Amendment 68

Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 17th September 2020.

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Lord Wigley:

Moved by Lord Wigley

68: Clause 32, page 29, line 44, at end insert—“provided that those functions do not extend to a geographical area or species outside the original remit of that body when established.”Member’s explanatory statementThe purpose of this amendment is to ensure that Clause 32, as included in the Bill, does not undermine the democratic answerability of the devolved administrations.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, once again I draw attention to my registered interests. The amendment maintains the theme of devolved consideration and is a simple probing amendment, which I suppose I should really have tabled in Committee. But I shall not detain the House for any great length of time.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that Clause 32 does not undermine the democratic answerability of the devolved Administrations, which I am sure the Minister would never want to do. I shall try to spell out clinically the problem that this amendment tries to address. I have given the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, notice of these issues to facilitate her response.

Subsection (1) of new Clause 89A, proposed by Clause 32(1), allows the Secretary of State to assign functions to a body established under Section 87(1)(a) of the NERC—Natural Environment and Rural Communities—Act 2006 relating to the identification of animals and

“collecting, managing and making available information regarding the identification, movement and health of animals” in all parts of the UK. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Order 2008, which I will refer to as the AHDB order, established that board in exercise of the powers conferred by Sections 87 to 91, 93 and 96, 97(1) and 97(2) of the NERC Act, as well as paragraphs 5 to 11 of Schedule 8 and Schedules 9 and 10 to that Act.

Under subsections (2) and (3) of Section 87 of the NERC Act, an order may specify only one geographic area

“in relation to which assigned functions are exercisable.”

As such, Article 2(1) of the AHDB order explicitly states:

“This Order relates to … the beef and sheep industry in England”.

I quote those words directly.

In Wales, we have our own body, which exercises many of the equivalent functions of the AHDB in relation to the beef and sheep industry in Wales. It is known as Hybu Cig Cymru and is a limited company owned wholly by the Welsh Government. Its main responsibility is

“the development, promotion and marketing of Welsh red meat.”

We also have our own legislation relating to the identification of animals and collecting, managing and making available information on animal identification, movement and health. For example, our sheep movement database, EIDCymru, collects much of the sheep movement information covered by the Sheep and Goats (Records, Identification and Movement) (Wales) Order 2015.

Yet new Clause 89A, proposed by Clause 32(1) of the Agriculture Bill before us, appears to allow the Secretary of State to grant powers to a body such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board in relation to sheep and beef animals in Wales. As one would expect, the AHDB Beef and Lamb Board comprises English members. No doubt they do sterling work for English beef and sheep farmers, and good luck to them, but it appears that, unless amended or clarified, Clause 32 may allow a body such as the AHDB to be granted powers relating to the identification of animals and collecting, managing and making available information on animal identification, movement and health in other geographical areas of the UK, including Wales. At best, this could be confusing. At worst, it could lead to duplication and unnecessary extra costs.

I hope that I have spelled out the problem clearly. I suggest to the Minister that my Amendment 68 would overcome the potential difficulties. I believe that, for the absolute avoidance of doubt, such words should be in the Bill when it becomes an Act. If the Minister acknowledges this need but sees some technical deficiency in my amendment, perhaps she could undertake to bring forward her own amendment at Third Reading to clear this matter up to everyone’s satisfaction.

I beg to move.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative 8:00 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I declare my interest as a livestock producer from Scotland.

Amendment 68A in my name emphasises much the same point for much the same reason. I have considerable admiration for my noble friend the Minister, who, along with his officials, has laboured hard and finally found a formula through which it has been possible to get a legislative consent Motion from the Scottish Parliament, as well as other Administrations, for this part of the Bill.

My amendment reflects the fact that given the present political views of the devolved Administrations, the Government have realised that they must get devolved agreement. Can my noble friend the Minister give the House some idea of which functions the body that is being proposed under this power will be expected to carry out? When we found that we were going to have the chance to resume control of our own laws, many in the agricultural and rural industries hoped that there would be frameworks to ensure seamless regulation across our own UK market. The Government then found that these functions under the devolution Acts had not been reserved to Westminster, so it was possible to argue that anything which could be considered to be part of agriculture and the environment was a devolved competence. It now appears that what we have in front of us is as far as we can get by way of a framework, but any final outcome will be hard won.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, has given a considerable description of the attitude with which these powers were received in the devolved Administrations. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I see this as an issue about the identification and traceability of animals being an area where the need for a joined-up policy is truly vital. It is an area where new technology is making an enormous difference to the capabilities of the information which can be included. Inevitably, it is triggering updates to the systems in the different parts of the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just explained the situation in Wales in some detail, and I must admit that I am not familiar with how this works in Ireland. However, in England, the AHDB is now moving on to using electronic identification for all livestock. It is in the middle of setting up the livestock information service using a database supplied by a company called Shearwell Data which will hold all the English data. Quite separately, the Government in Scotland are introducing electronic identification for cattle; the system is to be called ScotEID. They already have a well-tried one for sheep which has been running for some years.

