The next item of business is a debate on two motions on devolved legislation to be considered by the UK Parliament. The debate will be divided into two sections. The first section will be on motion S1M-60, in the name of Susan Deacon, on the Food Standards Bill. At 4.30 pm, we will move on to debate motion S1M-61, in the name of Angus Mackay, on the Financial Services and Markets Bill, the electronic communications bill and the limited liability partnerships bill.
As always, I ask members to keep their comments brief to allow as many members as possible to speak. Will members who wish to speak in the debate on the Food Standards Bill please press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible? I call Susan Deacon to speak on and to move motion S1M-60 on the Food Standards Bill.
I am very pleased that one of my early outings in this chamber is on the issue of food safety. It is a very important issue with a particular resonance in Scotland, and it is right for this Parliament to discuss it at an early stage.
The motion seeks this Parliament's approval for the creation of a UK food standards agency, within which are embodied specific provisions for Scotland. The draft bill currently before the Westminster Parliament is the product of extensive consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. This is our opportunity to endorse its provisions.
I want to outline some of the main elements of the proposed food standards agency. I also want to set out some of the guiding principles on food safety that the Executive will follow-now and in the future. I state from the outset that the Executive recognises the public's legitimate concerns about food safety. We are determined to play our part to ensure that those concerns are addressed effectively and responsibly.
We want to put arrangements in place that have the best chance of success-the best chance of reducing food poisoning outbreaks, the best chance of improving hygiene standards and the best chance of re-establishing consumer confidence-and I firmly believe that the proposals before us today give us the opportunity to make a start on that.
The proposed agency represents a significant and bold step towards rebuilding consumer confidence in the safety of our food. People are
Creating a new food standards agency is a bold and innovative step to depoliticise food, to further sensible discussion of related matters and to move away from the highly charged and emotive arena of tabloid headlines, of which we have seen so many in recent weeks and months. The Scottish Executive wants a reasonable, responsible, informed and open approach to food safety issues in Scotland. We want Scotland's future food safety policy to be based on the best available expertise and to be anchored in sound scientific advice-the best available. We also want to ensure that that policy is transparent and clearly explained, not in scientific jargon but in terms that are easily understandable to the person in the street.
That is our aim in supporting the creation of the new food standards agency. We want it to make its assessment from the standpoint of the best available science; contain people who are skilled in risk management and risk communication; have an open, transparent approach; and be headed by a board that is selected through open recruitment, subject to Nolan committee rules, drawing together experience, knowledge and skills in what is a complex and important area. We also want it to have increased powers to undertake monitoring and surveillance and an enhanced enforcement capability.
It will, of course, still be for us as politicians and policy makers to decide how to act, but we will be doing that from an informed position, with access to expert advice and in a spirit of openness. The agency will publish the advice that it gives to ministers-advice that we can choose to accept or reject. We will then be expected to explain publicly why we have reached our decision. That is as it should be. We are doing all this because the public expect-rightly-that those responsible for maintaining food safety put the protection of public health first. The prize to be won is primarily for consumers: the promise of greater assurance over food safety.
That is right, but there is also a prize to be won
For more than a decade, there have been food scares. All too often we have seen well-intentioned interventions, from experts and others, result in contradictory advice, perplexity and confusion. We must break through that. That is why we need a body that can speak authoritatively and give expert advice to the public, to industry, to consumers, to enforcers and to us as policy makers. Such a body will be a crucial component in driving up food standards.
Responsible, informed debate and keeping consumer interests at heart are our guiding principles for the development of food safety and standards policy. As the Scottish Executive, that is what we aim to achieve. We must consider how best to deliver change and what mechanisms will work best to further the interests of the people of Scotland.
Food is a devolved area. The proposed UK agency provides flexible arrangements for specific action to be taken in Scotland should the circumstances require it. The proposals provide the benefits of flexibility and room for manoeuvre in Scotland, coupled with the consistency and clarity brought by UK-wide arrangements. Food problems do not recognise borders. Food emergencies can quickly spill over from Jedburgh to Carlisle, and in the other direction.
An important European dimension should be borne in mind. Food law is voluminous, complex and much of it is EU-derived. One of the key issues for us is to ensure that legal requirements are translated clearly and consistently to provide the basis for efficient and effective enforcement by, for example, local authorities and the Meat Hygiene Service. Again, the consistency of approach that can be provided by a UK-wide body underpins that principle.
A large task lies ahead. We now have a significant opportunity to make an impact on this problem and to make a difference in Scotland. This bill gives us the right arrangements for Scotland: a separate Scottish arm for the agency and a new independent Scottish food advisory committee to advise on food safety issues in Scotland. The agency will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament in the same way as it is accountable to Westminster. Through a range of joint decision-making powers and arrangements, that will ensure that Scotland's voice is properly heard.
The proposed arrangements offer Scotland the best of both worlds: access to UK-wide resources, particularly science, and the flexibility to deliver Scottish requirements when the need arises. In short, they offer us a strong Scottish voice, yet the ability to be different when we decide.
This is our chance, as a Scottish Parliament, to send out a clear message that we are serious about food safety. It is our opportunity to address this issue effectively and responsibly for the benefit of the Scottish people. I recommend the proposals and ask members to support the motion.
SNP members welcome the creation of a food standards agency in Scotland. Others will talk about the effect on consumers, but I want briefly to mention the effect on the food industry.
The food industry is vital, especially for many rural parts of Scotland. It has many areas of excellence; it is an industry of which we should rightly be proud. As Susan Deacon said, it is essential that we increase consumer confidence and remove the suspicion-not necessarily always justified-that the agriculture department is in the pockets of the producers.
The food industry in Scotland thrives because of its high reputation and high standards. Production-agriculture and horticulture-is not the only important area. There are also many downstream jobs-in processing, packaging and retailing. An independent agency should maintain high standards and help to reinforce public confidence.
