Agriculture Bill: Briefing for Lords Stages

The House of Lords stages of the Agriculture Bill began on 18 May 2020 with first reading.

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The Agriculture Bill establishes a legislative framework by which the Secretary of State would be able to create a new system for supporting the farming industry following the UK’s departure from the EU. The bill sets out a list of activities which might be supported financially by the Secretary of State, such as environmental protection, public access to the countryside and the preservation of the health and welfare of livestock and plants. The bill also includes provisions concerning reform of the agricultural market in the UK which are intended to: increase food security in the UK; improve transparency and fairness in the agri-food supply chain; increase protection for agricultural producers selling to business purchasers; and protect market standards.

A similar Agriculture Bill was introduced during the 2017–19 session. Commenting on that version of the bill, both the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee raised concerns about the use of delegated powers in the bill, arguing the Government had not provided enough information about how the system would work in practice. The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also raised concerns regarding whether there were adequate protections in the bill to ensure that cheap goods imported into the UK did not undercut existing UK food production standards.

During report stage on the current bill on 13 May 2020, the Opposition and the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish, and other MPs argued the bill needed to include a ban on the import of food products to the UK that did not meet UK standards. The Government opposed these amendments, arguing the Agriculture Bill was a domestic bill rather than a trade bill. The Government also argued it had made a manifesto commitment not to compromise the UK’s environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards as part of any future trade deal.

An amendment to introduce a ban on food imports to the UK that did not meet UK standards was defeated in a division by 328 votes to 277. This division was conducted using a new procedure for remote electronic voting, introduced in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

On 10 June 2020, the second reading of the Agriculture Bill is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords.

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