The Agriculture Bill amended in the House of Lords

The Agriculture Bill has almost finished its scrutiny stages at the House or Lords and several valuable amendments were voted for - in late-night sessions this and last week. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

Photo credit: Pixabay

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The Bill will have a Lords Third Reading (1 October) to check it is still workable and then transfers once again to the House of Commons (in a process aptly called ‘ping pong’) where these amendments will be voted on (and possibly out given the Government majority). The Lords amendments passed include changes to:

  • Requiring the Government to consider the current Environmental Improvement Plan in strategic priorities for giving financial assistance.  
  • Putting the National Food Strategy measures in the Bill. The amendment proposes the creation of a strategy to increase sustainability of food production, support food production and consumption, and improve dietary health and reduce obesity in the UK.
  • Ensuring agri-food imports match British food, animal welfare and environmental standards; also to strengthen the Department for International Trade's Trade and Agriculture Commission (Sustain and our members are highly worried about the scope, expertise and ineffectiveness of this temporary TAC).
  • Addressing the contribution of agriculture and associated land-use to climate change.
  • Tackling the issue of pesticide exposure, namely limitations on the use of pesticides to protect human health.

These were great results in the House of Lords. However, sadly, votes were not taken (as there was not enough support) on the following amendments that aimed to strengthen the Agriculture Bill, in terms of:

  • Whole-farm agro-ecological farming or agro-forestry – we think this is a huge missed opportunity to deliver strong financial support to farmers delivering inclusive and integrated action rather than piecemeal improvements.
  • Making the Financial Assistance and Fair Dealing clauses 'duties' rather than 'powers', so there would be an obligation to deliver and proper accountability
  • Linking financial support to deliver on public health goals such as antibiotic resistance or improved access to healthy and affordable fruit and vegetables. The useful National Food Strategy Amendment (see above) does cover health issues but is separate from the beating heart of the Agriculture Bill, i.e. Clause 1 on how government supports farming. This reinforces the misguided view that farming and health are separate. The National Food Strategy amendment is also unlikely to pass the House of Commons as it puts many very specific duties on the Defra Secretary of State – and he has been clear all along that wants a largely ‘enabling’ Bill, rather than one that holds the Government to specific actions. 
  • Specific support for new farm entrants and local food systems – both critical for the resilient and sustainable food system we need.

We had expected the House of Lords to push for more duties, which would make the Government accountable for action, and to strengthen the Bill’s provisions in terms of environment, public health and animal welfare.

Happily, we had successfully lobbied in 2019 for some essential changes made after the first Bill fell, so all is not lost and the Bill could herald a major improvement in farm policy.

These pages show the links to the Bill papers, Hansard transcripts, and votes taken. Sustain's Agriculture Bill pages and briefings can be seen here. And you can read the 'new' bill with all the amendments added on 22 Sept 2020 here

Now the House of Commons get to scrutinise and vote on the House of Lords amendments and all eyes will be on the Conservative MPs, given their party's majority. We hope they recognise and act on their constituents’ concerns demanding these changes that are so important for farm livelihoods, food standards, climate change, animal welfare and public health. Watch out for actions.

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Food and Farming Policy: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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