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Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Betting, Gaming and Lotteries

That the draft Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund (Winding Up) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 17 November 2014, be approved.—(Damian Hinds.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Marriage, Scotland

That the draft Referral and Investigation of Proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.—(Damian Hinds.)

Question agreed to.

Mr Speaker: With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 5 and 6 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Marriage

That the draft Referral and Investigation of Proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Northern Ireland and Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.

That the draft Proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Conduct of Investigations etc.) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.—(Damian Hinds.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

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Social Security

That the draft Universal Credit (Work-Related Requirements) In Work Pilot Scheme and Amendment Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 1 December 2014, be approved.—(Damian Hinds.)

Question agreed to.

Business of the House

Ordered,

That at the sitting on Thursday 22 January the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr William Hague relating to Governance of the House not later than 5.00pm; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Damian Hinds.)

Petition

Inquests into Deaths of Military Personnel

7.19 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I wish to present a petition initiated by my constituents Charles and Susan Fleeting, as well as by other constituents of mine and across the United Kingdom, following the death of their son, Robert, at RAF Benson in September 2011. The related petition has more than 3,700 signatories.

The petition states:

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to enact a legislative requirement for an inquest to be held before a jury when serving military personnel die on a military base in a non-combat role.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of Susan Fleeting,

Declares that the Ministry of Defence should come under the same rules and regulations as other government departments; further that inquests relating to serving military personnel who die on a military base in a non-combat role should be heard by a jury; further that the investigation of sudden deaths in military service must be subject to the same protection as that which is available for similar investigations into deaths in a prison or police station; and further that an e-petition on this subject has been signed by 3072 individuals.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to enact a legislative requirement for an inquest to be held before a jury when serving military personnel die on a military base in a non-combat role.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]

[P001420]

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Poultry Industry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Damian Hinds.)

7.21 pm

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to raise an issue of importance to many of my constituents and to the UK as a whole. I refer to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the EU and US and the risks they bring for the UK poultry industry.

Britain is and always has been a great trading nation, and the TTIP negotiations represent a significant opportunity to expand our trade relations with the US. The Government estimate that a successful TTIP treaty could boost the UK economy by as much as £10 billion a year. Some £1.5 billion in goods and services is already exchanged between the US and Europe every day, and 13 million jobs rely on that trade. A major point of discussion in TTIP is the trade in food and food products—the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK. TTIP could bring huge opportunities for the food sector, but I hope the whole House will agree with me in urging caution before we get carried away, as these opportunities should not come at the expense of the great efforts that UK food businesses, particularly poultry meat producers, have made in the improvement of the sustainability, quality and standards of production here in the UK.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. He is making a compelling point. Does he agree that we need a robust presence in the international negotiations to ensure that the interests of the poultry industry in Britain and Northern Ireland, where Moy Park employs more than 5,000 people, are totally protected, and that export markets are fully opened in places such as China and the US?

Roger Williams: The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I will set out later how I believe the standards of production in the UK are far in advance of those in the US—a factor which should be taken into account in negotiations. I will also be talking about egg producers.

According to the British Poultry Council, the UK poultry meat industry produced more than 900 million chickens in 2013—up from about 780 million in 2001. Based on sales of £6.1 billion in 2012, the poultry meat industry made a £3.3 billion gross value added contribution to UK GDP. The industry supports 73,000 jobs in the UK—35,000 directly, 25,000 in the supply chain and nearly 13,000 in wage consumption. The industry pays about £1 billion in tax to the Exchequer, and so funds many of our public services.

Virtually half the meat eaten in Britain is poultry meat and it is enjoyed by millions of people every day. The UK is at least 80% self-sufficient in poultry meat and as such it is an important contributor to UK food security. There may be some concerns about the intensive nature of poultry production, but animal welfare is higher in the UK than in the rest of Europe.

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the House for consideration. It is very important for my constituency, and across the whole of Northern Ireland, for jobs. The safety of the general public is very important as well. Does he agree that the British Poultry Council has expressed great concern about TTIP because of the issue of the preparation of poultry, where the US has different conditions from the UK? Does not the Minister need to reassure the general public and the poultry industry that our industry can sell all over the world and create jobs and opportunity?

Roger Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point and I hope to touch on those issues later.

I am sure the House will join me in recognising the importance of this sector to rural constituencies such as mine, but also the national contribution that the poultry industry makes. It is consequently of concern that as the TTIP negotiations progress, a number of serious risks to the UK poultry meat sector are emerging. Those risks are rooted in the different standards of poultry production on the two sides of the Atlantic. Let us be clear: the standards in areas such as sustainability, food hygiene and antibiotic usage differ greatly between the UK and US.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Will my hon. Friend add to that list the issue of animal traceability and the difference between standards in the US and Europe? There has been a lot of concern about that in this country in recent years. I fear that that will be exacerbated by the discussions on this agreement.

