Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 Draft European Qualifications (Pharmacists) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2018
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr George Howarth
† Coaker, Vernon (Gedling) (Lab)
† Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)
† Day, Martyn (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
Dhesi, Mr Tanmanjeet Singh (Slough) (Lab)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
† Foster, Kevin (Torbay) (Con)
† Hair, Kirstene (Angus) (Con)
† Hammond, Stephen (Minister for Health)
† Harper, Mr Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)
† Madders, Justin (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
† Morris, David (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con)
† Morton, Wendy (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
† Peacock, Stephanie (Barnsley East) (Lab)
† Throup, Maggie (Erewash) (Con)
† Williams, Dr Paul (Stockton South) (Lab)
Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Thirteenth Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 29 January 2019
[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]
Draft European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
With this it will be convenient to consider the draft European Qualifications (Pharmacists) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2018.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Howarth.
The draft regulations aim to ensure continuity in the recognition of European economic area and Swiss health and care professional qualifications in the United Kingdom in a no-deal European exit scenario. The statutory instrument relating to Northern Ireland, which has been introduced here because the Northern Ireland Assembly is suspended, ensures that the approach to recognising health and care professional qualifications is consistent throughout the United Kingdom.
European health and care professionals make a major contribution to the national health service and the wider health and care system. Since 1997, more than 100,000 EEA and Swiss-qualified health and care professionals have applied to have their qualifications recognised in the United Kingdom, and more than 77,000 of them have been dentists, doctors, midwives, nurses and pharmacists. The Government have been clear that European health and care professionals will continue to be welcome after the UK leaves the EU, and the statutory instruments are part of ensuring that.
Arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications within the EU is provided for by the directive on the recognition of professional qualifications, which will cease to apply if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Changes to the domestic legislation that implements the directive are therefore needed to ensure that recognition of those EEA and Swiss qualifications can continue after EU exit, in the case of no deal. The directive provides for mutual recognition of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications within the EU and makes provision for harmonised education and training standards in seven professions, five of which are in health—doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives and pharmacists. The directive allows for recognition of listed qualifications that meet the harmonised education and training standards and provides for recognition under a general system for qualifications that do not meet those harmonised requirements. The directive also covers Switzerland and EEA nations.
It is worth noting, as I have said, that the UK has been a major beneficiary of the arrangements under the directive. Since 1997, the UK has recognised 77,000 EU qualifications in the automatically recognised professions. In contrast, fewer than 7,000 UK qualifications have been recognised in other EU states. The directive has helped with the recruitment of skilled professionals to the UK’s health and care sector and it is important that the arrangements that allow for continued recognition of health and care professional qualifications are in place if the UK leaves the EU in a no-deal scenario.
The two instruments that we are debating have three main effects. First, they put in place arrangements for the recognition of those EEA and Swiss professional qualifications that are currently recognised and provide for the continuation of recognition arrangements for those qualifications that are covered by the general system. Secondly, they ensure that applications for recognition that are ongoing at exit day can be completed under the current legal arrangements and, finally, they remove a number of provisions that would not be appropriate to maintain in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
I will set out the changes in a little more detail. The instruments put in place new arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications that are currently automatically recognised. Such qualifications will become recognised overseas qualifications, or “relevant European qualifications” in the case of pharmacist qualifications in Northern Ireland. As such, they will continue to be recognised without additional testing, other than the checks for an applicant’s language skills and on whether there are concerns about their fitness to practise.
The regulations give UK regulators a new power to designate a qualification that is currently recognised automatically.
I have said two things: that there will be new arrangements, so that professional qualifications that are currently automatically recognised will continue to be recognised without additional testing, other than checks for language; and that the regulations give powers to designate a qualification that is currently recognised. As yet, I have not said that there will be a new designation system.
I will come to that a little later, if I may. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to come on to that point, because some qualifications will be comparable and we need to ensure that the right regulatory system is in place.
As I was saying, designating a qualification will allow UK regulators to stop the automatic qualification, which is not possible under the directive. That is an important additional measure, which will enhance public protection. Such designation will be subject to Privy Council consent, or the agreement of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland in relation to pharmacists’ qualifications there.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will review the arrangement for the continued recognition of automatic qualifications no later than two years after the regulations come into force. The review clause is important because it means that the arrangements put in place by the regulations will not remain indefinitely. It would be reasonable for hon. Members to ask what the review will cover. In short, it will cover whether it is appropriate for the near-automatic recognition of European qualifications to continue. It would not be right for me to predict what key factors there might be at that point in two years’ time, but I guess that hon. Members will make a judgement about which factors ought to be included in the review.
The point I am trying to make is about the difference between automatic acceptance and the regulator determining that certain qualifications are not acceptable. I am trying to tease out from the Minister how that difference will be determined, between automatically accepted qualifications and those that are regarded as non-comparable. Who sets those criteria? That is the question for the Minister.
It is the question. There is a system currently in place, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in which the regulator has powers to automatically accept qualifications. There is also a system in place for professionals from outside the EU and the EEA, which looks at regulatory qualifications and ensures that they comply with UK standards, which, at the moment, is the EU directive. Therefore, there is already a regulatory system for non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens that sets those standards. If we were considering different standards to the current automatic recognition, it would be appropriate to use that process of regulation to give the regulator his authority to decide whether a qualification was acceptable. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
What I can say about the two-year review period is that it is important to have a widespread and encompassing review of the arrangements for recognition of all international healthcare. That will ensure that the process of recognising all the qualifications is effective and proportionate. If and when the arrangements for the recognition of relevant EEA and Swiss qualifications come to an end, a parliamentary review to determine the time when that happens will be appropriate.
