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 Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 8:00 pm, 17th September 2020

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 Furthermore, before that—this shows, I freely admit, that as the years go by I get a bit out of date, and I have had a year when I have not been on the ball, as it were—the cattle tracing service for passports and birth information, located in Workington at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.