I welcome the Government's change of heart on the proposed levy that was to be placed on food outlets. That would have hit small butchers and other outlets in many parts of Scotland hard.
I want to spend some time on the constitutional aspect of this measure. As Susan has said, food standards are a matter that has been devolved to this Parliament. Many matters are devolved to this Parliament by default. In other words, they are not mentioned specifically in the Scotland Act 1998, which lists a great number of matters that are not devolved-that is what schedule 5, on reserved matters, is all about. Food standards, and one or two other matters, are specifically and deliberately devolved to this Parliament, because they are
Those are all matters for the Scottish Parliament-the Parliament that we will open next week with great celebration and royal and prime ministerial visits. However, before we even assume our powers in nine days' time, Westminster is embarking on legislation on an area that is totally devolved. In fact, it has already embarked on the legislation-the second reading debate on the Food Standards Bill took place at Westminster on Monday. I must say that far more people are here today than were present in the chamber at Westminster for that debate.
This is not some spin-off from a piece of reserved legislation that happens to touch peripherally on a Scottish devolved matter. It is substantive and deliberative legislation-something for which, in nine days, we will be responsible. Why has the Government decided that it wants to keep some of the devolved powers down at Westminster? Does Westminster not want to let go? Does it want to ram home the idea that, ultimately, it remains in charge?
The argument will be made-it has already been made-that there is some administrative convenience in having the same legislation and the same agency across the UK. Frankly, that argument could be applied across practically the whole range of devolved powers. If it is believed that a single policy, a single agency and a single set of regulations are the best way in which to proceed, why devolve anything? The time to decide whether food standards should be a devolved matter was when the Scotland Act 1998 was being considered by the House of Commons. That was when the decision was taken that the matter should be devolved to this Parliament. The essence of devolution, surely, is that we may wish to do things differently from how they are done in other parts of the country, either substantially or on points of detail.
When the Scotland Bill was in committee on the floor of the House of Commons and what was then clause 27-about Westminster retaining sovereignty-was being debated, the secretary of state, as he then was, said:
"There is a possibility, in theory, of the United Kingdom Parliament legislating across those areas,"- by which he meant devolved areas-
"but it is not one which we anticipate or expect."-[Official
Report , House of Commons, 28 January 1998; Vol 305, c 402-3.]
Donald Dewar has moved on a bit in the past 18 months, because on 16 June he said in this chamber:
"There will be exceptional and limited circumstances in which it is sensible and proper that the Westminster Parliament legislates in devolved areas".-[Official Report, 16 June 1999; Vol 1, c 403.]
We have moved on from a possibility in theory to exceptional and limited circumstances-a total difference over 18 months. Despite the fact that these powers have been specifically devolved, apparently food standards are such an exceptional issue that Westminster has to legislate on them. I do not think that they are exceptional enough to justify that; they are certainly not limited, either.
If Westminster is going to legislate on this issue for us, one would hope that there would be some consultation. The motion that we are debating today says:
"That the Parliament . . . agrees that the Bill should be considered by the UK Parliament."
The United Kingdom Parliament has slightly jumped the gun, as it has started to consider the bill-it gave it its second reading on Monday. Is the motion worth the paper on which it is written? Theoretically we have the ability to vote against it, but what will happen if we do?
I will come to that later.
What happens if we decide that we do not agree that the bill should be considered by the United Kingdom Parliament? Will Monday's Hansard be torn up? Will the second reading debate be expunged from the record in some Orwellian fashion, reminiscent of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"? We know that that is not the case. Westminster will carry on and legislate anyway. Let us look at some of the detail.
The motion says that we should endorse the principle of the food standards agency. What about all the clauses and schedules
A similar point came up before and I said that it is always easier to get things on to the statute book than to get them off, especially given the mechanisms for bringing a bill before this Parliament, which lie with the Administration. Westminster should take a self-denying ordinance not to legislate on devolved matters.
My objections are not only constitutional. If we had our own food standards agency, not only could we could locate its headquarters in the north-east or even in Galloway-I will leave that obvious suggestion aside, although some members may be interested in it-but we could envisage higher or different standards. That would enhance our reputation for high-quality produce, which I mentioned earlier and on which Scotland rightly prides itself.
Moreover, although one would not realise it from reading the bill, the Meat Hygiene Service will be part of the food standards agency-that fact is alluded to only in the explanatory notes. Many of our abattoirs are in danger of going out of business because of Meat Hygiene Service charges. Suppose the Scottish Parliament wanted to abolish such charges. I do not think that, under the present arrangements, it could.
The Scotland Act 1998 gave us a job to do. Let us start doing it 100 per cent by recognising that devolution is our responsibility.
I believe that the bill is in the interests of us all, regardless of our different political hues. I find little to criticise in it and the minister has already addressed many of the issues that I want to raise. None the less, I would like to emphasise some of
I believe that a food standards agency would be in all our interests, and not only for our health. It would allow us to use our resources and it would lead to more jobs and to greater economic growth in Scotland. Anything that we can do to increase consumer confidence in goods produced in Scotland will be enormously beneficial.
We welcome the idea of an effective and independent food standards agency that is properly set up and fairly funded. We believe that such an agency would improve food safety and raise public confidence in the British food industry while monitoring standards of food hygiene and addressing public health concerns.
Like Mr Morgan, we also welcome the Government's U-turn over the £90 corner shop tax-which, notably, happened less than 24 hours after David McLetchie made his comments in this chamber. I look forward to future speedy responses from the Government to our constructive comments.
There is some lack of clarity as to how genuinely independent the new food standards agency would be. For example, could it lift the beef-on-the-bone ban? If ministers routinely overrule the agency's recommendations, it is difficult to see how the agency could win full public confidence.
