Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the Agriculture Bill, which recently had its remaining stages in the House of Commons.
I welcome the Bill’s introduction of a new farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, particularly environmental protection, but the Government must ensure that our agricultural policy and trade policy are coherent and go hand in hand.
I share your concern that the Bill does not prevent our British farmers from being undercut in post-Brexit trade deals with countries with lower animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards. I voted for New Clause 2 which would have required imported food to meet standards at least as high as those required for food produced in the UK. Despite cross-party support in Parliament and from many farming and environmental organisations, the Government voted down this amendment.
The coronavirus emergency has put our entire food system under huge strain. Food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly and with millions struggling to make ends meet, we need political urgency to ensure that everyone can afford food.
I voted for an amendment that would have required a coronavirus emergency food plan to be published within six months of the Bill becoming law. It would focus on the food supply problems highlighted by coronavirus: the fragility of supply, concerns over agricultural labour supply and the nutritional value of food parcels for those who are being shielded. Again, the amendment was defeated by the Government.
In addition, the Bill still falls short on properly protecting our natural environment and climate. In the midst of this climate and environmental emergency, it is disappointing that the Government declined to set targets for agriculture to reach net zero emissions.
We need to support our British farmers through this crisis and beyond, yet the Bill would allow them to be undercut on food standards in future trade deals. For this reason, I was unable to support the Bill at Third Reading. The Bill passed with government support and has now gone to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.