensible, necessary and essential amendments betray the bigger political agenda at play here. Both the Environment Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who has responsibility for farming, have good agricultural pedigree, and I am reassured that those with experience are at the helm of the Department, but if orders are coming from the Department for International Trade, they have my sympathy for being caught in the invidious place of choosing between what is right and what they are told to do.

14:30
The inevitable deregulatory pressure from poorer quality food will put pressure on Britain to slash our high standards so that farmers can compete; it risks a race to the bottom. That risks the animal husbandry and the environmental gains Ministers have committed themselves to. If Ministers are to protect only the standards for UK producers and do not set bars for foreign producers to meet in order to sell into the British markets, the path ahead for our farmers will be a dark one. We know that if only some of our farm standards are protected in legislation, in reality none of our standards are protected.
The Bill already includes a provision on food security reports on this challenge. The expected five-year frequency of publication does not match the annual barometer that it needs to meet. It is because the virus has shone a spotlight on the fragility of our food supply system that we are proposing that a food security report is published within six months of this Bill becoming law, focusing on the food supply problems highlighted by the virus: the fragility of supply, concerns over agricultural labour supply and the nutritional value of food parcels for those who are being shielded. Ensuring that food parcels are nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate is necessary to ensure that those who are being shielded can receive the benefits of a good diet and not be compelled to head out to the shops to ensure that they can eat healthily, as that would defeat the purpose of this in the first place.
The nutrition of the nation is a national priority for Labour. That is why this amendment also stands in my name, and it does so proudly and distinct from party politics. However, the shortage of food and the rising incidences of food poverty scream out and demand our rational consideration of the causes of the crisis. I hope the Minister will adopt that amendment, as the Bill needs a greater focus on food, which the amendment would provide. The amendments on food standards are what our farmers are asking for, what the public expect and what was in the Conservative manifesto. I ask the Minister to back those amendments, recognising that Labour MPs, Conservative MPs, farmers and environmental groups all stand united here. I hope she will do the right thing and ensure that food poverty is addressed and that farm standards can be upheld proudly, ensuring that no farmer is undercut in future trade deals.
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I now call Minister Victoria Prentis, who is asked to speak for no more than 15 minutes.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should start by declaring my interest: my family has farmed on the Oxfordshire- Northamptonshire border for many years, and I am also a keen smallholder. This is a very important moment for agriculture in this country. This Bill is the first of its kind for more than 70 years and it will allow us to shape farming for the future. This Bill is about farmers, and sets out a framework policy for rewarding them as they produce food and provide public goods.

I thank all Members who have tabled amendments. I apologise if the hybrid nature of the debate prevents me from engaging fully with every point—it is not ideal. I am, however, reassured that the Bill has been thoroughly scrutinised by not one but two Public Bill Committees. I am keen to continue to engage with Members across the House as we develop the details of the policies. I must also record my thanks to those who have worked so hard to ensure that we have all been fed in these frightening times: farmers, manufacturers and retailers. They are food heroes, and they have worked together and struggled on despite workforce shortages and social distancing measures. I hope that a lasting legacy of this pandemic is that we all think a little more about where our food comes from.

The feeding the vulnerable taskforce, which I chair, has worked hard to ensure that those parts of society on whom this crisis falls the hardest can access food. On Friday, we announced £16 million of funding for food charities. Measures in this Bill would have been very useful two months ago. I commend in particular the powers in clauses 18 and 19, which would have made it easier and quicker to support farmers during these difficult times. Under Clause 17, for the first time, the Government will have a duty to take a regular, systematic view of our overall food security at least every five years, giving time to observe trends. That is not to say that we have to wait five years between reviews at all. The majority of data covered will, of course, be available between reports, and we certainly have no intention of waiting until the end of the five-year period to publish our first report. That report will, of course, take into account what we have learnt from the current pandemic.

This is a domestic Bill. It is not about trade. However, I have heard colleagues across the House—I am sure I will hear them again this afternoon—voice concerns about the effect of future trade agreements on UK agriculture. Some are concerned about a reduction in standards, particularly those for animal welfare. Others are concerned that there will not be a level playing field between our products and those coming from abroad.

Like the rest of my colleagues on this side of the House, I was elected on a very clear manifesto commitment—one that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has reiterated since—that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. This Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure that any deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers. We are keen to ensure that parliamentarians, consumers and businesses have access to the information they need on our trade negotiations. Trade talks with the US opened formally last Tuesday. Ahead of that, the Government set out the negotiating objectives and associated documents, and a similar process will be replicated in the coming months as we do the same for deals with Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

I am grateful for the continued contributions of the National Farmers Union and others who sit on our expert trade advisory group, which helped shape this trade policy and feeds straight into the negotiating team. I assure the House that we are actively exploring how to build on that industry participation.

I reassure colleagues that all food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements. At the end of the transition period, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert all EU standards into domestic law. That will include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in beef. Nothing apart from potable water may be used to clean chicken carcases, and any changes to those standards would have to come before this Parliament. We will be doing our own inspections to ensure that those import conditions are met.

While we all want to support British farmers, if passed, the well-meaning amendments would have unintended consequences. The supply of food would be significantly disrupted if goods that meet our current import standards were blocked. New clauses 1 and 2 would affect UK exports to countries with whom, as part of the EU, we currently have trade agreements. I am concerned that the extra conditions in the two new clauses could result in countries refusing to enter into continuity agreements. For example, accepting new clause 2 would risk whisky exports worth £578 million. Another example is the impact on potato exporters. Some 22% of potato exports went to countries with whom a continuity agreement has not yet been signed.

If the amendments were passed, an assessment of our current UK production standards, followed by an assessment of all relevant standards in a third country, followed by an assessment of how those compared with UK legislation and UK production standards would be required to make sure that any FTA complied with them. That would all have to be done by the end of December.

I understand that Members want to ensure safeguards for our farmers. However, I have serious concerns about the unintended consequences of the amendments for our producers and exporters. Our manifesto commitment is clear that the Government will support farmers and protect our standards. All the rules, regulations and robust processes are already in place for that.

On labelling, I am looking forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on her labelling amendment. I understand that she will be championing consumer choice in the domestic market, which is very important. Other colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), and my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and for West Dorset (Chris Loder), have asked us to explore whether labelling approaches could be used to differentiate products that meet domestic production standards from those that do not. This would include exploring mandatory labelling. Any scheme could not be devised until we have completed the transition period and would of course need to recognise World Trade Organisation obligations, but I assure Members from across the House that this is something we will consider closely and on which we are prepared to consult.

We all hope that UK food producers will benefit from increased export opportunities as we open up foreign markets. For example, in the last year, we have seen the lifting of a 20-year ban on the export of UK beef and lamb to Japan. Our “Food is GREAT” campaign targets consumer audiences abroad and is boosting global demand for our food and drink.

I turn now to amendments relating to financial assistance. I defy anyone to maintain that the common agricultural policy was good for either environmental protection or the productivity of British farming. It has held us back. It has paid those with more land more subsidy, regardless of what they did with it. It has favoured some parts of the industry over others. We are really keen that that changes now. We have an exciting opportunity to reset and plan for the future.

Passing the Bill will give farmers and land managers a clear direction. In England, it will enable us to deliver direct payments, simplified countryside stewardship schemes and productivity grants next year. I assure the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) that that is why this Bill is top of the queue. The gradual seven-year transition will allow farmers and land managers time to prepare for the new environmental land management scheme, which is currently being tested. Upland farmers, for example, will be well placed to benefit from it. We will also create a UK shared prosperity fund to address the needs of rural businesses and communities. Delaying the start of the agricultural transition to 2022 would just delay the many benefits of moving away from direct payments. To provide reassurance again, for 80% of farmers, our maximum reductions for 2021 will be modest at under 5%.

Improving the health of our environment as set out in the “25 Year Environment Plan” is a priority. The measures in the Bill will help us to combat climate change, but the Bill is not the place for targets. Environmental land management will be critical in helping us to deliver against our legally binding target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We recognise that for these policies to be effective, they need to be properly funded. In our manifesto, we committed to maintain current agricultural spending for each year of this Parliament. Of course, this is a framework Bill, and this is only the beginning. I look forward to working with colleagues across the House and with groups such as the NFU to develop the policy that will flow from this legislation.

I turn now to amendments tabled on agroecological farming practices, and on reducing the use of pesticides. We are already testing how ELM can support farmers to take a whole-farm holistic approach. We have 50 tests and trials in progress, with many more planned before the national pilot starts in 2021. We are considering innovative solutions such as integrated pest management, which aims to reduce pesticide use on farms. We absolutely agree that pesticides should not be used where that use may harm human health, and we have a robust regulatory system in place to ensure that.

I turn now to the many benefits that the Bill will bring farmers in the devolved Administrations. Clause 33 tackles an unfairness in the red meat levy system and will allow the levy collected from animals that have crossed a border for slaughter to be returned to where the animals were reared. The levy boards are working very hard to devise a scheme, and our aim is to have one in place by April 2021. New Clause 9 is for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister to consider. I understand that he has no plans, at this stage, to introduce a sunset clause. The UK Government will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations. I reiterate our commitment to consulting with the devolved Administrations on our proposals for regulations to be made under the WTO clauses.

I turn to the amendments on fairness and transparency in the supply chain. No decisions have yet been taken on the subject of the appropriate enforcement body. We are exploring options with the industry first before designing the enforcement regimes and appointing a regulator, but I will keep the House up to date on that.



I turn to the amendments on tenancies. Tenants should be able to benefit from our new payment policies, and we will continue to work closely with the industry—we had a large consultation last year—as we develop these policies further.

