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Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) (No. 2) Order 1998

9.12 p.m.

Lord Sewel rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 1st July be approved [40th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 1st July be approved [40th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Sewel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Scotland Bill

9.14 p.m.

House again in Committee on Schedule 5.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 193A:

Page 71, leave out line 6.

The noble Lord said: The Government have already expressed their view on this subject. There are one or two additional points which the Law Society wish to be made. I shall, if I may, follow those up in correspondence. I believe that it is unlikely that the Government will have changed their view in the last hour and a half.

[Amendment No. 193A not moved.]

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 194:

Page 71, leave out lines 11 to 13.

The noble Lord said: I am pleased that we have managed to return to the Scotland Bill. We are returning to the issue of whether certain difficult matters should be placed with the Scottish parliament or retained at Westminster. We have now moved on to the field of consumer protection. A number of consumer protection items are reserved. I fully understand that and believe that the Government are right about it. In consumer protection there is so much of a flow of goods around the country, by one means or another, with people living in Scotland and shopping in England, and vice versa--mail order and so on--that it would not make much sense if consumer protection were devolved to a Scottish parliament. I suspect that that parliament would simply have to follow slavishly whatever was done here. The Government have my support in that regard.

I wish to turn to the question of the exemption from reservation under this section. The exemption is the subject matter of Section 16 of the Food Safety Act 1990. The problem here is that, given the inter-UK trade, if I may call it that, it is wise that

23 Jul 1998 : Column 1122

there should be one control over food safety, labelling, and so on, and it would not make sense for Scotland to have different regulations on these matters. In addition, so much consumer protection is now controlled, or at least triggered, by material in Brussels that it would not make sense to devolve many of the consumer protection items.

We know that the food standards agency will be a UK body. That was said by Mr. Henry McLeish at col. 1004 of Hansard on 30th March. I wonder, as I have on a number of occasions, why the Government have decided to have any exemption under this head at all. I look forward to the Minister's explanation. I beg to move.

Lord Sewel: These amendments would seriously undermine the devolution of responsibility to the Scottish parliament over all matters related to food safety, plant health and animal health. Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 seek to include within the reservation of consumer protection and product standards matters related to devolved areas of food safety, animal and plant health, fertilisers and pesticides. We intend, however, that the Scottish parliament should be able to legislate in relation to agriculture, fisheries and food on a "field to fork" basis--the quality chain. That is becoming more and more important. It is critical that we operate on that basis if Scottish agriculture is to thrive. The whole legislative competence from field to fork ought to be located with one parliament. That is what we are doing. Consumer protection and product standards, safety and the related labelling thereof are essential aspects of that process and go together as a unity. For these reasons, the Government cannot support the amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, mentioned the food standards agency. It is true, as he reported, that that agency is to be a UK body. Food standards and safety will be devolved matters. The Scottish parliament would therefore inherit responsibility for funding the agency's activities in Scotland, and appropriate arrangements will be made for it to be accountable to the parliament and for joint control by the Scottish Ministers and the United Kingdom Government.

I understand the interest in these kinds of organisations. We come back to another example of a situation where responsibility for the power and the function is devolved. That responsibility is carried out and maintained in collaboration and co-operation through a UK agency. That is the choice of the Scottish parliament. It does not affect the logic of the devolution of those functions to the parliament in the first place. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I see from the Notes on Clauses that tobacco advertising seems to be devolved. Is that the case? If so, how will that work?

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Lord Sewel: There is only one possible response to that: if it is in Notes on Clauses, it is in Notes on Clauses.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Is it the case and how will it work?

Lord Sewel: I do not know how it will work.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I wonder whether my noble friend is assisted by the observation that it is not even devolved to the UK. Tobacco advertising is a European matter, as I understand it.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I can intervene here, as it is Committee stage. My recollection of tobacco advertising and the affair of Mr. Ecclestone suggests that it is a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament. The Government changed their policy on tobacco advertising in relation to Formula One motor racing, thanks to the pressure brought on them by Mr. Ecclestone.

My noble friend makes a good point. If the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, is right and it is entirely a European matter, why bother having it devolved at all? It is not worth it. If it is devolved, do different rules on advertising apply? I need not labour the point because, frankly, I cannot see how that would work. For example, would it work with television? Would our television pictures cut off at the Border if tobacco was advertised? We need an answer on that.

Again, I shall need to study what the Minister said. Is he saying that while these regulations and so forth will be carried out by a UK body, the regulations north and south of the Border could be different, or just the administration of them? If the regulations could be different north and south of the Border, it might be difficult. In agriculture, the supply of produce is a fairly unified market inside the United Kingdom, as are fish and fish products. For example, the Aberdeen-based fish processing industry sells its products in the whole of the United Kingdom. It would be extremely difficult if there were different regulations north and south of the Border. The same is true of other products. If product standards in fertilisers were different north and south of the Border, it would be extremely difficult for farmers. I hope the noble Lord can give us some help on these matters.

Viscount Thurso: Before the Minister gives that help, perhaps I can point out to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that there are already a number of areas where the regulations north of the Border are quite different from regulations south of the Border. The one that immediately springs to mind--we had a short debate on it in your Lordships' House not so long ago in which the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was kind enough to reply for the Government--relates to fire regulations. The fire regulations north of the Border are

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quite different and based on different principles to those south of the Border. In fact, we believe that those north of the Border are better than those south of the Border.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: Perhaps I could also point to the noble Lord that the fishing industry is now concentrated in Peterhead and not Aberdeen.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before both noble Lords sit down, I did not refer to the catching sector; I referred to the fish processing sector. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that that is still concentrated in Aberdeen.

As to the other point, there is a considerable difference between fire regulations which concern premises which clearly are in Scotland and cannot move too readily to England and a fish or food processing factory whose markets may be throughout the UK and abroad.

Lord Sewel: I shall try to answer the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, on tobacco. As I understand it, we are moving towards the implementation of an agreement on a European basis on tobacco advertising. But that must be implemented. It is the implementation of that type of agreement which would be a devolved matter. I hope that gives the noble Baroness some clarification.

On the basic point, I see the tension in the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. At the end of the day, it comes down to this. We start with a principle which says that agriculture, fisheries and food are an entire devolved area. That seems to me to be a good starting point. We then get into areas of subdivision but we maintain the essential unity of the policy and the principle that that subject should be devolved. When it comes to matters such as food safety, animal and plant health, in the application of the principle we say, "Yes; that means that those subdivisions are devolved to the parliament", but in fact there is every practical, commonsense and pragmatic reason to maintain a UK approach.

Although the power is devolved, the way in which that power is exercised is through a UK agency. Formally, that means that it would be within the scope of the parliament to withdraw from that kind of arrangement if it so chose. But that would not be the wisest or the most prudent thing for the parliament to do.

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