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Farming

Agriculture Bill passes Commons

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party used its Commons majority to ram through its Agriculture Bill on Monday, October 12.
Along the way, it voted down amendments which would have forced Boris Johnson’s government to uphold its manifesto promises on food production standards and animal welfare.
The Government’s actions, combined with its procedural manoeuvre to block an attempt to give a proposed trade watchdog teeth, have drawn universal condemnation from farming unions and organisations.
Fourteen Conservative MPs opposed the Government, including former DEFRA Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. Every Welsh Conservative MP voted against safeguarding farmingstandards.
The Wildlife Trusts of Wales and England described the vote as: “[T]he clearest signal yet that the Government do not intend to uphold their election manifesto commitment to maintain the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations.”
Phil Stocker of the NSA commented: “There is now the very real risk, despite Government’s assurances, that the UK’s standards that our nation’s farmers are proud to work to, could be undermined by lower standard imports.”

‘DISAPPOINTMENT AN UNDERSTATEMENT’

Speaking to The Herald after the vote, TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said: “To say that the events which took place in the House of Commons last night were a disappointment, would be a major understatement. For the Government to whip its MPs to vote against an amendment entirely in line with its own policy has created a breach of trust in believing its rhetoric around protecting our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards in future international trade agreements.”
“It was also shocking that the Government used a procedural manoeuvre to deny MPs the opportunity of voting on a crucial House of Lords amendment that would have improved the operation of the newly appointed Trade and Agriculture Commission,” Mr Dunn told us.
He continued: “This was a shocking piece of political chicanery which prevented MPs from even debating this important piece of legislation. Over a million people signed a petition earlier in the year calling on the Government to ensure the strongest standards in trade and it is an issue for which there has been cross-party support. Expanding the role and remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission would not, as the Government claimed, tie its hands but merely ensure that its future trade policy had proper scrutiny and support from an expert panel.”
Mr Dunn concluded by drawing attention to the erosion of trust between the Conservative Government and the agriculture industry: “Day after day we hear Government Ministers declare that they will not jeopardise our high environmental, animal welfare and consumer safety standards in trade. Sadly, their words say one thing, but their actions say another. Unless we have strong legislation in this area, the fine words are just empty promises.”

‘WARM WORDS WON’T WASH’

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards told this newspaper: “The Agriculture Bill was a missed opportunity to safeguard in law food product standards and in particular food production standards.
“Warm words from the British Government that they won’t allow Welsh farmers to be undercut by lower standard food in trade deals won’t wash.
“The fact that the British Government have gone out of their way to stop democratic accountability over trade deals does not fill me with confidence.
“Wales should have a veto over trade deals negotiated by the British Government in the same way that every single member of the European Union could veto trade deals negotiated by the EU.
“The reality is that the future of Welsh farming is in the hands of a British Government who I fear will be conceding access to food markets in order to gain concessions for London banks.”

NFU DISMAY

NFU Cymru expressed dismay but vowed to continue lobbying for binding commitments to safeguard farming’s high standards in future trade deals
NFU Cymru Deputy President Aled Jones said: “It is a blow that the Grantchester amendment (on animal welfare) was not adopted by a majority of MPs, nor did MPs have the chance to vote on the Curry amendment (strengthening the Trade & Agriculture Commission). However, NFU Cymru remains steadfast in its belief that Welsh farmers must not be undermined by imported products produced to lower standards than those observed here in the UK.”
Adopting an upbeat approach which suggested NFU Cymru was prepared to take government promises and MPs’ words at face value, Mr Jones continued: “We were encouraged to hear so many MPs in last night’s debate expressing their support for those high standards – standards that consumers in this country have come to expect – and we thank those MPs who spoke up in favour of this important cause.
“This ongoing debate around food standards is matter of a huge importance for Britain’s farmers and Britain’s consumers, also. We simply cannot risk any trade scenario which could result in food imports coming into this country that would be illegal if produced here.”
Looking forward to the next stage of the Bill’s passage to the statute books, Aled Jones added: “With the Agriculture Bill set to return to the House of Lords, this gives peers another opportunity to put forward amendments that we hope will bring about the changes we want to see – UK farming’s high standards protected and enshrined in law, while also giving more power to the elbow of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.”