Finally, three minor technical Government amendments have been tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the request of the Welsh Government. These are needed in order to bridge the gap until new powers are provided by Welsh legislation in the Senedd.

The Bill provides a framework for an exciting future for farming. It will ensure that those who produce our food are properly rewarded, and that farming efficiently and improving the environment will go hand in hand in the future. I very much look forward to working with colleagues across the House to develop the environmental land management policies, and to working out how they will work not only on the ground, but above and beneath it.

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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call Deidre Brock, who is asked to speak for no more than eight minutes.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
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I will speak to amendment 39, which is in my name.

This is a strange beast of a Bill—a hybrid that covers reserved and devolved competences, and a Lazarus that has had to rise again after that odd election in December. It now looks as if it will be the first UK Bill to be passed under the new hybrid procedures, and therefore the first UK legislation to be passed using electronic voting—so even Westminster can look a bit modern when it needs to. Perhaps electronic voting and other good developments might be retained after this pandemic is over.

Of course, the Bill is only needed because we are leaving the EU, so it is a case of cauterising a self-made wound. The Bill will pass because farmers—our food producers—need to be provided with the support they need to keep going. I will say it again, because it bears repeating: farmers are good stewards of the land; they take good care of it. It is, after all, one of their biggest assets, and it is essential to their ongoing businesses and livelihoods. Good farmers manage the land well and improve it.

I urge the Government to offer farmers more immediate support to help them get through this crisis, so that they can come out the other side with working farms and productive land. There might even be opportunities for them to use this time to innovate—to adapt their farming and business practices to a new model with an eye to future operations. We recently passed legislation that set up a new payment system. I do not see any reason why the Government should not use that to support farmers now.

We have a few choice selections on the amendment paper, and the SNP will be backing sensible improvements to the Bill. We support writing the need for high standards in imported foods into the legislation, and will be voting for that. It is of great concern to farmers, fishers and other food producers that any low-quality, mass-produced, low-price rubbish from elsewhere might be allowed to flood the market and squeeze them out. Our food producers have high-quality, high-standard and high-welfare products that provide consumers with excellent nutrition. We would be doing the food producers, the end consumers and the retailers a disservice if we allowed those high-quality products to be squeezed out by any low-quality products that have to be, for example, dipped in bleach to kill pathogens before they are dumped on the shelves. It is also a massive concern for consumers, who do not want to see their choices shut down by low-grade products.

Save our farmers, save our cooking and save our families. We must support continued high standards in animal welfare, plant hygiene and end product quality. Do not dump rubbish in our kitchens and on our plates. Let us have standards on imported food that are as high as the standards on food produced on these islands. I noted the Minister’s commitment in her speech to maintaining those standards, but I cannot understand why it is not on the face of the Bill. I look forward to her explaining that a little further later, because I am afraid that her explanations were not sufficient for me.

We also support the principles the shadow Secretary of State has written into new clause 7. Food poverty in these wealthy nations was always a disgrace, but the pandemic has brought that inequality and inhumanity into sharp relief. Action is needed to address that. I can only hope that the Government take that under advisement and look to extend the principle in the long term. People should not go hungry, or have to rely on charity to feed their children; decency and humanity are not too expensive.

Public Health Scotland looks at the effects of poverty on health, including food poverty, and analyses possible solutions as part of its work. I would imagine that Public Health England must be doing something similar, so the preparation for this would not be as big a task as it might seem, and Scotland might also offer a template you can adapt to serve England better. The “Fairer Scotland” action plan seeks to address gross inequalities. Recommendations from an independent working group on food poverty informed the creation of a fair food fund, which is now part of a larger fund investing in communities. A large lesson from that is that you cannot address food poverty properly unless you address poverty properly, and you have to roll back austerity fully if you are going to do that. You also need to ensure that there is nutritious and untainted food available, which brings us back to the principles underpinning the need to keep import standards high. There is not, however, a recognition of the devolved Governments in the amendment and it is a devolved competence, which leaves us unable to support it.

I turn now to the amendments we have lodged, including mine on import standards. I want to mention the timeous commencement of the proper operation of the red meat levy. I understand that the boards themselves are in agreement about the way forward and have been for some time, and it is incumbent upon the Government to accommodate the ambition they are showing by making sure that the machinery of the scheme is up to scratch and ready to rock ‘n’ roll as soon as possible. Scotland’s farmers have already waited far too long to get their money back so that their investments can support their businesses. I note the Minister’s commitment on this, but we will be continuing to press the Government on their commitment to April delivery.

The amendment I would like to put forward for a vote today is a bit technical. It is explained in some detail and at length in Holyrood’s Sewel memo, or legislative consent memorandum to give it the fancy title, if anyone needs the background, but it concerns the reporting to the WTO. My amendment 39 addresses the concerns in the Sewel memo and would remove the scheme that renders the devolved Administrations subject to the whims of the Secretary of State. It is surely a central principle of devolution that the devolved Administrations should be free to operate in devolved policy areas without interference from the UK Government. As the Bill currently stands, the power to determine how farming support is treated for the purposes of WTO reporting, and therefore the ceilings in each classification of support, are reserved to the UK Government rather than the devolved Administrations, which will still be tasked with providing the support to farmers. I must stress that this is a new reservation; it is a centralisation of function that does not currently exist, so I urge Members to support amendment 39 to remove that from the Bill.

I am conscious that we have a restricted timetable for these proceedings, so I will end my contribution there.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Thank you. I am now introducing a time limit of five minutes, and advise hon. Members speaking virtually to have a timing device visible.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. Given covid-19, I want to pay my great tribute to all the health workers across the country, and also the food producers, farmers, deliverers and those who process the food to get it into our shops and to consumers. It has never been so important to have home production and good-quality food in this country. It is not only farmers and growers who want that; so do the supermarkets and other retailers and the consumers. We are all working together to deliver higher and higher standards, better welfare and better environmental conditions.

The whole raison d’être of the Bill is to move us in the direction of higher welfare and environmental standards, looking after our land and soils, holding back water and having better flood protection—all of this working together. But farming, and especially commercial farming, needs to be able to produce food and to do so competitively. As Government and Opposition Members have said, there has never been more of a need to deliver sustainable, good, affordable food in this country than there is today.

I very much support new clause 1 from my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and, naturally, new clause 2, which is in my name and the names of the EFRA Committee members. This is about having equivalence of production on imported food, so that it is WTO-compliant, and it is very much about getting very good trade deals in future. I want to see British lamb and more cheese go into America. I want to see everything being exported to America, and I am very happy to have imports from America in a new trade deal, but they cannot undercut our present production methods and animal welfare.

I will say this clearly to the Americans: if we look at American poultry production, we see that they use chlorine wash for about 25% or 30% of that—for the lower end of their production, where the chickens are more densely populated and there are much poorer welfare and environmental conditions—to literally clean it up so that is safe to eat, and of course, in doing that, they reduce the cost of production, but they also reduce the welfare of that poultry. I would say clearly to the Secretary of State for International Trade that she should spend her time going out and dealing with a trade deal that has equivalence and making sure that we export our very important animal and environmental welfare. And I would say to the Americans, “Why don’t you upgrade your production? Why don’t you reduce the density and population of your chickens? Why do you not reduce the amount of antibiotics that you are using, and then you will produce better chicken not only for America: it can also come into this country?”

Let us not be frightened of putting clauses into the Bill that protect us, with the great environmental and welfare standards that we want the whole Bill to have, and that farmers want to have. I think we all accept that the common agricultural policy has not been a huge success. Therefore, we can devise a better Agriculture—and food—Bill, and that is what we have to remember: agriculture is about food, and it has never been more important than now to have high-quality food. If I get the opportunity, I will most definitely push new clause 2 to a Division and I will most definitely support new clause 1. There are also Opposition new clauses that I am also prepared to look at, because I think we have to make this Bill good. It is no good being told, “Don’t put it in the Agriculture Bill; put it in the Trade Bill.” When we try to put it in the Trade Bill, it will be out of scope. We are being led down the garden path—we really are —and it is time for us to stand up and be counted.

I want great trade deals. I am not a little Englander who will defend our agriculture against all imports—quite the reverse. I think competition is good, but on a level playing field that allows us to produce great food and allows our consumers to have great food, and makes sure that we deliver good agriculture and environment for the future.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab) [V]
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I would like to speak to amendments 23 to 25 and record my support for new clause 7. That I am speaking to these amendments should come as no surprise to the House since they are the contents of my Food Insecurity Bill.

Since 2017, I have been pleading with the Government to introduce a simple, cost-neutral measurement of food insecurity into the household surveys that they already conduct. Each time hunger is raised in this place, various Secretaries of State and Ministers have denigrated statistics from charities, researchers, food banks and colleagues, claiming that the figures are not robust enough or that the information is not reliable enough to inform Government policy. Denying the accuracy of the data or simply turning a blind eye allows them to pretend that the problem does not exist, but it does, and it is only by knowing the true scale of UK hunger that we can start to mitigate it.

When I introduced my Bill, the United Nations had estimated that 8 million people in the UK were food insecure—that is 8 million people who could not afford to eat and who did not know where their next meal was coming from. More than 2,000 food banks that we know of have become an embedded part of our welfare state and are the only port of call for those experiencing the harsh and unforgiving welfare state cultivated by this Government.