There is also concern that the proposed agency would add to the many burdens that are already imposed on small and medium-size British food producers, because our standards would be higher than those required of imported food. That leads to the crucial question whether we can have the same confidence when we buy imported food in our shops and supermarkets as we have when we buy British food. We must address that in setting up the agency. Will the regulations apply equally to food that is produced in other European Union countries to guarantee British consumers consistent standards and protection?
I have raised this point in the chamber before: the bill makes no provision for the environmental impact of the way in which foods are grown. There is widespread public concern over GM foods and crops; the food standards agency could probably help to allay those concerns if it were given the power to investigate. We believe that not giving the agency that power is a serious deficiency in the bill.
We are constantly faced with conflicting information and contradictory academic research on environmental and public health concerns. That does not apply only to GM food. A headline in The Scotsman today reads: "Consumers 'being sold poisoned vegetables'". I am pleased that the minister is addressing that. It is time, in her words, that we lived by sound scientific advice and not by
Risk assessment and decisions must be open to public and parliamentary scrutiny. For example, what is the risk assessment of GM food compared with that of beef on the bone? I believe that the public need to know. We need to reassure them over their concerns. If the agency had the power to investigate GM foods, the public could have greater confidence.
The food standards agency should not be used to penalise Scottish producers unfairly. The over-regulation of food producers, which is not matched by the regulation of EU and other overseas producers, leads to an overall competitive disadvantage for producers in this country-for our farmers and for our food industries. In addressing the food standards agency, ministers should deal with the divergence of standards and the public health concerns arising from that.
I want to say how much I welcome this bill and the fact that, in this instance, legislation is covering the whole of the United Kingdom. It is interesting that members of the SNP, in opposition, want to delay the protection of the Scottish community by seeking separate legislation. We already have a full legislative programme and a full consultation programme on other bills. To delay this bill would be very foolish.
Susan made the point, very strongly, that bacteria do not respect boundaries. People also move around and it is important that we have legislation that covers the whole of these islands rather than separate legislation.
Mrs Scanlon's point was good: in the long term, we require European legislation. However, until we can get our European partners to consider the problems as seriously as we do, that will be difficult. We should not wait for European legislation, but go ahead with the present legislation, which is good not only because it fulfils one of the UK Labour Government's pledges but because it sets out clearly the devolved role and powers of this Parliament.
Mr Chisholm has already referred to the fact that the bill does not preclude this Parliament from enacting its own legislation in future if we feel it necessary. However, we should not enact separate legislation simply out of the beliefs that are held by the SNP. Where legislation should cover the whole of the UK, it is appropriate that it
I will refer to one example in the bill. Clause 8(2)(b) deals with the powers of the agency to commission specific research. If that is done on a UK-wide basis, costs will be kept down and the Scottish institutions-which punch well above their weight in terms of research-will be able to compete to undertake the research, which would be beneficial. Roughly 12 per cent of total research takes place in Scotland, whereas one would suppose it to be 9 per cent on a per capita basis. If research were separated out, there would be no real benefit.
The bill gives us specific powers. For example, we will have our own Scottish director. Indeed, I hope that our ministers will lobby for the agency to be based in Scotland; nothing in the bill precludes that. We also have a number of other powers to scrutinise the agency's work. We have to have agreement on the published objectives of the agency; again, this Parliament will be consulted. Clause 22 of the bill specifically requires the agency to promote links with the Scottish Administration. Beyond that, there are even some powers that must be retained by the Scottish Ministers and that the UK secretary of state is expressly forbidden from exercising. Again, that is entirely appropriate.
If we had different legislation now, and later sought more stringent rules, we could affect our food industry, which-as the SNP spokesman said-is very important to us. I see no need for different legislation. Is Mr Morgan suggesting that we should have less stringent rules? If we did, we would not adequately be protecting the Scottish public.
I submit that the motion is the right one for this Parliament at this time.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I welcome the minister's statement and the style in which she made it.
The bill is a most important one, which has been long awaited and long in gestation. It is unfortunate that Alasdair Morgan contributed a carping diatribe about whether the bill should have been introduced as Scottish legislation, instead of giving us the benefit of his extensive constituency and other experience in the field. People are interested in the end result, not in where the bill came from or how it came about. Other speakers have dealt, properly, with the limitations that Alasdair Morgan suggested.
I will deal, in passing, with the charge that Mrs Scanlon mentioned. That charge caused huge
The Scottish Liberal Democrats can justly claim to have led the way on that issue. We had a commitment in the partnership agreement to find a fairer funding system for the food standards agency in Scotland. We now have that and we must get on with establishing the agency, aiding public health, aiding the struggling agricultural sector and increasing public confidence in our quality domestic produce. The implementation of the bill cannot come a moment too soon.
A number of speakers have dwelt on the issue of the position of the Scottish food industry. I think that the presence of higher standards-which have admittedly arisen out of troubles that we have had in the past-is a major opportunity for British and Scottish food. In that respect we should be able to pull ahead of the field because of the high standards that the food standards agency will go some way towards producing.
First, I would like to take issue with Mr Morgan's problems about the essence of devolution. It seems to me that the essence of devolution in this respect is that we are having this debate today and that we are making the decision about whether to go ahead. I feel very strongly that we are right to go ahead with a single United Kingdom food standards agency, and to encourage the UK Parliament to proceed with this bill and bring it forward with all possible speed so that the agency is in place by the beginning of next year.
I am only just old enough to remember the last typhoid epidemic in this country 30 years ago, during which Aberdeen was placed in a kind of collective quarantine because of a single consignment of infected imported corned beef. Other nightmares are more recent and have been referred to. Human-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is perhaps the most stunning failure of all in food standards. There has been an outbreak of E coli most recently in the north-east in Mr Salmond's constituency, but most disastrous was the outbreak of E coli in central Scotland a couple of years ago.
