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The Lords will not sit back and let the Agriculture Bill pass without amendment

As the Agriculture Bill passes through the House of Lords, peers will be seeking to make changes to strengthen it in several areas, says Baroness McIntosh.

The Agriculture Bill is currently being scrutinised in the House of Lords, where there is concern that the Bill is focusing less on active farming and creating more of an environmental charter.

 

We are raising the plight of tenant farmers who farm land but may not benefit from the public good aspects of new arrangements.

 

Financial assistance for public goods should be more directly focused on occupation of the land than on ownership, and whoever takes the economic risk should benefit from the funding.

 

Liz Truss announced this month that the Government is now planning to set up a Trade and Agriculture Commission.

 

Inferior

 

We are making the case in the Lords to consider the Agriculture Bill for a Trade Standards Commission, whose role would be to ensure that standards of imported food produce meet the same high standards of animal health, welfare and environmental protection as home-produced food, reassuring farmers and consumers alike that no inferior sub-standard produce is being admitted to the UK.

 

The Commission should have real teeth in setting the criteria against which international trade agreements will be negotiated, operate independently of Government and be able to make legally binding decisions.

 

Other priorities for the Lords in relation to the Agriculture Bill are to ensure the emphasis will remain on agriculture and farming activities, to improve our self-sufficiency, to make sure common land is covered by any new scheme, to keep food security as a priority, and to push for the Bill not to take effect until 2022 to counter the effects of Covid-19.

 

Detail

 

We are seeking more detail on the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme and want to address the funding gap between phasing out current stewardship schemes and direct payments and ELMs being introduced.

 

We are also trying to understand the implications of storing water on land as a public good.

 

Farmers want to show they have a positive role to play in combatting climate change through sustainable farming, and preventing flooding downstream through schemes like Slow the Flow in Pickering can achieve that.

 

One lesson of Covid-19 is the importance of knowing the provenance of our food, of traceability and labelling and shorter supply chains.

 

Opportunities

 

There will be huge opportunities in future to source more home-produced food in our schools, hospitals and prisons, as we will not be bound by EU public procurement rules.

 

The Bill paves the way to extend the role of the Grocery Code Adjudicator to indirect supply chains in sectors such as dairy.

 

This legislation provides us with the opportunity to create a farm policy for the next forty years, with sustainable food production and protection of the environment at its heart.

 

The door is now open to the idea of a Trade Commission being set up by the Government for the specific purpose of safeguarding our high standards of production at home, ensuring our farm produce is not undermined by sub-standard imports and reflecting consumer interests, but also sharing our high standards of animal welfare globally through the World Trade Organisation.

 

Baroness McIntosh can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh

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