Committee stage & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 11 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 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in support of Amendment 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which I have also signed. I also support other amendments in this group with a similar intent.

In their joint letter to MPs and Peers dated 5 June 2020, the Secretary of State for International Trade, the right honourable Elizabeth Truss, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right honourable George Eustice, stated that, in all their trade negotiations, the Government

“will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.

However, when asked in a House of Lords debate about trade deals that could allow imports farmed to less rigorous standards, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew of Oulton, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and Treasury, stated that

“there has to be a balance between keeping food affordable for people ... to ensure that they are able to eat healthily, while not undermining in any way the quality of the food we eat.”—[Official Report, 6/5/20; col. 520.]

This second statement seems to leave wiggle room, so what is the Government’s position?

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and other noble Lords, said, the Government are unwilling to make a legally binding commitment to not dilute standards of imported food. As my noble friends Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and many other noble Lords, said, the Trade and Agriculture Commission will not have enough teeth or last long enough to do the job that is needed. I also note that it has no consumer representative among its members.

My concern is this: assuming that the Government do allow food produced to lower standards to be imported—which I think is inevitable—who will end up eating it? The boss of Waitrose has already said that his stores will not sell food produced to lower standards, such as chlorinated chicken. It is very likely that other supermarkets will follow Waitrose’s lead. The same will be true of the major restaurant chains, which will wish to protect their brands. So where is the lower-standard food most likely to end up? It will probably be in the small, low-end independent restaurants and in fast-food takeaways such as fried chicken shops. It will primarily be eaten by less well-off consumers. I therefore ask the Minister to unequivocally state that the Government will not allow a two-tier food system to develop in this country in which poor people eat poorer quality food produced to lower standards.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, as I have listened to this debate my speech has got shorter and shorter. If ever there was a person ringing a bell and saying: “Press officer beware”, it is my noble friend Lord Greaves. I find myself strongly agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who said that the Government are getting into trouble here. Will they please do as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said and honour their own manifesto? That is all we are really asking for, and any of these amendments would take steps towards making sure that we know the standards are there.

It is an old cliché that we trust this Minister implicitly but the one who follows him could be the devil incarnate. However, the closest we get to binding anybody to anything is to put it in to law, even though, ultimately, it can be changed. If we do not get something on the face of the Bill—and I cannot see any other bit of legislation it could go into—there is no other way of at least making the Government stand up and say: “Yes, we are changing it because …” That is what this is about.

I hope that the Minister is taking this on board. As my noble friend Lord Greaves also said, there will be ping-pong; a backhand, a forehand and the odd smash might be involved in this one. The House could get involved in a long discussion, asking the Government to honour their own manifesto commitment. I would not have thought any Government would want that.

Earl of Lindsay Portrait The Earl of Lindsay (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I share the concerns about how standards will be maintained when negotiating new trade agreements and therefore, in principle, support what many of the amendments in this group are trying to achieve. In that context, I welcome the establishment by the DIT and Defra of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission. However, at the same time, I strongly support the important point made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lords, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Krebs, and others. A trade standards commission needs to be more than a temporary body with a six-month lifespan. It should be a permanent body with a continuing and influential role in any and all future trade negotiations, as is the United States International Trade Commission, among other examples.