Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 193:

Page 70, leave out lines 11 to 13.

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 193 concerns intellectual property. There is a reservation on intellectual property and then an exemption from reservation for,

The Plant Varieties Act 1997 provides for a number of things. It seems odd that those matters are to be devolved to the Scottish parliament. If one reflects on the Government's arguments earlier about keeping films, videos, live animals, lotteries in part and various other matters in the UK--matters of health, animal health and labelling--it is odd that the Plant Varieties Act is being singled out to be exempt from reservation.

I should like to have a clear view as to why that subject was chosen. After all, plant varieties and seeds move pretty freely between different parts of the Kingdom. There is a fair trade in mail order catalogues; people order seeds and plants from different parts of the UK--Scotland to England or England to Scotland. It seems odd that Parts I and II of the Act are chosen to be exempted.

Given the arguments that I have been listening to for most of the afternoon--some of them I appreciated and some I did not and asked the Committee's opinion on at least one of them--I cannot understand why this Act was chosen to be the responsibility of the Scottish parliament. I should have thought we would want to keep plant varieties on a UK-wide basis, especially, as I suspect, European matters begin to impinge on this issue. I should be grateful for an explanation from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, on this. I beg to move.

Lord Sewel: The key to the solution is the fact that agriculture generally is devolved and this fits in with our approach to agriculture as it reads across to plant varieties.

Let me make it clear. We plan that the Controller of Plant Variety Rights and the Plant Variety Rights Tribunal should be delegated as cross-Border public authorities in the Order in Council made under Clause 83. That will facilitate the maintenance of a single regulatory regime across the UK by those bodies after devolution.

Therefore, we have an arrangement which is repeated in a number of areas where the formal power and function is devolved, but that devolved power and function is carried out--given the reality--through an existing and maintained UK body. Basically, it is the best of both worlds.

Having said that, it remains the case that at some future date, because the power is devolved, it is open to the Scottish parliament--if, in its wisdom, it thinks that a better arrangement could be made--to move away from the present UK body and set up some other body.

23 Jul 1998 : Column 1098

But it is our intention to designate those two cross-Border bodies in terms of the Order in Council under Clause 83.

It is not a matter of trying to set up a specific number of Scottish bodies; it is just that the power and function is devolved. That is expressed through existing UK bodies. I hope that that explanation is not too complicated. I appreciate that it brings together two slightly different ideas but I hope, on that basis, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I should have gone into this matter before coming to Committee, but I confess that I did not.

Does what the Minister said affect the seed potato industry? Very often a potato is invented south of the Border. It is kept under control until it has been multiplied sufficiently and much of the multiplication is done in Scotland; for example, in Angus, not far from where I live. It is still under the control of the inventors south of the Border.

I do not know whether this provision applies, but that aspect may be affected by what the Minister says. If he cannot answer at the moment, perhaps he will look at the issue. It is a matter which will be of interest to the National Farmers Union in Scotland.

Lord Sewel: I believe that seed potatoes are seeds. On that basis, I would hazard a guess that they are covered by this provision. If not, I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: If they are covered by that which is devolved, it will be extremely worrying.

Lord Sewel: That opens up again an area of potential misunderstanding. Although the power and function is devolved, the operational aspect by which that power and function is given reality is through an existing UK body. The intention is to maintain that existing UK body as a cross-Border authority.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend Lady Carnegy has raised a quite worrying point. Perhaps I may go on to look at the words in the exemption--the "subject-matter". I understood what the Minister said about the bodies which grant the proprietary rights and the tribunal. They would be designated "cross-border" and therefore nothing much would change except that the Scottish executive, I presume, would have some role in the appointments. But the "subject-matter" seems to go a little further than that. It implies that the Scottish parliament could change the legislation contained in Parts I and II of the Plant Varieties Act. That perhaps worries my noble friend and myself much more. I assume that Parts I and II of the Act do not cover the import of seeds and seed potatoes. The import of those products has to be controlled.

As my noble friend pointed out, and as the Minister will be the first to know, the seed potato industry is very important in Scotland. In many parts of eastern Scotland

23 Jul 1998 : Column 1099

and the Borders seed potatoes are vital to the farming economy. I no longer need to bother declaring an interest because it is a long gone interest, but when I was a student I was a potato inspector. I actually decided the grade potatoes should have. So I look at potatoes in quite a different way from anyone else! I must say that it was a quite well paid summer occupation for students. I do not know whether it still is, but it certainly was then. Indeed, I can vouch for what my noble friend said. The Scottish seed potato industry is very important--

Lord Mackie of Benshie: Perhaps I may--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Ah, another grower!

Lord Mackie of Benshie: Perhaps I may be able to assist the committee. It appears to me to be perfectly clear that, if the proprietary rights are laid down in Great Britain, the administration of the protection of those rights in Scotland should be done by the Scottish parliament. What happens is that some people try to swindle. They could be putting in potatoes which had run out of the period after the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, had inspected them, or they might be trying to sell seed without paying the premium to the inventor. In the case of potatoes, this appears to be fairly straightforward.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention because he knows about this subject. My slight concern--perhaps the Minister can put me at ease--is that the subject matter of Parts I and II devolved to the Scottish parliament could lead to a position where the Scottish parliament either legislated ahead of the UK parliament or vice versa and the net result was that the cross-border traffic in seeds of all kinds and seed potatoes was disturbed. I realise that I am getting into technicalities, even for the Minister with responsibility for agriculture. Perhaps we might be grateful for a letter on the matter. If the noble Lord could give that assurance, that would end the debate.

Lord Sewel: The only thing I can say in response is that I shall now add seed potatoes and seeds to the two other minefield areas in your Lordships' House, which are salmon and forestry. At this stage, I think it is better that I write to the noble Lord--a well known and used expedient--and see whether we can clear up this matter through correspondence.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps I should have studied Parts I and II of the Plant Varieties Act 1997 with more care before I came to probe. However, I did think that the Minister would have all the answers at his fingertips!

Lord Carter: Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. I actually took the Plant Varieties Act through the House; and I cannot remember either! But I can remember that those on the Opposition Front Bench were entirely pleased with all the answers I gave them.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We tend always to be pleased with the answers that the noble Lord,

23 Jul 1998 : Column 1100

Lord Carter, gives. With that, and with the letter which I thought I could see coming a few minutes before the Minister promised it, I am content to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 193ZA:

Page 70, line 27, at end insert--

("Section 5A - Sea Fishing

Regulation of sea fishing outside the Scottish zone (except in relation to Scottish fishing boats).
"Scottish fishing boat" means a fishing vessel which is registered in the register maintained under section 8 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and whose entry in the register specifies a port in Scotland as the port to which the vessel is to be treated as belonging.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page