The regulations, as I hope I explained in more detail in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, enable qualifications that are not covered by the automatic system to be considered by the relevant UK regulator and compared with the equivalent UK qualifications standard, as currently happens. They allow applications made before exit date to be concluded under the current arrangements, as far as practically possible. They allow individuals practising under temporary and occasional status, or under the EU professional card, to continue to do so until such registration expires.
The regulations also remove obligations and administrative arrangements that will no longer apply to UK domestic regulators when the UK leaves the EU. Those changes include the removal of provisions relating to cross-border temporary provision of services, which currently allow professionals in a member state to practise in another member state on a temporary and occasional basis without having to register fully; the removal of the requirement to share information through the European Commission’s internal market information system, to which UK regulators will no longer have access; and the ending of arrangements that allow professionals to practise in the EU using the European professional card. That card is underpinned by European Commission systems that will no longer be available to UK regulators.
Finally, the regulations remove the requirement on UK regulators to set professional education and training standards that comply with the standards set out in the directive. That will provide UK regulators with greater flexibility to set education and training standards that meet the needs of the UK’s health and care professions.
In conclusion, the regulations put in place a system for the recognition of EEA and Swiss health and care professionals if the UK exits the EU without a deal. They also ensure that applications that are in progress at exit day will be concluded under current arrangements as far as practically possible.
As I said at the outset, the UK places enormous value on the contribution of the EEA and Swiss-qualified professionals who work in the UK health and care sector. The regulations will facilitate the continued recognition of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications after the UK leaves the EU. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other hon. Members. The effect of the regulations is to ensure continuity of recognition of qualifications in the event of a non-deal EU exit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.
I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations. As we have heard, current EU law sets out a reciprocal framework of rules for the recognition of health and social care professionals. That enables EEA and Swiss nationals to have their qualifications recognised, and to gain access to the regulated professions in which they are qualified to work in the UK on a temporary or permanent basis. Of course, in the event of a no-deal Brexit those rules will no longer apply.
As we have heard, the draft regulations on health and social care professions would amend the relevant legislation for the nine health and social care professional regulators in the UK. The other set of regulations would similarly amend the relevant legislation for regulation of pharmacists in Northern Ireland. The aim in both cases is to put in place new regulations for EEA and Swiss-qualified professionals to register to work in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit after 29 March.
As that date is fast approaching, the regulations are important. It is right to make arrangements, although it is a matter of regret that we are dealing with them at the last minute. Clearly they must be temporary. We accept the need in principle for some arrangements to be put in place, but we have several questions about their potential impact on the delivery of healthcare.
First, on registered professionals, an estimated 3,200 EEA and Swiss-qualified health and social care professionals join the relevant registers to practise in the UK each year. According to the General Medical Council, doctors from the 31 EEA countries and Switzerland currently make up about 9% of the UK’s medical workforce, rising to around 20% for some specialities, including surgery, with similar figures in other important areas. According to the Royal College of Nursing, the figure for nurses and midwives is between 5% and 6%.
We are therefore talking about a significant chunk of the workforce, in the context of a record number of vacancies, so there is clear potential for workforce disruption if EEA and Swiss nationals cannot register. We must do all we can to minimise the risk associated with that in a no-deal scenario. The NHS workforce is already in a precarious position, with 100,000-plus vacancies and more nurses and midwives leaving the register than joining. There is no doubt that the workforce challenge has been exacerbated since the referendum result, with 3,692 staff from the EEA leaving the Nursing and Midwifery Council register between 2017 and 2018, for example. At the same time, the number of EU nurses and midwives coming to work in the UK has fallen to its lowest level, with just 805 joining the register in 2017-18.
My first question to the Minister is this. Given the huge contribution of EEA and Swiss-qualified professionals to the NHS, which he was generous enough to acknowledge, what assurances can he give that the NHS will begin to stem the huge losses of these important staff that we currently see? Furthermore, future arrangements for EEA and Swiss applicants will be dependent on discussions with the EU. The costs attached to these future arrangements are unknown, but regulators are expected to continue to operate on a full cost recovery basis. The Government assume that any extra cost of assessing applicants with EEA and Swiss qualifications for registration will be recouped via the regulator’s setting and charging fees to recover those costs from the applicants, which has been confirmed by regulators including the General Medical Council.
At the same time, the Government have acknowledged that changes to the procedure for recognising qualifications could make access to health and care professions more difficult, which could affect the availability of professionals. Has the Minister carried out an impact assessment to determine whether additional costs will affect the number of applicants from EEA countries and Switzerland and what affect that will have on the health service?
There is also a potential impact on healthcare, because the draft regulations will remove the right of EEA and Swiss professionals to work in the UK on a temporary or occasional basis. Examples that we have been given include a Dutch-qualified paediatrician working in the UK full time but participating in European-funded international research projects, or a Portuguese-qualified doctor working in Lisbon but undertaking weekend locum work in the UK. In December, when the draft instrument came before the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in the other place, there were 134 EEA or Swiss professionals providing healthcare services in the UK on that basis. How will the Government ensure that the removal of this right will not have a detrimental effect on the NHS?
The draft regulations will give UK regulators the discretion to designate EEA and Swiss qualifications as not acceptable in the UK after exit, but they do not set out clearly the process for deciding what is or is not a comparable qualification. Two months from our exit, we do not know how healthcare professional regulators will operate their new powers to remove a qualification from automatic acceptance, should they have patient safety concerns; all we know is that the Privy Council will approve such a measure. It is unclear on what grounds a regulator will be able to make such a request and what information will be needed to satisfy the Privy Council. I am aware that at least one regulatory body, the General Medical Council, has been asking the Government for further clarification on that point. Will the Minister provide us and the regulators with guidance on what information will be requested to obtain Privy Council consent to remove a qualification from automatic acceptance where patient safety is a concern? How will he ensure consistency across the board when dealing with such applications and in the mechanism for reporting these issues to Parliament?