Roger Williams: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Traceability, although good in the United Kingdom, is challenged by things such as the horsemeat scandal. I am sure that traceability in the US is not up to the standards that we enjoy here.

Let me give the House some examples of the difference between the UK and the US. UK poultry producers have made very significant strides in the reduction of environmental pollution from both farms and food processing plants. The reduction of ammonia emissions is a key priority, and British poultry producers have worked closely with the Environment Agency to develop techniques that lead to meaningful reductions in discharges.

In the UK, as across the whole of Europe, the poultry industry takes a “farm to fork” approach to food hygiene. Producers meticulously introduce improvements all along the chain to biosecurity, transport and processing, and do not rely on chemicals at the end of the process to do the same job. The UK poultry industry takes very seriously its responsibilities for antibiotic stewardship. The British Poultry Council is an active member of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance and is pro-actively seeking to minimise antibiotic use.

For example, the British poultry meat industry has voluntarily stopped the use in the breeding pyramid of certain categories of antibiotics, such as cephalosporins, that are considered to be crucial to human medicine. The British poultry industry does not support the habitual use of antibiotics where the underlying issue can be resolved through better husbandry.

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Finally, the British poultry sector is committed to training and developing its work force, with an active programme of apprenticeships, qualifications and academic scholarships to improve the skills base of the industry.

All these factors, and others that I have not mentioned, add up to a very substantial difference in how the UK and US produce poultry meat, to the extent that the two systems have very little in common, and therefore the bird for the table at the end of the process should not be considered comparable. That has become very important, given the prospect of free trade in poultry meat across the Atlantic.

One of the principles of the TTIP negotiations is that of equivalence. In short, the agreement allows the US and the EU to agree that different practices are, for the purposes of trade, deemed to be equivalent. I hope the House will support me in concluding that poultry meat production methods in the US are by no means equivalent to those in the UK, and that the prospect of potential equivalence under TTIP for poultry meat production causes tremendous concern.

Furthermore, it is clear from its public statements that the US chicken industry is intent on using the TTIP process to lever open EU, including UK, markets for its products. The risk to the UK poultry industry is therefore clear. The US industry wishes to export its products, produced to standards that are not equivalent to ours, into the UK market. TTIP risks providing it with the vehicle to do so. Any such exports will threaten the continued volume of production of poultry in the UK, with a knock-on impact on jobs, receipts for the Treasury and UK food security.

Egg producers are also very concerned about competition from US producers. UK producers have followed the improvements in animal welfare introduced by European regulations, which they estimate have added 15% to their costs. Those include a change from a conventional battery cage industry to now using enriched cages. Stocking rates in the US are between 350 and 400 sq cm per bird, while in the UK the rate is 750 sq cm per bird, and there has been a great move to free-range egg production in the UK. Added costs from environmental, food safety and animal welfare improvements have cost the industry dear. Egg producers are very concerned about egg products—such as egg powder, which is used in confectionery and other products—being exported to this country below the cost of production. Egg producers wish their products to be considered as sensitive in the negotiations, and it is important not to export our egg sector to other countries because we need to look after our food security in the UK.

So, what do I want the Government to do about it? I believe there are three areas where the Government can play a crucial role in ensuring that the TTIP negotiations have a workable outcome for the UK poultry meat sector and egg industry. In the first instance, the Government should send a clear message to the European Commission and the US that we do not regard the current US poultry meat production practices as being equivalent to those in the UK. If the US wishes to export to the EU, it will have to show willing in modifying its processes to meet the needs of EU Governments and consumers. Secondly, the Government should be reinforcing to the Commission the importance of negotiating on poultry meat on its merits, and standing up for this important UK and EU industry. The US side wants to export to

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the EU, and it is up to the US to convince us of how that can work and meet our needs, rather than its being up to the EU negotiators to make it easy for the US.

Finally, I hope that the Government will make it clear to the US that free trade is a two-way street. This is not just about the export of chicken from the US to the EU; it must also be about the real opportunities for UK poultry producers to export in significant volumes to the US.

Ultimately, TTIP represents a huge potential opportunity for both the EU and the UK, but just as with other sectors of the economy, we should be very wary and make sure that the drive to grow trade does not come at the expense of the huge strides that both the EU and the UK have made in their standards of food production. The UK poultry industry is a big contributor to the economy, especially in vulnerable rural areas, and it would be a tragedy if TTIP caused damage to it.

