News
30th Jun

2020

TFA Blog #10 – What Will the House of Lords Make of the Agriculture Bill?

 

This blog is the full (unedited) piece, written by George Dunn, TFA Chief Executive, for The Cumberland News and Westmorland Gazette, published on 26 June 2020.

It has been over 45 years since the UK has been able to determine its own agricultural and trade policies.  There is a large amount of pent up determination amongst politicians eager to get their hands back on those policy levers.  Ditching the Common Agricultural Policy has become something of a political talisman for those who want to get some quick, clear blue water opened up between the UK and the EU.  The mechanism for achieving that is being provided by the agriculture Bill which is speeding its way through its Parliamentary Stages.

Of course, it is worth noting, that this is the second attempt to bring forward legislation in this area, the first attempt having died in the ashes of the last Parliament prior to Boris Johnson’s Christmas election.  And it is fair to say that the reincarnated Bill has benefited from a period of reflection on the debate which surrounded the first Bill, as it has come back with a stronger focus on food security and food production.

However, the one area which has not seen any improvement is on protecting our high environmental and animal welfare production standards against imported products produced to lower standards including those which would be considered illegal if carried out here.  The Government has resisted all attempts to have those standards hardwired into statute which is odd given that to do so would support the Government’s stated policy that it will not allow imports of food produced to lower standards.  Without statutory backing, we will not even get off first base with the World Trade Organisation in stopping imports which do not meet our standards.  Heartening then that almost 1 million people have signed a petition calling upon the Government to introduce the required legislation.  In light of that strong public opinion, let’s see what their Lordships achieve during the Committee Stage of the Bill and what the House of Commons decides to do in response.

As a measure of the interest in the Bill, over 100 peers had signalled a desire to speak in the Second Reading debate held on 10 June.  The House of Lords plays an important role as an amending chamber so to have so many Peers wanting to play an active role should have been seen as of real benefit in honing the legislation to ensure it meets are required needs.  Instead, the Government’s desire to press ahead with the Bill regardless led to over one third of Peers being denied the opportunity to speak and those who did make the cut were restricted to making their remarks within three minutes.  Many Peers took some of those valuable three minutes to lambast the Government and its Whips for curtailing debate and restricting sensible challenge.  Rightly so, given that we are putting in place legislation which will set the course for UK agriculture for many years to come.  No doubt Peers will have much to say when the Bill reaches its Committee stage.  Already, many amendments have been tabled for debate.

As important as the food standards debate is, and it is important, there are many other aspects of the Bill which need to be looked at.  It’s a bit like buying a car where the main focus is on ensuring that the engine is sound but at the same time wanting to make sure that the doors close, the tyres aren’t worn and the windscreen wipers do their job.  The TFA is promoting a number of amendments including to widen the scope of the financial assistance powers, ensuring that active farmers are the target for future support, requiring proper regulation of supply chains through an expanded remit for the Groceries Code Adjudicator and to improve the position of farm tenants.  Let’s hope we see the Government allowing their Lordships the chance to make the Agriculture Bill the best piece of legislation it can be.

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