Agriculture Bill

Baroness Pitkeathley Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 20th October 2020

(3 years, 8 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 141-I Marshalled list of Motions for Consideration of Commons Reasons - (16 Oct 2020)
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for another insightful debate. I say immediately that although Defra has the lead responsibility for food, many departments across government have a strong interest in this matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, recognised and as I did my opening remarks. The team is engaging across Whitehall as well as with partners across the whole food system—including academics, farmers, businesses, civil society and the general public—to develop the recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s independent review.

I am fully seized of the point that, in the end, Ministers will need to be fully engaged on this because this will be a cross-Whitehall, cross-departmental consideration. What I was really saying is that work is already under way in the department, with a director-general leading it, so that we are absolutely ready with a White Paper. I would not want the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to think that this is it; there is much more to do, which is why I emphasise that work is already under way.

The noble Lord’s amendment raises important issues. I repeat what I said in my opening remarks, particularly those to my noble friend Lady McIntosh: the Government will reply with a cross-departmental response to the interim report released in July this year. I cannot tell precisely in which month that will be but, as I said, in the coming months, there will be a cross-departmental response to the interim report that will include a full discussion on healthy food and the transformation of the food system.

These are hugely important matters. In this short debate, we have all recognised that this is clearly a matter of supreme urgency and seriousness. As I said before, Defra is committed to producing a food strategy White Paper setting out proposals that will aim to ensure that the food system delivers healthy, sustainable, affordable food for all. We have been clear that the Government will publish the White Paper within six months of the final report from the independent review being published and—this is another point for the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—as with all White Papers, it will be available to Parliament and we can expect much debate in your Lordships’ House and the other place on its contents. The Government have already asked Henry Dimbleby to review progress on the White Paper 12 months thereafter; obviously, that is an important feature because action is what is required, not a report—however worthy.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and your Lordships find these further remarks helpful.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister so I call the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful response in summing up. I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. I will be brief; I want to make a small number of points.

First, I apologise for putting 18 months in the amendment; clearly everybody thought that I was being too generous. This arose because the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said on Report that 12 months was too short. I thought that I would give him a bit of extra time but clearly I was wrong, so I apologise for that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, spoke about Henry Dimbleby’s report. As everybody has said in this debate, the amendment builds on the fantastic work that Henry Dimbleby is doing. As the noble Baroness does, I hope that today’s debate and the Minister’s response have ensured that Henry Dimbleby’s final report will not gather dust in a filing cabinet, as so many reports of this kind have done. Now we have a firm commitment from the Government to develop a food strategy based on Dimbleby’s work.

On leadership, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and my noble friend Lady Boycott, I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that although the DG in Defra is leading the preparatory work, the Government and the Minister recognise that this will need ministerial oomph to get the thing done and deliver results.

Finally, on the review, the news that after 12 months Henry Dimbleby will mark the Government’s homework on his exam, so to speak, is very welcome. However, I hope that the review process will carry on beyond 12 months because rethinking our national food system will not be completed by then. I hope that we will see early signs and green shoots of something new coming up, but I hope also that the Government will think seriously about how they can ensure that, on a long-term and regular basis, those of us who are concerned about the food system—not just people in the Chamber and Members taking part remotely but a large proportion of the population—can repeat the review process and have transparency on the progress being made.

With those comments, I thank the Minister and the noble Lords who took part in the debate, and I beg leave to withdraw.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him for his support. I speak to Amendment 18B in lieu. My interests are as recorded on the register.

As has been noted already, it is deeply regrettable that Amendment 18 was unable to be tabled in the House of Commons last week, due to it being considered a breach of financial privilege. I very much appreciate the Minister giving me the heads-up that this would be a possibility. During the debate, many MPs expressed their disappointment at being denied the opportunity to debate the proposals contained in Amendment 18. As a consequence of that decision, I am now tabling Amendment 18B which, I am assured by our wise officials in this House, should be compliant.

The purpose of this new amendment is to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on each international trade agreement, which, importantly, confirms that the agreement safeguards our standards of production for food safety, the environment and animal welfare, and if it does not, why not? The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to consult widely on the merits of establishing a body, a trade and agriculture commission, to provide the said report and advise the Secretary of State. The options could be to extend the existing commission, which, as we all know, is destined to be binned at the end of this year, when it has completed its work and produced a report on the principles and standards that should be embedded in international trade deals. In addition, the Secretary of State could take the opportunity to review the composition of the body and consult on a revised membership and remit. There would be real merit in doing that.

I have listened carefully to the explanations from the Minister on why the previous amendment, Amendment 18, and this one are unnecessary. He has taken an enormous amount of time and has shown great patience, which I very much appreciate. I have also had conversations with the Secretary of State for International Trade who has tried to convince me that there is already enough rigour in the system; that is, that the existing bodies have been given an extended remit to scrutinise trade deals and report their findings, as the Minister has just reported. I remain unconvinced and I am not reassured. To bolt on additional responsibilities to a number of agencies in a piecemeal fashion is no replacement for a dedicated, independent body providing oversight with in-depth knowledge of the entire sector, a body that is able to measure up new trade deals against the principles and standards that will have been laid out in the report from the existing Trade and Agriculture Commission at the end of this year. What could be simpler?

Let me repeat briefly what has been stated during earlier debates on the Bill. The fear of cheap imported food undermining our standards of production as a result of trade deals that have not been adequately scrutinised has united all the key stakeholders from the entire farming community, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has stated. They range from the NFU and the CLA, to vets, chefs, environmental bodies including Greener UK and Sustain, and to the general public. Over 1 million voters have signed a petition. All of them are deeply concerned, and I cannot understand why the Government continue to resist this pressure and have not responded accordingly. That is fundamentally a bad ambition in relation to our aspirations as a country—a country trading in the global market outside the European Union. We have an opportunity to set the bar and to position ourselves as a global influence with a reputation for high standards in animal welfare and food safety, along with a commitment to continue to reduce dependence on antibiotics, to restore biodiversity loss, to be the first past the post in achieving net-zero ambitions if possible, and so on.

In addition to providing consumers in the UK with what they deserve and expect, we are much more likely to succeed in export markets if these are the characteristics that mark our ambition and underpin our products. The alternative is a race to the bottom which will completely destroy that ambition and many businesses in the process. This is a crucial moment in our history and the Government’s response to this amendment will either give hope and confidence to the entire sector that they share its ambitions, or create further suspicion and deep concern that those ambitions risk being sacrificed in the urgent need to compromise in order to agree trade deals. I will reserve the option of moving this amendment and testing the opinion of the House.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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I now have a list of Members who wish to speak. They are the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Trees, Lord McCrea and Lord Empey, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lansley. I will call them in that order.

Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. I support the new amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, which has just been presented to us so eloquently. I am sure that he was as surprised as everyone else that his original amendment was ruled inadmissible. This one has been carefully drafted so as not to involve a charge on public funds. The earlier amendment, which was carried in this House with a very substantial majority, sought to establish a permanent statutory commission. Interestingly, the Commons reasons for rejecting that amendment refer only to it involving a charge on public funds and offer no further reason. All the other amendments that we are considering were rejected by the Commons for a specific reason. That is rather significant.