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Government must bring the Agriculture Bill back to Parliament now

Ministers must bring the Agriculture Bill back to Parliament now to allow peers and MPs to address all of its failings, says Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman.

It is now nearly five months since the Government’s Agriculture Bill finished its final committee session in the House of Commons.

 

We eagerly await its return for Report Stage and Third Reading, where amendments may be made to the proposed legislation.

 

The Government’s initial intended date of EU exit has come and gone, but there is still no sign of the Agriculture Bill returning to Parliament to resume the process of legislative scrutiny.

 

There are still many questions that the British agricultural sector needs answering but, so far, the Bill has failed to address them.

 

None

 

Farmers desperately need certainty, but the Government offers them none.

 

How can our farmers stay afloat when Ministers have proved unable to make good in the Agriculture Bill on any of their funding promises?

 

How can they even think about investing with the threat of a haphazard or no-deal Brexit, which would be nothing short of a disaster for farming, food, and the British environment?

 

If the Government will not accept an amendment to the Bill which would establish a multi-year funding mechanism, how will it ensure the long-term funding for farmers?

 

Vital

 

It’s time the Government gave our farmers vital assurances that there will be sufficient funding in place to enable them to invest with confidence in delivering a healthy, accessible environment, high-quality and nutritious food, and world-leading animal welfare standards.

 

The Bill, as it stands, is a missed opportunity.

 

That’s why we are so desperate to see it return to the Commons, so further amendments can be laid and debated.

 

It lacks an overall vision for sustainable food production, the future of rural communities, or how to sustain a thriving food and farming sector in Britain.

 

Silent

 

It’s worryingly silent on food poverty.

 

It says nothing on the balance between the production of healthy and sustainable food, and the reliance on imports, the jobs and health and safety of agricultural workers.

 

And then there is the ever-looming threat of disastrous trade deals being agreed with lower standards which would undercut British food producers.

 

The Bill fails to recognise the importance of food and diet for health.

It completely misses the opportunity to tackle the problems of food waste when foodbank demand has never been higher, or the relationship between the quality and affordability of food and the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

 

Worry

 

Another major worry facing many farmers is the question of seasonal agricultural workers.

 

Against the up to 60,000 seasonal workers from the EU that British businesses employ each year, with many companies already reporting a considerable shortfall in the staff they need, the Government’s pilot scheme only allows 2,500 workers.

 

Access to a workforce is essential for a thriving agricultural sector.

 

Ministers need to reinstate a full Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme so farmers can be sure they will have the capability to bring in this year’s harvest.

 

Shift

 

Labour welcomes the shift in the Bill from supporting land ownership to the principle of delivering public money for public benefit, to help farmers restore and improve our natural environment.

 

But it fails to safeguard our food supply, tackle health inequalities, and falls well short on properly protecting our natural environment, which is deeply disappointing.

 

If the Government wants to see British farming flourish, then we need to get to work to make the Agriculture Bill as good as it can possibly be.

 

I urge Ministers to bring it back to the House of Commons as soon as possible, so Parliament can work to put in place a robust agriculture policy which will stand British farmers in good stead for the decades to come.

 

Sue can be found tweeting at @SueHayman1


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