'Obscure rule' may be used to stop MPs debating potentially crucial amendment to the Agriculture Bill

A Yorkshire peer has dismissed reports a potentially crucial amendmen to the Agriculture Bill could have incurred costs to the public purse amid reports that this may stop it being voted on in the Commons today.

An obscure law may be used to stop a discussion on the amendment to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

News reports over the weekend claimed the Government may use an “obscure rule” to prevent it going before MPs for debate, claiming the Lords over reached its powers in the amendment to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission, as it would result in extra costs.

Put forward by Lord Curry, the addition to the Bill was to retain the newly formed advisory and temporary, Trade and Agriculture Commission for four years rather than the current six months and make it into an independent body.

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The argument it is thought the Government will use to stop the debate taking place, is that giving these increased powers to the Trade and Agriculture Commission will impose an extra cost and if a new Bill proposes spending public money that has not previously been authorised by an Act of Parliament it must be approved by the House of Commons in a money resolution.

By refusing a money resolution, the amendment, which rebel Tory MPs are expected to back, can not be called.

But Tory peer, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, who has taken an active role in the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords said: “The amendment will have passed the highest possible test by our very well qualified clerks to show it has not entered into any spending commitments.”

The amendment is one of two MPs are expecting to debate today, the second put forward by Lord Granchester calls for “imported food products to comply with British domestic standards”.

During a clash with her shadow counterpart, Emily Thornberry in the Commons last week, Ms Truss said she wanted to make sure British farmers are able to continue with their high standards, but didn’t want to stop developing countries exporting their goods to the UK.

There are increasing concerns among farmers, consumers and politicians that future trade deals with countries including America and Australia, could see food produced to lower welfare, environmental standards than those expected of UK farmers, being allowed onto supermarket shelves.

The formation of the Trade and Agriculture Commission - a body the NFU has been pushing for since the beginning of 2019 - was announced by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, shortly after a petition calling for food standards to be protected reached one million signatures.

Kath Dalmeny, Chair of The Future British Standards Coalition, a new ‘shadow panel’ which has been formed in response to concerns over the threat future trade deals could pose to UK standards said: “Our Coalition of experts met this week and heard evidence that it is entirely possible to insist imports meet our domestic standards and still strike trade deals. This will not disadvantage developing nations who are already trading with us on current high standards.”

The FBSC, which includes representatives from Sustain, the Tenant Farmers Association, WWF, Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA said the current Trade and Agriculture Commission needed to be extended. “It is shortlived, advisory only and has no teeth. It needs to be extended, given more powers and its membership widened to include public health, animal welfare, consumer and environmental experts,” Ms Dalmeny said.

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James Mitchinson