Debates between Lord Krebs and Baroness Hodgson of Abinger during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 28th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Hodgson of Abinger
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)
Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con) [V]
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I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and will speak to Amendment 271 in my name, ably spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and also in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. We represent many sides of the House.

However, before doing so, I add my voice to those thanking my noble friend the Minister for his courtesy and patience through this long marathon of a Committee stage. I also thank the Public Bill Office and Government Whips’ Office for all their hard work. I know they have spent many hours making sure that we could debate this.

As others have stated, the Bill gives us the chance to ensure that we support our farmers by not allowing products into this country that have not been raised to the same standards that we insist on here. It is blatantly wrong to insist on standards for our farmers and then to let in food not raised in that way that undercuts our domestic production.

At Second Reading, I was struck by my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have enormous respect, talking as though all is in order now. The fact is that, at the moment, we are letting in food not raised to the same standards. As others have observed, the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto contains an important commitment:

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


This is particularly important in the case of meat, where we not only undercut our own farmers but at times encourage poor welfare standards in other countries by buying their products. If we believe in good welfare standards—and there is a real moral case for this—we should not be turning a blind eye to what is going on in other parts of the world.

There has been a lot of publicity about chlorinated chicken, but the more concerning issues are the stocking densities and the amount of antibiotics pumped into them to keep them healthy. Of course, it is not just chickens from the US but those from other parts of the world, where we know even less about the quality of the production systems.

I gather that some of the Government’s opposition to this proposed new clause hinges on the UK’s lack of ability to produce enough to answer demand. In the case of chicken, this mainly revolves around the fact that British people like to eat breast meat rather than the dark meat. If more dark meat was eaten, we could probably more or less answer our domestic needs.

However, surely we need to tell those countries that want to export to us that we require a certain standard of welfare in their food production. During this time of Covid, we have realised how important it is to produce our own food, and our farmers have continued to work throughout. Surely, we should be looking after our farmers and encouraging more production in this country?

Others have commented on the new Trade and Agriculture Commission and I do not propose to do so too. All I will say is that sometimes commissions can be a way of kicking issues into the long grass. This issue really needs addressing because, as others have stated, it has such enormous public support. In a recent poll, over four-fifths of people—81%—said that they think the Government should block food imports that do not meet the UK’s environmental and animal welfare standards, even if this could mean that consumers miss out on lower food prices. Please let us take this opportunity, not only to support our farmers but to ensure that, if we believe in welfare standards, we stop importing food that does not meet them.

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.