I considered carefully how I should vote on the amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would require all agricultural and food imports under future international trade deals to meet domestic standards with regard to animal health and welfare, environmental protection and food safety. I also discussed it with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I remain supportive of the motivation of this Amendment, but its detailed effect matters too, for example on whether it would be feasible for the UK to assess the equivalence of standards and regulations in another continent designed to protect the environment, when the environment in question may be quite different to the UK. It is also important to be clear that this amendment is not necessary to protect the safety of our food, which is achieved in regulations that remain unaffected by this Agriculture Bill. Chorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef, for example, are banned under import standards which will remain in place. With regard to protecting the interests of our farmers, it remains the case that UK farmers can benefit significantly from trade deals which enable them to export high quality British produce, including under existing, EU-originated trade deals with many countries, which the Government is seeking to continue in the same terms now that we are outside the EU. I think the Government is right to say that continuing these deals will be much harder if we seek to add in additional conditions at this stage.
The substance of my discussion with the Secretary of State was therefore about how the Government can ensure food consumed in this country meets our high expectations, if not by the mechanism set out in this amendment. The fear of course is that food which does not meet those standards will be cheaper than that which is produced domestically, putting our own farmers at an unfair competitive disadvantage. The answer may lie in imposing higher tariffs on food that cannot be demonstrated to meet our high standards than on food that can. I think it is reasonable to allow ministers to develop that approach, to abstain on this Amendment at this stage and reserve judgment on whether this alternative strategy can be effective. That is therefore what I did.
It is also important that Parliament has the opportunity to reject trade deals that would compromise our standards in unacceptable ways and the Government is undertaking to bring forward processes by which this can be done, but that will be more appropriately resolved in trade legislation, on which I also reserve judgment.
Finally, it is worth stressing that the remainder of the Agriculture Bill makes important provision for the continuation of successful, productive and economically viable farming in this country outside the EU, and I remain supportive of the Bill as a whole.