MPs from across the political spectrum raised issues close to the NPA’s heart as the Agriculture Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The NPA had been busy briefing MPs ahead of the important debate and the messages appeared to have got through, particularly around the lack of policies to support food production in the Bill and concern over import standards.
Opening the debate, Mr Gove said: “Above all, I am grateful to our farmers, who are Britain’s backbone and on whom we are reliant for the food that we enjoy and for the health of our rural economy and society. Every measure in the Bill is designed to ensure that our farmers receive the support that they deserve to give us the healthy food that we enjoy and the beautiful rural environment on which we all depend.”
He said the Bill ‘will set a clear direction for the future of agriculture’, ensuring that farmers have time to make the appropriate changes required thanks to the seven-year transition period from 2021.
But in her response, Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman said: “This country is in desperate need of an Agriculture Bill that provides certainty and clarity for our food and farming industry, but instead the Secretary of State has laid before us nothing but a huge missed opportunity.”
She said the Bill ‘fails to provide a strategy to safeguard the nation’s food supply at a time when food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly’ and ‘fails to recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply’, she added. As a result, this could lead to a ‘greater reliance on imports, while failing to provide for controls over the production methods, working conditions, or animal welfare and environmental standards in countries from which the UK’s food is imported’, she said.
Farming Minister George Eustice highlighted the fact that the pig sector has never been subsidized as he defended the end of direct payments. He said: “The current system is not about food production. We should also recognise that some of our most successful and vibrant food-producing sectors of agriculture have never been subsidised. Look at the poultry industry, the pig industry, the horticulture industry or fruit and veg producers. They have never had subsidies.”
NPA senior policy advisor Ed Barker said: “This was a chance for MPs to challenge the Government on its policies for agriculture after we leave the EU. There were a huge number of MPs who echoed the general points we have been making on imports of lower standard products, the risk of exporting production and the lack of reference to food in the Bill.”