LACK OF COMMITMENT ‘SPEAKS VOLUMES’

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Llyr Gruffydd MS, told us: “Last night, Plaid Cymru supported amendments that would have protected food standards in future trade deals and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations.
“Yet again, the Conservatives let down Welsh farmers when given the chance to protect their livelihoods. Despite all their promises and manifesto commitments, the Government defeated the amendments, exposing our farmers to cheap produce in future trade deals.
“Plaid Cymru will continue to put forward a positive vision for our food producers based on a greater say for our devolved governments and the protection of food standards. This is not because we not only believe them necessary now, but because they are fundamental to our farmers and food producers in the future.”
Lesley Griffiths, Wales’ Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “Although UK Ministers continue to insist they will maintain existing high standards of food safety and animal welfare in any new trade deals, their rejection of the opportunity to put this commitment into statute speaks volumes – especially given the fact that the amendments put forward by the Lords gave them a prime opportunity to do so.
“Food safety and welfare are devolved matters, and we have been clear that we would resist any clauses in the Internal Market Bill which would allow Westminster to start a race to the bottom in terms of standards – a move which would not just impact consumers, but also risk farm businesses across Wales as they face international competition from companies willing to forego the standards to which they adhere.”

WIDER REACTION

Prominent farmer and TV presenter Gareth Wyn Jones tweeted: ‘Very disappointed this morning after last night’s government defeated amendments to the #AgricultureBill which would have protected our #food & #farming standards. Don’t forget they’ve not only sold the farming community out but the health of our nation. @BorisJohnson’
Conservation groups and environmental campaigners also expressed their concern at the government’s unwillingness to commit to anything more than warm sentiment over environmental standards and welfare measures.
The RSPB said: “The UK Government must now say how it will meet its manifesto commitment to maintain standards in future trade deals, as confidence in them to do so is now at a chronically low ebb.”
RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood also underlined the Government’s failure to put meat on its manifesto promise.
Chris Sherwood said: “The Government once again failed to make good their manifesto promise that they will not sell out the UK’s animal welfare for a quick trade deal. The vote shows a disregard for the British public, 83% of whom said they did not want lower standard imports coming in from the US when we leave the EU.”
Nature Friendly Farming Network UK Chair, Martin Lines, observed: “Despite manifesto commitments and repeated assurances from successive governments not to lessen standards in trade, the government has instead passed on one of the final opportunities to enshrine our high-quality environmental and animal welfare standards in law and to protect the UK farmingindustry.”
James Russell, BVA President, said: “This result is a severe blow for animal welfare and a betrayal of the Government’s own manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on health and welfare standards.
“We have long argued that the UK cannot commit to raising the bar domestically while allowing in goods that don’t meet the high standards that British consumers rightly want and expect.
“If the government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
CLA President Mark Bridgeman sounded a warning note: “Government Ministers have successfully convinced MPs they can be trusted to protect food production standards without the need for legislation.
“Time and again Ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own.
Farmers across the country will be watching Government’s every move very closely from hereon in.”

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Farming

Police warn of disruption to traffic as farmers protests take place

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FARMERS protests are taking place in Aberystwyth and Carmarthen today (Feb 22.)

The police took to Facebook on Thursday morning saying: “We are aware of potential disruption to traffic in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth town centres from midday today.

“The traffic network in and out of the towns may also be affected.

“If you are planning on travelling in those areas today, please consider changing your route or journey time to avoid delays.

“We will update when we have further information.”

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Farming

Welsh Conservatives challenge Sustainable Farming Scheme in Senedd

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have tabled a motion for debate in the Senedd, aiming to overturn the controversial Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) proposals put forward by the Labour Government. The motion, scheduled for discussion next Wednesday, 28th February, calls for the abolition of the requirement for a 10% tree cover on farms and the scrapping of the current SFS proposals, amidst concerns over their impact on Wales’ agricultural sector and rural communities.