May I thank the House for listening to me on this important issue for my constituents and the UK as a whole? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.


7.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) on his continued interest in this subject, and on securing this important debate on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the impact that it might have on the poultry industry.

As the hon. Gentleman says, our poultry industry is vital to the UK economy and is one of the most successful across Europe, supporting around 73,000 jobs in the UK and contributing £3.3 billion annually to the UK GDP. I am aware that, as the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) pointed out, there is a very strong poultry industry in Northern Ireland as well, so securing and building export markets is particularly important for sales of dark poultry meat and so-called fifth quarter products. This provides added value markets for poultry meat products not generally consumed domestically, and therefore increases the value of each bird.

We have continued to seek access to foreign markets for our poultry products. The hon. Member for South Down highlighted the potential in China. Just last week the Secretary of State was in China. One of the things she was doing was progressing negotiations to open the potentially lucrative market there for chicken feet. One of the interesting things one learns in this job is that although there is not a large market for chicken feet in this country, they are regarded as a delicacy in China and therefore fetch a value that cannot be achieved here.

International exports of UK poultry meat increased by 31% over the first half of last year. This growth has been supported by new markets opened in, for instance, Madagascar and Mozambique. Exports of live poultry increased by 9% in this period, with particularly strong growth in Africa. This growth has continued despite some of the challenges that the industry has faced, and is a strong indication of both the innovation of the industry and the strong partnership that the industry has with Government.

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As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire pointed out, there are wider benefits for other sectors in the food industry from increasing access to foreign markets. For instance, in 2013 UK producers exported almost £2 billion-worth of food, feed and drink to the US. A comprehensive trade agreement between the EU and the US could add as much as £10 billion annually to UK GDP. One independent study estimates that total UK food and drink exports could increase by around 4.5% as a result of TTIP, so securing an ambitious deal in TTIP is a priority for the Government and we are prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure that we achieve a deal that provides the best possible outcome for the UK.

I know that there are some concerns, specifically in the poultry industry, about the potential impact of TTIP. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I had a meeting with the British Poultry Council last year to discuss its concerns in some detail. We should know that one consequence of freer trade with the US is a potential increase in the level of competition for UK producers. We need to consider the implications of the trade deal for different sectors within the farming industry.

Jim Shannon: Although we have made concessions in deals with the United States, we sometimes find the United States very reluctant to do likewise. Has the Minister any experience of that in relation to food imports and exports?

George Eustice: It is widely anticipated that the US will make concessions, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The opening offer from the EU was deemed to be somewhat more generous than the opening offer that came from the US. That was recognised. At a session that I had with Tom Vilsack, who was representing the US, and other EU leaders, that was one of the points that was raised.

I appreciate the concerns about the implications of the different approaches taken to food safety and animal welfare as between the US and the EU and, in particular, whether this could place UK producers at a competitive disadvantage. I shall return to this point later in my remarks. First, we need to recognise that any free trade agreement is about setting the foundations for a better, more effective trading environment for our producers. This includes outlining specific areas for deeper collaboration to ensure that we are maximising trade opportunities. For agriculture, this includes establishing a better transatlantic relationship with regard to animal and plant health—or, to use the jargon, the sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

The aim of TTIP will be to formalise how the EU and US work together in this area to facilitate trade, while protecting human, animal and plant health. I should point out that that is not something new. For example, the EU has negotiated deals with a number of countries, including with Canada and Korea—both of those deals include dedicated sections on animal and plant health measures. Each agreement sets out some specific details in a tailored way, but ultimately outlines a template for future co-operation in a given field. If we can achieve that with Canada and Korea, I see no reason why it should not in principle be possible to achieve the same with the US.

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We should bear in mind the fact that a free trade agreement is just the beginning of the process, not the end. Once agreed, TTIP would form the basis from which to negotiate specific market access issues, product by product. For example, the detail of specific sanitary requirements for poultry exports to the USA would be set out in an export health certificate, which would be negotiated only once discussions on equivalence had been concluded. The UK would be fully engaged in all stages of these European-led negotiations to ensure that UK exporters get the most favourable conditions possible in order to facilitate our exports. We should remember that exports are as important for our industry as they are for the US.

We should recognise that it is inevitable that different countries will take a different approach to ensuring food safety and animal welfare. The UK and wider EU farm industry takes a farm-to-fork approach to food safety, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire pointed out, whereas the US approach has historically focused on the safety of the end product and taking safety measures closer to the point that food is consumed. Although such differences in approach are definitely relevant, they should not present an insurmountable obstacle to trade, which is why the principle of equivalence is important.

