12 October 2020
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown urges the Government to use variable tariffs to ensure our high food standards are maintained

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown rejects amendments to the Agricultural Bill which could jeopardise existing free trade agreements but calls on the Government to use variable tariffs to ensure high food and animal welfare standards are maintained and also calls for more power for the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

After that rant, I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I have to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), because I think he gave one of the most outstanding speeches I have heard in this House.

I start by drawing attention to my declaration of interest as a farmer. I have lived with this subject for some 67 years of my life—my father was a farmer. I have a passion for the countryside, I have a passion for British farmers producing high-quality goods, and I have a passion for British farmers managing the British countryside in the way that it is, and that is the way the public want to see it continue to be managed. The Bill gives us an ideal opportunity, through the way we are going to purchase public goods, to continue to raise the standards of British agriculture.

I have been in this House for 29 years. I have not seen a single free trade agreement negotiated by the EU that has damaged British farming standards, and I do not believe that will happen in the future. I have listened to every word that my hon. Friend the Minister has correctly said from the Front Bench. What we do not want to do is jeopardise the 29 or so roll-over free trade agreements from the EU by passing legislation in this House tonight that would do such a thing.

While being passionate about maintaining high standards, I do not think that Lords amendments 12 and 16 are the way to do it. The way to do it, as was so rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, is through variable tariffs that make clear to our trading partners that if they do not adhere to our high standards, we will raise the tariffs on their goods. That is the way to do it.

The second way to do it is to beef up the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government can do that unilaterally without any legislation. They can simply renew the term of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I urge her to have serious talks with the Department for International Trade to see whether that can be done. It does not need to be put in the Bill. We do not need amendments to the Bill. We might need to look at it in the Trade Bill if the Government are not sympathetic to my arguments, but that is a different matter for a different day, and I might well support amendments of that sort if I do not see progress.

There are lots of things I do welcome in the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Minister has been right to mention them, particularly Government amendment 2, which relates to multi-annual assistance plans for farmers. That is absolutely vital for how we will support our farmers in the 21st century. We want them to be producing more of the food that our British consumers eat. While I have been in this House, I have seen more and more goods imported into this country, whereas if our farmers could start to produce more, all those imports—things such as yoghurt and cheese—could be replaced with goods produced in this country. If we keep up our high standards, we will continue to export more and more to other countries. Recently, we have seen our pork and milk powder go to China and my excellent Cotswold lambs go to France. There is a huge opportunity around the world if we keep our standards up. That is the way we need to go: not dumbing everything down, but keeping standards up.

I am delighted that some of my ideas on food security are in amendments 5 and 6 and will be included in the Bill. That is important and gives our farmers the stimulus to produce more of the high-quality food we want to eat. One thing that the coronavirus lockdown taught us was that the supermarkets, such as Waitrose and even Lidl, that went out of their way to promote British food did best and are now prospering in a way that they had not previously.

The Government should not accept amendments 12 and 16, but they should act through tariffs.