Mr Morgan asked if there are exceptional circumstances. Yes, there are and they include E coli and those other failures of Scottish food standards that should inspire our debate today. The problem is not just Scottish. It is vital that British consumers should have confidence in the food that they buy whether it is British-produced, imported, or from north or south of the border. I think it is appropriate that the standards should be the same.
This is not simply a UK bill in the old-fashioned sense. It is a bill that reflects the reality of devolution. As little as a year ago, it could not have been written in the terms in which it has been written. Not only will two of the board members of the food standards agency be appointed by ministers of this Parliament, and not only will there be a separate director for Scotland heading an executive wing of the agency, but there will be an independent Scottish food advisory committee in order to reflect the range of expertise and interests in food safety.
I hope that ministers will carry the cause of devolution further forward by locating the Scottish wing of the agency not in Edinburgh, but in Aberdeen, which boasts the highest concentration in Europe of expertise in life sciences, environmental sciences and food sciences. There are more than 3,000 people working in those fields.
We must first get the show on the road. The food standards bill belongs to the age of devolution in one respect above all others, and that has been referred to by a couple of my colleagues already. It recognises that the Scottish Parliament can, whenever it chooses, amend, repeal or adjust any aspect of the bill once it is enacted. We get the best of both worlds: quick, decisive action and the power to do otherwise in the future should we wish that.
I would draw the minister's attention to a point in clause 42(3) of the bill. That extends the agency's right of inspection and enforcement to territorial waters and the continental shelf. That will have a particular impact on food premises on oil and gas rigs in the British sector of the North sea. There have been some questions in this Parliament about jurisdictional matters in the North sea and I would be very grateful if the minister could answer those.
My constituent Professor Hugh Pennington is one of the experts in food safety whom I mentioned. I think that his report on E coli has set the tone for this bill. He has consistently urged ministers for the past two years to get a move on and not to delay, but to get the bill passed into law as soon as possible. I think that we should support the motion and do that.
I welcome the minister's announcement of the setting up of a food standards agency in Scotland. It will be one of the most significant new bodies to be established in many years and it will contribute to the prosperity of our food industry. In the past 10 to 15 years, the food industry has undergone one food scare after another, resulting in great crises of confidence in the products that Scotland produces. BSE is a classic example of such a scare, but there have been others.
Every time a food scare erupted on the front pages, a politician would try to calm and reassure the public. Who could forget Douglas Hogg? Who could forget John Gummer feeding that beefburger to his children? On every occasion, politicians failed to reassure the public about the safety of the product; many times, they made the situation worse. Why? Because the public does not believe what politicians say about food safety any more.
That is the situation that we face and that is why the setting up of a food standards agency is essential.
I do not doubt their statements. I was suggesting that, although the statements were based on science, the public was not reassured by them.
The key issue in the setting up of the agency must be to ensure that the public has confidence in the agency. The agency must be seen to be independent, particularly of the political process, the food lobby and the consumer lobby. It must clearly be seen to be an independent agency whose sole concern is food safety and which judges all the issues that concern food safety on the best scientific advice that is available.
If the agency achieves those objectives, it will be the greatest boost that the food industry will get in the coming years. We must all hope that it frees the food industry from the food scare crises that bedevil our industry year after year. I support the motion wholeheartedly.
For one who has never been described as a consensus politician, it is an interesting experience to welcome the consensus that is developing today. We are all on a learning curve and consensus represents my own learning curve, considering my political background.
I welcome the establishment of the food standards agency and I want to emphasis the important role that it will have in protecting our families. It is interesting that, because of the food scares, issues of food safety have become universal. Before the scares, questions of health and food were often seen as the province of those with the income and time to move beyond the normal run of food outlets. As the issues have come into the popular domain, we have a responsibility to ensure that they remain there. We all have a role to play in ensuring that we eat safely and healthily.
I welcome the decision not to fund the agency by an across-the-board levy on retail outlets. That would have had a significant impact on small outlets as they would have had to make a hugely disproportionate contribution. The debate around the issue has revealed the way in which the big retail companies have concentrated their businesses in a small number of premises, very often to the detriment of local communities.
It has been claimed that David McLetchie should get credit for that change. As I am usually reluctant to give the Tories credit for anything, I would like to make another claim and declare an interest. I am supported by the Co-operative party, which is the political wing of the Co-operative movement. The retail wing of the movement is absolutely committed to supporting and sustaining local communities and does that by supporting small shops and establishing outlets, often in remote areas and poor areas. That strategy would have meant that the Co-operative movement would have been heavily penalised by a decision to fund the agency by an across-the-board levy. The role of the Co-operative movement in ensuring that there is not an across-the-board levy should be recognised, as should the fact that the Government was willing to make that change.
On the broader question of food safety, I think we should recognise the drive towards uniformity in our shopping habits. That uniformity often excludes the poor, the elderly and those who do not own a car and makes those people more likely to suffer from poor standards of food safety. We should recognise the particular importance of supporting community and co-operative initiatives that relate to food and food safety. Those initiatives are able to address the issues and sustain new developments at a local level, something which will improve the health and safety of all communities in Scotland.
We should all welcome the importance of the food standards agency and look forward to the agency doing effective work on behalf of the people of Scotland.
The early days of the Parliament resulted in accusations that the Conservatives and the SNP were working together with an indecent willingness. It is no surprise, then, that we have finally come to an issue on which we are going to throw ourselves in with the Administration-or the Labour party-view.
We welcome the terms in which the bill has been introduced. I acknowledge the contribution made by Mr Sam Galbraith in the early stages of this discussion. He took his roadshow around Scotland in the months leading up to the election, and on two occasions I involved myself in discussion with him. I was impressed by his understanding of how important it was that this issue was introduced at a UK-wide level rather than solely at a Scottish level.