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From 2017 to 2019, Government obfuscation in refusing to implement this simple measure—against a backdrop of rising levels of hospital admissions for malnutrition, a resurgence of Victorian diseases such as rickets, and reports of children attending school hungry—sent a clear message to the millions struggling on this Government’s watch that their pain, their hunger and their poverty were not priorities. The Government’s continued assault on the social safety net and inaction on low-paid insecure work reinforced to them that they simply did not matter. But they do matter.
When the Agriculture Bill came to the House in October 2018, we were presented with a Bill concerned with agricultural markets and our food chain, but it omitted the end of the supply chain—the consumers—and, more importantly, the impact of food insecurity on them. Now, we are seeing some incremental steps, with the proposal of five-yearly reporting on food security but, crucially, not on food insecurity. I do not mind admitting that I am a little confused, but not surprised, by the Government’s incoherent approach. Since April 2019, the Government have carried out a food insecurity measurement, as outlined in my Food Insecurity Bill. Therefore, it should not be a massive leap for them to agree today to enshrine in legislation what we are proposing, because in essence they are already doing it.
Here we are, three years after I introduced my Bill, in the middle of an horrific pandemic that has seen 1.5 million people report that they have gone a whole day without food, half a million children who rely on free school meals receiving no substitute whatever, and those in the shielding category reporting that they have yet to receive a government food parcel. We have heard just recently, about public sector pay freezes—in other words, more austerity will be the reward for those who have given so much for all of us throughout this crisis.
This measurement deserves a place in our legislation. In a country as rich as ours, no one should go to bed hungry or wake up hungry. We need to know where this is happening, how this is happening, and why this is happening, so that we can stop it. I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept our amendments, because that would show the millions who have gone hungry, the millions who have joined them in recent months and those who, sadly, will continue to join them, that this Government are not beyond contrition and, eventually, are ready to take the growing levels of hunger on their watch seriously.
Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con) (V)
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It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. I draw attention to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I come from a long family of farmers, have interests in farming and food production, and represent a very successful rural constituency producing some of the finest food in the world, with absolutely top-class farmers and food producers.

I strongly welcome the Bill, and look forward to it going through today. It will free us from the constraints of the common agricultural policy, which held us back for many years—it will let us give freedom to farmers. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, time and again farmers said, “Get out of our hair!” The Bill will allow farmers to concentrate on what they are good at, which is producing food. I entirely echo the comments made by the Minister and others earlier in the debate about the tremendous efforts of farmers and food producers to cope with the extraordinary circumstances of corona.

The first thing I want to say is that there is no conflict between wanting to have freedom for farmers and wanting free trade around the world. I see a great opportunity for farming to benefit from any free trade deals. That is absolutely clear. There is a narrative out there that the sad price of free trade arrangements will be some sort of cost to the farming industry. I just do not buy that.

We have huge export opportunities—the Minister touched on exporting beef to the United States, which must be worth over £60 million over three years. When I was at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs we began to get beef on the bone back into Hong Kong, and there are enormous opportunities. For example, in the lamb industry, China and America are neck and neck as world leaders in lamb consumption. They each consume twice as much as France or Germany, so there are great opportunities for our exporters. Given the constraints we experienced under the common agricultural policy, I really see opportunities with new technologies—CRISPR gene editing and so on—to enable us to catch up.

There are some interesting figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Against a metric of 1 in 1961, the EU is still producing a given amount of food at 0.55; we are at 0.43; the world is 0.29; and the world leader is 0.03. That is the lesson—if we free up agriculture, people can take advantage of the benefits of free trade and technology.

Turning to the new clauses, I take exception to the proposals from my hon. Friends the Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). We agree on many issues regarding oversight, but I do not agree with this. We already have high standards, and the Minister has made it clear that we are not going to reduce those standards. The new clauses are unenforceable. Let us take the great vexed issue of chlorinated chicken. As my hon. Friend for Tiverton and Honiton said, people do not use very much chlorine—they use pathogen reduction treatments, which have been cleared by the US, the EU authorities and by Codex Alimentarius. When we look at the regulations, we see that stocking densities are similar to those that pertain in Europe. The outcomes on health grounds are better. Americans eat roughly twice as much chicken as Europeans, and their outcomes on campylobacter and salmonella are significantly better.

What would we do if this condition went through? It would completely block any hope of a US free trade deal, with catastrophic consequences for large parts of our economy. Would we go after the individual chicken plant? Would we go after the state? Would we go after the whole US nation, which would come straight back and say, “Sorry guys, our product is healthier.” It would be much better if we resumed our full seat on the Codex Alimentarius Commission on food standards, on the OIE on animal welfare, which is important to many citizens, and on the international plant protection convention on plant health, working with allies and pushing to improve world standards.

When I was at DEFRA I went to New Zealand and was struck by the fact that, freed up, it had reduced massively the number of sheep but increased the volume of meat exporting while conforming to religion protocols for minorities. Everything that it exported to the middle east was stunned before slaughter. We talk about standards a lot. What goes on in many of our slaughterhouses does not bear inspection. I challenge Members to look at videos—or, better, go along—and they will be horrified when they see what many of our livestock go through. Much of this volume of material is not required by minorities—it is absolutely fine to provide it for them—but we could copy New Zealand. We could work with it at a high level, pushing for higher standards. I am afraid I do not support the amendments, but I do support the Bill.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). First and foremost, I want to put on record my thanks to the local farming community in my constituency and to farming communities up and down the country, as they have been vital in helping to maintain the food supply to communities throughout the land in this crisis. Many farmers are anxious about their health, and are concerned about family members and the welfare of their workers. Too many farmers have unsold produce going to waste, as supply chains—restaurants, hotels, caterers and cafés—have had to close because of the crisis. Dairy farmers in my constituency have been hit particularly hard. I know that Members across the House have lobbied the Government to do whatever it takes to support those farmers, and I certainly welcome the announcement of a hardship fund as a step in the right direction. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that.      

I want to highlight three areas of concern that need to be improved at this stage of the Bill. Importantly, the concerns are highlighted by those at the chalkface of our agricultural economy: the National Farmers Union, the custodians and users of our countryside, and the consumers of our British products. First, the Bill must ensure that specific provisions in future trade deals require agricultural imports to meet our environmental, animal welfare and food standards. I raised the matter with the previous Secretary of State, and I will raise it again with the current Secretary of State. As Members across the House have said today, that needs to be enshrined in law. British produce must be a global gold standard, and a race to the bottom will have serious consequences for our farmers, our health and our global reputation.

Secondly, the current national and international pandemic has shone a bright light on the importance of food security. While I welcome the fact that the Bill requires the Government to report on the state of the nation’s food security, the current timescale of every five years is too long. The National Farmers Union rightly argues that the Bill should be strengthened to include annual reports on food security, and there should be clear requirements relating to the degree of the nation’s food security derived from domestic production and a clear commitment to prevent any further decline in self-sufficiency.

Finally, as somebody who is keen to maximise access to our countryside, I welcome the provisions that would enable funding for farmers who support public access. However, that is by no means a guarantee that the payments will deliver new paths or make existing paths more accessible. What assurances can the Secretary of State give the House and my constituents that that will happen?

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con) [V]
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It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on such an important Bill—the first new Agriculture Bill in many years. I welcome the Bill and want to outline the key areas and then move on to amendments that would tighten and improve it.

The principle behind public moneys for public goods is sound, and it is excellent that animal health and welfare and environmental protection and management are clearly articulated as public goods. It is welcome that food production and security are recognised within the Bill, and that the Secretary of State is able to help support improving agricultural productivity. The covid-19 crisis has thrown into sharp relief the importance of food security and the need for the UK to be able to produce sustainable, local and accessible food for its population. The Bill’s requirement for the Secretary of State to produce a status report on food security every five years could perhaps be reviewed to make it more frequent. As we move to this new way of paying farmers, I stress the need for a smooth transition of payments so that there are no cliff edges. The Government have guaranteed the same level of payment over the duration of this Parliament, but it is important, as direct payments are phased out, that farmers are given the time and security to adapt to the new system.

Moving on to the amendments, as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee I am happy to support new clauses 1 and 2. As a vet, it will come as no surprise that I am passionate about animal health and welfare, and it is so important that we uphold our high standards. I was proud to stand in Penrith and The Border on a Conservative manifesto that said:

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

These amendments to the Bill will ensure that any imports are equivalent to or, indeed, exceed our domestic standards. We can send out the message to our future trading partners that if they want to trade with us, they need to meet the standards that the people of the UK insist upon. That will benefit not only our own farmers and animals but, ultimately, farmers and animals around the world.

Now, some Members will say today that that will complicate trade deals, but I do not hold with that. In the Department for International Trade and the Foreign Office we have the best negotiators and diplomats in the world. In any negotiation there is give and take and, as has been seen with Brexit in recent months, anything can be achieved.

Provisions on animal welfare have been included in free trade agreements, such as those between the EU and Chile and South Korea, and in fact that led to improved slaughter standards in Chile—an important animal welfare improvement. Welfare at slaughter is only part of the story. Members will say that the WTO rules will guarantee welfare standards at slaughter, which is good, but we all know that much more needs to be considered earlier in an animal’s rearing and transport.

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I have heard the argument that the amendments will compromise trade deals with the developing world and Commonwealth partners, but that too can be solved. I am proud that our Government allocate 0.7% of national income to international aid. It would be an excellent use of some of that budget to export British expertise and training to help farmers in the developing world to raise their animal husbandry and farming standards. The UK can be a beacon.
I wish to address the chlorinated chicken debate, which is—if Members will forgive the mixed metaphor—a bit of a red herring. Chlorinated chicken is rightly banned in the UK and EU. Some say that the disinfection process is safe, but it may not be the panacea. A 2018 study published by the American Society for Microbiology reported that the chlorination process was not 100% effective at killing food-borne pathogens and merely led to their being undetectable in the lab. But that ignores the true reason why we should not import such products: this carcase-disinfection process merely covers up and tries to mitigate substandard animal welfare standards in the rearing of poultry.
To conclude, I welcome and support this excellent Bill, but very much hope that Members will join me in supporting the amendment to protect and uphold our high animal health and welfare standards. I see this as an opportunity to raise animal welfare and food-production standards both here and around the world. We should seize it.
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson). I support much of what he said.

