The Agriculture Bill will set the regulatory framework for the running of the Welsh and British countryside for many years to come, which means it is vital that we are ambitious about creating the groundwork for a sustainable, clean, accessible and biodiverse countryside. I believe that while the Bill hits some of these points it does not go far enough.
The Bill does provide for a system of public money for public goods which replicates what the Welsh Labour Government has been using European Union Rural Development Funding for to help rural communities maintain the environment. Public goods covered by the Bill include managing land or water in a way that improves the environment, supporting public access, managing land to maintain and improve cultural heritage, preventing or reducing environmental hazards and protecting or improving the welfare of livestock or plants. The Bill also promotes fairness in contractual dealing with farmers.
However, I and my Labour colleagues do not believe that the Bill goes far enough. It does not require the Government to do anything. It does not guarantee that Welsh farming will get the same level of funding after Britain leaves the EU which breaks the specific promise made by the Welsh Tories. The Bill sets no targets nor sets out what funding will be provided to achieve its aims. There is also no formal body in the Bill prescribed to maintain standards.
I have been proactive in trying to protect our environmental standards. When the European Union Withdrawal Bill was being debated I and other Labour MPs attempted to amend the Bill to make sure that after we leave the EU the Government could still be held to account legally for breaching environmental standards, as it already has done on its failed air quality plan.
I am concerned that the Bill leaves open the possibility of watering down environmental and animal welfare standards to allow currently banned products like chlorinated chicken from the US entering the UK. It also provides for opening the UK market up to countries like Australia and New Zealand whose cheaper lamb would decimate Welsh sheep farming.
I am also deeply concerned about the question of food security. With more and more people having to use foodbanks and household food insecurity on the rise, we need to shape our agriculture sector so that it can help alleviate food poverty in the UK. This is why I am supporting an amendment to the Bill that addresses the issue of food security.