Amendment 68

Part of Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 17th September 2020.

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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?