We support the spirit of the Bill, especially the movement to reward farmers for public goods. Today, the Government can introduce one of the most successful changes in agricultural policy in history. Equally, today could be remembered for one of the most catastrophic disasters. The principles are good, but the real value of the Bill will be determined in its implementation.

Farmers in Cumbria and throughout Britain could fall at the first hurdle if the Government insist on beginning the phase-out of the basic payment scheme from next January, long before its replacement is ready. Universal credit is the example of what happens when a good idea is introduced in a hasty, penny-pinching, cloth-eared way. I want to spare the Secretary of State the ignominy of being the person responsible for doing the same with the new environmental land-management scheme. Even more, I want to spare our farmers the hardship, spare our environment the damage and spare our people the loss of British food-producing capacity. In the end, it will cost less to do the right thing than it will to do it badly.

The Government’s plan is to remove 50% of basic payments by 2024, costing farmers 46% of their net income, yet the new scheme will be fully rolled out only by 2028. There are currently 89,000 basic payment claimants; how many of those farms do we expect to survive the long period during which their incomes are slashed before a replacement is ready? It is obvious that the disruption will be huge, undermining the good purposes of the Bill. We cannot care for our environment, guarantee food production and deliver public goods if, by 2028, we have allowed hundreds of farms to close by accident. The answer is a no-brainer: do not phase out basic payments until the environmental land-management schemes are ready. The Secretary of State must listen to farmers on this issue before it is too late.

The ultimate public good that farmers provide is, of course, food. Those empty shelves in March and the disruption to the supplies of imported food must be a wake-up call. Almost 50% of the food consumed in the UK is now imported, compared with 35% just 20 years ago. Successive Governments have contributed to us sleepwalking into a real problem when it comes to food security.

We will suffer a huge blow if the Bill fails to impose import standards, which is why I tabled new clause 10 and will support other amendments of similar intent. We must protect our British standards on food and food production. That will not be possible if Ministers allow the market to be flooded with food produced at a lower standard than we would tolerate here. Let us be clear: if Ministers will not accept amendments ensuring that Britain does not compromise these standards in trade deals, they are clearly saying to British farmers, “Please give us the freedom to sell you out in trade negotiations.” Britain has the best standards in the world, and they will be completely irrelevant if we allow Ministers to strike trade deals that lead to imported goods with lower production, animal welfare, environmental and labour standards.

For us in south Cumbria, the landscape of the lakes and the dales is a breathtaking public good—although, given that we have one of the oldest and most vulnerable populations in the country and the third highest covid infection rate, I strongly urge people not to rush to visit us here until it is safe to do so, at which point we will welcome them with open arms. These landscapes are of global significance. As a UNESCO world heritage site, they underpin, in normal times, an economy worth £3 billion a year. Their contribution to the heritage of our country, its economy and the nation’s wellbeing are astounding, and it is our farmers who are responsible for stewarding and maintaining those landscapes. Will Ministers commit to there being criteria within the environmental land management scheme for payments for aesthetic maintenance and for heritage, especially in the uplands?

Finally, I urge Ministers to ensure that the good principles of the Bill are reflected in wise and effective practicalities. I am convinced that this Bill will be seen as truly historic, but it is up to the Government to ensure that it is for the right reasons.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con) [V]
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I start by drawing Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I want to speak in support of new clause 2, new clause 1 and amendment 6. Like other Members, I very much support the broad thrust of the Bill, which has been much improved over time. The revised text, which we debated on Second Reading in January, now recognises the importance of food production and food security, funding to support innovation and productivity improvements, and the proper financing of environmental provisions.

However, the laudable aims of the Bill will come to nothing if the Government do not secure fair terms of trade for UK producers. The new public money for public goods and innovation funding model has to be considered together with the Government’s broad trade policy. Having the right framework for British agriculture is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the future prosperity of the sector, which is why I warmly endorse the amendments proposed, which seek to provide a concrete guarantee on future import standards.

Our producers have worked and invested for decades to raise our standards, and that could easily be lost if they are set at a structural disadvantage by our allowing in a flood of low-quality imports produced with poorer animal welfare and environmental standards, which could ultimately cause economic damage to British agriculture and the social fabric of our rural communities. There is also the risk of environmental damage across the globe if the UK became more reliant on imported produce.

The climate change angle will be increasingly important. UK farmers have a key role to play in our progress towards the 2050 net zero carbon target, as British agriculture accounts for 9% of national emissions, but that opportunity could be wiped out if we allow the importing of food produced overseas in a far more carbon- intensive way—for instance, bringing in Brazilian beef grazed on former rainforest land.

I do not believe that these amendments would damage our ability to strike reasonable trade agreements, so I do not agree with what the Minister said at the start of the debate. The whole argument on standards in trade deals is not unique to this country. We should be looking to base much of our trade on the exchange of quality products. Trade deals should be about the desirable goods we can offer to overseas consumers, not just the market access that they can seek to gain from us. UK agriculture has a huge amount to offer in that regard, already earning the UK some £22 billion a year and representing 6% of overall exports.

I also strongly support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), which would delay the start of the transition to the concept of public money for public goods from the basic payment scheme to 2022, rather than 2021. This would allow the transition to run more successfully and much more smoothly by giving producers more time to restructure their businesses in order to provide those all important public goods. Though DEFRA’s approach is evolutionary, as everyone has said so far, this is still a big shift for British agriculture, and I believe the Government want UK producers to make good decisions, not hasty ones, during the transition. They should therefore give them time.

The amendments I have touched on all have powerful arguments behind them in the best of times; for me, those arguments are substantially strengthened by the new landscape that coronavirus has created. The current situation demonstrates the value of maintaining a strong UK food sector, so that our national food security does not depend on long international supply chains, which have proven fragile in such periods. The outbreak has also showcased the importance of small-scale and regional supply chains that can be relied on for food and drink when all else fails.

I hope the Government will listen to the arguments behind the amendments, and I look forward to hearing their response.

Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) (DUP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his work in progressing the Bill to this stage.

No Member needs reminding of the importance of a sustainable UK agriculture industry and of our own food security. Amid the covid-19 crisis, it is the UK’s farmers who are feeding the nation. We owe them not only our thanks for working day and night to provide us with food but a future that is economically viable, that ensures farmgate prices are fair and that supports them as they face growing challenges, be they market driven or environmental.

Agri-food is one of Northern Ireland’s greatest economic assets, sustaining approximately 100,000 jobs and bringing an added value of almost £1.5 billion to the Northern Ireland economy. That underpins our need to ensure a sustainable platform moving forward. We must protect those jobs and this cornerstone of our economy, and to do so we need to ensure that the Bill not only allows for the continuation of financial support for farmers but offers protection.

With those two core tenets in mind, my party and I broadly support new clauses 1, 2 and 6. We need to protect our farmers and consumers from cheap imports that do not meet the standards we demand of our farmers. The standards that British farmers work to come with significant cost implications. They ensure that our food is safe and our environment is safeguarded for future generations, while our animal welfare standards are exemplary. Speak to any British farmer: their desire is to maintain these standards—indeed, they want constantly to develop and innovate so that they always ensure that best practices are adopted. In our opinion, it is a major failure of the Bill that it does not enshrine standards for the future. We must not sacrifice these standards, which we demand of our own farmers, on the altar of free trade. That must be rectified.

I also wish to speak directly to the amendment tabled by my colleagues the hon. Members for North Down (Stephen Farry), for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna). I, like my colleagues, am a devolutionist. The Northern Ireland Assembly debated and agreed a legislative consent motion on 31 March. In that debate, my party colleague, Edwin Poots, Minister for Agriculture, stated that he did not support a sunset clause. That was the agreed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

With that in mind, and given the respect we ought to afford the devolution settlement on this and other matters, we will not be supporting the amendment. We do not believe the Northern Ireland Assembly requested it.

Indeed, adopting the amendment and imposing such a timeline could leave a legislative gap, leaving our Minister with no legal authority to issue agricultural support payments, which currently total some £300 million, to Northern Ireland farmers. Such a situation would spell disaster for our farmers, particularly in the context of challenging farm-gate prices.

11:30
As we move forward with the Bill and with a new post-Brexit agricultural platform, we need to ensure that financial support remains in place for the future, and I urge the Minister to seek further guarantees from the Treasury on that. I would also be keen to see how rural development is to be supported. We must not lose the support being given to farmers for environmental schemes. Let this Bill and those that will come from the devolved Administrations be the first steps in a new era for British farming and our agrifood sector. Let us be fair to our farmers on standards and import tariffs. There is a slogan in Northern Ireland, “no farmers, no food, no future”, and it encapsulates perfectly the importance of getting this right.
Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con) [V]
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Before I begin, may I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? The Agriculture Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape our farming sector for the better. I would like to spend the short time that I have discussing the proposed amendments on food imports and standards. I have given immense thought to these amendments over the last few days, but I have also been thinking back to just a few years ago when I was lucky enough to travel across the globe undertaking a research project specifically looking at the global ag sector, and the one thing that came across to me loud and clear above all else was just how small a dot the UK is considered to be by others on the world stage when it comes to influencing the global ag sector. I am also aware of our lack of any previous real penetration into global food markets. However, this country is now on an exciting new course, in which we can forge our new food export opportunities, and I believe that our agricultural industry can truly exert real influence on the global stage in promoting high animal welfare standards and ensuring that the high environmental bar that our farmers passionately adhere to is also met abroad.

