All Lord Trees contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

Tue 20th October 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Ping Pong (Hansard)
Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (462 words)
Wed 10th June 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard)
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
2nd reading
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (541 words)

Agriculture Bill

(Consideration of Commons amendments)
Lord Trees Excerpts
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I support Amendments 16B and 18B. I am somewhat perplexed. As a party, we went into the election last year on a manifesto commitment to maintain high standards of food production in terms of animal welfare, health and hygiene, along with environmental protection. That will mean nothing if we have cheaper imports that undercut us. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will remember, I tabled an amendment at an earlier stage that would have gone further than this and would have been totally in keeping with what the World Trade Organization dictates: in certain circumstances you can have higher standards. That is something that my noble friend the Minister must accept is happening in certain agreements now. Indeed, it is already reflected in some of our fair trade deals, in that we buy products from certain developing countries on those grounds.

It is extremely important that we differentiate between elements that my noble friend tends to couple together, but which I think it is wrong to do. He has repeated that the Food Standards Agency for England and Food Standards Scotland keep up standards of food safety; I applaud the role that Heather Hancock and her team have played in the agency. We have now established in debates on both this Bill and the Trade Bill that those safety standards, which I fully support, can be amended by the stroke of a pen through secondary legislation. We do not even need the Government to come back with primary legislation in the form of a Bill. The standards can be amended and removed by statutory instrument. That is why I believe that Amendment 16B should be adopted. I did urge my noble friend to bring forward an amendment to this effect on behalf of the Government.

The reason given by the other place for not supporting the earlier amendment in this regard is:

“Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate to create new requirements for imports to meet particular standards.”

These are not new requirements; they are requirements on which I believe the Government stood and won so convincingly last year. We cannot set high standards in this country and accept imports that might undercut them. Why? Because a Conservative Government did precisely this in the mid-1990s by banning sow stalls and tethers, only to be undercut by cheaper meat produced using sow stalls and tethers in countries where doing so was still perfectly legal. The public voted on price. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said on labelling and the campaign that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has been running. Regrettably, I believe there is a need for Amendment 16B. I urge my noble friend to think again.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for persisting with his campaign, which I entirely support, with his redrafted Amendment 18B. As my noble friend the Duke of Wellington said, the reason given—

“Because it would involve a charge on public funds”—

is unacceptable. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Grimstone for his reply in Oral Questions last week, which set out the budget for the Trade and Agriculture Commission as it currently exists, and for the Trade Remedies Authority. It begs the question why we need the Trade Remedies Authority to be on the face of the Trade Bill, but we do not wish to see the Trade and Agriculture Commission in statutory form.

I actually wish that the amendment went further. I pay tribute to what the Minister said in summing up the debate next door. My honourable friend Victoria Prentis recognised that there might be a need to extend the current remit and tenure of members of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, but I believe in the advice of Henry Dimbleby in his interim report. He has done us a great service by saying that the Government should consider a stand-alone, purpose-built international trade commission, such as exists in so many of the other jurisdictions with which we seek to trade in this brave new world, having left the European Union.

I will move a similar amendment in Committee on the Trade Bill. I believe there is scope for the Trade Bill and the Agriculture Bill to reflect each other in this regard. I cannot believe that the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s existing budget does not enable acceptance of this modest amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, which, as I said, I wish went further. I will support it if he presses it to a vote.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendment 18B in the name of my noble friend Lord Curry. The issue of maintaining animal welfare and environmental standards is of huge concern, as has been mentioned by many noble Lords. We have previously received a number of assurances from the Government, which are undoubtedly sincere, but there is legitimate concern to see that assurances are turned into deliverable action to create systems and mechanisms that provide a degree of independent advice and scrutiny to government.

As the UK starts negotiating its own trade agreements as an independent sovereign state, we have a chance to clearly demonstrate by actions, not just words, that we will negotiate on the basis that equivalent animal welfare standards and suitable environmental standards apply to the food we import, just as they apply to that which we produce ourselves. This is not about protectionism but giving our farmers a level playing field to compete on, and setting out a global exemplar position on animal welfare and the environment.

Last week, I had the pleasure, coming back from our local town, of passing a field of beef cows, with their well-grown calves at foot, contentedly grazing amid the woods and hills of Perthshire, all in a lovely wildlife-rich, biodiverse environment. Are we going to risk exchanging that for feedlot cattle that live their life on bare earth and are fed soya; or, worse, cattle reared not on natural grassland but on cleared rainforest? The UK is rightly proud of its climate change commitments, but what is the point of trying to reduce our agricultural carbon emissions if we import beef from cleared rainforests?

