This month I was contacted by hundreds of constituents worried about the impact lowering of standards in the Agriculture and Trade Bill could have on food standards and health. I support the #SaveOurStandards campaign and have consistently pressed for legal guarantees to protect the UK’s high standards.
But unfortunately, despite a manifesto commitment to safeguard these standards, the UK Government has not put this commitment into law. The Agriculture Bill does nothing to prevent British farmers from being undercut in future trade deals with countries with lower animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards.
When this Bill was debated again on 12 October, I supported the amendment made in the House of Lords to provide legal protection against the import of food produced to lower standards. Unfortunately, the Government voted to overturn it.
It is also disappointing that the amendment to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission was not debated as it was deemed to involve public spending and go beyond the powers of the House of Lords. This amendment has been redrafted ahead of the Bill’s return to the Lords on 20 October.
I backed another Lords amendment which, drawing on the work being undertaken by Henry Dimbleby, would introduce a duty on the UK Government to publish a National Food Strategy providing a roadmap towards a more sustainable and healthy food production system in the UK. This amendment was rejected by the Government. Nevertheless, I will continue to support action to tackle childhood obesity and enforce stricter rules around junk food advertising.
I would like to see greater scrutiny of standards and we need to lock those standards into law. I also believe the Trade and Agriculture Commission should be strengthened and put on a permanent statutory basis. I hope the Lords will ask the Commons to reconsider amendments to the Agriculture Bill that protect our farmers from being undercut in future trade deals. There may also be another chance to fight for our farmers when the Trade Bill reaches its final parliamentary stages in due course.
As agriculture is a devolved policy area, some parts of the Agriculture Bill apply in Scotland, while some do not. For example, the UK Agriculture Bill makes provision for a new environmental land management scheme for England only, while making provision for UK-wide reporting on food security. After the transition/implementation period, agriculture will continue to be devolved.
Much of the content of a future agricultural policy for Scotland is not contained in this Bill. The Scottish Government introduced the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill in November 2019. The Scottish Agriculture Bill makes provision for an interim approach to agriculture policy for Scotland based on simplifying and improving retained EU law. The Scottish Government has said it intends to bring forward new legislation in due course to make provision for a longer-term agricultural policy for Scotland. Therefore, constituents might like to contact their MSP about this matter.