Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords) 9:15 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I wish to speak to Amendment 255, to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, have kindly added their names. It seeks to insert into Clause 35 a provision that is designed to protect the interests of the devolved authorities regarding the exercise of regulation-making powers concerning marketing standards in England that are conferred on the Secretary of State by that clause.

Clause 35(1) tells us that the Secretary of State may make provision about marketing standards with which the agricultural products listed in Schedule 4 must conform if they are to be marketed in England. The products listed in that schedule include milk and milk products, beef, veal—although, curiously, not lamb or wool—poultry and poultry meat, eggs and egg products, and fruit and vegetables other than olives. The list of matters that the regulations may cover is extensive, and that is leaving aside the points made by noble Lords who preceded me on this group. There are 14 matters on the list as it stands. They include species, plant variety, animal breed, the type of farming, the production method, the place or origin of farming, and restrictions on the use of certain substances and practices.

The clause makes it clear that the power to prescribe food standards extends to agricultural products that are to be marketed—I stress the word “marketed”—in England, not just to those produced in England. Nothing is said in the clause about where these agricultural products may come from, but it requires little imagination to appreciate the power may extend to agricultural products that are sent for marketing in England from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We are told that Clause 52 extends to England and Wales only. It is odd, then, that the power does not cover agricultural products that are to be marketed in Wales as well as England. The Minister may be able to explain why that is so. If, as I suspect, the reason is that the standards to be applied to the marketing of agricultural products in Wales is a matter to be determined by Welsh Ministers, one wonders why Clause 52 does not say that Clause 35 applies to England only. But that is not the point that concerns me.

I am concerned that Clause 35 appears to overlook the fact that agricultural products marketed in England, listed in Schedule 4, may include things that have been produced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I do not have figures at my disposal, but we know that

“Northern Ireland sells more to the rest of the UK than to all EU member states combined” and that

“Scotland sells more to the rest of the UK than to the rest of the world put together.”

My source for that is the Business Secretary’s foreword to the UK Internal Market White Paper, published on 16 July. What is said there about Scotland must be true for Wales too.

Much of what comes to England from those other parts of the UK consists of agricultural products. To take just one example, it is common for farmers in Scotland who grow seasonal crops such as peas and raspberries to do so under contract to the supermarkets, which distribute them to serve the needs of markets throughout the UK, including England. There must be many farmers in Wales and Scotland, especially those close to the borders, who look to England as the place to take their goods to market. Because their business is agriculture, which is devolved, they must look to the Governments in Wales and Scotland to set the standards with which they must comply. The same is true for farmers in Northern Ireland. It cannot be assumed, then, that the standards set by the devolved Governments as regards species and farming methods will be the same as those the Secretary of State will think appropriate for markets in England.

This raises the crucial question of how Clause 35 is intended to fit in with the concept of a UK internal market. I appreciate that the White Paper to which I have referred seeks to meet the needs of marketing across the whole range of products that move around between our nations and that it was not produced by Defra. But the whole must include the sum of its parts, so I read its comments as applying to products for food as well as everything else.

We are told that under the plans in the White Paper, the UK will continue to operate as a coherent internal market, with a guarantee that UK companies—this must include farmers—can trade unhindered in every part of the United Kingdom. The White Paper states:

“If a baker sells bread in both Glasgow and Carlisle, they will not need to create different packaging because they are selling between Scotland and England.”

The principle of mutual recognition is explained further in paragraph 48 of the White Paper, which states:

“The fundamental aim of all mutual recognition systems is to ensure that compliance with regulation in any one territory is recognised as compliance in the other(s). For example, if a good produced in Scotland, and adhering to the Scottish labelling regulations, can be placed on the Scottish market, it can … be placed on the English and Welsh markets without the additional need to comply with English or Welsh requirements.”

With respect, it seems that Clause 35 as drafted does not address itself at all to the concept of a UK internal market, as explained in that paragraph. I suggest that it could do that in one or other of two ways. It could include a requirement that the Secretary of State consult with the devolved Governments when exercising the regulation-making power, which is what my amendment seeks to do. That would at least ensure that barriers were not erected to trade in agricultural products coming from elsewhere in the UK by accident or through a misunderstanding. Alternatively, exemptions could be written into the regulations for the English market to serve the needs of growers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The other way might be to write into the clause a provision, such as that in the White Paper from which I have been quoting, stating that products grown there that comply with standards laid down by the devolved Governments could be marketed in England without having to comply with the English requirements.

I add that my amendment was conceived by me and not prompted by what I have read in the White Paper. It was drafted several weeks before the White Paper was published, but I am encouraged by what the White Paper says to suggest to the Minister that there is a real issue here, about the structure of the internal market in agricultural products, that needs to be thought through very carefully before the Bill leaves this House. Of course, I will listen carefully to what he has to say, but the issue seems so important to the working of the internal market that, depending on what he says, I may have to come back to it on Report.