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Lord Steel of Aikwood: I wonder whether it will be convenient to discuss Amendments Nos. 268 and 269 at the same time because they are on the same topic. If I may say, modestly, to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, our amendment is rather better than his. It is on the same subject and I do not see why we should debate it twice.
Lord Sewel: With enormous respect, there is a difficulty. The opportunity to group was available earlier and they were not grouped together. It would be more appropriate to take them as they are presently grouped.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: Perhaps I can intervene on this amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, that there is not much difference in the sentiment behind what my noble friend is suggesting
Those of us who have had experience in Brussels know only too well--and I said this at Second Reading--how difficult it is to get government departments, whether north or south of the Border, whether Irish or Welsh, to agree on matters even when they are of the same party. We are passing this Bill when we do not know in the future whether the party in government in Westminster will be of the same colour as that north of the Border. We have to be particularly careful when we are dealing with the situation in relation to the European Union.
There is no easy answer. I have no doubt that the Minister will tell us that there will be a very sensible concordat between Ministers in Westminster and the Scottish parliament. I am afraid that this will be a very difficult situation, particularly in agriculture and fishing, which rely so very heavily on good relationships between Brussels and the United Kingdom.
My noble friend is taking a step in the right direction. As he said, it is not an ideal step because it is a very difficult situation to resolve. As I said at Second Reading, I am very concerned about one aspect. Unrepresented though it is in this Chamber, the Scottish National Party will look at this very closely indeed. If it sees the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland and the chairman of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation deciding that there is absolutely no point in discussing matters with the Minister in the Scottish parliament with responsibilities for agriculture and fishing and that the best thing they can do is go straight to London to see the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has the clout in Brussels, that is doing no good service to the new Scottish parliament. It will weaken the whole thing.
These issues that the House must consider most carefully before the Bill is passed. They are capable of undermining the good sense that I hope to see, although I have reservations, from a Scottish parliament. These are the aspects of the legislation that worry me intensely. Those of us who have had experience know how difficult negotiations in Brussels are; how long they take; and how much give and take there has to be. The Minister knows that; he is doing it.
There is perhaps a note attached to the Minister's briefing which says, "Resist these amendments". He may well resist today but perhaps over the summer holidays he will consider the matter more closely. I do not believe that concordats are necessary. They may be good but they do not get to the root of the problem. If agriculture and fishing are to be devolved, the Scottish parliament must have some say, somewhere, in the chain of command.
Lord Sewel: I recognise that many noble Lords regard this as a very important issue, as I do myself. A number have direct experience of representing Scotland in negotiations with colleagues in UK departments and
In an attempt to build a bridge, as he described it, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has created something of a constitutional mishmash; a failure to recognise that UK Ministers are accountable to a UK Parliament and Scottish Ministers are accountable to the Scottish parliament. Those are the two direct lines of accountability. Nothing is to be gained by trying to blur the structure by saying that a UK Minister is required to consult the parliament and then subsequently that a UK Minister has a duty to report to the parliament on the substance of the outcome of the negotiations and to answer the questions of the parliament. That is a significant blurring of the lines of accountability between Ministers and Parliament. As I have said, the basic line is between the Scottish Minister and the Scottish parliament and between the UK Minister and the UK Parliament. I believe that that should be preserved.
Scottish ministers and UK Ministers will agree the UK line on negotiations in Brussels. That is the whole point. It is the responsibility of Scottish ministers to report to the Scottish parliament and of UK Ministers to answer to the UK Parliament for the conduct of EU negotiations even when they affect devolved matters. If the Fisheries Council were deciding questions of TACs and quotas--many of us have been involved in long nights of macho negotiations on quotas--it would be perfectly proper for a Westminster MP to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a question on TACs and quotas, perhaps on how they affected Scottish interests. Similarly, a question on dairy quotas and the Agriculture Council could quite properly be asked of the Minister by a Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster.
We have consistently made it clear both in the White Paper and during the passage of this Bill that Scottish ministers will be closely involved in the formulation of the UK position as presented to our EU partners at Council meetings. They may also attend the Council and, where appropriate, speak on behalf of the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, tends to mock that formulation. I ask him not to do so because it is offered in good faith as a way forward and as a way of ensuring that Scottish interests are properly represented. The noble Lord quoted back to us the figure from his letter from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. It has to be said that the right of members of regional parliaments to attend Council meetings was obtained only as recently as the Treaty of Amsterdam. I understand that the noble Lord is not awfully keen on that treaty at the moment. However, that is something on which we can build because it now provides the European framework in which this type of representation can be accommodated and expressed.
Throughout the whole European process Scottish ministers will be accountable for their actions to the Scottish parliament. That is how the Scottish parliament will be able to call the executive to account in its handling of EU business--not by trying in some rather
If we keep it like that, the lines of accountability are clear and easily understood. I see nothing to be gained by muddying the waters. I should point out in addition that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--drawing upon his experience, which I recognise, as a former agriculture and fisheries Minister in the Scottish Office--consistently warns that the position of Scottish agriculture in relation to Europe will be undermined as a result of the Bill. That is not my view. That is not the view of the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, who enjoys the support of his members. His electors clearly knew his position on this. He believes very strongly that the way forward that we have indicated means that Scottish agricultural interests will have a much more clearly focused forum in which to be debated and that what we have set down provides a means by which the Scottish voice will be heard more consistently in Brussels, particularly through the informal regional organisations.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I notice that the Minister is praying in aid the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. Is it not a fact that, unusually for presidents of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, he has taken a party political role and is a candidate for the Liberal Democrat Party for the Scottish parliament? I simply ask: can a man serve two masters, the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish parliament and the NFU? I am not alone in wondering about that. Many senior farmers wonder exactly the same thing. I am afraid that praying him in aid increases, rather than decreases, my concern.
Lord Sewel: On the business about serving two masters, I believe that the convener of the hill livestock committee is trying to do the same thing. He is seeking nomination in the Conservative interest for the Scottish parliament while serving the National Farmers Union.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Does the Minister have it in mind to accept Amendment No. 268 when we reach it? If not, why is he not reading out his reply to that amendment when dealing with this grouping, because it is on precisely the same subject? I do not know what the Minister's ploy is in knocking down this amendment when we do not know what he will say about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who said that he wants his amendment to be considered in this group and who asked whether he could speak to it now. Is the Minister going to accept Amendment No. 268?
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