I wish to take this opportunity to explain why I voted against the Lords’ Amendments to the Agricultural Bill. Firstly, I want to assure you the quality of food we import into this country will not change as a result of this Bill. This Bill creates agricultural policy in England only. Food from abroad comes in through specific trade deals.
Farmers will not be undercut as a result of this Bill. Chlorinated chicken and hormone treated beef are illegal to import – and to produce – in this country and will remain so.
I recognise the Lord’s Amendments sounded and looked good, but my job as an MP is to interrogate the legislation and amendments and work out any issues or problems with them. These amendments were riddled with issues that would harm our farmers and food producers here in Derbyshire Dales.
I remain resolutely committed to ensuring that our agricultural industry reaps the huge benefits that Brexit affords us, but this would have been far more difficult had these amendments passed and our nation’s food supply and ability to strike trade agreements were undermined.
I know British consumers want produce to be held to the highest standards. If our trading partners want to break into the UK market, they should expect to meet those standards. 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
The repercussions of the amendments would have been:
1. These Amendments would have created a large set of new conditions that imports under trade agreements would have to meet. For example, producers having to manage their land the way we do: legal controls on nitrate concentration in soils which are inappropriate for other countries, burning heather as we do, adopting our hedge cutting laws (to protect nesting birds), or having the same climate change initiatives we do such as cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, even if this does not work for their domestic climate or country.
These are conditions that do not exist under ANY agreement the UK or EU has today - yet there are no concerns about their safety currently, and it frankly doesn’t make sense to require trading partners with different climates or environments to meet our requirements, which are designed specifically for the UK. We would not accept those sorts of impositions on our own farmers. This means many imports that are legal under EU trade deals would become illegal if we passed this amendment and rolled over the trade deals, so we would have to stop importing foods we import quite happily and safely now.
2. The Amendments could have disrupted negotiations on agreements we are seeking to roll-over but have not yet ratified. This puts preferential terms for UK farmers at risk and our farmers would have suffered as a result. The people who would suffer if we fail to roll existing trade deals over, are our farmers and food producers as they would be unable to export.
3. The Amendments were also not in keeping with World Trade Organisation rules. So, under these amendments our farmers, food producers, supermarkets, our hospitality industry, and farmers in developed nations would be negatively impacted.
We need to strike good trade deals if we want to make the most of this opportunity, and that has already begun, with this Conservative Government securing the first beef exports to The United States in over 20 years, trade deals signed with Japan and Derbyshire Stilton being exported abroad. We all want to maintain our excellent food standards; it is what makes UK produce so appealing to global markets and it is the type of food domestic consumers wish to buy.
I am pleased that the President of the NFU Minette Batters met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Number 10 last week and that the conversations continued over the weekend. She reported that the discussions were positive. I would like to see NFU representatives from all home nations of the United Kingdom fully involved in the forthcoming trade negotiations and with the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I know from recent conversations with The Prime Minister that Minette Batters is right when she told the Times on the 19th of October: “Boris told me, I would rather die than hurt British farmers”. I, like Boris, will always support our farmers in Derbyshire Dales.