As we consider the Bill, we need to look ahead to a new future. The question that I have been mulling over is: what is the best mechanism to ensure that our domestic agricultural industry thrives and is truly sustainable long into the future while also being able to show real leadership on the global stage by promoting abroad the high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards for which we are recognised? We have a truly credible sector producing some of the finest food the world has to offer, and I want to see our farming industry thrive with food production at its heart. That means ensuring strong market opportunities, both here and abroad.

The phrasing of the amendments definitely seems attractive, and I totally agree that the aspirations behind them are profoundly correct, but if we included them in the Agriculture Bill, which represents domestic policy, would they be workable on the world stage and would they be enforceable? After seeking advice from my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary, I have been informed that they do not adhere to the World Trade Organisation sanitary and phytosanitary agreement. Likewise, the wording of the amendments leads to uncertainty as to how the traceability measures would be enforced in countries abroad.

I reiterate that I am entirely in agreement with the aims of the proposed amendments—namely, to create a thriving domestic agricultural industry that it is not undercut by cheap foreign imports, while maintaining and promoting high animal welfare, environmental and food standards abroad. If the amendments are not workable through domestic policy, other mechanisms for achieving all those aims must be sought, rather than the inclusion of a blanket protectionist approach. That strategy could, in the long term as we go forth and emerge on the world stage, have unintended negative consequences for the long-term prosperity and sustainability of the British farming sector, as securing export markets for food produce may be harder to achieve. An early example of the opportunities that we have seen for British farmers is the lifting of the ban on UK beef exports by the US, creating a market for British farmers worth more than £66 million over the next five years.

As a country, we are on the cusp of opening up new and exciting export markets to our UK farmers. Such trade deals can be used to influence the world with our high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards. Yesterday, we heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade issue from the Dispatch Box an explicit reassurance that we will not lower our food imports standards as a result of the ongoing US trade deal. Seeking further reassurance, I personally spoke to the Prime Minister this morning. He assured me that our strong animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards will not be compromised, and I accepted his reassurance. None the less, I look forward to seeing those reassurances being upheld.

Let us think big and long-term for our UK farmers by opening up opportunities and making sure that our UK sector is known internationally and not as a dot, which is what I found a few years ago.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab) [V]
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This is an important piece of legislation. It has huge consequences for how we are going to feed our nation and protect our environment, and, as many colleagues have set out, there is a lot to support in it. However, my constituents have huge concerns that the Bill does not go far enough to ensure our high standards for food, animal welfare and protection of the environment and climate that we all value.

The Bill would not do enough to prevent imports of food that do not meet those high British standards, and it would be devastating news for British farmers, who would be left at risk of being undercut when they are doing the right thing to produce good quality food and to protect our environment. That would make a mockery of the value that we place on those standards. I urge the Government to listen to the concerns of the public and support Labour’s amendments today, which would enhance this Bill and provide important protections for British farmers and the standards that we all value.

I want to turn to food insecurity and the difficulties that some of the poorest families in my constituency are facing during this crisis—a crisis that has exacerbated the pressures that many people are already facing in trying to feed their families. The continuing problems with free school meal vouchers are now familiar to all of us, yet the Government have failed to get a grip on the problem. Just this morning, another school in my constituency contacted me to say that, again, its vouchers were late. Staff faced similar problems last week. They worked over the bank holiday weekend in their own time for the children who need that support. It is a common story across schools: far too many staff are listing endless problems in trying to use a system that is clearly not fit for purpose. When they try to make contact to address the problems, the helpline is permanently engaged and their emails go unanswered.

Although I know that we needed to put in place a system quickly to get food to those children, the decision not to put the contract out to tender was a poor one. I urge the Government to get a grip on this situation, because it is just unacceptable that children are being left to go hungry and families are being left without the most basic support to enable them to feed their own children. Across the board, too many people are falling through the gaps and are unable to access the food and supplies that they need. Much of that support is dependent on supermarkets—whether it is access to delivery slots or the pricing of their food. Analysis by the Office for National Statistics last month showed that the price of high-demand food and sanitary products has risen by 4.4% since the lockdown measures began. Will the Government put supermarkets on notice that any profiteering from this situation will not be tolerated?

I wish to finish by highlighting the need of kinship carers, too many of whom are finding access to food a challenge. These are people who have stepped up to do the right thing by the children they are raising, and they face unique challenges. Many kinship carers are elderly grandparents, often with long-term health conditions, raising children who have often experienced trauma and have health challenges of their own. The cross- party parliamentary taskforce on kinship care, which I chair, conducted some research into this group and has recommended that the Government work with supermarkets to ensure that kinship carers are included on the priority list for supermarket deliveries. Is that something that the Government can consider urgently?

In conclusion, we have a huge opportunity in this Bill to protect British farming, to maintain high food and environmental standards and to support the most vulnerable in our communities. Let us not waste it.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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The Minister, in her introductory remarks, referred to various provisions in the Bill that will devolve more power and responsibility to the Welsh Parliament. She also referred to her family’s long history of farming in Oxfordshire and other counties. I would like to explain to her how concerned I am by this moving of additional powers to the Welsh Parliament, because I represent a border community. As Cardiff and London move further and further apart, we have already seen huge additional complications and problems for our farmers on the border in dealing with sometimes highly different and contradictory legislation emanating from both Parliaments.

One classic example is the crisis that we are facing in Shropshire of bovine tuberculosis on an unprecedented scale. We killed 47 cows in Shropshire in 1997 as a result of bovine TB. Last year, it was more than 2,000. My farmers are going through a crisis of untold proportions. Some of my farmers have land on both sides of the border, and bovine tuberculosis unfortunately does not respect national frontiers, so the devolution process is very difficult for my farmers.

Secondly, my understanding of the Bill is that subsidies will end for English farmers in seven years’ time, but not for Welsh farmers. Again, that is a devolved matter. My question to the Minister is how my farmers, whether chicken or dairy farmers—or farmers of anything that we produce in Shropshire—are meant to compete against their Welsh friends and counterparts across the border when they still have the subsidies but we do not. That is a real concern to me.

I have come here specially today, in person rather than over the internet, to look the Minister in the eye and ask her to take these genuine concerns from border communities into consideration. I would like her to create a taskforce in her Department to look at and evaluate the impact on farmers who operate in border communities and to assess how they can remain competitive, and have a level and fair playing field, with this ongoing divergence between Cardiff and London.

I also wish to speak on new clause 1. interestingly, Robert Newbery, who represents the National Farmers Union in my constituency, and many others—including my association chairman, Dan Morris, who is a cattle farmer—are asking me to support my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. They rightly feel that we have some of the best standards not just in Europe but across the whole globe, and they want guarantees enshrined in law that there will be a level playing field.

I am always amazed by the amount of investment that our farmers have had to make in order to comply with these standards. It is absolutely mind-blowing. I spoke for 30 minutes today to Guy Davies, a farmer in Little Ness who produces 5 million chickens a year, and in addition uses the chicken manure to generate over 9 million kW of electricity, which can power up to 2,000 homes. He wants me to support the new clause.

In the little time that I have left, if the Minister wants me to back her rather than going with my hon. Friends, she really does need to explain when she winds up just what guarantees we will have to take back to the NFU and others who feel so very strongly on this matter. According to the president of the NFU, this is the most important Bill since 1947. It is a landmark Bill, and I would like to pay tribute to all the Shropshire farmers who contribute so much to my community.

15:45
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) [V]
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I wholeheartedly support new clause 1 and the other amendments seeking the same outcome: that there should be no lowering of standards on food safety, the environment and animal welfare as a result of any future trade deals, no undercutting of British farmers and no race to the bottom. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and I had more than a few differences of opinion when we first served on the Agriculture Bill Committee in the last Parliament—unlike him, I was allowed back for the second one too—but on this issue we are utterly on the same page. The same goes for the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), on whose Select Committee I served in the last Parliament. I thought that he made a very good speech.

As time is limited, all I will say is this: it has been made abundantly clear that no one—not the farmers, not the environmentalists, not the public, not the consumers and not even Tory MPs—trusts the Government’s verbal assurances on this. It is not enough for the Minister to say that it will not happen; we want it in writing, enshrined in law.

I also support amendments on better labelling, procurement, baseline regulation, and fairness and transparency in supply chains, and the Opposition amendment on food security, which calls for a statement to Parliament every year so that we can end the scandal of food poverty. During the current crisis, organisations such as Feeding Bristol have done a tremendous job in my home city, trying to ensure that everyone in lockdown can get the essential food supplies that they need, and that no one, including children who no longer attend school, goes hungry. The voluntary sector has been brilliant, but our children should not have to rely on charity.

I will focus on amendments 18 and 19, which are tabled in my name. I thank the Landworkers Alliance for its work with the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology, which I chair, and for all that it has done to promote the amendments. I have had many emails from constituents in recent days urging me to back my own amendments, which I am obviously more than happy to do. Agroecology is a cause whose time has come. This pandemic has brought home to many people how dysfunctional our relationship with the natural world has become, with overconsumption, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, a food system that is broken, and birds and wildlife disappearing from our countryside and gardens.

I urge Members to read a recent report, “Feeding the Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers are Responding to Covid-19”, which includes a quote from a farmer from Northern Ireland. He says:

“The current crisis provides people with time to reflect on the importance of food and farming to all humanity…Our food can only be sustainable and bountiful if it’s produced in harmony with the environment and wildlife.”

The Bill goes some way towards creating a better approach to farm subsidies and rewarding nature-friendly farmers. Despite being an ardent remainer, I will not shed a tear for us leaving the common agricultural policy. I broadly support the public money for public goods approach, but my concern is that it will allow farmers to cherry-pick.