Noble Lords will be familiar with the tremendous trade in livestock within the UK, both north to south and west to east. A large quantity of cattle and sheep which have a Scottish electronic identity will land up in England and vice versa, and it will be the same for the other Administrations. The normal expectation is that their identity would remain on the database of their registration. The person buying the animals would have to know their origin and then have to input or source any relevant information from that database, perhaps at a different end of the country, as will the authorities if there is an issue with health or disease. Other areas of possible similar divergencies are in carcass classification and food standards. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has such wide experience in these fields, has to say.

Apart from all these complications, at what point do the Government hope to be able to have a comprehensive view of what is going on? Is this the final framework in this area, and what about other similar areas?

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The noble Baroness is not here, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, for introducing their respective amendments. These two amendments refer back to comments that I made earlier about the status of the common framework agreements. It is very clear at this time that this is a fuzzy area and it is not quite clear what the status of the common framework agreements is—and yet, in the very specific circumstances that both noble Lords speaking to Amendments 68 and 68A referred to, time is pressing on and we need to know how the different Administrations across the United Kingdom will administer this part of the Bill.

My question to the Minister is: what is the status of the common frameworks at this time? I understand that they have been reduced to 21, but obviously the process is ongoing. It would be helpful to know whether this level of detail has been reached in the current negotiations and how circumstances referred to in Amendments 68 and 68A can be avoided if at all possible.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, I avoided devolved issues in Committee and was seeking to avoid them on Report, but I want to come in to support the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.

I have a couple of points to make. One is a general one, and it is no reflection whatever on the Ministers on the Front Bench: the Government do not do devolution. My experience of that comes from 2010 to 2013, some years ago now, when I was chair of the Food Standards Agency and the coalition Government came in. It was quite clear that there was a major problem with their attitude towards devolution, and I think that has carried on. I realise that there are relations between Ministers and they talk to each other, but the government machine does not do devolution.

My more specific point is that I plead guilty on two issues, really. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board was one of my babies when I went back to MAFF, or Defra, in 2006. The merger of the six levy boards was done under my watch. Of course, I realised at the time that I was the English farming Minister, not the Great Britain farming Minister, and the issue applied only to England. Furthermore, before that—this shows, I freely admit, that as the years go by I get a bit out of date, and I have had a year when I have not been on the ball, as it were—the cattle tracing service for passports and birth information, located in Workington at the time, was a UK-wide body; indeed, we recruited Welsh speakers. It could be that that has been taken apart and is no longer there, but the fundamental issue behind all this is traceability.

One reason we do it is self-interest, but the reason we were forced to do it by the European Union, as it does elsewhere, is so that we know what animal has been where if a disease breaks out. The issue should not be one of a dispute between devolved Administrations not being able to access the information; it is absolutely fundamental that the traceability of animals, their movements, the feed they have had and other matters is available if an animal disease breaks out—I hope that it does not happen but we have to prepare for the worst—particularly where there is a transfer to humans, or indeed if it is widely spread to other animals because they move around the country, as has just been said, east, west, north and south, and that leads to real problems.

So, first, I fundamentally doubt that the Government really do devolution. Secondly, in an area like this, Clause 32 is quite specific that the Government are in fact taking on board UK-wide information; indeed, relating to Scotland as well. The Minister is going to have to explain exactly what the detail is in terms of the devolved Administrations and how traceability—and the way we need it to operate in an emergency, because it is always an emergency when you actually need it—will actually function.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we are, again, addressing how matters might be properly devolved. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has identified some key challenges in his amendment, and the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, is complementary to it. It seems to me that these amendments need to be taken very seriously by the Government, who need to assess the implications laid out by noble Lords.

We are addressing the important issue of the identification and traceability of animals. We have a UK single market, so we will expect animals to be moved around, across the boundaries of our nations and regions. But animal traceability must be clear. Most years, my father would head for the Welsh borders, to Builth Wells, to buy his Welsh mountain ewes, and they arrived by lorry on our farm on the South Downs. That was a common pattern. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, outlined the same pattern for England and Scotland. It is the way that market works in the UK and, within it, animals must be traceable.

The system needs to involve each of the devolved Administrations, which must also be able to be held to account on this. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, indicated, traceability is exceedingly important in terms of disease control—for example, as we saw so clearly with foot and mouth or, more recently, blue tongue.

My noble friends Lord Bruce, Lord Alderdice, Lord Thomas and Lady Humphreys spelled out earlier how important it is that all parts of the United Kingdom work closely together, with proper devolution and consent. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is surely right that the Government do not do devolution, and this has to improve. My noble friend Lord Alderdice mentioned earlier that agriculture is, for example, the major industry in Northern Ireland, and traceability must be done in conjunction with the EU, given that Northern Ireland is in the EU internal market. Can the noble Baroness comment on this aspect?