The impact on regulators also needs to be considered. The Department has said that there will be no additional administrative or resource burden on regulators. Given that UK regulators will have the additional function of having to assess whether qualifications are comparable, what assurances can the Minister give that UK administrators will have the administrative capacity and resources to deal with those burdens at no extra cost?
It is clear that these regulations are a stopgap to avoid an immediate cliff edge, should the UK exit without a deal. There is no clarity on plans to introduce more sustainable long-term arrangements for registering and licensing EEA and Swiss nationals beyond a review in two years. The Minister did not go into detail in his opening remarks, but it is legitimate to ask how the Government intend to approach the two-year review of the instrument and whether in the long run they will commit to reform of the legislation on professional regulators to allow for the registering of healthcare professionals regardless of where they qualified.
The Minister touched on this briefly, but what is most concerning is that the regulators will lose access to the internal market information system, or IMI, the online tool for sharing information. That will apply whether we leave with or without a deal. The IMI allows details about applicants and their qualifications to be shared and, crucially, provides an alert mechanism, which makes EEA and Swiss regulators aware of professionals with compromised fitness to practise or of restrictions on their practice. I appreciate that it is not in the Minister’s gift to commit to ensure continued access to the IMI, but as the instrument revokes provisions that require UK regulators to access and use the IMI as part of their mutual recognition procedures, it is fair to ask what plans he has to ensure that patient safety is not jeopardised by its removal. This is a very important point. What plans are in place in the short and long term to enable continued sharing of information relating to the fitness to practise of professionals across the EEA and Swiss area?
Finally, as is often the case with Brexit-related debates, we forget that there is movement both ways. The impact on UK professionals wishing to work in the EEA must not be forgotten. After exit day, professional qualifications awarded in the UK will no longer be covered by the directive. The EU has agreed that holders of UK qualifications that have been registered in EEA countries and Switzerland will continue to be registered. However, in the absence of an agreement with the EU, that will be a matter for individual EU member states to determine. Has the Minister had any discussions with his EU counterparts about the impact of no deal on UK professionals wishing to practise in the EU after exit day? Does he know, for example, how many UK professionals would be affected? Has there been any consideration of mutual qualification recognition for emerging roles such as nurse associates?
In conclusion, we do not oppose the regulations or what they seek to achieve. We recognise, as the Minister does, the valuable contribution to the NHS of staff from the EEA and Swiss areas. I hope that these regulations will not result, inadvertently or otherwise, in our deterring or losing more of them than we already have. I would welcome any reassurance from the Minister in response to my concerns.
I am grateful to the Minister and the shadow spokesperson for their comments today. I will confine my comments to the lead statutory instrument and will not discuss the Northern Ireland instrument.
This SI is about repealing the EU system of qualification assessments and replacing it with something that in my opinion is nowhere near as robust, but instead worryingly ad hoc. Having read the legislation, I believe the new automatic system sounds like anything but automatic. A lot of this seems to be about offloading the risk of assessing the ongoing relevance of applicants’ qualifications for healthcare positions in the UK away from Government. The regulations put enormous amounts of responsibility on the designated UK health regulators to decide which EEA and Swiss qualifications are no longer comparable, with no apparent framework other than that they are allowed to designate non-comparability based on the course, the institution or even just the country itself.
Those regulators have also been given the discretion to decide how to treat the EEA and Swiss qualifications that they assess to be non-comparable. I therefore have some questions. Are the regulators happy with that? Have the Government checked that the regulators are happy to take on that burden of responsibility, and what preparations are taking place? Will new guidance need to be put into place to support that? As this will amount to regulators taking on the burden of making decisions that they have never had to make before, will there be a detrimental impact on the UK health and social care services workforce?
The explanatory memorandum states:
“The amended legislation will no longer include obligations on regulators to abide by the Directive training standards when setting standards for UK qualifications, although regulators may use the Directive as a guide when setting standards in the UK.”
That sounds like the UK could be put at a competitive disadvantage to the EU, through the creation of different standards between the two, again potentially wreaking havoc with our workforce. The transition provision goes nowhere near far enough to protect those currently going through the process. Saying that the UK will
“allow applications which have been made before exit day to be concluded under current arrangements as far as possible”
is no comfort whatsoever.
The Scottish health sector relies heavily on the EU workforce. This legislation could have a disproportionate and potentially devastating impact on our health sector. I believe it is a terrible piece of legislation that fails to provide a robust framework for transition, any protection for those making applications to our health sector or any assurances that our workforce will not suffer considerably as a result. The fact that the explanatory memorandum says that there is
“no, or no significant, impact on the public sector”
is laughable, and also puzzling, considering that that is directly contradicted on the very next page, in paragraph 12.5, which states that there could be an
“impact on the availability of health and care professionals”.
I have normally taken a pragmatic approach to these Delegation Legislation Committees on emergency exit regulations, saying that we need regulations in place and that I am not opposed, but I find it hard to do that today. Unless I hear suitable reassurances from the Minister, I am minded to try to force a Division on this matter.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I wish to reinforce a couple of important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston from the Front Bench in his excellent contribution.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who speaks for the SNP, talked about this, but these SIs are incredibly important. Tucked away in these regulations are all sorts of policy changes that will have huge implications for our constituents and our country. I want to mention a couple. Hon. Members might not have read all these regulations—I have not read all of the pages, but I have read some—but if, in a few weeks’ or a few months’ time, a no deal happens, we will have people coming to our constituency offices asking what has happened to change their working arrangements in this country. We will have to say, “We’re not quite sure; we’ll go back and have a look and see where that happened.” And it will have happened in Committees such as this.
