The development of a new, post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment, our food production and our countryside.
We need an Agriculture Bill which ensures, in measurable and enforceable terms, the future of our environment, wildlife and habitats while also providing food security. Sustainability must be at the forefront of a thriving farming, food and drink sector.
We need to shift financial assistance, from support for simply owning land to the principle of public money for public goods, to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment.
The government’s proposed Agriculture Bill falls short in several areas. It does not fully recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply. This may lead to a greater reliance on food imports from countries where we have no control over environmental standards. It opens up the possibility that future trade deals will dilute current European Union welfare standards, environmental protection or labour standards.
While the Bill gives wide-ranging powers, it does not make clear how the environmental outcomes that we need are to be funded, delivered or regulated. It offers no targets for improving our environment and no mechanism for setting any targets. This is especially concerning at a time of alarming species decline, soil degradation and increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions driven by escalating climate change.
It is also the case that the Agriculture Bill fails to legislate for current agriculture funding to continue beyond 2022. I would like to see more certainty on long-term funding.
During the second reading debate on October 10, I supported an Opposition amendment which set out these concerns. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated. The Bill has now moved on to committee stage where I hope that several improvements will be made.
I will continue to raise concerns as the Agriculture Bill progresses. I will be supporting amendments to ensure that the Bill properly protects our natural environment and recognises the central importance of sustainable food production. This is one more example of the government’s inability to successfully negotiate a Brexit deal that protects people, our economy and the environment and why I believe we need to put any final draft deal to the people in a new People’s Vote.