What we need is a whole-farm system approach, so that across the farm, not just on the margins, farmers are using agroecological methods, focusing on getting the best from the whole landscape. Such measures include protecting soil health through no-till farming, which not only boosts food production but helps to sequester carbon; using integrated pest management rather than toxic pesticides; and protecting habitats and promoting biodiversity, so that we see a return of nesting birds, pollinators and beneficial insects to our countryside.

I will finish with another quote from a farmer in that nature-friendly farming report. He says:

“This crisis has made it very clear that we have lost the resilience in our food and farming system, with value being placed on ‘cheap’. This has led to degraded soils, diminishing wildlife and imports of lower food safety and farming standards. We need to shift back to a more sustainable, mixed farming system for resilience across the board.”

That is what my amendments seek to achieve, and I hope that the Government will listen.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con) [V]
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While my constituency is primarily known as a former mining area, agriculture has always played an essential role in the local economy of Don Valley and continues to do so. Consequently, as the Government have confirmed that there will be no extension to the transition period, this Bill is more necessary than ever, and its passage today will provide farmers and many other individuals in my constituency with reassurance on several issues.

I appreciate that Members in all parts of the House are concerned about environmental sustainability in food production, as can be seen in the Opposition’s amendment 26. Yet this amendment is wholly unnecessary, as clause 1(4) already outlines that the provision of any financial assistance by the Secretary of State to agricultural businesses would have to take into account whether such assistance would encourage food production in an environmentally sustainable way. I am pleased with the addition of this requirement, as it will ensure that the often wasteful aspects of the common agricultural policy will become a thing of the past.

Furthermore, I am pleased that clause 17 will require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament at least once every five years on food security in the United Kingdom. This is particularly relevant at this moment in time. Like so many of my colleagues across the House, I have had dozens of concerned constituents email me about the lack of food in shops as a result of the panic buying that we unfortunately witnessed last month. Some were even scared that the UK would run out of food. Yet I am concerned that the Opposition’s new clause 4 would add such a large number of requirements to the Secretary of State’s reporting that the original purpose of clause 17 would be lost. I appreciate that the new clause is designed to encourage the consumption of healthy food, but clause 17(2)(e) already states that the data put forward by the Secretary of State will include statistics on

“food safety and consumer confidence in food.”

This would inevitably touch on aspects relating to the nutritional value of food and consumers’ confidence that the food available to them was healthy to consume.

This has been a robust debate and I have appreciated the diverse range of views that have been expressed across the House. I end simply by stating that this Bill has my full support and will ease some of my constituents’ environmental and food security concerns.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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This may be an agriculture Bill but it is also one of the most important environmental reforms in decades—a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way that land is managed in this country for the better.

Frankly, the dry phrase, “public money for public goods”, does not really convey the importance of what we are seeking to safeguard through clause 1 of this very important Bill: the air we breathe into our lungs every minute of the day; the precious soil that nurtures the crops that feed us; our rivers, streams and waterways; our hedgerows and wildflower meadows; our ancient woodlands and our rolling hills; the stunning country- side that is one of the greatest treasures of this United Kingdom we are lucky enough to call home. Of course, the “public goods” covered in the Bill also include the civilised and compassionate treatment of animals and the struggle to protect our planet from climate change.

To make a success of these reforms, we need, first, to give proper weight to food security. I was pleased to see this added to the Bill during my time as Secretary of State. Secondly, these reforms must be properly funded. I fought to secure a Conservative manifesto commitment that farm support would be maintained at current levels in every year of this Parliament. Bitter experience shows how hard it is to deliver change on this scale in the context of a shrinking budget.

Thirdly, we need sufficient time for a managed and orderly transition to ELM. If the Government want to stick to their seven-year timetable, I am afraid that we will need to see more detail very soon on how ELM will operate. Fourthly, in designing ELM we need to get the right balance between, on the one hand, ensuring that the schemes are widely accessed by farmers, including upland farmers, and can be delivered in practice; and, on the other hand, ensuring that significant, measurable, positive outcomes are delivered in relation to crucial public goods.

In this Bill, we are setting out on a path that has been closed to this Parliament for nearly half a century. Successive Governments have pushed CAP reform, but generally returned empty-handed from the Council tables in Brussels. Replacing the CAP means that we can deliver a better, brighter, greener future for farming in England, but we will not be able to realise that vision if we expose our farmers to unfettered competition from US imports produced to lower standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. We are already asking a great deal of farmers as we phase out basic payments. They will face even greater challenges if the negotiations with the EU do not initially deliver a free trade agreement. If we add in the complete liberalisation of trade with US producers, that would be a hit from which many livestock businesses would not survive. The aftershock would be felt in all four corners of our United Kingdom because of the centrality of livestock farming to communities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and of course the north of England too.

The Conservatives were elected on a manifesto with commitments on animal welfare and the environment which are more far-reaching than any before in the long history of our party, but allowing unrestricted imports from jurisdictions with far weaker rules would mean offshoring carbon emissions and animal cruelty, not reducing them. If we are to keep our promises on the environment and on the decent treatment of animals, they must be reflected in our trade policy and in the Bill this afternoon.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I would have loved to have been with you this afternoon in the Chamber, but I am not allowed to be with you. I cannot look you in the eye, but I am here speaking up, I hope, for my constituency of Huddersfield, where we do have farms and farming. We are, of course, the centre for the great Syngenta, one of the leading agricultural science companies in the world. It used to be owned by my old employer, Imperial Chemical Industries—ICI. It is now owned by ChemChina, which is an arm of the Chinese Government.

Things are changing. What the Bill is about, and why I support the amendments that have been tabled, is getting the balance right, across parties, between having good-quality food for our constituents and our children to feed the people of this country and our need for a secure supply chain. Nothing has taught us more about supply chains than the recent coronavirus scandal and the terrible deaths that have been caused by it. The fact of the matter is that we have to have secure food supplies.

Only recently, there was a leaked document—I have to say from the Government side—that said, “Why do we need a farming sector any longer? Why don’t we do what we do with everything else and get the cheapest possible deal in the global supermarket?” That is not the answer. We now know that we must have not only a vibrant farming sector but one that is compatible with a highly skilled and well managed industry. It also needs to be compatible with a diverse and bountiful countryside in which species are not being eradicated and where industrial agriculture does not destroy habitat.

I believe that this is Hedgehog Awareness Week. That is no laughing matter. When I was a young person it was very common to see a hedgehog in a garden. They have almost been eliminated in our country, as have many bird species, through an industrialisation of agriculture about which we must all be wary.

It would be wrong in this debate not to say that farming is under threat from the unscrupulous practices of many of our supermarkets. Getting that relationship between farming, the retailer and the supermarkets is extremely important. It is easy to say that our farming is the best. Our farming, where it is good, is very good indeed, but it is not perfect. We have a lot to learn from experience around the world, and not only in terms of high science, good management, good skills training and paying people well who work on the land. The fact of the matter is that we have to get the balance right between all those competing goals.

I am not someone who gets carried away with campaigns, but I hate the fact that we are eliminating the lovely British badger. I believe that that is a wrong-headed, contrary to science campaign, and we should all deplore that.

There must be a right balance between the countryside, the environment and high-quality agriculture, as well as the opportunity for young people who want to become farmers to get hold of some land and get started. Very largely, the push for local authorities to sell off their land during the recent austerity has meant that many young farmers do not have that opportunity. There is much to go at beyond this Bill. Let us all do it together.

00:00
Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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As a parliamentary hedgehog champion, it is a pleasure to follow Huddersfield’s very own Mr Tiggy-Winkle, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).

I rise to speak to new clause 11 and amendment 37, tabled in my name and supported by colleagues, relating to the mandatory labelling of products with their farming method. Much of what we have heard already aims to put high animal welfare standards at the heart of this Bill. For the Committee stage, I tabled other amendments, including on labelling with the method of slaughter, but due to the truncated proceedings I can only raise one today, and trust that the Lords will consider others when the Bill passes to them. I hope the Government will be sympathetic to new clause 11 and amendment 37, given that they were first proposed in a previous incarnation of the Bill by the now noble Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, who is responsible for this legislation when it continues its passage in the upper House. Knowing him as well as I do, I doubt very much that a red box has changed his deeply held beliefs on animal welfare.

I believe that, ultimately, consumers are best placed to drive improvement in animal welfare standards because consumer demands and changing behaviours force the agriculture and supermarket sector to adapt. The substantial shift away from caged to free-range eggs is testament to this. At present, more than half of egg production in the UK is free range, with more and more restaurants and supermarkets phasing out their use and sale of caged eggs as public demand changes. I would argue that the legislation that required eggs and egg packs to be labelled with the farming method has undoubtedly helped to accelerate this change and that extending it to other products simply follows.

I firmly believe, now we have left the EU and as we prepare to exit the transition period, that the Agriculture Bill, along with the Environment Bill, provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that British agricultural standards are the best in the world. We can and should go beyond the current European framework and set a new standard for animal welfare. Greatly improved labelling for farming methods can be the first step in improving the availability of more ethically sourced food for a changing consumer market.

My new clause and amendment require the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the labelling of meat, milk and dairy products as to farming method. At present, consumer demand is being impeded by lack of clear information at point of sale about how meat and dairy products have been produced. Therefore, British consumers are largely in the dark.

Plenty of consumer research has been carried out that shows an obvious want among the British public for clearer labelling to identify the farm system used to produce the food that we put on our plates. I am not sure I have heard any good reason why we should not label better, so I am hoping that the Government will either accept the amendment, or reassure me that they agree with the principle and will bring it back in an acceptable form in the Lords. There is nothing to fear from clearer, better labelling, especially as we have heard in other areas of this debate about the desire to set a new global standard for our agriculture sector.