I say this as an aside—I know that we have all said it—but one of the problems with SIs is that we cannot amend them. Let me give one example. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston mentioned this, but one really significant change tucked away in these regulations is the removal of the right of EU and Swiss nationals who are working here on a temporary or occasional basis to do so. My hon. Friend set out how many people that covers. What will we say when a Swiss or EEA national turns up at our surgeries and says, “I am working here on an occasional or temporary basis”—or says that they wish to do so—“and my local hospital needs me”? The figures are there: 42 General Medical Council registrants, 88 other professionals, and so on. If one of those people comes to us and says, “I am no longer able to work here,” it will be this Committee that agreed that regulation.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we will not vote this measure, but why on earth is the Minister doing this? Why on earth are we saying to EEA and Swiss nationals who are working here on an occasional or temporary basis that they cannot do so?
The hon. Gentleman is raising a number of serious and important points, as did the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson—he was right to do so, and I will answer those points. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the moment the number of social and healthcare professionals working under the regime that he is describing is fewer than 160. Does he not agree that if people wish to work, or to continue to work, on a temporary or occasional basis, it might be more sensible, in the interests of public safety, for them to seek full registration? We are talking about a very small number. Surely full registration is the way forward.
It is not. The hon. Gentleman was citing the example of someone who wanted to work here on a more permanent basis and to use that regime to achieve that. If someone wishes to work under that regime, would it not be sensible to have full UK regulatory recognition?
The Minister will give his answer, but this question has been raised by NHS professionals and by the cross-party House of Lords Select Committee that looks into these matters. Indeed, that Committee specifically said that the Minister should be questioned about the change, because it has serious concerns about the detriment to the NHS from removing the right of those people to work in this country under the occasional and temporary arrangements. The Minister may say it is only a small number, but if there is a no-deal scenario, let us see whether that small number start appearing at our surgeries and whether we have to explain why the current arrangements no longer apply.
I think the change is unnecessary. The system works very well now and allows people to move backwards and forwards. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston pointed out, this is a reciprocal arrangement. People from this country benefit from exactly the same arrangements when they go to other countries across Europe. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend’s question about what he expects the reciprocal arrangements to be and how other European countries will respond to our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals seeking to broaden and extend their experience by working in other countries in Europe.
The Minister started to answer my earlier questions about qualifications that are not regarded as comparable. In his response to the House of Lords Committee, he said it would be a matter to be determined by the regulator. My hon. Friend has already raised this point, but given that different regulators will determine which qualifications are not comparable, will they all have different criteria? How on earth will there be any consistency? The bureaucracy will be enormous. What are the costs of that? What will the staffing arrangements be? Again, the House of Lords Committee, in response to what the Minister said, raised serious concerns about how that will be done. My hon. Friend is right: the Minister needs to lay out more clearly how he believes the NHS will not be detrimentally affected by the changes introduced by these regulations, should that be necessary in a no-deal scenario, given the numbers he pointed to—3,200 people being automatically registered and 1,500 being registered under the general system. Will the Minister also confirm, as I think he said earlier, that the language tests will remain exactly the same?
My final point refers to Northern Ireland. It is a general point for the Minister to take away and one that he should perhaps ask the Secretary of State to discuss in Cabinet. There is no Assembly in Northern Ireland. The explanatory memorandum says that, under the legislation passed by this House, the Government talk with officials in Northern Ireland to determine whether these or other regulations are acceptable. Without getting into the arguments about why that is occurring or not, the democratic deficit is quite significant. I wonder whether there might be a better, more informative way of proceeding than just to include a few lines saying, “We’ve consulted with Northern Ireland officials about whether these regulations will apply appropriately in Northern Ireland,” given the responsibility on us all, in the absence of a Northern Ireland legislature, to consider the impact of regulations on that part of the United Kingdom in a more appropriate way.
These are significant changes. The Minister says that a small number of people will be affected, but those receiving treatment from someone who will no longer be able to register under the temporary or occasional scheme will be asking how this Parliament passed legislation that is potentially detrimental to their healthcare. That is not the Minister’s intention, but these are appropriate questions for this Committee and the House to ask the Minister as we move into the unknown.
I would like to reassure hon. Members that, while it is essential to the public’s protection that we put in place this legislation, I recognise that a number of important and significant issues have been raised. I also recognise the potential impact on patients and citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom of not getting this right. There have been a lot of questions, which I shall try to address in some sort of order, perhaps lumping together some of the points put to me.
Initially there was a lot of talk about the impact on the numbers. From the overall number of EU, EEA and Swiss health and care professionals practising in the United Kingdom, the number working in NHS trusts in England increased by over 3,500 in the 12 months following the referendum. That includes an extra 600 doctors. As of June 2017, over 21,000 EEA doctors were registered with a licence to practise with the GMC. The number of joiners from the EEA has remained steady since 2016; therefore, these regulations would allow that to continue. The hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston and for Gedling might like to point out that there has clearly been a decline in registered nurses. That is a significant concern to the Department, and we have looked not only at the number of current vacancies resulting from EU nationals not coming forward but, as importantly, at the need to train, recruit and retain UK nurses, which is why there are a number of routes into nursing.
There are language issues. One reason for the nursing staff shortage in respect of EEA applications is down to the language controls introduced by the NMC, which took full effect in July 2016. Although some people might concentrate on the referendum as the contributory factor, the language testing is also judged to have had an impact. Therefore, since November 2017 the NMC has introduced a number of changes to the language requirements for nurses and midwives trained outside the UK, which has increased the options available to such applicants to demonstrate their language ability. The changes appear to be having a positive effect on international recruitment, with 2,500 more overseas joiners to the register between January and December 2018.
The hon. Member for Gedling asked about a slightly different language issue. I will confirm this in writing, but it is my understanding that we do not intend to change the language tests.