My primary concern is that we ensure that the bill does not damage Scotland's farming and food-producing industry. The Royal Highland Show, Scotland's showcase for the farming and food-producing industry, will open at Ingliston this week. We must remember that Scottish quality products have a reputation worldwide.
Scotland's farmers have nothing to fear from the introduction of a food standards agency, but we must ensure that they are not penalised by the introduction of the agency. As farmers and food producers, we operate in a European single market. It is essential, therefore, that we pursue a single standard wherever possible. We want food standards to be as high as possible; we must have common standards and must accept that if we are to impose higher standards in Scotland, we will naturally disadvantage Scotland's farmers. Worse still, we will take away their greatest marketing tool.
Scotland's farmers have high standards and Scotland's food production industry has a worldwide reputation. It is that higher voluntary standard that gives us the marketing edge. We cannot afford legislation that imposes higher standards in Scotland or allow that to affect our farmers. Similarly, we cannot afford to have food imported into the United Kingdom that is produced to a lower standard than that which is produced here. We see examples of that every day. Scotland's pig producers are on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of legislation that disproportionately affected UK and Scottish producers and allowed cheaper foreign product, produced to a lower standard, to compete directly with the domestic product.
If we choose to go along the road of a separate, higher, Scottish minimum standard, we will see that same situation develop in relation to every commodity produced by the Scottish food industry.
Is Mr Johnstone saying that whatever standard is decided at Westminster is the correct one, and that any difference to our standard-whether it is in the detail, higher or lower-is therefore wrong? That is the logic of what he is saying.
I hope that Mr Morgan will accept that the logic of what I am saying is that we need a common standard within a common market. We need a level playing field. Scotland's farmers have already experienced the disadvantage of having a higher standard imposed on them, and we cannot afford to allow the Scottish food production industry to be penalised by similar efforts being introduced in other areas of food production.
Given the new-found spirit of co-operation between the Conservative group and the Administration, can I assume-not that I wish to predict the result of the vote-that the motion will be passed? As an early shot, to get an oar in for the north-east of Scotland, I wonder whether Alex has seen my motion on establishing a Scottish branch of the food standards agency in the north-east, and whether he would give his support to that.
I will discuss the matter with Mr Rumbles at a future date, and I will consider supporting his proposals.
A single UK standard is best for Scotland's food producers and for its farming industry. Ideally, that standard must be Europe-wide, in order to prevent unfair competition within the European single market.
If new Labour wants a UK-wide food standards agency, the great mystery is why it bothered to make that a devolved matter in the first place. Perhaps the mystery is not so great. Perhaps this is a sign of more to come. Perhaps what we are witnessing is evidence that what new Labour gives, it can take away; or could it be confirmation of Enoch Powell's statement that power devolved is power retained?
This is exactly the type of legislation that should be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament. If we are to address Scotland's dreadful health record, and the undoubted link between poverty and ill health, then we must address the inequality of access to fresh, nutritious, safe food. If people are poor, and
Let me put it this way. If someone owns a car, they can nip into Tesco's and buy a loss-leader loaf for 7p. Try getting a loaf for that price in a corner shop or a village store. Those outlets cannot compete with supermarkets in terms of price or the range of goods available, but people cannot get tick at supermarkets and that is an important factor when they are living, quite literally, from hand to mouth.
The main aim of a mother living on benefit is to ensure that her children are not hungry. That means buying the most filling foods at the lowest possible cost-lots of chips, pre-packaged beef-burgers and pulped fish-fingers. Those foods are all high in additives and low in nutritional value, but they serve the immediate purpose-the children do not go to bed crying from hunger.
I have spoken about nutritional inequality on many public platforms. I can lay money on the certainty that someone will be sure to say, "Why don't they just make a good pot of soup? It's very nourishing and it doesn't cost much money." I can see smiles from colleagues all around the chamber who have obviously heard that too. I call those people the "Let them eat soup" brigade.
The ingredients for soup-fresh vegetables and a good stock-are not readily available and are certainly not cheap in corner shops and village stores. The art of soup making is learned at granny's knee, and has been lost through the dispersal of families or the sheer grind of poverty.
I was trying not to say so, but it is usually from the Conservative party that we get the "Let them eat soup" question. I do not know whether he learned to make soup at his granny's knee, but it is a lost art form.
I am pointing out that the greatest problem that the Parliament must address is that of the poverty that afflicts one in three children in
The parliament can do much to improve not only nutritional inequality, but inequalities across the range of policy issues that impinge on the health and well-being of our people. In effect, we must ensure that all policy is poverty-proofed, at a pre-legislative stage. The food standards bill presents this Parliament with an ideal opportunity to do just that. We should not give away that power.
I found the debate both intriguing and enlightening. I will certainly take on board Mrs Ullrich's guidance on soup making; those close to me will know that I definitely need to take that on board. Perhaps I can assist Mrs Ullrich by drawing out one particularly relevant point in her speech, which is the important role of the agency in giving advice on nutrition. It is important that consumers get good advice about what to eat in order for them to be informed consumers.
I am pleased that consensus has broken out across the chamber in this debate. In the spirit of the new politics, about which we talk so much, I am keen to build on that consensus. Having said that, I cannot resist saying a few words about the approach of the members of the SNP to today's debate. Unfortunately, the approach that the SNP has adopted in relation to this issue is all too typical of the one that it adopts on many issues and it is unacceptable.
In his opening remarks, Alasdair Morgan said that he wanted to concentrate on the constitutional aspects of the debate. Now that we have a devolved Scottish Parliament, I want to make a genuine appeal to SNP members to stop reducing every issue to sterile, narrow constitutional points, and to start getting on and engaging with the real issues before us.