Finally, I commend the work that has been achieved by colleagues at DEFRA. I believe that this Bill will go a long way to improving standards in the UK, but I think we need to trust the consumer and allow consumers to have the information that will drive their decisions about what they purchase. I hope that the Minister will look at my new clause sympathetically and accept it.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I shall now suspend the House for 15 minutes, returning at 4.20 pm.

00:05
Sitting suspended.
16:20
On resuming—
Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC) [V]
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I want to speak on three key themes that intertwine with the amendments and new clauses that we are considering: first, the need to protect domestic food supplies; secondly, the need for joint decision making over the new British state internal food market; and thirdly, trade policy as it will apply to agriculture.

On our economy and food supplies, the current pandemic has exposed long-ignored issues, including our dependence on imports. Now is the time to rethink, reset and rebuild our food supply from the ground up. The regrettable long-term withdrawal of both the British and Welsh Governments from food policy has allowed our food retail industry to become ever more concentrated, so that just four companies now control 70% of the UK food retail market. The oligopoly of several large food retailers has given them unprecedented power to dictate ever lower prices to farmers, continually sapping the financial health of domestic agriculture and expanding an ever wider trade imbalance that undermines our food security. In short, a complete U-turn is needed in agricultural policy to promote food production. Central to that should be the development of local processing capabilities, so that we can help to build a stronger local economy where people can buy local produce more directly.

Following the debate since the EU referendum, it is plainly obvious that the proponents of leaving the EU have given little thought to its consequences for the British state. My preferred policy would have been to remain in the single market post Brexit—a luxury available to the six counties of the north of Ireland, but not Wales—and then there would have been no need for me to make this point. However, in leaving the single market, a new internal market will need to be created for Scotland, Wales and England in order to facilitate the free movement of goods, not least agricultural products. I am sure that, as time goes by, businesses in my constituency and across Wales will start asking why they cannot have the same access to the European single market as Northern Ireland. However, I digress.

The key issue that faces us now is how the new Welsh, Scottish and English internal market will be governed and regulated. I have little doubt that, due to the centralising tendencies of Westminster, British Government Ministers believe that that will be a matter for them and them alone. I remind the British Government, however, that Wales and Scotland have moved a considerable way in recent decades, and the people of our respective countries will not take kindly to the sidelining of our national Governments and national Parliaments. After all, during the EU referendum, Brexiteers were promising Wales a “bonanza” of new powers. To avoid the destructive contradictions caused by Brexit, it is clear that the British state needs to be restructured. Joint decision making between those constituent parts of the British state within the new internal market would be an obvious way of creating some stability.

I turn to trade policy. There is a complete absence in the original Bill of any commitment or means of upholding Welsh and British farming production standards in international trade negotiations. As UK negotiators are reportedly finding out in their deliberations with the US, every one of the 50 states has the right to impose conditions in their trade deals, so as to protect their respective core economic interests.

Welsh agriculture is the bedrock of our food and drink industry, worth nearly £7.5 billion in 2018. A core component of that is overseas trade, particularly with our European friends and allies, where nearly three quarters of all Welsh food and drink exports were destined in 2018. This trade underpins the employment of over a quarter of a million people in Wales. Trade in foodstuffs is therefore a national strategic imperative for my country.

Unrestricted, cheap, poor-quality imports threaten to not only damage the immediate vitality and strength of our domestic food sector, but also pose wider challenges to our environment and our rural economy. As things stands when it comes to trade policy, Wallonia, a region of Belgium, will have more influence over European Union trade policy than Wales will have over UK trade policy. The checks and balances in the EU, the US and other trade blocs are not intended to create problems. They are there to ensure coherence to trade policy.

We are fully justified in our concern in Wales. The absurdity of current British Government trade policy means that trade negotiations with the US are given equal billing to those with the EU, despite their own figures indicating that it would take 60 deals with Trump to make up for what will be lost as a result of a botched Brexit transition phase. Again, Northern Ireland’s farmers will be protected as they will effectively remain in the EU customs union. The British Government seem to think they can leverage concessions from Europe by holding parallel talks, but President Macron, as usual, has completely outmanoeuvred the British Government by saying plainly that if the UK pursues a US deal and agrees to the importation of cheaper, lower-standard food, they can forget the trade deal with the EU.

In closing, my message to the British Government is this: stick as close to the EU as possible and create joint decision-making structures between Wales, Scotland and England over internal market and trade policy. I fear, though, that ideological zealotry will trump my advice. Diolch yn fawr.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con) [V]
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I want to talk about new clause 1, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and new clause 4, which has not been selected but was tabled by me. New clause 4 seeks to make the Secretary of State a trade champion for the British agricultural industry. Although the Department for International Trade is absolutely the lead Department on negotiating free trade deals and trade promotion, trade promotion is of course a whole-of-Government exercise. It is incumbent on every Department to ensure that they promote at all times the fantastic products that we want to export to the entire world. I want to put a marker down for the whole of Government that they must be there to promote British exports.

Turning to the specifics, new clause 4 looks at several issues, and we need to get deep into the weeds of what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural actually does when it comes to food exports. One of the most important parts of exporting and, indeed, importing food is ensuring that foodstuffs are of a sufficient quality. Irrespective of the market access and tariffs that we secure in a trade deal, every country needs to allocate a licence to ensure that any food product class is sufficiently safe for their own consumers. For example, when people want to export food to the UK, DEFRA, through the Food Standards Agency, will license imports of sanitary and phytosanitary products.

When we are trying to export products, it is important that DEFRA works hard with licensing agencies in other countries to ensure that the audit of our producers and the audit of our regulators are done in such a way as to ensure that those licences are expedited as much as possible. They can take three years to get done, but we need to be doing things far quicker. From time to time, we get a problem whereby licences will be withdrawn, and we saw that with British beef over the years after Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—mad cow disease. It is only in the past few years that we have seen the French lift their ban on British beef and the Americans lift their bans on British beef and lamb, and that came decades after CJD was a problem. That is a second area where the Secretary of State at DEFRA must do everything they can to lift such bans to ensure that we get proper market access.

Furthermore, other countries have local laws that may create problems. A good example of that is Thailand, which has perfectly acceptable religious views on alcohol and requires that alcohol is not promoted on the bottle. However, if someone is trying to sell a bottle of 21-year-old malt whisky, the law could interpret that as being a promotion of the product, rather than just a statement of fact that it is a very good whisky. We managed to resolve that problem through the Department for International Trade, as it turned out, but the point is that we need to ensure that we try to break down those inadvertent barriers to entry at every level.

Although new clause 1 is incredibly well intentioned, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset stands up enthusiastically for the interests of farmers, I am afraid that it is rather misguided. Apart from anything else, it goes against the World Trade Organisation laws. In seeking to ensure that standards are maintained within the UK, it misses the point that standards are defined as outcomes not process. That is a problem as we particularly interested in outcomes. The process of ensuring that we have good animal welfare is laudable and important and quite extensive for our producers, but the outcome is ensuring that our consumers are not poisoned by food, which is an important point. I completely sympathise with the objectives of the new clause, which looks to help farmers, but it would end up setting a barrier for ourselves. We would introduce a process-based regulation, rather than an outcomes-based regulation under WTO terms. What we must do is support our farmers by promoting exports. We need the Secretary of State to report back on an annual basis, but we do not want to create other barriers, which new clause 1 would introduce.

16:30
Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) [V]
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to my amendments this afternoon, and to support several others.

My new clause 5 would help to rectify the absence of anything in the Bill to cut pesticide use. This is a really serious omission, given the harm that pesticides cause to insect life, including bees and pollinators, and to other wildlife, as well as the risks to human health. New clause 5 would require the Secretary of State to take steps to protect members of the public from the hazardous health impacts of pesticide use—for example, by specifying a minimum distance between where a pesticide is being applied and public or residential buildings. We do not need to look hard to find evidence of the so-called insect apocalypse, and the serious risks of pesticides to humans and nature. Recently, a call from more than 70 scientists urged the phase-out of pesticides as a “no regrets” immediate step, stating:

“There is now a strong scientific consensus that the decline of insects, other arthropods and biodiversity as a whole, is a very real and serious threat that society must urgently address.”

On human health, pesticide cocktails are of particular concern, as they can be far more harmful than individual pesticides, yet our own regulatory system only assesses the safety of one chemical at a time. There is also the exposure of rural residents to pesticides applied to nearby farmland. The lack of anything on pesticides in the Bill is even more disturbing given the Government’s dubious stance on the precautionary principle: refusing to transfer it fully into UK law and refusing to legislate against the risks of a US trade deal undermining it.

My amendment 42 is on the sustainability and resilience of agriculture more widely. It complements amendments 18 and 19 on agroecology tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), which I strongly support. Amendment 42 would enable the Secretary of State to set and monitor progress towards targets for the uptake of integrated pest management based on agroecological practices, including organic farming. This would help to ensure that the catch-all clause on productivity payments does not undermine environmental objectives.

This week, a leaked copy of the EU 2030 biodiversity strategy revealed proposals for at least 25% of farmland to be organic, alongside a wider uptake of agroecological practices, a 50% reduction in pesticide use and cuts to mineral fertiliser use. On Second Reading, the then Secretary of State claimed that leaving the EU meant a greener future for British farming, where the UK would apparently do so much better for wildlife and the landscape. If that is to be reality and not just rhetoric, we need an Agriculture Bill that matches or goes further than the EU proposals on pesticides, agroecology and organic farming.

In response to covid-19, some argue that we should downplay nature and sustainability, and dial up food production. But that would risk doubling down on a food system that is contributing to what scientists last month called a

“perfect storm for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people”.

One example is forest loss driven by rocketing demand for vast quantities of soya that is then fed to pigs and chickens, including in the UK. Agroecology is our route out of a dangerous dead-end debate that pitches food security, environmental protection and public health against each other. We can and must do much better than that.