The temporary permissions argument is clearly of concern, and I have tried to address the hon. Gentleman’s questions about that. The numbers currently working under the regime are relatively small; however, that does not mean that they do not have a positive impact. It is right that under a new regulatory system people should seek full registration. However, over the EU exit day period and the period post that, the regime will continue. As temporary and occasional permissions last for up to 18 months, there will be plenty of time for those working under the regime to decide to apply for full registration.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston asked about the impact on UK professionals wishing to practise in the EU after exit day. I said in my opening remarks that it is the UK that is the main beneficiary of mutual recognitions. After exit day, professional qualifications awarded in the UK will no longer be covered by the directive, and the EU has agreed that holders of UK qualifications who have been registered in EEA countries and Switzerland will continue to be registered. However, in the absence of an agreement with the EU, recognition of UK qualifications after exit day will be determined by the national policy of the individual member state.
The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed reciprocal international healthcare arrangements on several occasions, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and he will recognise that the Government hope that a widespread and encompassing international healthcare reciprocal agreement will be in place with the whole EU after exit day—that is our ambition. In the event of a deal, during the implementation period the current arrangements will pertain and we can look to put in place such a treaty.
One moment, and then I will. As the hon. Gentleman rightly knows, in the event of a no-deal EU exit—which is a lot of what we are talking about this morning—it is the Government’s ambition first to put memorandums of understanding in place and then hopefully to have a widespread agreement with the whole EU or, if not, individual arrangements with member states.
There are ongoing and widespread discussions with the Commission and with member states. A number of member states are of high priority because the numbers of UK nationals currently living there make reciprocal international healthcare arrangements particularly important. A number of issues are being discussed. Given the nature of the discussions, I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that reassurance.
Is it not the case that the guidance issued yesterday says that in some cases the European health insurance card may not be valid or guarantee access to healthcare after 29 March and that it is the responsibility of individuals to check the healthcare arrangements with the countries they are visiting?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. That is why we discussed in depth the reciprocal healthcare arrangements under the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill. Although it is absolutely the Government’s intention, in either a deal or no-deal scenario, to ensure continuity of international arrangements, at the moment that cannot be absolutely guaranteed. I hope the hon. Gentleman heard me say to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston that it is the Government’s intention to ensure that, in the event of a no-deal scenario, memorandums of understanding will be put in place. We have already stated that anyone seeking emergency medical care, from wherever they come, will be treated by the NHS. We hope to ensure the continuity of current arrangements in a deal or a no-deal scenario.
To give Members a bit more flavour and depth, let me say, in response to both the initial inquiry, from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and the inquiry from the hon. Member for Stockton South, that there is understandably a widespread agreement in this area that the current arrangements are to the mutual benefit of the healthcare systems of both the UK and the whole EU and should continue. In that light, very positive discussions are taking place, particularly with the countries where most UK nationals currently reside.
I do not need to write to the hon. Member for Gedling; I can confirm that the regulators will continue to apply the language tests as currently set out.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston talked about the loss of the internal market information system. If the UK exits the EU without a deal, it will no longer have automatic access to the EU systems, including the internal market information system, which regulators across the EU use to exchange information. We hope that the discussion about international healthcare arrangements will continue, but it may well be the case that UK regulators have to seek information from their European counterparts directly, rather than from the Commission. UK regulators are aware of that and are preparing for it, although, as I have said, that may well be part of the discussions about international arrangements and encompassed in a future bilateral or EU-wide international healthcare arrangements agreement. However, the regulations mean that UK regulators will not be required to carry out more assessments of European qualifications than they do now and they will allow bilateral applications for information.
The Minister has been very generous in giving way. We should be clear that, as things stand, the early warning system will not be in operation. It is important to express our concern about that and our sincere wish to put in place an arrangement to avoid it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that concern, but as I have sought to reassure him, it will be perfectly possible for UK regulators and EU regulators, either in whole or individually, to exchange information. It will be possible under this arrangement for UK regulators to seek that information from their individual European counterparts, should they need to do so.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the capacity of regulators to check qualifications. Although it is not the Government’s intention or desire to have a no-deal outcome, regulators have been preparing for that possible scenario. These regulations will ensure that there will be little additional work for regulators in recognising EEA and Swiss qualifications at exit date. Under the regulations, the regulator can choose to review automatic qualifications that it was previously obliged to accept and to designate those qualifications where there are patient and public safety concerns. An applicant will be obliged to supply the regulator with the relevant documents, and if the regulator is not satisfied, it can reject the application. My point is that there is no extra administrative burden on regulators.
On the potential for an additional financial burden, the UK and the regulators have been preparing for a possible no-deal outcome. As the regulations seek to maintain the current systems as far as possible, for at least two years from their coming into force after the expected exit day until the review, there should be little extra cost or impact. There is, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the potential for regulators to recover those costs through additional fees, and that is true of current regulatory systems, in many cases.
The hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk asked whether the regulations reduce the ability to safeguard public and patient safety, making the health service less safe. At the heart of these instruments is the recognition that public protection and patient safety must be the foremost ambition; therefore, public protection is the key purpose of regulating health and care professionals. The instruments provide the regulators with the necessary powers to protect the public by introducing the power to designate EEA and Swiss professionals, who they are currently obliged to accept automatically. In addition, they will still be able to check applicants’ language skills and, as I confirmed to the hon. Member for Gedling a moment ago, the language tests will not change.
