The powers in question are intended to protect UK farmers and consumers by barring imports under future trade deals which are produced to standards not permitted in the UK.
Political allegiances were put aside as a number of Conservative peers backed the Labour peer Lord Grantchester’s amendment ensuring agricultural and food imports must meet the equivalent benchmarks for British producers, including on animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety. The amendment passed by 282 votes to 244.
In support of his amendment, Lord Grantchester insisted the protections were required in the Bill so that they were enshrined in primary legislation and so couldn’t be changed through any subsequent statutory orders.
In addition to reinstating the above powers into the Bill, a further amendment by Independent peer Lord Curry also passed by 278 votes to 200. This amendment would give the Trade and Agriculture Commission more powers to scrutinise post-Brexit trade deals as well as requiring the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the impact of proposed future trade deals on maintaining food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards.
Lord Curry’s amendment highlighted what he saw as the public’s fear of cheap imported food undermining UK production standards, a view supported the NFU President Minette Batters. Following the vote, Mrs Batters said, “The House of Lords has once again shown its support for British farming by passing amendments to the Agriculture Bill which include proper safeguards against food imports that would undermine our high standards, demonstrating the strength of feeling and support on this issue.”
One organisation which has highlighted the detrimental effect of failing to protect food standards is the National Pig Association. Their Chief Executive Zoe Davies warned, “Following the UK sow stall ban in 1999, retailers continued to import large volumes of cheaper pork from the EU produced using sow stalls. The impact was catastrophic as UK producers were unable to compete and went out of business; the pig herd halved in size in just a few years. The Government must learn from previous experience and do more to ensure that history is not repeated.”
Government ministers continue to insist that existing legislation is sufficient to protect against lower standard imports and Parliament that already has sufficient scrutiny powers. Farming Minister Victoria Prentis has urged MPs, farmers, campaign groups and the general public to trust the Government on the issue. She was supported by DEFRA Minister Lord Gardiner who underlined the Government’s determination to have a “robust and positive relationship with the people who are custodians and stewards of the land”.
The Bill will now return to the House of Commons once again with the Government under renewed pressure to accept the amendments.