I am delighted that the Parliament is able to take the decision to endorse the establishment of a food standards agency. It would have been nonsense if we had postponed consideration of the issue or if we had asked Westminster to postpone the establishment of the agency or consideration of the bill, simply so that we could adhere to some ideological purity about discussing the matter in the Scottish Parliament at a later
Will the minister explain why making up our own mind means that we will have to postpone anything? As far as I can tell, the clauses that relate specifically to Scotland-and any other general clauses that affect Scotland-are already written. On 2 July we are going on holiday for two months. What about giving up our holiday and passing the bill ourselves?
Mr Morgan has just answered his own question. Perhaps I can remind him of some of his earlier comments, with which I am now very familiar because he made the same points in Westminster earlier this week. I am pleased to see that he is recycling his speeches effectively. He said that it was only a matter of days before the power was transferred to this Parliament and, therefore, the bill should have been put off until after that. How do we put it off until after that? If we had put off the issue until after the summer, we could not have got on with the job of establishing a food standards agency. The debate is not just about the establishment of any food standards agency; it is about the model on which this one is based.
Mr Morgan also asked for consultation. Perhaps he has missed the point that there was an extensive consultation process in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK that led up to the publication of the bill. The principle of the establishment of a UK food standards agency is one that has been endorsed both north and south of the border.
However, let me not fall into the trap of concentrating on constitutional issues. In the few minutes that I have left, I want to pick up some of the other points that have been raised. First, on the point about the levy, much as I would like to say that it was David McLetchie's intervention in the issue that caused a change of heart on the part of the Government, I suspect that it was the widespread view that was expressed across the country. I am pleased that in this case we have seen a listening Government in action.
A couple of members raised the question of the location of the Scottish arm of the agency. As Lewis Macdonald said, the establishment of the agency will be a matter for consideration in the future, after we have endorsed the principle of the bill.
Many detailed points were raised about charges relating to the meat hygiene service and the issue of labelling, and reference was made to genetically modified foods. We do not have time to enter into the details of those issues today, but I make two points. First, the complexity of the legislative position that governs those issues is an illustration of why it is important to have an agency that can assist us in the process of interpreting legislation
Secondly, now that this Parliament is in place we have a real opportunity to discuss all those issues sensibly. I am struck by the fact that members from all parties have said, during this debate, that they agree with the principle of having measured and reasoned consideration of food safety matters, and by the fact that they have also stated the importance of accepting medical and scientific advice on such issues. I hope that the same approach will be taken when we discuss specific food safety issues, such as genetically modified foods and beef on the bone. The Executive is determined to take scientific and medical advice on board when considering such matters.
Finally, mention was made of Sam Galbraith's contribution to the development of the bill that we are now discussing and the consultation process surrounding the creation of the agency. I, too, pay tribute to his role in that process. I am very pleased that we now have the chance to establish the agency. It is the right thing to do for Scotland, and we will have a strong voice in its establishment. It will provide an opportunity for us to rebuild consumer confidence in food and to give good advice to people about food safety matters. I hope that we can use the powers and processes of this Parliament effectively in dealing with this issue, and I hope that all members will support this motion.
The next section of the debate will be on motion S1M-61, which covers the Financial Services and Markets Bill, the electronic communications bill and the limited liability partnerships bill. Members who want to speak in this debate should press their request buttons as soon as possible. I call Angus Mackay to speak to and to move motion S1M-61.
I have a slightly lengthy speech to make. I shall be as brisk as possible, to ensure that all members who want to participate will have time to do so. I am speaking to this motion, which has been lodged by the First Minister, as the three bills that it concerns fall within the field of civil law.
As the First Minister said in his statement to the Parliament on 9 June, both the Scottish Executive and the UK Government expect that, by
This motion relates to three bills, each of which has some impact on Scots private law. None of the bills in itself changes the law in devolved areas, but there is some impact. In the interests of maximum openness and transparency, we have agreed that this Parliament should be informed of those matters and that its consent should be obtained.
The first bill is the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which was introduced at Westminster on 17 June. It does not make any provision that would have been within the competence of this Parliament but it has an impact on bankruptcy law, which is devolved.
The purpose of the bill is to set up a single regulator for financial services and markets. The regulator will be a continuation of the existing Financial Services Authority, which will be given additional powers. The FSA already regulates banking and investment business but the bill will bring all financial services, such as insurance, under its control.
The minister said that the purpose of the motion is to obtain the consent of this Parliament to allow Westminster to proceed on this issue. The Law Society of Scotland is concerned about some of the components of the Financial Services and Markets Bill; it is concerned that the bill does not create a single regulatory body for solicitors who provide financial services, but, in effect, produces double regulation as both the Law Society of Scotland and the Financial Services Authority will be involved. Will the Executive support the representations of the Law Society of Scotland and other organisations in Scotland on this important matter to the Treasury, which has signally failed to listen to those representations?
I know that Mr Swinney has concerns about this matter and that the Law Society of Scotland has made representations to both the FSA and the Treasury. I intended to cover that point in my speech or in winding up, but I will say at this point that our legal officers will examine the details as we do not want there to be double regulation. It may well be that the legislation that
Among the sanctions available to the FSA will be the power to petition for the bankruptcy of a sole trader. That sanction will be available where a sole trader appears to be unable to pay a regulated activity debt-a debt relating to the provision of financial services-or to have no prospect of being able to pay such a debt. A typical sole trader is an independent financial adviser. Often someone who advertises services as an independent financial adviser trades as an individual rather than a company, and is therefore open to being sequestrated as an individual for business debts.