The creation of the Trade and Agriculture Commission was a welcome step and it will set out a framework for future trade deals, but it will cease to function by January. I submit that there will be a need for continuing advice and scrutiny. Why would any Government not want a readily available, very affordable pool of independent expertise to consult? For imported food, to protect our food safety, there is the Food Standards Agency. To protect animal and plant health there are the international sanitary and phytosanitary protocols. There is a deficit in independent oversight for animal welfare and environmental standards on imported products.

The amendment proposes that Parliament and a continuing Trade and Agriculture Commission should provide that oversight. If the Government object to this revised amendment, will they consider bringing forward their own suitable amendment in the other place? That would go a long way to assuage the very real concerns of the public—let us not forget the NFU petition which over a million people signed—and the legitimate concerns of the welfare and environmental bodies, the veterinary profession and our farmers. What is there not to like?

Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 16B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and Amendment 18B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. We have the opportunity through this legislation to shape future policy on food production, standards, the environment and animal welfare. Surely it is imperative that we do so, ensuring that those who produce our food to the highest standard are protected from unfair competition.

The rejection of the previous amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, was a blow for UK agriculture and consumers. I appreciate that the Government have on several occasions repeated their commitment not to lower food safety standards, which are presently safeguarded under UK law, but I cannot understand why they are so hesitant to strengthen their arm in putting this clearly down in legislation. Flooding the UK market with cheap imports, with lower standards, would have a serious and detrimental effect on our farming industry and place UK food and farming in serious jeopardy. It surely cannot be right to negotiate any international trade agreement without securing clear food, food safety, hygiene, traceability, and animal health and welfare standards.

Verbal commitments are insufficient and can be easily set aside, as we witnessed during other recent negotiations. We need to set the parameters without ambiguity. What happened in the other place was a missed opportunity and we must do our best to rectify it. There is absolutely no excuse for us not granting Parliament a firm and coherent role in any future trade deals. For the Government to demand the highest standards from their own food producers, with all the considerable cost implications, while not demanding the same rigorous standards from those importing food to the United Kingdom, is unacceptable. The House must endeavour to press the Government on this issue by supporting the amendments. They are not wrecking amendments; they are constructive and deserve our support. They would permit a level playing field for all food producers and grant the necessary protection for the consumer.

Agriculture Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard))
Lord Trees Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker
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Before the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, I should advise the House that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will now speak as the first speaker in the second section of the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill and before the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this Bill is of colossal importance. It will involve a revolution in our countryside and affect our food supply, the environment, the rural economy and the lives of many thousands of people. I have never before had so many emails from the public about amending a Bill. Thus, it is regrettable that we are given such little time to scrutinise it in the House.

That said, there is much to welcome in the Bill, but it also raises major questions. I will focus on those pertaining to animal health and welfare and the sustainability of livestock farming, notably of cattle and sheep.

The Bill proposes support for

“protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock”.

As a vet, I welcome this. While it is intrinsically the ethical thing to do, it also addresses other key goals in the Bill, notably increasing productivity, safeguarding food security and mitigating climate change. Proper control of enteric worms in sheep, for example, can reduce greenhouse gases by 10% per unit of production. It would however be helpful to know more about how this support will be delivered, what the baseline is, and how improvement will be measured. I ask the Minister to answer those questions, if need be in writing.

Cattle and sheep farming are a pillar of the rural economy, particularly in our upland areas, and help maintain the countryside we love. But there are more than just aesthetic or sentimental reasons to value this activity. Cattle and sheep turn grass into products that we can eat, and which provide wholesome, nutritious food, contributing to our food security. Cattle and sheep are maintained at high standards of welfare and husbandry, from birth to slaughter. The use of antibiotics is minimal, and only for disease control. In the UK, across all animals, antibiotic use has fallen by 53% in recent years, and is well below the O’Neill commission target. What about greenhouse gases? Data from the FAO shows that UK cattle emit 75% less CO2 and methane per kilogram of meat than the global average. Finally, grazing animals put back into the soil nutrients and essential fibre.

Our grazing livestock enterprises are not only important for our rural economy and the maintenance of our countryside but are incomparably good for animal welfare, compatible with afforestation and initiatives to improve biodiversity, which I welcome, and produce food in a much more environmentally friendly way than many other global systems—think of cattle reared on cleared rainforest. Yet this aspect of our farming is most vulnerable to the reduction in direct payments. If we allow the importation of livestock products without requiring the same high level of animal welfare, environmental standards and food safety that we demand of our own farmers, we risk destroying our indigenous system. This would be to export poor welfare and poor environmental standards, and would be deleterious to climate change mitigation globally. It would be a classic example of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

I would like to hear from the Minister how the Government will respond to calls either to enshrine legal minimum standards in the Bill, or to establish a trade, food and farming commission, to which a former Secretary of State was committed, and what powers it might have.

Sitting suspended.