Finally, my new clause 14 would go some way to fixing the Bill’s worrying lack of attention to the climate emergency. Having highlighted regulation as a gaping hole in the Bill on Second Reading, I strongly support new clause 8 in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and am pleased that it includes specific provisions on climate. New clause 14 would complement that by setting a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions for agriculture and land use in the UK by 2050 at the latest. That is much too late in my view, but I hope that the Government will pick this up. It would also place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish interim emission-reduction targets, as well as policies to ensure that those targets are met.

The Committee on Climate Change has said that “strengthening the regulatory baseline” is an essential step that the Government must urgently deploy to meet climate goals, so I hope the Government will support not just specific climate targets for agriculture, as new clause 14 proposes, but rigorous policies to meet them that place equal emphasis on biodiversity and public health. The climate emergency is just one reason why Ministers must say no to business as usual and yes to a resilient, re-localised and regenerative food and farming system. My amendments would go some way towards putting those things at the heart of the Bill.

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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I wish to speak against new clause 1. A real issue needs to be dealt with: the high levels of regulation imposed on UK farming can and do add to increased costs for UK farmers. High standards can be an advantage in two ways: first, in what they say about the United Kingdom and our attitudes to animal welfare; and secondly, when it comes to exporting, when we can show to those who want to buy British agricultural produce that it is produced to very high standards—that was a huge advantage to me on a number of occasions when I was Secretary of State for International Trade.

The best way to help our farmers is to have a proper cross-governmental strategy to improve UK farming exports. The proposed changes do not deal with that particular problem, but they do create a number of others. There are three main unintended consequences: the first is the damage to our reputation for observing international treaty law; the second is that the proposals would damage our ability to conclude our current free trade agreements, and potentially future ones; and the third is that they make a mockery of our current negotiating position with the European Union.

First, the new clause is not compatible with WTO rules. Food safety and related issues are anchored in WTO law. Only the slaughter of animals is covered as a welfare issue in the sanitary and phytosanitary agreement. There is nothing that the Government will do to undermine food safety standards in this country, and to suggest otherwise is a complete red herring in this whole debate. It would be a fine start to Britain’s independent trade policy outside the European Union if we were to begin by finding ourselves in conflict with the very rules-based trading system that we believe to be necessary.

Secondly, the new clause would damage the chances of our completing our current free trade agreements. I can say from personal experience, in my discussions with the United States, that the US would walk were the proposals to become law in the United Kingdom, and it would be swiftly followed by others—the Australians, the New Zealanders and those involved in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership would be unlikely to take kindly to it. They do not want the incorporation of UK rules to become a prerequisite to trading agreements with the United Kingdom.

There is an additional problem: it is about not just our current FTAs but our ability to conclude future FTAs with developing countries, which simply cannot afford to have the same level of animal welfare standards as we enjoy in a country as wealthy as the United Kingdom. It would be a great pity if, after all the work we have done to promote development, we unintentionally undermined it by agreeing to this change.

Thirdly, the new clause makes a mockery of what we are doing in our negotiation with the European Union. We are currently telling the European Union that we cannot accept the introduction of rules made outside our own country as a precondition of trade with the European Union—the so-called level-playing-field approach—but that is exactly what the new clause would do in relation to everybody else. I can imagine nothing that would bring greater joy to the bureaucrats of Brussels than the UK scuppering its free trade agreement with the United States on the basis that we were insisting on a level-playing-field agreement that we have categorically ruled out in our dealings with the European Union.

I wish to go slightly beyond the content of the proposals to the wider consequences. I worry about what some of the proposed changes say about the signals we would send as a country and our approach to free trade in general. It is worth pointing out—because almost no one seems to have noticed—that global trading volumes went negative in the fourth quarter of 2019. Before covid, global trade was on a downturn, with inevitable long-term economic consequences. Since 2010, the world’s wealthiest economies—the G20—have increased and increased the number of non-tariff barriers to trade: in 2010, they were operating around 300; by 2015, they were operating around 1,200.

There is a bit of environmental law here, a bit of consumer protection here and a bit of producer protection elsewhere. It all adds up to a silting up of the global trading system. Why does that matter? It matters because it risks the progress we have made in the past generation of taking a billion people out of abject poverty through global free trade. It is not morally acceptable for those countries that have done very well out of global trade to turn to the others that are still developing and pull the ladder up in front of them. We have benefited from a global open trading system. It is not only economically sensible, but morally the right thing to do to ensure that that free trade continues.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)[V]
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I served on Bill Committee and I have been contacted by a huge number of constituents, so I am enthusiastic about ensuring that the Government listen to the suggestions put forward by the people most affected by this Bill. There are huge insecurities throughout agriculture right now, with it anticipating new opportunities and challenges arising from leaving the European Union. Parliament is having to consider the Bill without knowing what those challenges will be and what our future relationships with other countries will look like. These insecurities have been highlighted by the sector for some time, and covid-19 means that the public have more recently been faced with these insecurities and the issues relating to the resilience of our domestic food supply chain. Closed restaurants, empty supermarket shelves and restrictions on imported food were issues that did not enter the public’s mind until just a few weeks ago. We should use the experience of this crisis to guide policy to build future resilience for our food and environmental security.

Many farmers and businesses in the agricultural sector will be facing unexpected financial hardship because of covid-19. Having witnessed the fragility of our domestic supply chain, we must ensure that the Bill includes provisions to support the domestic industry throughout the rest of the crisis. We must also consider practices our industry and consumers may be exposed to if our domestic industry cannot sustain the food supply following this and we have to look more to outside sources. With new trading agreements yet to be made, now we have the perfect opportunity to ban unfair trading and unethical practices. The Bill should ensure that food imports are produced to the equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as those required of producers in the UK. The Government should also ensure transparency in our future supply chain, so that consumers are able to make ethical decisions for themselves and that the UK agriculture sector is prioritised over international imports. British farmers must not be subject to a system where they are undercut by food produced to lower standards and then imported into the UK. British consumers must not be subject to food with lower nutritional value, unaware of how their food was farmed.

This Bill has an opportunity to have a positive impact on farmers, business, the wider public and the environment if we get it right. That is why I was pleased to see so many contributions to the Bill Committee and why it is important that we include suggestions that will mean that the Bill has much more of a wider impact. The Ramblers, Britain’s largest walking charity, has asked that this Bill includes a requirement for landowners in receipt of public funds to fulfil their legal duty to keep public rights of way. I am supporting that suggestion from Ramblers, so that my constituents have the opportunity to explore nature and have access to a free way to stay active. That is just one way in which the Bill can support farmers to support the wider public. After two months of lockdown, I am sure that all Members from across the House, and the UK public, can appreciate the importance of access to nature and nutritional food. We have pulled together as a country throughout the crisis, and we should use this momentum to continue to support one another.

I am pleased to be able to speak on the Bill, to support workers in the agriculture industry, who are important but often overlooked keyworkers in the crisis. It is essential that a future trade agreement protects British farmers and consumers, and that is why I support Labour’s amendment. I hope that the Government have heard the important contributions we have heard, and take the opportunity today to legislate to protect the UK agriculture sector, and make use of our suggestions, which will have a positive impact on the wider public.

16:45
David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con) [V]
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Here in Wantage I can hear cows mooing as I speak, so the debate is relevant to my constituency.

Beginning with imports, it is fair to say that across Wantage and Didcot we have first-rate farming—Brimstone farm in the west of my constituency is one example. The food that is produced and the environment, agriculture and welfare standards are extremely high. A number of my farmers would like me to support some of the proposals that we are considering, particularly new clauses 1 and 2. I thought hard about that, and was pulled in that direction, but in the end I decided not to do so. Even if that provided short-term help—I am not sure that it would, even if it were compatible with World Trade Organisation rules, and I am not sure that that is the case—in the long term it would not help exports from the great farmers here and across the country. There is a five-year requirement to report on food security. That is a minimum requirement, but I hope that we will hear about food security much more regularly.

In my judgement, public money for public good, is one of the most exciting parts of the legislation. We will change entirely the system for paying farmers, and we will be able to do so in a way that helps to protect the environment. Farmers are the natural custodians of the environment, and measures that enable us to support them to improve air, soil and water quality as well as biodiversity are a hugely welcome development. Maybe—just maybe—it will help to reduce farmers’ average age, which is 60 at the moment. They find it difficult to persuade their children and grandchildren to take on their work. This may be a step to help encourage others to maintain the land for the great purposes that support our efforts on climate change. In future, some people may try to minimise the food production aspect. I hope that that does not happen, because that should not be regarded as a contrast to efforts on the environment. These are mutually beneficial things that we can do together in the Bill.

Turning to exports, I voted to leave the European Union, and was surprised to be told that that meant that I believed in a closed society, rather than an open one. On the contrary—I wanted an open society that was open to more than just the EU. I would like to see British products in countries around the world, and I hope that we will do everything that we can to ensure that that is the case. I think that there is an opportunity on food labelling at the end of the transition period, so that we can clearly define and consistently apply food labelling that demonstrates and signals to the world the high standards that we have in this country.

There is undoubtedly more that we can do to promote our exports. We have the “Food is GREAT” campaign. I hope that we turbo-boost that in the coming years. Finally, I want to make sure that we remember small farms, because this is a tremendous opportunity for our farms, and I hope that we will support them in their contracts and by promoting their goods, so that they too can benefit from this groundbreaking legislation.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We now go to Angus and Dave Doogan—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon. I am grateful to Members in the Chamber for correcting my mistake. We go to North Devon—[Interruption.] We go to North Down, and Stephen Farry.