I’ve followed the Agriculture Bill through its stages and am attaching an article I wrote about the bill, which contains a link to a speech I made in Parliament, during its passage. I spoke of the particular issues that the bill could present to our own farmers and also called for more to be done to put farming and food production at the heart of the bill. The Government did strengthen to that latter call:
The Agriculture Bill is a landmark bill that will define the UK’s agricultural policy outside of the European Union. It is a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. We can bring in innovative new ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare. The Government proposes to move to a system of paying farmers public money for public goods: principally environmental enhancement.
Food and farming is a bedrock of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. I am pleased that the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022. Once we have the freedom to move away from the Common Agricultural Policy, the proposal is for an 'agricultural transition' period in England, allowing farmers to prepare for a new system.
Ministers have consulted widely with farmers and others. The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for "public goods", such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
The new environmental land management (ELM) system will bring in a new era for farming, providing an income stream for farmers and land managers who protect and preserve our natural environment. For the first time, farmers and land managers will be able to decide for themselves how they can deliver environmental benefits from their businesses and their land, and how they integrate this into their food, timber and other commercial activities.
Organic farmers will therefore be well placed to benefit from ELM due to the environmental benefits they produce, such as increased biodiversity and improved soil quality, which contribute to the delivery of these goals.
The Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.
I am therefore supportive of the Bill, but I also think it is important to get it right. Protecting the farmers in my constituency is of vital concern for me. I regularly meet with local farmers and the National Union of Farmers to listen to their views and concerns. I spoke at the Bill’s second reading stage in Parliament to highlight the importance of food production and food security as well as emphasising the importance of rewarding our farmers for their yield. You can view my speech here: https://goo.gl/REcjxj
As I touched on in my speech, the Agriculture Bill will allow us to introduce ambitious new land management schemes in England, based on the principle of “public money for public goods”, so that we can reward farmers and land managers who protect our environment, improve animal welfare and produce high quality food in a more sustainable way. The Bill will also help farmers to stay competitive, with measures to increase productivity and invest in new technology. We will also improve transparency in the supply chain to help food producers strengthen their position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return from the marketplace.
Maintaining Food and Farming Standards; Amendments New Clauses 1 and 2
Most of the recent correspondence related to ensuring that imports to the UK market do not cause standards to lower in our own practices or undercut. This is more of an issue for the Trade Bill, and for the trade deals we hope to do with other countries following our departure from the EU. On the whole, British consumers want high welfare produce. If our trading partners want to break into the UK market, they should expect to meet those standards. Our manifesto commitment is clear that in all of our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. The government has committed to standing firm in trade negotiations to ensure any deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers.
Much of the rationale for the Government not accepting Amendments NC1 and NC2 are due to the timescales for our exit of the EU. All food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements. At the end of the transition period the Withdrawal Act will convert all EU standards into domestic law. These include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in both domestic and imported products. Nothing apart from potable water may be used to clean chicken carcasses. Any changes to these standards would have to come before Parliament.
Amendments NC1 and NC2 would, if passed, have significant unintended consequences which go beyond our current standards on food imports. The supply of certain products would be severely disrupted, if goods that meet our current import standards were to be blocked, including goods we import now from the EU. We cannot block these goods now because we are still within the transition period and cannot block goods from the EU.
NC1 and NC2 would affect UK exports to countries where we have a trade deal via the EU but have not yet signed a continuity agreement with that country to take over that trade deal as an independent country. The extra conditions in these two new clauses could result in countries refusing to roll the trade deals over. For example, this would risk whisky exports worth £577m a year. Another example is the impact it would have on our potato farmers. Almost 22% of UK potato exports go to those countries with whom an agreement has yet to be signed. In addition, because of the prescriptive nature of these clauses, it is too difficult for the Government to comply before the end of the transition period.
Ultimately, our commitment remains. It is more a question of the correct time in the EU unwinding and trade deal implementation when we need to enact the principles which will maintain high standards in the marketplace.