The third and final reading of the Agricultural Bill in the House of Commons took place on the 13th May which saw MPs vote on a number of amendments. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the first-ever virtual vote took place, which saw a few ’teething problems’ with some MPs voting in error for certain amendments.

A majority of MPs voted against one of the most important pieces of legislation for farmers by 328 to 277 votes. The ‘new Clause 2’ which would protect UK farmers from low food standards by preventing the import of agricultural and food products that do not comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) safety rules and the UK’s own standards, failed to receive support from the government.

The new amendment was backed by a number of farming groups who have campaigned extensively to gather support to push the amendment through. One of these was a letter from members of the National Farmers Union (NFU), and other environmental and animal welfare organisations, urging the 650 MPs to ensure that food imported into the UK in any potential post-Brexit trade deals would meet the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as is expected of UK food producers.

Industry response

The industry reaction to this agricultural bill has not been positive, with the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) stating that it was a “grave error” that this critical amendment had been blocked. The FUW president said that its members and the public were appalled that an attempt to protect UK farmers and consumers from food produced to lower health, welfare and environmental standards had effectively been blocked by the government, at a time when the importance of protecting the food security and health of the nation was at the top of the agenda. However, Ministers have stated that the issue of protecting food standards in post-Brexit trade deals will be addressed in the forthcoming Trade Bill.

Next steps

Following the third reading in the House of Commons, the first reading of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords took place on the 18th May, signalling the start of the Bill’s journey through the Lords. The second reading, where there is general debate on all aspects of the Bill, is scheduled for the 10th June 2020.

More information

ADAS is in a key trusted position to support all stakeholders in the drive towards compliance to the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020.

For more information and support, contact Sarah Wynn, Sustainable Food and Farming Managing Director.