I was asked about the review process. It is appropriate that a two-year review of the regulations is put in place, which will potentially be wide-ranging and encompassing. The regulations are intended to be subject to review two years after they come into force. As I said earlier, it would be wrong of me either to limit the scope of the review or to predict the factors that may be in place at the time. I am often asked by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and others to commit to reviews of regulations and other legislation, and, as we are committing to a review after two years, I hope that he will accept my assurance on that.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, asked me about the impact assessment. There is no significant impact. The impact for the instrument falls below the £5 million threshold of the annual net direct cost to business, as detailed by the business impact target. There is no significant impact on business, and no significant direct impacts have been identified as a result of the changes. Hon. Members have asked about the potential impact regarding allowing recognition so that EEA and Swiss professionals who are valued in the health service can continue to practise in the UK post-EU exit day in a no-deal scenario. That is the impact, and the regulations seek to minimise it. They put in place sensible measures to ensure that that recognition can happen.
Finally, I was asked about whether the regulations support cross-border co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The regulations ensure the continued recognition of Irish professional qualifications in the UK for at least two years after exit day. They allow professionals practising under an existing and temporary or occasional status to continue until the end of that—
To clarify, I was not talking about the cross-border arrangements. I was making the point about whether, in the absence of the legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland, instead of having two or three lines saying, “We’ve discussed this with Northern Ireland officials and that’s fine,” we need to give more detail to our discussions about that.
Not at all. The hon. Gentleman is right to ask whether, in the absence of an Assembly in Northern Ireland, the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland can assess EEA and Swiss pharmacist qualifications that are not covered by automatic recognition—he recognises, of course, that the automatic recognition system is there. These regulations will ensure there should be little change in those. The PSNI will continue to recognise pharmacist qualifications that are within the scope of the automatic system at exit day. Those who do not hold a qualification currently within that scope will be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council before registering with the PSNI. That is a continuation of the current practice. I am happy to keep this issue under review and to make it part of the discussion with Northern Ireland officials.
With those remarks, I hope that I have managed to satisfy hon. Members’ inquiries, and I commend both sets of regulations to the Committee.
That the Committee has considered the draft European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulation 2018.
Draft european qualifications (pharmacists) (Amendment etc.) (Eu Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2018
That the Committee has considered draft European Qualifications (Pharmacists) (Amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2018.—(Stephen Hammond.)
Draft Broadcasting (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mrs Madeleine Moon
† Bardell, Hannah (Livingston) (SNP)
† Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)
† Clark, Colin (Gordon) (Con)
† Dunne, Mr Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
† Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab)
† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)
† Gaffney, Hugh (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
† Hall, Luke (Thornbury and Yate) (Con)
† Huddleston, Nigel (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)
† James, Margot (Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries)
† Keegan, Gillian (Chichester) (Con)
Mahmood, Shabana (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
† Masterton, Paul (East Renfrewshire) (Con)
† Philp, Chris (Croydon South) (Con)
† Smeeth, Ruth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab)
† Stephenson, Andrew (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Hannah Wentworth, Laura-Jane Tiley, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 29 January 2019
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
Draft Broadcasting (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Broadcasting (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has worked hard to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU and to ensure that our statute book continues to function. The draft regulations will achieve three broad aims and were laid before the House on 13 December 2018.
First, the regulations will ensure that Ofcom, as the UK’s audiovisual regulator, can continue to regulate broadcasters effectively. If the UK leaves the EU without an agreement in place, the EU’s audiovisual media services directive will no longer apply. The directive provides for freedom of reception and re-transmission for audiovisual services such as television and video on demand. It also establishes minimum content standards and provides that a service that is regulated in one member state can adhere to that country’s rules while being available across all the EU. This is known as the country of origin principle.
The audiovisual media services directive underpins several pieces of UK primary legislation, including the Communications Act 2003. We are therefore using section 8 powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to fix deficiencies and inoperabilities in primary legislation to ensure that Ofcom continues to have jurisdiction over services that are available to UK audiences or established in the UK. The draft regulations also ensure that cross-border services that originate from Europe under the Council of Europe convention on transfrontier television can broadcast to the UK. Services from countries that are not parties to the convention will be regulated by Ofcom.
We are not amending the current standards or restrictions placed on UK broadcasters through this instrument; they will continue as before. Should the Government wish to make any changes to the standards or restrictions in the future, that will be subject to consultation and the parliamentary process as normal.
Secondly, the draft regulations will implement the aforementioned Council of Europe treaty in UK law. The European convention on transfrontier television was signed and ratified by the UK in 1993, but it has not been implemented in the UK because the treaty provides that EU member states must apply the relevant EU legislation in their mutual relations instead. The ECTT provides for a similar system of freedom of reception and transmission between the parties to the convention. Both the AVMSD and the ECTT provide that a majority of transmission time on a television channel must be reserved for works of European origin. The AVMSD references the ECTT in its definition of European works, and that in turn safeguards the UK’s status as a producer of European works. The quota system provides a preferential market for the UK’s excellent content across other European states and has benefited our production sector enormously in the last decade.
Finally, the draft regulations will ensure that services with Irish-language content—RTÉ One, RTÉ Two and TG4—will continue to be available in Northern Ireland. The UK made those commitments in the Good Friday agreement and later through the European charter for regional or minority languages. Because those services are established in Ireland, which is not a party to the ECTT, they would need to be licensed by Ofcom under the changes introduced through the draft regulations, but that would not be in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement, so the UK has decided unilaterally to exempt the services from the requirement to hold an Ofcom licence.
Before the Minister concludes, paragraph 7.3 of the explanatory memorandum states that the instrument will remedy the deficiency by amending the Communications Act 2003
“to require that any television service that is available in the UK, whatever its country of origin, is required to be licensed by Ofcom”.
How many businesses that have not required a licence from Ofcom will now have to get one?
I know what the hon. Gentleman is driving at concerning the risk to businesses that transmit and will require a new licence from Ofcom. I will try to cover that in my concluding remarks, if I may.
My officials have worked closely with Ofcom to ensure that the regulatory regime remains operable and effective in the case of no deal. I believe that the draft regulations are necessary to ensure that the UK statute book works and that audiences are protected from harm.
