Thank you for contacting me with regard to the Agriculture Bill and food standards.
I agree with you about the importance of maintaining food standards. The Government has no intention of reducing food standards in pursuit of any trade deal or for any other reason.
Since first being elected, I have met regularly with local farmers to listen to their concerns and to take forward issues to DEFRA on their behalf, particularly with regard to the Agriculture Bill. Shortly after being elected, I convened a Farmers' Forum which has met a number of times now and I have liaised with the local and national NFU during the pandemic about specific issues which have affected the farming sector during the pandemic and, of course, food standards have been a very important issue as part of those discussions.
The manifesto I stood on was clear that in all trade negotiations, our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards will not be compromised. The Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure any deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers. All food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements.
The EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book. These import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcasses. Please be assured that any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before Parliament.
In addition, there will be Parliamentary scrutiny of future trade agreements and I specifically asked the minister about this during the debate on the Trade Bill earlier this year and he gave further assurances about the role of scrutiny in considering future trade agreements – https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2020-07-20a.1870.2&s=speaker%3A24787#g1890.4
I welcome the announcement that a Trade and Agriculture Commission has also been established – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trade-and-agriculture-commission-tac. This is something which local farmers have been calling for and is supported by the NFU. The Government has listened to their concerns, although during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, I called for its oversight to be strengthened. The Commission will focus on ensuring that farmers do not face unfair competition and that their high animal welfare and production standards are not undermined.
On 12th October, I attended the Agriculture Bill debate as the House of Commons rejected all the amendments proposed by the House of Lords to the Agriculture Bill. I say “all the amendments” but there was one glaring omission – an amendment proposed by Lord Curry that would have given more shape to the new Trade and Agriculture Commission. This amendment was ruled out of order by the Speaker, prompting me to make the following intervention:
Richard Fuller MP : On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The ruling that you have just made regarding amendment 18 will surprise, if not stun, many people outside, who had placed much hope in the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Could you provide the House with any further details of the rationale, because on first reading it is not clear what the financial implications of this particular provision would be? What—if any—other remedies might be available to Members of this House to pursue this matter further?
Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Member for his point of order. As he is an experienced Member of the House, he knows that when Mr Speaker and the Public Bill Office look at these amendments, they do so very thoroughly. Although they do not have to give a reason why an amendment is allowed or not allowed, the statement that I have just made is quite rare in the 28 years that I have been a Member—and I think Mr Speaker has done rather well, to be honest.
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee followed up making the point that the Government could have ruled the amendment in order by providing a money resolution to support it.
Lord Curry’s Amendment was a wise amendment because throughout the debate on the Bill, the government has consistently, and rightly, pointed to its manifesto commitments to uphold standards – on food standards, on animal welfare and on environmental protection. However, the decision to establish the Commission was an indication that more was needed beyond these reassurances.
I did not favour writing such standards for our trade deals into this Bill. This is an unwise, and potentially counterproductive approach, for multiple reasons. As a result, I continued to press the Government with regard to the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and I was pleased when the Government agreed that is was extending the Commission, and placing it on a full statutory footing in the Trade Bill, giving farmers a stronger voice in UK trade policy. The government has also tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to bolster parliamentary scrutiny of free trade deals. I have provided more details on this on my website - https://www.richardfuller.co.uk/news/farmers-given-stronger-voice-trade-policy
Our high animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards will continue to be met in a number of ways: by the existing manifesto commitment, the transfer of all EU food safety standards in the EU Withdrawal Act which will convert all EU standards into domestic law, the ability of Parliament to scrutinise future trade deals and the strengthened Trade and Agriculture Commission.
Thank you for getting in touch.
Richard Fuller MP