Agriculture Bill

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for contacting me on the Agriculture Bill.

The good intentions of those promoting amendments seeking to put minimum food standards in the Agriculture Bill cannot be doubted and the importance of high standards and fairness in trade deals for Devon’s farmers was at the forefront of my mind when considering these. I could not, though, vote for an amendment based on intentions alone. Victoria Prentice, the Bill Minister, gave a very full account of why the Government could not support amendments on food standards and I think it would be helpful to set out some of her remarks here:

‘I will start by reiterating that, alongside my colleagues on this side of the House, I stood on a clear manifesto commitment that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards. As I have said many times, our current import standards are enshrined in existing legislation.

They include a ban on importing beef produced using artificial growth hormones and poultry that has been washed with chlorine. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 carries across those existing standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health and food safety. Any changes to that legislation would need to be brought before Parliament…

It is important that our future trade agreements uphold those high standards. We can ensure that with a range of safeguards, parliamentary scrutiny being one ​of them. My right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary has today confirmed in a written ministerial statement to the House that there will be a full scrutiny process for the Japan deal and all other agreements that we strike. When it is agreed in principle, a copy of the deal will be issued to the International Trade Committee. It can then report on that, and I know that it will scrutinise the deal carefully…

[I]f amendments 12 and 16 remained in the Bill, they could create a long list of new conditions that imports under trade agreements would have to meet. Such conditions do not exist under any agreement that the UK or the EU have to date, and they could also apply to trade already taking place, which we very much hope will be the subject of roll-over deals.

We will drive a hard bargain for access to our market, and existing import conditions will need to be respected. However, trading partners would be extremely unlikely to agree to all the potential new requirements in the amendments. The amendments are also not totally clear on what we would be asking of our partners. For example, what is relevant to protect the environment in the UK will surely not be what is relevant to other countries with different climates or conditions. From rules on nitrates to rules on hedgerows, our standards are sometimes bound to differ from those abroad.

Given that uncertainty, I am concerned that the amendments could jeopardise the 19 currently unsigned agreements that we are seeking to roll over. Trade, of course, already takes place under those agreements, with existing import requirements met. Unpicking those and demanding the numerous extra conditions in the amendments could upset the current deals if partners refused and walked away. In the worst-case scenario, that could affect whisky exports to Canada, worth £96 million, potato exports to Egypt, worth £30 million, and milk powder exports to Algeria, worth £21 million.’

(Victoria Prentice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Defra: Hansard, 12 October 2020, Volume 682, Cols 65-73)

The full debate can be read here:; and the Written Ministerial Statement on trade deal scrutiny can be found here:

I found the Minister’s case compelling and was reassured that the Minister put all these points on the record on the floor of the House. 

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.

Yours sincerely,

Mel Stride MP

MP for Central Devon