About the Agriculture Bill
The Agriculture Bill passing through Parliament right now is the first for almost 50 years!
Despite a Tory manifesto promise to do so in 2019, the Bill doesn’t include any provision that protects our current high food, animal welfare and environmental standards. This has huge implications for the UK farming and food industries which could see them being undercut by lower quality, cheaper imports.
Save British Farming is campaigning to keep those standards, and we need your help to do it.
What’s happened so far?
The Bill has already passed two readings in the House of Commons. Tory MPs have already used their majority to quash amendments that would have ensured food imports was on a par with domestic standards, and would therefore not undercut, and ultimately throw out of business, British farms producing to higher standards. This is in spite of the fact that government promised they would not undercut UK environmental, animal welfare or food standards in any future trade treaty.
Where are we now?
The Government is setting up a Trade and Agricultural commission (TAC), and nominated its members, leaving out representation from crucial public interest groups such as on health and consumers. Some amendments are designed to widen representation on this Commission, and also strengthen the powers of this Commission to secure legal safeguards on imports, and require TAC to issue reports and lay before Parliament for scrutiny any new trade treaties that affect food and farming.
Meanwhile, the Bill is now being considered in the House of Lords. Two amendments have already been agreed which will now go back to House of Commons:
- Amendment 31: ensuring farm aid fits with environmental strategies
- Amendment 58: ensuring healthier food, and supporting procurement of food produced in UK.
Two further amendments cover more of the issues that Save British Farming is concerned about:
- Amendment 93: concerning food standards and requires any new treaty to be put to Parliament (lead proposer for for this amendment is Lord Grantchester – a Labour hereditary peer and farmer).
- Amendment 101: achieves that after a more representative TAC has identified the issues.
So that gives us two points of influence under 101 — one via our contacts on the TAC and then one via our MPs.
If these amendments pass in the House of Lords, the House of Commons will have to debate and vote on them. So this is another opportunity to lobby MPs during this crucial episode of UK law-making that is not only a concern for farmers and food traders. This affects all of us, as it is about the food we eat, the environment in which it is produced, it’s about plants and animals, and ultimately the sustainable future of Planet Earth.
Sept 22nd is crunch day for consideration of amendments 93, 101, 104 that would give legal safeguards to ensure that high UK farming standards are not threatened in any future trade deal.
Those in favour of weakening them, to get cheap imported food via trade deals with countries like US, Australia, Brazil, Argentina tend to claim the WTO phytosanitary rules are enough, but in reality they fall short of existing UK (and EU) standards.
If 101 is accepted in the Lords, the Commons will have to debate it, and this is when we lobby our MPs. We can’t be certain of the timetable, but rumour has it the government want to ram this through as quickly as possible, so the debate may be scheduled as early as the week commencing September 28th.
If the Commons make further amendments, the House of Lords will have to consider again. Parliamentarians often refer to this as the “ping-pong” which continues until both houses accept the wording.
After that, the text is signed by the Sovereign and becomes UK law.
Which Lords to lobby?
Go to They Work for You website where you can see the list of people with votes in the House of Lords. It even shows how the numbers stack up: 255 Conservatives, 177 Labour, 88 Libdem, 2 Green, 26 Bishops, 179 Cross-bench, 52 non-affiliated and 10 from devolved regions. But not everybody votes on each “Division” or pays attention to all topics coming to the Lords for legislation.
They specialise in topics. On “TheyWorkforYou” site you can search for the Lords to lobby by name, or by topic. A search by topic even gives you quotations for speeches they have made on that topic..
Looking at the division votes for the 3 amendments last week to the Agriculture Bill, this site shows:
- Amendment 12 on food security and standards Y130: N225, (so defeated by the Conservative block vote)
- Amendment 31 on farm aid strategy and the environment Y280: N218
- Amendment 58 on healthy food Y258: N208
So, it is possible to defeat the Conservative block vote! The strategy would be to get as many of opposition parties voting as possible, and also the cross-bench, non-affiliated, and Bishops.
Advice on lobbying is not to send generic letters, but to try to give some personal reasons why you are concerned with this topic. If you can identify a link to the person you are lobbying, that is good to add: e.g. live in same county, belong to same political party, share same profession, or (for Lords Spiritual) live in XX parish in their diocese.
See further notes below on which Lords to start with.
Getting email addresses
Unlike MPs, the Lords do not have paid-for Parliamentary assistance, and their emails are not available via the Parliament site.
“TheyWorkforYou” try to solve this by forwarding messages via the links they have. As this is an extra stage in the messaging, try and get your message off on Sept 21.
For the Bishops, click here to see which are the 26 Bishops. If your diocese is not one of them, you could still email the Bishop of St Albans thanking him for being one of the proposers of Amendment 101. “TheyworkforYou” do not do a forwarding service for the Bishops, so you will just have to Google their contact details. All Bishops have diocesan offices and emails for public communications.
Save British Farming is also encouraging as many people as possible to write to their MP. We have created a customisable template letter you can send to your MP. All you need is your postcode and the app will do the rest. You can find it here.
Linking with other organisations
If you want to see which other organisations are concerned about the same issues in the Agriculture Bill, see the list of signatures to the letter the NFU wrote to Government in January 2020.
You might want to link up with local members of these organisations to ensure they are aware of this lobbying effort on the Agriculture bill, and whether you can join up in any publicity effort.
Let us know what you are doing by email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know which Lords you are lobbying. It would be helpful if you shared your postcode or constituency too, so that we can see the national coverage of this lobby. It will also help us at the next stage, lobbying MPs by constituency.
An amendment proposed by Lord Krebs to the Agriculture Bill, calling for the creation of a National Food Strategy, was passed on Thursday in the Lords by 280 to 218 votes (nearly all votes against were Tory, 4 Tories voted in favour, 37 did not vote).
The content of the amendment was based on key recommendation in the report Hungry for Change: fixing the failures in food published in July by the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment chaired by Lord Krebs.
A couple of quotes from the report:
*We heard views on post-Brexit trade agreements and were convinced of the economic, environmental, and moral imperatives to ensure that imported food reaches the same environmental, health and animal welfare standards as food produced in the UK.* [para 407]
*There was strong agreement that, whatever environmental standards are implemented following Brexit, trade arrangements must support these standards rather than undermine them. Several of our witnesses spoke of the
need to apply the same environmental standards to imports as are applied to food produced in the UK. This is partly a competitive requirement for British farmers who may otherwise be undercut by cheaper food produced with lower environmental standards, and partly a moral imperative not to encourage poorer standards elsewhere.* [para 461]
The Members of the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment were:
Lord Krebs (Chair)
Baroness Redfern (resigned 8 January 2020)
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick
The Earl of Caithness (appointed 30 January 2020)
Lord Rooker (resigned 9 January 2020)
Baroness Sanderson of Welton
Baroness Jay of Paddington (appointed 22 January 2020)(resigned 9 September 2019)
NB Lord Krebs is a crossbench peer. Crossbench peers voted overwhelmingly in favour of his amendment.