Ms Ritchie: Will the Minister indicate how the British Government intend to reconcile our much higher standards for poultry meat with the lower standards in the United States? That is the basic fear that we are expressing on behalf of Moy Park in Northern Ireland, the second largest poultry producer in the UK.

George Eustice: That is precisely what is going on in the detailed discussions to which I have referred. Many of the points the hon. Lady asks about would be resolved when export health certificates were agreed, and those certificates sometimes include a recognition of animal welfare considerations. Such details will be teased out in the negotiations, but I would say to the hon. Lady that we already import quite a lot of food from the US—from confectionary to cereals—and it is already required to meet EU standards. Such food is not necessarily produced directly in compliance with EU regulations, but through negotiation it has been deemed to meet EU standards. TTIP would apply a similar principle.

We certainly do not want a trade deal that undermines the current good farming practices in the UK sector, which are a hallmark of our poultry industry. I can reassure the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire that EU negotiators have consistently stated that we will uphold the EU’s food safety standards throughout the TTIP discussions.

Roger Williams: I thank the Minister for that assurance, but one criticism of the TTIP negotiations is that they are rather opaque. Would it not be better if the assurance that he has given could be made more openly, thereby giving the industry more confidence?

George Eustice: I will come on to the EU negotiating mandate in a moment.

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Although our approaches differ from those of the US, there are also opportunities, particularly when it comes to welfare. TTIP presents an opportunity for us to work with the US to improve co-operation on animal welfare and promote international standards. If we take an optimistic approach, there is the possibility of leading calls for an improvement in animal welfare practices in the US, perhaps as the quid pro quo for access to the EU market. We should not lose sight of that opportunity.

We also continue to support the European Commission to ensure that high welfare standards are a requirement of the trade agreement, and we continue to work through international bodies such as OIE—the World Organisation for Animal Health—both to raise standards and to ensure that signatory countries fully implement the decisions reached.

Returning to the point I raised about the negotiating mandate, it is important to recognise in respect of the transparency for which the hon. Gentleman argues that the EU’s negotiating mandate is publicly available online and sets out the key principles for animal and plant health in the TTIP negotiations. I would encourage any hon. Member who feels that these are too opaque to look at that mandate, which, for instance, highlights key areas for further co-operation, including using international standards, having a science-based approach to risk assessment and tackling animal welfare. Both food standards and animal welfare considerations are hard-wired into the EU negotiating mandate. The EC has made it clear in all its pronouncements that it considers it to be important, and it has not lost sight of that importance.

In conclusion, I believe that the UK poultry industry can remain resilient in an increasingly competitive global industry. For their part, the Government will continue to support the industry by opening new markets and promoting competitiveness. For example, we are investing £160 million in the UK agri-tech strategy to help take innovations from the laboratory to the farm. That strategy is already investing in two projects in the poultry sector—one on a more humane way of killing poultry and the other on creating a bank of genetic information on broilers and using that information to aid future breeding programmes. We are also reducing the regulatory burden on industry through implementing a risk-based approach to inspections. I believe that our excellent track record on animal welfare, traceability and production standards will continue to provide opportunities for British products in foreign markets. The British poultry industry has been very successful at exporting.

Jim Shannon: The Minister talks about the efforts made on the mainland here in the United Kingdom, and we are very grateful for that, but I wonder whether information on advances made in the industry here are exchanged with the devolved Administrations—the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—so that our industry in Northern Ireland does not lose out.

George Eustice: Yes, the agri-tech strategy is a UK one, and we work with research establishments throughout the UK. Much of the information that comes out of the agri-tech strategy is made available.

It is also important that we continue to work together to ensure that high industry standards and quality of produce are maintained and demonstrated to our trading

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partners to facilitate further growth in exports. As I said, the UK poultry industry has been successful in that regard. Opening new markets is a long and complex process, but we are determined to support the poultry industry to capitalise on global export opportunities. We should not lose sight of the fact that free trade is a two-way street, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire pointed out. On the whole, a more open and efficient transatlantic trade environment presents major opportunities for UK food and drink producers, and will also deliver real benefits for consumers.

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I understand the concerns that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and others have highlighted in the debate, but I believe that there are benefits to the UK economy and to the UK food industry in concluding a TTIP deal. I believe that the sanitary and phytosanitary issues raised can be accommodated in such an agreement.

Question put and agreed to.

7.48 pm

House adjourned.