Agriculture Bill

On Monday 12 October 2020, the House of Commons voted on Lords amendments to the Agriculture Bill (2019-2021). This Bill provides the legislative framework for replacement agricultural support schemes when we leave the European Union.

When the UK negotiates post-Brexit Free Trade Agreements with countries outside the European Union, the expectation is that we will eliminate or drastically lower our current tariffs on imports, and the other party will do likewise, in order to promote increased trade. For many sectors of our economy, that will be a win-win, but for some sectors it poses severe risks that by reducing tariffs on imports, the government will be exposing them to competition from companies overseas with much lower production costs and protections, who will be able to undercut them in the UK market. 

HM Opposition therefore consider an amendment to the Agriculture Bill is necessary to guarantee that any food imports coming into the UK as a result of future trade agreements meet the same standards for food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection that UK farmers are required to meet. 

Whilst supporting greater environmental and animal welfare standards at home, this Bill does absolutely nothing to prevent imports of food produced to lower standards from under-cutting our British farmers.

The Government says it will not weaken food standards as part of a trade deal with the US or other countries with lower standards, but is refusing to make a legal commitment to guarantee this. It insists that bans on lower standard foods like chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef have been carried over into UK law by the EU Withdrawal Act, but the fact remains that these bans can easily be overturned in secondary legislation without proper parliamentary scrutiny – and the Government is already under pressure from new trading partners like the US to allow in lower standard imports in trade deals.

For these reasons, I supported a Lords amendment to the Bill which would have protected food standards. I cannot support a Bill about food and agriculture that doesn’t do the bare minimum of safeguarding UK food standards and protecting British farmers.

Unfortunately, the Government voted to disagree with this amendment and it was defeated by 332 ayes to 279 noes.