Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-IV Provisional Fourth marshalled list for Report - (21 Sep 2020)
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and to support Amendments 89ZA and 93, both of which I have signed. Noble Lords have received repeated assurances from the Government that, to quote from the most recent Defra briefing note,

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

With this assurance, why is Amendment 93 needed? For me, there are unanswered questions and uncertainties about the Government’s statement. I will summarise some of them.

First, the wording of the Defra briefing notes that I have just quoted avoids saying that there will be no imported food of lower standards than UK-produced food. Perhaps this is because the Government consider that imposing certain domestic standards on imports may breach WTO rules as “technical barriers to trade”. This was just discussed in great detail by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. According to the interim report from Henry Dimbleby, we are already able to import certain commodities produced in ways that would not be allowed in the UK—for instance, using neonicotinoid pesticides. It is also unclear whether the pledge that the Government make applies only to novel foods, as it refers to the future, or to existing approved foods. My first question is: what is the Government’s position?

My second question is: what is meant by food standards? Standards is a vague term that can mean different things to different people. How do the Government define it? For instance, do they include food production standards in the definition?

Thirdly, it is not clear what role the Food Standards Agency and its sister organisation Food Standards Scotland will play alongside other bodies mentioned by Defra, namely the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive. This is pertinent, as the Food Standards Agency is an independent, non-ministerial department while the other bodies are not independent—they are executive agencies, or non-departmental public bodies, directly accountable to their parent departments. Will the Food Standards Agency advise on welfare and environmental standards as well as on food safety standards?

Fourthly, the Defra statement does not say who will police production standards of imported food as it crosses the border. The Food Standards Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency currently check food safety and phytosanitary standards, but not production standards.

Fifthly, the Food Standards Agency will have to carry out additional duties in future. Has it been given sufficient additional resources in its baseline to carry these out? If so, who has determined the amount of extra money required?

Sixthly, and finally, the briefing says that decisions on imported foods will be taken by Health Ministers informed by the advice of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. What are the other factors that Ministers will take into consideration when making these decisions? The briefing implies that they will not simply follow the advice of the FSA or FSS but will take other factors into account.

It is only by supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93 that we can be sure that the Government are bound to their commitment not to import food of lower standards than our own domestic products. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to my questions but, as things stand, I will support these amendments if there is a vote and urge other noble Lords to do the same.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs. I, too, thoroughly support the amendment. I apologise for my internet connection and hope that noble Lords can hear me.

Food is already in a mess, before we even contemplate lowering the standards that we have. For instance, we already know that chlorinated chicken is just the tip of the iceberg of bad food that comes into this country. I am greatly worried not just about the environmental impacts of cheap and bad food on the planet but also about its health implications. Bad food is the result of overconsumption and overproduction of processed, sugary foods, yet recently US negotiators have said that they were concerned that labelling food with high sugar content

“is not particularly useful in changing consumer behaviour”.

Anyone who has been involved in food politics knows that that is rubbish. It is like saying that labelling a packet of cigarettes as jolly good for your health is a way that will not help change consumer behaviour. This is completely contrary to over 20 years of UK policy to introduce clear, front-of-pack, traffic-light nutrition information to help shoppers easily identify which products are high in sugar, salt and fat. Reading any of the Government’s proposed new obesity strategies shows that this labelling is planned to be even clearer.

Across the world, labelling is already incredibly complicated. The industry likes it like that. It does not want things to be simple. However, there are people around the world trying to deal with this. For instance, the Health Minister in Chile recently decided that no cereal companies could use cartoons to sell their products, so Tony the Tiger disappeared, replaced by a black splodge. Children now tell their parents not to eat that cereal. If we do not set high standards, we will never be able to change things like this. We will not even be able to label sugar clearly.

I am also very worried about what will come into this country. Why on earth do we need more American biscuits? If you take a biscuit such as Tim Tams, a chocolate-covered cream biscuit, extremely like a Penguin, we will get this in spades and it will be cheaper than the Penguin, which already sells to 99.1% of households. Low-quality food is unhealthy food. It has usually meant deforestation in its production, terrible treatment of animals and, as I said the other day, there are over 60 billion of them; 80% of all living creatures on earth sit in cages waiting to be fed to us.

We have fought very hard for our high standards, and it seems quite extraordinary that at a moment of extreme crisis in health and the environment, we should even need to have this debate, let alone have the feeling that the Government might try to overrule it when this Bill goes back to the Commons. Even supermarkets are agreed that we cannot lower our standards. I listened the other day to Christiana Figueres say that we only have 10 years to get on top of the climate crisis, and that in 10 years we must cut our emissions by 50%. Food and agriculture contribute hugely to this, and if we do not have standards that look at the environmental impact, then quite frankly, we have not got a prayer. Next year, we are leading the COP. We should now be talking about achieving higher standards, not fighting to defend the ones that we already have.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is a leading light on the advisory panel of the Dimbleby report, which I will refer to shortly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for moving the lead amendment in this group. I do not intend to repeat many of the comments that have been made; he has very eloquently addressed the issues of the amendments in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and others, which purport to fall foul of the World Trade Organization.

I shall speak initially to Amendment 90, and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who have been on this journey with a similar amendment in the original rollover trade Bill, on which we made a lot of progress. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rather annoyingly, got in before me by tabling the amendment that was carried. We will discuss that further in the context of the trade Bill.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said when moving Amendment 89ZA, this is an issue that consumers and farmers care passionately about. It was front and centre of the Conservative manifesto—not that I saw that—which we want to build on with this amendment, to then adopt what was originally government policy in the rollover trade Bill. I will not refer to it, but it complements Amendment 97 which follows later.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others, referred to part 1 of the interim report by Henry Dimbleby—I almost called him a noble Lord—in the National Food Strategy. On page 7 he refers to

“grasping the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide what kind of trading nation we want to be. The essence of sovereignty is freedom—including the freedom to uphold our own values and principles within the global marketplace. In negotiating our new trade deals, the Government must protect the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which our country is justly proud. It should also have the confidence to subject any prospective deals to independent scrutiny: a standard process in mature trading nations such as the United States, Australia and Canada. If we put the right mechanisms in place, we can ensure high food standards, protect the environment and be a champion of free trade.”

There we have it. We are taking back control. I applaud that in this sea change, for the first time in nigh-on 50 years, we will decide how we trade.