I can now give the hon. Gentleman something of an answer to his question. Approximately 50 to 60 channels have been identified that may need a licence from Ofcom to continue to be received in the UK. They are mostly specialist minority language channels, religious channels or adult services. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, especially in the light of your recent eminent elevation elsewhere, about which I have been told not to go into any detail. I will say only that we will all sleep safer in our bed in the knowledge that you are looking after our interests.
I thank the Minister for her explanation, which highlights just one of the myriad complexities of Brexit and the prospect of no deal. Today, we should rule out that prospect, rather than continue to play chicken with the EU, but that will take place elsewhere and is not within the scope of this Committee’s business. Nevertheless, the instrument highlights one of the many complexities we face in trying to take the egg back out of the omelette, which is what Brexit entails.
I intervened on the Minister because I noticed that the Government say in the explanatory memorandum that they felt no need to conduct an impact assessment for this statutory instrument, and the explanatory note says:
“A full impact assessment has not been produced for this instrument as no, or no significant, impact on the private or voluntary sector is foreseen.”
Yet the Minister has just told the Committee that 50 to 60 channels, at the very least, will be required for the first time to be licensed by Ofcom. If that is not a significant impact on the private sector, I do not know what is. I understand that the Department and the Government have an incredibly difficult task in passing all these statutory instruments at great speed, and I am glad that we are scrutinising the legislation this morning; that is our job. However, it seems to be a dereliction not to produce an impact assessment of a statutory instrument of this kind, which is just one example of the significant impact on the private sector.
Through this statutory instrument, we are essentially trying to minimise the failure that Brexit represents to a great British success story. Hundreds of television, broadcast and audiovisual content companies currently have a choice of where they can be licensed. Under the audiovisual media services directive and its country of origin principle, a licence in one EU country licenses the holder in all the other member states. Part of the requirement is that the company’s headquarters and essential editorial establishment must be located in the member country where it is licensed. Companies choose to license here in the UK because we have a widely admired and trusted regulatory regime, with a high-quality regulator in the form of Ofcom. The Minister and I probably agree on that point. Leaving the EU and, worse still, leaving with no deal, will have a serious impact on those companies and on the sector. We have already heard press reports about companies such as WarnerMedia, the Discovery Channel and even the BBC having to move some of their operations out of the UK as a result of needing to license their operations in the EU post UK withdrawal. That is the context of the draft regulations.
The statutory instrument is intended to ensure that broadcast licences granted by Ofcom would still be legally valid after a no deal Brexit because they have been issued in the context of our membership of the European Union. From the point of view of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I accept what the Minister says: this is a necessary measure that has to be taken. As a responsible Opposition, it is not our intention to divide the Committee this morning, because the Minister is correct that it is important for the directive to go through. However, I have a number of questions on which I would be grateful for clarification.
First, as the Minister knows, the way in which content is consumed by viewers is changing rapidly, with the advent of streaming services such as Netflix. Surprisingly, Netflix is licensed in the Netherlands. My understanding is that under the SI, on-demand services such as Netflix that are located in the EU will in future be treated the same as on-demand services licensed in other parts of the world—particularly the USA, where most on-demand services are located. Will the Minister confirm that my understanding is correct, and that services such as Netflix will now be treated the same way as streaming and on-demand services located elsewhere in the world, rather than having the European model of treatment?
Secondly, what are the implications for the UK of this change—for example, what if post Brexit we were to introduce new regulations to limit the advertising of junk food? Lively debate is taking place on that issue at the moment. Currently, we would be able to argue our case within the EU that on-demand services licensed in the EU should respect that change in our domestic law. We have a forum and a means by which we can press that case. What will be the position after we leave the European Union, should we decide to take that kind of action? In her remarks the Minister referred to the implications post Brexit if we decided to make changes in our own standards relating to broadcasting and streaming.
Thirdly, what will be the impact on on-demand services with adult content? The Minister referred to the fact that many of the services that will be required for the first time to get a licence from Ofcom as a result of our leaving the European Union with no deal will be adult services—that is, content that we do not want to be available to people under the age of 18. Will there be any impact on the UK’s ability to place effective age restrictions on such services when they are treated on the same basis as on-demand services located in the rest of the world?
An opportunity offered by the SI has been lost. Why have the Government not taken the opportunity to create a level playing field for on-demand and linear services? If my understanding of the instrument is correct, a linear service wishing to operate in the UK—for example, German news broadcasting into the UK, licensed in a European Union state—will in future require an Ofcom licence to do so. The Government could surely have taken this opportunity to require all on-demand services to set up a presence here and to license in the UK. Why should on-demand providers not be required to be licensed and have a presence here if they do business in the United Kingdom, if such requirements are placed on linear services? Will the Minister at least commit today to launching a consultation on what licensing policy should be for all overseas services targeting the UK market?
Next, in relation to the need for broadcasters currently licensed by Ofcom to license in an EU jurisdiction post Brexit, what estimate has the Minister made of the number of jobs that will be transferred out of the United Kingdom as a result? The Government say in the impact assessment that there is no impact on businesses from a lot of these changes. The Minister knows, as I do, that many businesses are already making arrangements because of the future requirement to license in European Union countries. To make the country of origin principle effective, they will have to move their headquarters and a minimum editorial establishment. At this moment, jobs are being relocated out of the UK to Dublin, Amsterdam and Luxembourg as a result of that requirement. What estimate have the Government made of how many jobs will be affected by that and what the economic value of the jobs lost to the UK will be? If the Minister is able to tell the Committee what she knows about which companies are having to take those steps, that would be useful. We have read some press reports, as I mentioned earlier, but we do not have the full picture.
