The Government has now amended both the Agriculture Bill and Trade Bill to strengthen scrutiny and help protect farmers in trade deals.
After a long campaign in Parliament, led by Neil Parish, as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, the Government agreed to amend the Agriculture Bill and Trade Bill, strengthening protections for farmers in statute.
Working with the National Farmers Union, and colleagues in the House of Lords, a series of amendments were put down throughout the passage of the Agriculture Bill to increase protections on standards in relation to animal welfare, food safety and the environment. The main concern was that, in new trade deals, the high standards our farmers produce to will be undermined by cheaper imports. That's why stronger statutory protections were sought.
In the summer, the Government set up the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) for 6 months to produce a report on how standards could be upheld and new opportunities gained for farmers. Neil campaigned consistently in the Mail on Sunday, in Parliament and elsewhere for the TAC to be extended for more than 6 months. That Commission, led by Tim Smith, has now been extended for 3 years and put on a statutory footing to report on each and every trade deal that comes before Parliament. The independent Commission is being set up in the Trade Bill and will provide advice to Parliamentarians and an extra layer of scrutiny to Government on new trade agreements.
In addition, Neil, as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, will also get advance sight of new trade deals as part of an agreement with the Department for International Trade and the International Trade Select Committee - as part of the trade scrutiny process.
On top of this, the Agriculture Bill has been amended to ensure a report on the impact of new trade deals on the maintenance of standards is laid before Parliament before any trade deal. This will ensure any trade deal which contains measures applicable to trade in agricultural products has a report with it, and that report explains whether the trade deal is consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in relation to health, animal welfare and the environment.This amendment mirrored much of what was sought in Neil's original Efra Select Committee amendment to the Agriculture Bill back in May and which became Lords Amendment 16B after several changes.
That's why Neil, and several other previously rebellious MPs on this matter, accepted the concessions the Government had made and voted for the amended Agriculture Bill this week. You can read Neil's speech here.
Neil said after the debate: "I want to give great credit to the Government for getting on the front foot on this issue and finding a compromise in legislation. These amendments show they are committed to high standards and getting the best possible trade deals for our farmers with proper parliamentary scrutiny. They should not be scared of scrutiny, if the deals are good. I can pledge, right now, I will give as much oxygen to the Trade and Agriculture Commission reports as physically possible. If there is any backsliding on commitments, weakening of standards or missed opportunities, Parliament and the public will know about it. I will hold the Government to account on all future trade deals."