• Peers for the Planet

Agriculture Bill enters Parliamentary ‘Ping Pong’


UK Parliament, Palace of Westminster
Photo courtesy of Andrew Buchanan via Unsplash

The Agriculture Bill is nearing the end of its process through Parliament and on Monday 12 October the House of Commons voted on amendments which were passed by Peers in the Lords as part of the final stage of a Bill, Parliamentary Ping Pong. During Ping Pong the Bill goes between the Lords and Commons until both Houses can agree on the contents of the Bill.

During Lords stages, Peers voted in a number of areas to ensure that the Bill would be better aligned with long-term climate and biodiversity goals. These amendments linked the Bill to the Climate Change Act and other international accords, such as the Paris Agreement, protected trade standards, increased scrutiny and provided financial support to farmers for environmental improvement plans and supported public health outcomes. However, these amendments were removed by the Government and MPs when the Bill returned to the Commons for consideration of the Lords’ amendments. Peers will now decide if they wish to put similar amendments back into the Bill.

Throughout the process P4P has been working to build cross-party support for key amendments and supported Peers through written briefings and meetings in order to ensure they heard from a wide variety of voices ranging from farmers to health and food NGOs as well as those seeking to conserve the natural environment.

Amendments

Linking the Bill to the Climate Change Act

Peers passed a cross-party amendment in the name of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch which would require the Secretary of State to have due regard of domestic and international climate targets of which the UK is a signatory. It would require the agriculture sector to reach net zero by 2050 and to establish its own carbon budget targets, or plans, to ensure that this was possible with an interim 2030 target. These targets would provide a clear path and a level of certainty to farmers and ensure a degree of equality, so that all farms were adhering to the same targets at the same time.

When the amendment was being debated in the Commons the Minister, Victoria Prentis MP said that it would “add an unnecessary level of complication” and that by not setting sector specific targets the UK could reach net-zero faster. She also stated that under the Climate Change Act the Secretary of State already had to have due regard of net zero.

Trade standards

An amendment was passed in Lord Grantchester’s name with cross party support which would set the requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards.

This amendment would have ensured that British food and farming standards are protected within trade deals as well as ensuring British producers were not undercut by imports. It would include environmental protection, animal health and welfare, food safety, and plant health. This amendment had the backing of the large majority of British farmers as well as the population as a whole.

When voted on in the House of Commons, despite having cross party support, the amendment was rejected and the Minister commented that it was not necessary to continue having high standards and that if passed it would mean that “other countries [would have] to abide by exactly the regulations that we have in this country” giving the example of hedgerow regulations. However, the wording of the amendment states that standards had to be “equilivant to” rather than identical to.

Scrutiny provisions/Trade and Agriculture Commission

Peers passed an amendment in the name of Lord Curry of Kirkharle (amendment 101/18) which had cross-party support and would have established a permanent Trade and Agriculture Commission, replacing the current commission which is due to expire after publishing its report at the end of this year.

Under this amendment the Commission would have to produce an initial report within three months of the Bill becoming an Act which would make recommendations for the policies and legislation that the Government may adopt, in order to ensure that imported agri-food meet equivalent standards to those required of UK producers. The Government would be required to respond to such recommendations but not obliged to adopt them.

The Commission would also have the responsibility to report on each individual international trade agreement that is laid before Parliament prior to it being signed. The amendment would require a motion to be moved in both Houses of Parliament to consider recommendations for the relevant trade agreement before it was signed. This would have the effect of Parliament getting a meaningful input on trade negotiations and the ability alter trade deals.

However, the Government said that this amendment would have required spending that was not in line with the money resolution which had been previously agreed to, so the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsey Hoyle did not allow the amendment to be debated or voted on. The Government stated that as part of the agreed process an impact assessment was produced alongside each international agreement which would assess the environmental and animal welfare aspects of any deal.

Financial support

An amendment in the name of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch was passed by Peers which would have required the Secretary of State to have regard to the current environmental improvement plan when setting out strategic priorities for giving financial assistance. The purpose of the amendment was to link the Bill to the upcoming Environment Bill. In response the Government said that these connections already existed.

During Lords stages of the Bill Peers also made the case for farmers to have adequate financial support and available advice to allow them to best approach the future while supporting an agroecological approach and the need to reduce emissions.

National Health

Peers passed a cross-party amendment in the name of Lord Whitty which inserted a new clause to limit the use of pesticides to protect human health.

This amendment had the aim of limiting where harmful pesticides could be sprayed, so that they were not sprayed close to homes and businesses. The Government rejected the amendment and responded in the Commons that the powers in the amendment were “far too broad” and would limit pesticides being sprayed in any field, as a field could be described as a workplace. However, the amendment gave the Government the power to decide on the exact areas that would be exempt from pesticide use. It was a technical amendment which provided the mechanism rather than dictate terms.

Peers also passed an amendment in the name of Lord Krebs which had cross-party support and inserted a National Food Strategy into the Bill.

The amendment would have required the Secretary of State to lay a plan detailing how the Government would implement recommendations from the National Food Strategy before Parliament. It would include measures to improve food production sustainability, support for production and consumption, and improving dietary health and reduce obesity. Responding to this amendment in the Commons, the Minister Victoria Prentis MP told the House that it was likely that the response to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food strategy would be published before the date that this amendment would require.

We will provide an update once Ping Pong is complete


See more information on previous stages of the Bill here