David Duguid MP is still working from home here in Turriff, taking part in debates, committees and Prime Minister’s Questions, online. This week for My Turriff he writes about the Agriculture Bill which is currently working its way through parliament.Like many other people who are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, MPs are making use of technology to get on with the job.
Bar the odd technical glitch due to broadband problems in various parts of the country, parliamentary business is continuing.
Prime Minister’s question time lacks the usual theatre of a packed chamber, while select committee meetings are not quite the same when MPs are unable look witnesses straight in the eye.
But there has been plenty of opportunity for scrutiny and debate on some important legislation working its way through parliament.
One bill on which I have received a lot of correspondence has been the UK Agriculture Bill, which sets out a new system of farm support across the UK as we leave the Common Agricultural Policy.
Many people have asked about my votes on amendments to the bill.
Any suggestion that I or my Scottish Conservative colleagues voted for a reduction in food standards is completely false.
After all, we all represent rural communities and many of us have personal connections to people working in the agriculture sector.
Despite what has been suggested by opposition parties and hyped up in the media, the UK Government are committed to not compromising on our high environmental and food safety standards – either domestically or on imports.
This includes the current ban on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef, which has been retained in UK law carried over from when we left the EU.
And there will be no trade deal with any country that will result in changes to our domestic standards.
Under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, we can, and we will, reject any imported food that fails to comply with our own sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards and measures to protect human, animal or plant life and health.
However, under those same WTO rules, we cannot dictate or regulate on another country’s production methods.
By the same token, we will not allow other countries to alter our domestic standards.
Our standards have been built up over many years and have the trust of the public here and around the world. In fact, I believe this unique selling point will to benefit our farmers in new export markets.
If the amendment ‘New Clause 2’ had passed on Wednesday last week, that would have put all future trade agreements at risk – not just with the US but also with the EU and all the other trade partners with whom we want to roll-over agreements which were made before we left.
What often goes unreported, are the huge opportunities from these deals to export more of our world-renowned produce – our beef, salmon and whisky to name just a few. Lamb and dairy products also stand to benefit from new export markets such as the US.
Despite these benefits, I understand that many Scottish food and drink producers have questions on future trade.
That is why the UK Department for International Trade is committed to engaging with industry bodies including NFU Scotland throughout this process.
And of course, I am more than happy to answer specific concerns from constituents as always.
It is a mark of the ambition of this UK Government that multiple trade deals are being conducted at the same time – to give us the best chance of emerging a stronger nation from this current public health crisis.