Blow to government as peers vote to uphold UK standards

Peers have dealt a blow to the government in an ongoing battle over food standards and trade deals
Peers have dealt a blow to the government in an ongoing battle over food standards and trade deals

The government has suffered a new blow as peers voted to ensure future trade deals meet the UK's high food and farming standards.

Peers in the House of Lords backed two amendments to the Agriculture Bill during votes on Tuesday night (20 October).

Lord Granchester's amendment ensuring future agri-food imports met the UK's standards was voted through by 282 votes to 244.

Peers also backed Lord Curry's amendment looking to strengthen the remit of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission, by 278 votes to 200.

Both amendments will now return back to MPs in the House of Commons once again, in a parliamentary process known as 'ping pong'.

Last week (13 October), the government rejected both amendments, arguing they were unnecessary as a commitment was already there in ensuring UK standards would be kept in any trade deals.

Defra farming minister Victoria Prentis told the Commons that night that the government was 'absolutely committed to high standards'.

However, farming industry groups have warned the UK may be forced to accept lower standards to secure a future trade deal with countries such as the US.

The British public have also raised their concerns. An NFU petition demanding UK standards to be safeguarded has gained well over one million signatories.

Speaking during the House of Lords debate on Tuesday night, Labour's shadow environment minister Lord Grantchester said protections were needed.

"Future standards can be changed through technical statutory orders. We seek to put in primary legislation what the government has claimed is in the Withdrawal Act."

The Earl of Caithness, a Conservative peer, said the government had been 'unnecessarily obstructive and intransigent' on the Agriculture Bill.

"And that is a huge sadness because they are alienating a lot of farmers and a lot of those who live in the country who see the government as being unnecessarily reluctant to accept any improvements to this bill," he said.

Independent crossbencher Lord Curry of Kirkharle added: "The fear of cheap imported food undermining our standards of production as a result of trade deals that have not been adequately scrutinised has united all key stakeholders from the entire farming community."

The bill along with its voted through amendments will now return to the House of Commons for further debate and scrutiny.