As PPS to DEFRA Ministers I was pleased to be supporting the Agriculture Bill through Parliament. I believe it offers a unique opportunity to secure the nations food sustainability, support farmers and protect our environment.
Food and farming is a bedrock of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping to shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. I am pleased that the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022. Once we have the freedom to move away from the Common Agricultural Policy, the proposal is for an 'agricultural transition' period in England, allowing farmers to prepare for a new system.
Leaving the EU creates a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. Starting from first principles we can bring in innovative new ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare. The Government proposes to move to a system of paying farmers public money for public goods: principally environmental enhancement.
Ministers have consulted widely with farmers and others, and have published the Agriculture Bill alongside their response; it focuses mostly on England because they recognise that devolution provides each administration with the powers to decide its own priorities. They are keenly aware of the importance of seasonal labour, so will work with the industry to ensure it has the right people with the right skills.
We must take this opportunity to use public money to reward environmentally-responsible land use, as well as maintaining and enhancing high standards of animal welfare. I am convinced that we will harness this opportunity and ensure that our best days as a food and farming nation lie ahead of us.
I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.
Ministers have been clear that they intend it to remain world-leading in the future and, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU. In the latest Agriculture Bill I welcome moves to reward farmers who go beyond legislative requirements for their animals’ welfare.
We will maintain high animal welfare in any trade deal that we conclude post-Brexit. It is not only right morally but also because it is the pragmatic, economic thing to do. Britain and the individual nations of the United Kingdom will succeed in the future on the basis that the products that we produce are known worldwide for the high-quality standards that lie behind them.
I am told that the Government is currently reflecting on concerns about the Bill raised during Committee Stage, as well as those raised by colleagues and interested parties. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.
It is absolutely vital that people across the UK have confidence in the food they eat. I therefore welcome the Government's very clear commitment that any future trade agreements must uphold the UK's high levels of food safety, animal welfare standards, and environmental protection. Ministers have made clear these standards will not be watered down in pursuit of any trade deal once the UK leaves the EU.
Public consultations will be run ahead of any negotiations for new trade agreements, while any final agreement will be scrutinised and ratified by Parliament. These measures will ensure that both Parliament and the public can have their say on the content of any potential new trade agreements, including in the area of food standards. I am aware consultations have already taken place in the US, New Zealand and Australia, as well as with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
I am encouraged by the Government's commitment to uphold our high food standards, ensuring we will all continue to have confidence in the food we eat.