I share the concern of British farmers, that the Agriculture Bill does not prevent them from being undercut in post-Brexit trade deals with countries with lower animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards. We need to support our British farmers through this crisis and beyond, yet the Bill would allow them to be undercut in future trade deals.
This is why the Opposition introduced a clause to the Bill (New Clause 2) which would have required imported food to meet standards at least as high as those required for food produced in the UK. Despite cross-party support in Parliament and from many farming and environmental organisations, the Government voted down this amendment.
A small number of Conservative rebels voted for New Clause 2, but once the clause was defeated and the vote came for the Third Reading of the Bill, only one Conservative MP voted against its approval. All but one of the self-proclaimed patriotic, pro-Britain party voted to allow the lowering of Britain’s food standards and the undercutting of British farmers – proof, if it wasn’t already clear, that the Conservative Party’s fake patriotism and populism is an illusion to trick people into voting for a party that puts the interests of international business above all else.
I also voted for an amendment that would have required a coronavirus emergency food plan to be published within six months of the Bill becoming law. It would focus on the food supply problems highlighted by coronavirus: the fragility of supply, concerns over agricultural labour supply and the nutritional value of food parcels for those who are being shielded. Again, the amendment was defeated by the Government.
In addition, the Bill still falls short on properly protecting our natural environment and climate. In the midst of this climate and environmental emergency, it is deeply disappointing that the Government declined to set targets for agriculture to reach net zero emissions.
The coronavirus emergency has put our entire food system under huge strain. Food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly and with millions struggling to make ends meet. We need political urgency to ensure that everyone can afford food. This critical problem was not addressed in the Bill.
For these reasons, I opposed the Bill at its Second and Third Readings. However, the Government’s majority ensured that it passed, and it has now gone to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. Despite my hope that the Lords will bring forward sensible amendments to the Bill, I have no doubt that the Government will remove them once the Bill returns to the House of Commons.
Although there are some parts of this Bill that I welcome, including the introduction of a new farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, particularly environmental protection, the negatives by far outweigh the positives.
I can assure you that I will continue to vote to improve our food and agriculture standards, and against Government initiatives to erode them.