|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
If I read Clause 33 correctly, it means that at some time in the future it is possible, if the Scottish Parliament decides it, that it could set up a separate Scottish food agency from the agency being set up by the Bill. That is how I understand it; if I am wrong I shall be told.
If that is the case, we could have a situation where the Scottish food agency could be operating quite different standards and quite different rules and regulations from the agency in the rest of the United Kingdom. That perhaps would not matter if the Scottish food industry was operating to higher standards, but even if that were the case it would still cause problems for the food industry in Scotland.
When I spoke on the first day of Committee I pointed out the importance of fishing and fish processing in Scotland. Indeed, if my memory serves me right, the top four or five ports of landing by size of landing in the United Kingdom are in Scotland. The great bulk of fish caught by the British fishing fleet is landed in Scotland.
Much as we may eat a little fish in Scotland, we do not eat that much. Therefore a good deal of it has to come south or has to go overseas, in the case certainly of shellfish. I take fish as one example; it could be beef or anything else. My concern is that if we have a Scottish agency separate from the agency in the rest of the United Kingdom, and it it is operating different rules and regulations, producers could find themselves trying to operate parallel production: one line to satisfy the standards demanded by the Scottish agency and another to satisfy those demanded by the UK agency for its large English market.
It fills me with horror that, inside what is after all a 300-year-old common market, we would have a situation of non-tariff barriers. I do not want to be told that it would never happen that way because if that is so this provision should not be in the Bill. If something is not likely to happen because common sense dictates
At the moment the Chief Medical Officer in England has decided that it will be safe to sell beef-on-the-bone in England. The medical officers of health in Scotland and Wales have decided that they are not yet convinced and we have something of a deadlock on that subject.
If there are separate agencies the Committee will be able to see that we could have many more instances of the advice given by the agency or to the agency in one country being different from that given to the agency in another country.
The problems are obvious. While farmers are prepared to live with it for the moment, everyone knows that they will not happily live with it for very long. Certainly industry would not live with different standards being imposed north and south of the Border and then finding that the standards they used to meet their Scottish market were not adequate to meet their English one. It is so impracticable. It is incredible that the Government are serious about even contemplating the food standards agency being divided up, with one agency for Scotland and one for the rest of the United Kingdom.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is present for the debate. He is well aware of the issue. We have been over it many times. I am not rehearsing devolution--I accept entirely what has happened--but there are some bodies that we should think twice about devolving. The problem that we are having with the French at the moment is that the French food standards agency is saying no to British beef, which is bad enough inside the European single market. It would be 10 times worse if the same kind of situation were to arise within the single market of the United Kingdom.
I hope the Government can at least set my mind at rest on this matter and if my reading of the clause is correct, they can offer some explanation of how they think separate food standards agencies would work in the two parts of the United Kingdom. If they tell me it will never come about, then I suggest that these clauses should not be in the Bill.
The Earl of Selborne: I follow my noble friend because there is a similarity here with the time when the Nature Conservancy Council was split and the time in 1991 when English Nature, Scottish National Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales took its place. There was another example of a United Kingdom organisation which had a job of setting standards--these were environmental standards: for example, standards for sites of special scientific interest. It was recognised--the point was made in a report of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology--that standards had to be UK based. Otherwise, there would have been total mayhem when it came to enforcing the standards in Brussels or indeed, as the case might have been, in an international forum such as CITES. What was determined then was that there should be a statutory committee, the Joint
I agree with my noble friend that it is far better not to put yourself in a position where you could quite easily have separate standards set within the United Kingdom, which had to be enforced in an international arena, or where advice had to be given to government on standards within the United Kingdom. It is totally unacceptable that standards should deviate between parts of the United Kingdom and for that reason, I agree entirely with my noble friend that any suggestion that either Scotland, or for that matter, Northern Ireland, should determine that there should be a separate agency within their area of responsibility will lead to great confusion.
At the very least, therefore, I should say that if it is decided to go this route of anticipating the day when the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly may so determine the matter--this is very much a counsel of the second best--there should then be a contingency for a joint committee, such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. That would ensure that the agencies determining food standards are required to co-ordinate their activities. I therefore suggest that at least the Joint Nature Conservation Committee should be taken as a precedent in that respect.
Viscount Thurso: I decided that there are several things that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and I share. One of them is clearly ichthyophilia" which, if my Greek is correct, is the love of fish. Beyond that, I have to say that we diverge. He has put two separate arguments into this interesting debate and I thank him for raising this matter, because it is very important that these things should be clarified. Yesterday, when we were discussing another matter he had brought up, he said that he had been rather a butterfly in the Committee. I do not object to that at all--I am delighted that he brings these matters before us because they are important and need to be dealt with. It is lovely to have him here, stinging like a butterfly and floating like a bee"--I am sorry, it should be the other way round!
There are two distinct arguments. There is the argument as it relates quite precisely to this Bill, but there is also the underlying argument which goes right to the heart of devolution. As he has drawn our attention to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is far more competent to deal with these matters than ever I could be, I shall not go into that in great detail. Suffice to say that it seems that the effect of devolution was precisely to devolve certain competencies, which we all agreed on last year, to the Scottish Parliament.
There will always be certain anomalies. There will be moments, as the whole business of devolution develops from its current infancy into a more mature form of government, where things will appear, when
I do not go down the route of saying that it will never happen and therefore we do not need it. It is unlikely that it will happen. It has gone through the Assembly of Wales and through the relevant committee in the Scottish Parliament and they have both agreed to the setting up and commended what has been done in this Bill, as I understand it. I do not want to pray in aid the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee report again, but that has also covered the matter.
The matter has been dealt with responsibly in the context of the inevitable anomalies that will occur with devolution. It is right that this clause be here to provide for a circumstance which, whilst unlikely, may arise.
Lord Sewel: As he was moving towards the conclusion of his comments, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said he did not want to go over the devolution settlement but, in substance, that is what he was trying to do. We are faced with the inevitable consequence of the distribution of legislative competence established by the Scotland Act. That made it absolutely clear, and it was not a matter of great dispute at the time, that the Scottish Parliament would have legislative competence in the area which would include the food standards agency. That matter was generally accepted.
If that position is accepted--and the fundamental point is that nothing in this Bill can change that, because that legislative or statutory framework is established by the Scotland Act--this clause, whether it is in the Bill or not, does not and cannot disturb that statutory framework on the distribution of legislative competence between the two parliaments.
I invite the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to see this clause as some kind of prudential provision, indicating what would happen if the Scottish Parliament decided to exercise the powers it undoubtedly has under the Scotland Bill--powers which all of us here, and certainly members of the Scottish Parliament, do not wish to see exercised in a way which would establish a separate Scottish food standards agency. However, because the legislative competence resides at the end of the day at the Scottish Parliament, there is a degree of common sense in indicating in this Bill what the process and the steps would be if that Parliament established its own food standards agency and how we would withdraw from what is now a UK body. It is a matter of sensible prudence to make the provisions clear in the Act, because there is a situation where there is legislative competence held by the Scottish Parliament and it agrees that it is a UK body. No one
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|