(HANSARD) in the third session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
DCVIII SECOND VOLUME OF SESSION 1999--2000 House of Lords
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to attend a meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday, 16th December, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, when it passed the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act in 1998, Parliament decided that responsibility for food safety and standards should be devolved to Scotland and Wales. That means that Scotland and Wales have the competence to make different legislation on those matters if they wish.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is the Minister aware that that was not the case? What happened was that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly took a decision contrary to that of this Parliament and of Her Majesty's Government. The Government then ran along behind saying that it would be unreasonable to have a different regime in the different parts of the United Kingdom. Why give the powers unless it was intended that they should be used to implement different regimes in different parts of the kingdom?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord refers to the beef on the bone ban. I have examined the slightly inelegant syntax I used in answering the question to which he has drawn attention. I was drawing the analogy with the Food Standards Agency. However, I believe that the noble Lord's basic point is one in which he assumes a difference arising from devolution. In fact, that difference does not exist. It was always the responsibility of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales to take policy decisions in the area of food safety. It was possible to have different legislative regimes before devolution. The noble Lord laughs, but that is true and on occasion it happened. Just because the powers are there does not mean that it will be sensible in every circumstance to exercise them.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who is normally extremely reasonable and rational, on this occasion is being unreasonable and irrational? It is perfectly possible for the Parliament of Westminster, the Parliament of Scotland and the Assembly of Wales
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree with at least one half of my noble friend's intervention. I certainly accept that it is possible to have the legislative ability to take a different view on matters and it may be absolutely right for a devolved administration to have that ability. Equally, it may be in the interests of consumers and, indeed, producers, as I believe it was in the case of the beef on the bone ban, to take a consistent policy across the United Kingdom.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify the statement in her initial reply that certain powers were devolved if the devolved institutions wanted to use them? Surely, once devolution takes place, there is a clear cut-off of Westminster's power to legislate or to make decisions. The power is either devolved or it is not.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, indeed, the power is either devolved or it is not. The decision whether, for instance, to be part of a food standards agency is within the competence of the devolved authority. I understand that the Northern Ireland Executive has not considered food safety since devolution on 2nd December but that it will do so soon with regard to its own policy on the Food Standards Agency.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, does the noble Baroness mean by that that someone who is acting perfectly legally on this side of the Border can, on crossing the Border, find that the devolved power has made them an illegal person or institution?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it depends on whether or not the noble Lord is referring to powers devolved since devolution. I draw the analogy which is perhaps most helpful to the House. There is a different regime regarding unpasteurised milk north and south of the Scottish Border. As the Secretary of State for Scotland decided, before devolution it was possible to take a different view about the retail sale of unpasteurised milk north and south of the Border. Indeed, an activity which under certain circumstances is legal in terms of food safety south of the Border is not legal north of the Border. Equally, if the devolved authorities chose to have different legislation on food safety, it would, indeed, be possible for something to be legal in one part of the United Kingdom and not legal in another. It was exactly because of the difficulties that that would impose, I suggest, on the beef industry and for consumers that we took time to see whether we could come to a United Kingdom view on beef on the bone, which I am glad to say we were able to do.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Her Majesty's Government say that issues of food safety and food standards are based on sound scientific advice? If that is so, can she explain what
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, with respect to the noble Countess, it is not for me to explain the political thinking that may take place in a devolved authority that decides to take a different view on an issue of food safety. As we all know, scientists are not always unanimous in their advice. Policy makers not only have a responsibility to make their decisions based on scientific advice; they must also have regard to the risks and the risks that it is right for consumers to take when making an informed choice.
Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as England and Scotland have always had separate laws, the situation described by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman--a matter made illegal on one side of the Border and not on the other--has been true ever since the union of the crowns in 1603 without causing much trouble?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I leave such historical judgments to the noble Earl. He is absolutely right. I was using a specific example on food safety to illustrate that post-devolution there has not been some enormous constitutional innovation. Of course, the point covers a much broader spectrum of legislation.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is it not absolutely clear from the trouble with the beef on the bone ban that where all three--now all four--governments have a common problem to which there is a common solution, they should adopt that solution?
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