I am very glad that these amendments have come forward. Both noble Lords are right to seek clarification here on the record, and we support their propositions. I look forward to the Minister’s response. It will need to be very specific.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords) 8:15 pm, 17th September 2020

We might not strictly be noble friends but I am grateful to my noble compatriot Lord Wigley for tabling Amendment 68, allowing a brief discussion of how the changes contained in Clause 32 will impact on the devolved Administrations. I agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker that, despite the better efforts of some people—Ministers and officials in his Government—generally people do not do devolution 20 years on.

I am also grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his Amendment 68A, which is designed to probe how these traceability provisions will work as animals or their meat move across the UK’s internal borders. I understand that, although agriculture might have always been devolved in a theoretical sense, the UK Secretary of State has, in many areas, tended to act on behalf of all four nations.

These provisions on the identification and traceability of animals are important, and I am sure that the current drafting has the approval of the devolved Administrations. Indeed, I will pass on the Minister’s earlier kind comments to my good friend the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs in the Senedd Cymru. However, I would be grateful to the Minister if, in her response, she could shed greater light on the points of detail raised by those who have tabled these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for his amendment, and I am very grateful to him for his advance notice of the points that he made. I will deal with Amendment 68A, in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, at the same time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, rightly observed, Clause 32 provides that the Secretary of State may assign functions to a body relating to, first, collecting, managing and making available information regarding the identification, movement and health of animals, and, secondly, the means of identifying animals. These functions are vital for the purposes of disease control, for complete movement traceability of all animals across UK borders and for UK trade negotiations with international partners. The meat and livestock sectors have championed this new service and are strongly supportive of it.

In Committee, we introduced a government amendment providing that the Secretary of State secure approval from the devolved Administrations for orders assigning functions exercisable in relation to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland to the AHDB, such as the handling of movement data shared with the AHDB by those Administrations. We have always said that we would engage intensively with the devolved Administrations prior to making any UK-wide orders.

The wording in Section 89A(2) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, as inserted by Clause 32, requires the Secretary of State to seek approval from the devolved Administrations for making orders assigning functions exercisable in those Administrations. Where any such function is assigned, it will be following full discussion with, and approval from, the devolved Administrations. These discussions will give the opportunity for any further concerns to be raised. Therefore, any appropriate limitations on species covered or geographical extent for any function relating to identification and traceability of livestock will be specified in the order and, I repeat, subject to approval from the devolved Administrations.

Regarding how livestock traceability will work between UK Administrations, each Administration will run its own multi-species traceability service. Currently, there is a GB-wide service for cattle and a service for pigs in England and Wales, but in the future, traceability will be fully distributed. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board needs to be able to process movement data on animals that are not in England, or that have crossed borders within the UK, to provide a complete picture of an animal’s lifetime traceability in disease-control situations. This is termed “the UK view”. It will enable livestock identification and movement data collected by each Administration to be seen by others and to be available to veterinary officials in all UK Administrations. I hope that this reassures my noble friend the Duke of Montrose.

I take issue with the assertation by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this Government do not do devolution. As the Lords’ spokesperson for Wales and someone who is proudly Welsh, I assure him, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that we pay careful attention to preserving the devolution settlement in all three departments of which I am Whip.

The AHDB will also run the livestock unique identification service on behalf of England and Wales. This controls the issuing of official individual identification numbers to animals. All data will be handled in accordance with data sharing agreements and protocols agreed by all UK Administrations. No Administration will be able to use data outside the terms of that agreement.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the status of the negotiations on the common framework. In the last debate, my noble friend the Minister said that the UK Government have been working closely with the Welsh Government, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Government, to develop a UK agriculture support framework. We expect to be able to agree this soon and we will update the House shortly.

I believe that this provides the assurance that the assignment of functions by the Secretary of State under this clause will be fully accountable to the devolved Administrations. With these assurances, and my belief that there is genuinely no clearing up necessary, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her response, and to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Northover and Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for their input in this debate.

Quite clearly this is not a subject area where one is seeking controversy; rather one is seeking to resolve a practical problem which might arise if it is not planned for in a way that avoids such eventualities. There must be clear demarcation of responsibility for all four bodies within the UK that have various responsibilities in these fields. They have to know what their responsibilities are and how far they go. To the extent that from time to time there has to be some cross-border activity, by the nature of the market, there must be clear ground rules on who does what and who communicates with whom.

To the extent that the Welsh Government have indicated that they see a way forward on this, that is fine, provided that it is the same interpretation on the other side of Offa’s Dyke, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to their powers. If we can get a situation in which it is clear to all what their responsibilities are—where they start and where they end—we can avoid difficulties. If we do not, we will find ourselves in quite a complex situation with a lack of clarity with regard to responsibility.

I conclude with this. There is a saying, particularly in the farming fraternity, that good fences make good neighbours. In this instance, there has to be clarity, understood by all, on who is responsible for what fence and for what function. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 68 withdrawn.

Amendment 68A not moved.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 69. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Clause 34: Agricultural tenancies