The bill enables the FSA to ask the court to sequestrate the estate of an insolvent sole trader to minimise the loss that might otherwise be sustained by consumers doing business with them. In Scots law, bankruptcy is normally a creditor-driven process. Usually, the creditor petitions for the bankruptcy of an individual, but that can also be done by the debtor, or by a trustee under a trust deed. The bill will create a precedent in Scots bankruptcy law, as the FSA will not be a creditor, but will act on behalf of individuals who might sustain loss through the continued activities of a sole trader. The Scottish Parliament could not pass legislation to give the FSA that power, as regulation of financial services is a reserved matter.
I hope that we can agree that it is important that the protection offered by the FSA to investors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be available to the same extent in Scotland, and that it is appropriate for the bill to make this provision.
The UK Government plans to introduce an electronic communications bill before the recess. This important bill will create a framework for the increased use of electronic commerce throughout the UK. Electronic commerce involves marketing goods and services by electronic means. It can involve the buying and selling of goods and services, as well as money transfers, advertising, and transactions with the Government.
The bill will provide powers to create an approvals regime for bodies that offer electronic signature and confidentiality services that enable people to check who has signed an electronic message and that the message has not been tampered with, but has been kept confidential.
The bill will not contain any devolved provisions, but it will provide that existing legislation may be modified by statutory instrument for the purposes of authorising, facilitating or encouraging the use of electronic commerce or electronic storage. That could, for example, involve changes to the
The electronic communications bill would not have been within the competence of this Parliament. It would of course be possible for this Parliament by primary legislation to amend the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 to provide for documents with an electronic signature to be valid. However, the bill will make it possible for a Scottish minister to introduce by secondary legislation a complete package of rules on reserved matters, with the consent of a UK minister. That will be done in this Parliament, but it will not be possible if the UK Parliament does not provide for it in the electronic communications bill. I hope, therefore, that the Parliament will agree that it is appropriate to give consent to that part of the bill.
The limited liability partnerships bill, which has not yet been introduced, will create a new form of business association-a limited liability partnership-which would be a body corporate in which the liability of the partners would be limited to the extent of their stake in the business. It would not be within the legislative competence of this Parliament to introduce such a bill, as it deals with a reserved matter: the regulation of business associations.
The bill will not contain any provision on devolved matters other than a power to make regulations on the process of winding up a limited liability partnership, because the law on the process of winding up business associations in Scotland is devolved. It would, therefore, be for a Scottish minister to make any regulations needed for the process of winding up limited liability partnerships in Scotland. The law concerning Scottish partnerships, such as, typically, firms of solicitors, will not be affected by the bill.
The bill will provide useful additional flexibility for Scottish business and I hope that members will have no difficulty consenting to the provision to make regulations on the process of winding up.
I would now like to say a few words about the more general matter of the UK Parliament legislating in devolved areas. The usual rule will be that legislation in devolved areas will be enacted by this Parliament. From time to time, however, it may make sense for a UK act to include provisions about such matters. The bills that we are considering today provide examples of circumstances in which that may be appropriate. As I said earlier, our expectation is that, by convention, the UK Parliament will not usually legislate on devolved matters without the consent of this Parliament. It is important, therefore, that this Parliament should be kept informed of such proposals.
As the First Minister said in his statement, where the Scottish Executive and the United Kingdom Government agree that a policy affecting devolved areas should be given effect by an act of the UK Parliament, it would be for the Scottish Ministers to put the proposal to the Scottish Parliament. Our intention in any such case is to produce a memorandum to provide this Parliament with the information that enables it to take a decision on the proposal. We would also lodge a motion seeking the Parliament's approval.
Whether time should be found for a debate on such a motion will be a matter for the Parliamentary Bureau, but I do not expect that it will be necessary to debate the detail of every bill as we are doing today. With bills such as these, whose effect on devolved matters would be minor, we expect that a Parliament debate will be thought unnecessary. If the bureau thought it necessary, perhaps the appropriate committee could be asked to make a recommendation. However, when the effect on devolved matters would be more significant, the Executive will certainly consider sympathetically the case for a debate.
Thereafter, it will be necessary to keep this Parliament informed of the development of any such legislation. Our intention is that that should be done by means of supplementary memorandums should there be any change to the legislation during its passage that materially affects the extent to which it impacts in devolved areas.
I hope that the Parliament will agree that this represents a sensible approach.
That the Parliament agrees that the Financial Services and Markets Bill, the Electronic Communications Bill and the Limited Liability Partnerships Bill should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Presiding Officer, as I had a fair kick at the ball last time.
The bills that we are discussing are important for Scotland-particularly those in relation to financial services, which is an area in which Scotland has some pre-eminent institutions. They are also important in the fast-growing field of electronic commerce. Scotland has a lot to gain from the development of that industry, in which the rural and more far-flung areas of the country can begin to compete on a level playing field with other areas that are nearer centres of population.
As the minister said, these bills are different from the bill to establish a food standards agency in so far as they deal largely with reserved areas
We have an example of that in relation to the electronic commerce bill. I am unclear about the name of that bill. I think the minister referred to electronic commerce-which was my understanding of the title-but I see that the motion refers to electronic communications. Perhaps they are the same thing.
The House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee's seventh report this session examined the Department of Trade and Industry's consultation document on the electronic commerce bill and said that the "consultation document does not reflect the differences between the English and Scottish legal systems in its discussion of changes to the ways in which courts deal with electronic signatures."
In fact, the DTI had simply ignored the fact that Scotland deals with those matters differently. The select committee said:
"We consider it a potentially serious omission that DTI has not indicated how its proposals for electronic signatures would affect Scottish law".
That example illustrates my point of concern about UK legislation that affects Scottish matters.
The minister alluded to two bills that have not yet been published, so in effect we are discussing something that we have not seen. Even the Financial Services and Markets Bill-more than 200 pages of it-was published only last week. I suspect that not all members have read all of it. It is stretching credibility to expect us simply to say, "Yes, it is okay for the UK Parliament to go ahead with this bill, which does not yet exist, but which will touch on some devolved matters." That is not satisfactory. At the very least, we should have the bill in front of us when we are considering a motion such as this.
