Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 10:30 pm, 23rd July 2020

I am not sure what happened there, but I am glad noble Lords can now hear me. I shall speak to Amendment 255, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, which I would have signed had there been space to do so, and Amendment 263, in the name of my noble friend Lord Tyler, which I have signed, along with my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. We have already had an important debate on devolution with specific reference to devolved issues throughout the Bill, and I very much appreciate the clear and valuable case made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in Amendment 267, which I have also signed.

Amendment 255 requires the Secretary of State, when making regulations for England, to consult the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations and bodies that represent the UK farming industry. The scope of these regulations is a extensive and detailed, covering every aspect of agricultural production, processing, packaging, standards and distribution. Any significant changes could be very disruptive to the UK single market if it means divergence from practices in parts of the United Kingdom outside England.

Livestock production is more prominent in the devolved areas, especially in the more prevalent and less favoured upland farms. As I have pointed out in previous contributions, England is the main market for much of the produce from farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It matters, therefore, to Scottish and Northern Irish producers, that any changes to established practice and procedure do not interfere with farming methods and costs for non-English producers.

It also matters to English consumers if it disrupts or increases the costs of supply for markets to England. It would be invidious to single out individual companies, but I can think of a number in my part of Scotland whose main markets are in the south. The products are high-quality and well-received; indeed, the fact that the ingredients are sourced from quality Scottish farms is a key part of the branding. I hope that English Ministers would resist any measures deliberately designed to disadvantage farmers in the devolved areas, but lack of consultation could do damage unintentionally, to the detriment of producers and consumers throughout the UK.

Turning to Amendment 263, which I was pleased to sign, there can be no doubt that the protection of traditional speciality food and drink products delivers comparative advantage, which is of huge importance to our terms of trade. There are many parts of the world where the only visible expression of UK brands is Scotch whisky—where that is all you would know about the United Kingdom. It is one of our leading exports, if not the leading one. But there are many products that are distinctly British and that benefit from GI protection; so, are the Government resisting maintaining reciprocal GI arrangements, and if so, can the Minister explain why? The suggestion that EU GIs can be replaced by a domestic regime puts exports in an invidious position. Are there products from the EU 27 that the UK Government want to deny GI to? Do we want the freedom to designate English sparkling wine as champagne?

Over the years, battles have been fought to secure GI designation. Why should we now throw it to the winds? If we refuse to recognise established EU GIs, and it creates a conflict between our brands and theirs, it will sour the entire trade relationship. I support my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and his powerful analysis of what the consequences would be. I urge the Government to accept this amendment.