Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Thurso: As the noble Lord indicated, my noble friends have tabled several amendments on this subject which will be debated later. Therefore, given the late hour, I do not propose to address them now, but reserve powder for later. Perhaps we might even have that debate before six o'clock in the evening.

Lord Sewel: Perhaps we should remind ourselves what the amendment is about. I freely acknowledge the interest in, knowledge of and commitment to the Scottish agriculture and fishing industries of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. His record speaks for itself. He treated us to a wide-ranging exposition of the Scottish fishing industry and in particular the relationship within the UK between MAFF Ministers and Scottish Office Ministers, and postulated what may happen in the future. That is a legitimate area for discussion and debate, but it does not relate all that closely to this amendment which is about defining the word "assisting". The amendment does not deal with the wider matters on which the noble Lord touched, but, as I understand it, tries to add to the definition of "assisting" and the various actions that the word "assisting" could be taken as encompassing.

I understand where the noble Lord is coming from with this amendment. Both he and I know the importance of attendance and participation by Scottish Ministers in EU Councils, but the amendment is unnecessary. It serves no purpose.

As the Bill stands, this provision is widely drawn and that is quite deliberate. We do not wish to limit the scope for Scottish Ministers to contribute to EU and other international discussions, subject of course to the agreement of their UK ministerial colleagues. The word "assist" has a wide and general meaning and I can assure the noble Lord that it certainly encompasses attendance at, and participation in, UK delegations. From the wording of the amendment, that seems to be the noble Lord's point.

The problem with this amendment is that it seeks to define one aspect of "assistance", but by doing so--I enter this note of caution strongly--invites questions about what else might or might not be included. That may be a legalistic point, but it is a complication we can probably do without because subsequent interpretation may be that "assist" is limited to the points which the noble Lord defines in his amendment. We want a much wider definition.

The points that the noble Lord makes in his amendment, if not his speech, are encompassed within the wider but not specifically defined meaning of "assist". We have made clear consistently that Scottish Ministers and officials of the Scottish Executive will be closely involved in all stages of the negotiations after devolution, just as they are now. Provision is made for that in the Bill as it stands. I genuinely do not believe that in terms of the amendment and the Bill as drafted

21 Jul 1998 : Column 868

there is anything between us. The danger is that by trying to define "assist" we shall narrow the meaning. We believe that it is better to keep it as broad as possible. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

12.45 a.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am aware that perhaps I ranged a little wide at the beginning, but I needed to show how the present situation worked, the interaction between departments and Ministers with regard to Council of Ministers meetings in Europe and the interaction following devolution. I appreciate the noble Lord's comments. I thank him for accepting that it is a subject about which I am legitimately concerned. I am rather surprised that the Liberal Democrats managed an intervention on the important subject of farming and fishing that I almost missed. I do not suppose that that will be lost on farmers and fishermen later today.

Viscount Thurso: I thought that I was perfectly clear in what I said. We have an amendment that deals with these matters at a later stage. We keep our powder dry to deal with it at that point.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I advise the noble Viscount that he would be wise to take his chances when they do arise and not wait until they may arise in future.

We have had an interesting debate. I appreciate that I have narrowed down "assist". The word is quite narrow to start with--far narrower than I would have wished--but this is the first opportunity that has arisen to deal with the issue. Given the noble Lord's understanding of the problem and my attempt to find a solution in legislation that protects the important interests of farming and fishing in the Council of Ministers--although there will be other devolved issues of lesser importance (who knows how Europe will develop in future), currently farming and fishing are the two major matters--I was surprised that the amendments were demerged earlier today. But when we return to this matter perhaps I shall have an opportunity to explain to a fuller Committee how the system has worked in the past and how it will work in future. I look forward then to Liberal Democrat support on behalf of farmers and fishermen in Scotland. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No.180:

Page 65, line 25, at end insert--

("Customs and Excise

. Control and interception of imported substances and protection of coastal waters are reserved functions.").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No.180 is patently a probing amendment. I am so concerned about the availability of illegal drugs all over the country that I believe Customs and Excise should be involved under Schedule 5 in the interception of imported substances and the protection of coastal waters. It is unfortunate that in the past few years the Coastguard appears to have

21 Jul 1998 : Column 869

had its functions and duties very much reduced. I hope that the Government will take this matter seriously. I want to see every effort made and no expense spared in trying to prevent the importation of illegal drugs and so on. I beg to move.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: We fully accept the importance of ensuring that in all parts of the UK there is a common system to govern the import of illegal drugs and drug trafficking. That is why the Bill already reserves (in Head 2, Section 1) the criminal law in relation to drugs, including the possession, supply and import of drugs and drug trafficking. There is therefore no need for the further reference to imported substances in this amendment.

I can also assure the noble Earl that the Bill already provides (in Head 3, Section 5) for the reservation of the control of the import, export and carriage of goods. Powers to prohibit or regulate the movement of goods to or from the UK, or specified parts of the country, and to make provision to enforce such regulations, including

21 Jul 1998 : Column 870

penal sanctions and seizure of goods, will therefore be reserved. There are some minor exceptions to that reservation but those are mainly for the purposes of protection of human, animal or plant health, animal welfare or the environment or observing or implementing obligations under the common agricultural policy.

I would also point out to the noble Earl that Section 1 of Head 1 makes it clear that taxes and excise duties are reserved. I hope that what I have said reassures the noble Earl that the Bill already makes adequate provision as respects the control of drugs and the activities of HMCE and that he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Balfour: I am obliged to the noble Baroness for that explanation. I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at eight minutes before one o'clock.

21 Jul 1998 : Column 869

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page