I welcome the introduction-after the event-of a procedure to deal with the incidental changes that are often made to Scots law as a result of UK legislation, but the procedure must deal with legislation both before it goes to second reading and after it comes from its final stage in the Parliament down the road, because a lot can happen to a bill from its first publication to its entry in the statute book.
SNP members still have considerable concern about this method of working. I accept the minister's assurance that we will be given the opportunity to scrutinise bills, but I would hate it to
It is a little difficult to bring any sense of passion to this debate, with topics such as the Financial Services and Markets Bill, the electronic communications bill and the limited liability partnerships bill. It would be an exaggeration to say that the people of Scotland talk of little else.
Mr Mackay will probably be relieved to hear that Conservative members are broadly in agreement with what he proposed, but I have been asked to flag up one or two specific concerns relating to the Financial Services and Markets Bill. Mr Swinney has already alluded to the concerns that I hold and to which I was alerted by the Law Society of Scotland. If I speak with conviction, it is that of the zealot of poacher turned gamekeeper. From a previous existence as a solicitor dealing with investment work, I know that no body could have been more rigorous, robust or harassing than the Law Society in its regulation of solicitor members.
That brings me to the more serious point that the bill apparently does not seek amendment to the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which is the primary legislation governing Scottish solicitors and regulates what solicitors handling investment business must do or should not do. There is grave concern that a dangerous duplication will arise: not only an unwelcome one for solicitor members in Scotland who may find themselves subject to two lots of administrative charges-which at first estimate will be hefty-but one which could cause confusion for consumers. That is distinctly undesirable.
There is a perception-and it may be worth investigating-that the Law Society of Scotland and its member solicitors would be content to remain with the existing adequate framework. In Scotland we have the unique virtue of an independent legal system and we have in place a satisfactory framework for the regulation of solicitors who handle investment business. Allowing a duplication to arise is an unnecessary complication and an unwelcome expense.
I hope that the minister will look carefully to see whether any steps can be taken to preserve the integrity of what already exists in Scotland and is in every respect admirable, to avoid bringing in any unnecessary confusion.
I also draw the minister's attention to some of the definitions in the proposed bill, specifically to the distinction between an investment and investment business. In the interests of clarity and legal certainty that should be defined in the
I referred in my general remarks on the possible confusion to the cost of regulation. The Law Society of Scotland has ascertained from the FSA that the likely cost to Scottish solicitor practitioners will be a minimum of £1,000 for authorisation. That contrasts sharply with the existing charge of £135 imposed by the Law Society. I gather that the FSA has accepted that it will be neither as efficient nor as economical as the Law Society in regulating the investment business of Scottish solicitors. The minister may wish to give significant attention to that.
On a matter of corporate governance, the Hampel committee on corporate governance confirmed the recommendation of the Cadbury committee that in principle the roles of chairman and chief executive officer should, for obvious and understandable reasons, be kept separate in every public company. It is logical that that principle should be extended to comparable positions in the FSA. That is in no sense meant to denigrate or diminish the stature of Mr Howard Davies, who has a fine reputation; it is meant to point out that a distinction should be drawn between those two very separate roles. The Conservatives welcome Mr Mackay's proposal, but we hope that regard will be given to the very real concerns of the legal system of Scotland and its practitioners.
I welcome the minister's explanation of why these measures would clarify Scottish law and benefit Scottish business. In the interests of brevity, I will confine myself to welcoming this opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to show how we see ourselves as part of the devolution process.
Many times in the past we have seen that Parliaments have a tendency to accumulate power to themselves. A fear that this Parliament would do that, adding another layer of government, has been widely expressed. It was feared that we would waste time and energy in conflict with Westminster rather than work to the benefit of our communities.
If we are to make devolution work for Scotland, we should ensure that we have a creative tension with Westminster. That means being part of a two-way process, give and take. I welcome this chance to show that when it is in the best interests of our country we can give our consent to Westminster considering appropriate legislation. In the 1980s in particular, we saw the dangers and pitfalls of excessive deregulation. We do not want to replace
The business community in particular has told us how much it wants to avoid unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and duplication of procedures in Holyrood and Westminster-a point that Annabel Goldie made very well. The business community would appreciate-as we all would-clarity in decision-making. Most of all, it would appreciate a level playing field so that it can compete in the internal market that is the United Kingdom.
The proposed legislation will help to maintain a level playing field. Our agreeing the motion will also show that the Scottish Parliament appreciates that it does not have a monopoly on power and that sometimes there are other bodies, whether at UK or local authority level, who can take decisions that are in the best interests of the Scottish people. I commend the motion.
Some concerns have been raised twice and I have addressed them already. I understand that the FSA is in the process of issuing-if it has not already done so-a consultation paper that may address some of the concerns raised by the Law Society. There are 72 Scottish MPs at Westminster who are perfectly capable of raising those concerns during the passage of the bill if they relate to legislation on a reserved matter. I hope that that answer covers most of the concerns that have been raised.
Mr Morgan raised a couple of points, which I do not think were substantive criticisms of the motion. I think that he is largely happy to accept that the bills do not impact excessively heavily on devolved matters.
I will address the issue of legislation that is altered substantially between the time we first consider it and when it is dealt with at Westminster. I spoke earlier about the need to be able to examine any substantial changes that emerge by bringing them back to the Parliament.
What is important is that, when it considers bills, the Parliament is clear about the scope and nature of their impact on devolved matters. As long as that is clear and the Executive and the Parliament have the opportunity to make it clear, the Parliament should be able to come to a rational conclusion about whether it accepts bills being passed at Westminster.
I do not feel that there are any real grounds for concern about the bills in the motion. The Scotland