Agriculture Bill

I never expected today to be reading the draft Agriculture Bill but on the 12th it appears that the Commons voted down an amendment by the House of Lords aimed at protecting our food standards with regard to imports. The Lords had amended the Bill by adding the “Requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards“ as their amendment 16. The aim of the amendment was to ensure that any future trade agreement cannot be made unless any food supplied to us under such an agreement meets our standards.

It was argued in the Commons that this means that any country supplying food to us “would require other countries to abide by exactly the regulations that we have in this country”. [70] Well, yes. And? The argument continued “We have high standards in this country, of which we are justly proud, and there is no way the Government will reduce those standards.” Ok… but? “It is important that our future trade agreements uphold those high standards.” Yes, you seem to be in agreement then with the Lords amendment.

Then it starts on a slippery slope. The amendment “could create a long list of new conditions that imports under trade agreements would have to meet”. [73] Well, yes, but isn’t that what you’ve been saying anyway?

Here we go. If the amendment is in place then “trading partners would be extremely unlikely to agree to all the potential new requirements”. [73] Now we’re getting to the meat (sorry!) of the issue. The Conservatives really want that chlorinated chicken!

I’m not going to bore you with the whole debate – you can find it in Hansard – but there was some very neat support of the amendment in that it would strengthen our hand in negotiations, allowing us to “get the kind of deal that is good for British farmers, for the environment and for animal welfare.” [79] It was suggested that “[t]he only reason that the Government would resist the enforcement of minimum standards in the Bill is if they wanted to allow themselves the freedom—the wriggle room—to sell out our farmers.” [80]

And that’s what they have done. Amendment 16 was voted down, 332 to 279. Needless to say the Yes (i.e. kill it) voters were nearly all Conservative (327 Conservative, 3 DUP, 1 independent), with 14 Conservatives and everyone else against.

Ref: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-10-12/debates/23E1C827-D8C0-481D-9D97-40920456BBB4/AgricultureBill [brackets are column numbers]