According to the Labour Government’s economic impact assessment, the implementation of the SFS could lead to a drastic reduction of 122,200 in Welsh livestock numbers, the loss of 5,500 jobs, and a £199 million hit to the rural economy. These figures have fueled the argument that the scheme could devastate rural communities across Wales.

Sam Kurtz: Unhappy with proposed farming scheme

Samuel Kurtz MS, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, has been vocal in his criticism of the scheme. He stated, “The economic analysis of the Sustainable Farming Scheme speaks for itself. With the projected loss of livestock, jobs, and significant economic damage, it’s clear that the SFS will decimate Wales’ rural communities.” Kurtz accused the Labour Government of neglecting the importance of the farming industry to Wales’ economy, society, culture, and language, and of ignoring the widespread opposition to the SFS within the agricultural community.

The motion presented by the Welsh Conservatives outlines the significant concerns surrounding the SFS, including the estimated reductions in livestock numbers, job losses on Welsh farms, and the consequent economic downturn. It also highlights the agricultural community’s strong opposition to the scheme and cites a poll commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association in Wales, which found that only 3% of Welsh farmers trust the Welsh Government’s handling of the issue.

In a bid to address these concerns, the motion calls on the Welsh Government to remove the tree cover requirement and to scrap the current SFS proposals. Furthermore, it urges the government to re-engage with the farming sector to develop a new scheme that garners the support of the farming community.

The debate, which is a crucial moment for the future of farming in Wales, is set to commence at approximately 5.30 pm on Wednesday, 28th February, in the Welsh Parliament. This marks a significant effort by the Welsh Conservatives to align with the farming sector and challenge what they see as detrimental policies towards rural Wales.

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Farmers protest as Drakeford arrives to open engineering centre

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PROTESTS erupted as First Minister Mark Drakeford arrived at Coleg Llandrillo, Rhyl, to inaugurate a new engineering centre. Approximately 200 farmers breached the college gates, marking a significant escalation in their ongoing protests against proposed changes to farming subsidies by the Welsh government.

The confrontation on Wednesday (Feb 21) involved pushing and shoving as the farmers followed Mr. Drakeford into the premises, expressing their discontent over the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) that mandates substantial alterations to their current practices. These changes include dedicating 10% of their land to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitats to qualify for governmental support.

This incident follows a contentious encounter earlier that day in Pentraeth, Anglesey, where a farmer confronted the First Minister, who attempted to evade the interaction. The protests are a culmination of growing frustration among the farming community, which has been vocal about the impracticality of the demands being made, especially concerning the running of their businesses and the feared increase in bureaucracy.

The Welsh government has defended its stance, asserting that the proposed changes are essential for both supporting farmers and addressing the escalating climate crisis. Officials argue that adaptation and a proactive role in environmental conservation are necessary conditions for receiving public funds.

Aled Jones, a farmer from Rowen, Conwy county, voiced the collective sentiment of the farming community, stating the necessity of unity to oppose what he perceives as misguided proposals by the First Minister. Similarly, Clare Morrilly from Overton, near Wrexham, highlighted the untenability of expecting farms to cede 20% of their productive capacity without dire consequences.

The protest at Coleg Llandrillo is part of a series of actions taken by farmers across Wales, including a significant disruption caused by a convoy of tractors and pickup trucks in west Wales and a gathering at a Welsh Labour leadership debate.

In response to the unfolding situation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking at the House of Commons, criticized the Welsh ministers’ approach, which he described as counterproductive. The Prime Minister emphasized the central government’s commitment to backing rural communities across the UK.

The debate extends into the political arena with Conservative MP for Ynys Môn, Virginia Crosbie, raising concerns over the potential economic impact of the Welsh government’s plans, including job losses and a £200m blow to the Welsh economy. She called for the agricultural budget to be ring-fenced to safeguard farmers and food security.

Cover Photo: Philip Ashe

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