Which companies have told her Department that they are moving their editorial operation or headquarters out of the UK, and where are they relocating? What estimate has the Minister made of the likelihood that countries that are party to the Council of Europe ECTT will choose to use its provisions to continue broadcasting? Will she also clarify which of the Irish language services she referred to are exempted from licensing in the UK by this regulation?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s scrutiny of what he rightly calls a complex area post Brexit. The 50 or 60 companies that will for the first time require licences from Ofcom are foreign owned, which is why there is no requirement for an impact assessment, as impact assessments are designed to consider the cost implications of changes in regulations to UK-based companies.
The hon. Gentleman rightly describes the UK’s performance in film, broadcast and television as a great success. A sector that grows at 25% more than the average rate of the economy is certainly a success. In part, that success is indeed down to the very beneficial regime, the AVMSD. As he said, to comply with the requirements of one regulator allows transmission across the entire European Union. The entire European Union’s production in that sector grows by about 18% per annum, following the introduction of the directive. The UK constitutes 21% of the entire European television market, with 1,200 out of 3,000 European channels emanating from the UK. That sector is indeed a great success.
The hon. Gentleman talked about jobs transferring, and some companies have already started to seek licences elsewhere within the European Union. Discovery Channel, NBC, Sony and Turner are all seeking licences elsewhere. Of those four channels, only Sony proposes to move its European headquarters out of the UK. The other companies are content to seek a licence elsewhere, whether in the Netherlands, Ireland or Germany, and move a number of editorial staff so that they have a meaningful presence in the country that entitles them to the country of origin broadcasting privileges. At the moment, it is not possible to assess the number of jobs that are transferring and what will constitute a meaningful presence in a market to get the benefits of the European directive, but the signs are that the majority of companies will continue to operate in the UK, with a presence outside the UK should they need one to qualify for country of origin privileges.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the advertising of junk food and other such issues, which he is right to say that we are looking at, and the question of on-demand services licensed in the EU respecting UK rules on advertising foods high in fat, sugar, salt and so on. The UK has been unable to insist on country of destination rules up until now, either under AVMSD or through country of origin services that adhere only to host country rules. However, the existing standards will continue to apply.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Netflix and other video-on-demand providers, which are currently regulated differently. In practical terms, Netflix will still be regulated under AVMSD because, as he says, it is based in the Netherlands. The same content standards will apply after exit as now. We recognise that after exit we may need to consider a long-term and future-proofed approach to video-on-demand regulation.
I think that deals with most of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I hope that the Committee has found the sitting informative.
I also asked whether the Minister could tell us about the likelihood that countries that are party to the Council of Europe ECTT would choose to use its provisions? If she needs to write to me, I am happy for her to do that, because I realise that that is a technical question, I would be interested to have an answer. Perhaps she should to other Committee members as well, if that is acceptable to them.
Secondly, which Irish language services are exempted from licensing in the UK by the regulation? Again, if that information is not immediately to hand, I am happy for the Minister to communicate that to me and the rest of the Committee later.
The hon. Gentleman is very generous. I will write to him with any further information. The ECTT guarantees similar content standards and freedom of reception between signatories, but as he will know, approximately six EU member states are not signatories to it. We will therefore not be relying on that, but I will write to him with any further technicalities associated with the ECTT. The Irish channels exempted from the requirement to seek Ofcom licences for continued transmission are the three that I mentioned: RTÉ One, RTÉ Two and TG4.
I commend the regulations to the Committee. I hope that Members will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has already indicated that he will do so.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Fisheries (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson
† Cartlidge, James (South Suffolk) (Con)
† Davies, Glyn (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Eustice, George (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)
† Jones, Mr David (Clwyd West) (Con)
† Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
† Jones, Mr Marcus (Nuneaton) (Con)
† Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
† Lord, Mr Jonathan (Woking) (Con)
† O’Hara, Brendan (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
† Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)
† Seely, Mr Bob (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Smith, Owen (Pontypridd) (Lab)
† Stevens, Jo (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
† Whitfield, Martin (East Lothian) (Lab)
Ben Street, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 29 January 2019
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
Draft Fisheries (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Fisheries (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
I am pleased to open this debate on an important set of regulations, and I am grateful to hon. Members for being here when, obviously, another debate is taking place in the main Chamber. The regulations give effect to, and enable enforcement of, certain common fisheries policy and marine management measures, as part of the legislation needed for exiting the European Union. The regulations are one piece of a jigsaw that will ensure we have a functioning legislative framework when we leave the European Union. This statutory instrument is one of two that work together to amend fisheries legislation to make it operable for EU exit. A separate statutory instrument—the Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019—has been laid in draft and will be debated at a later date. It amends the vast majority of directly applicable EU regulations, for example those concerning illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries.
The SI under consideration today makes consequential amendments to various pieces of domestic legislation that are used to enforce and enable the implementation of those directly applicable EU regulations. The primary legislation amended is the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, the Fisheries Act 1981 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The amendments predominantly relate to enforcement powers. The secondary legislation amended is the Merchant Shipping Regulations 1993, the Sea Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2002, the Tope (Prohibition of Fishing) Order 2008, the Eels (England and Wales) Regulations 2009, the Sea Fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing) Order 2009, the Fish Labelling Regulations 2013, the Sea Fishing (Points for Masters of Fishing Boats) Regulations 2014, the Sea Fishing (Enforcement and Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 2015, the Grants for Fishing and Aquaculture Industries Regulations 2015, and the Sea Fishing (Enforcement) Regulations 2018.
These lucky 13 pieces of legislation are simple and technical, to ensure that they operate correctly after EU exit. There are no changes to policy contained in the instrument. The instrument was considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and no concerns with the regulations were raised by either Committee. The former asked that we provide further explanation about the nature of the amendments. That has now been published in annex B of the revised explanatory memorandum.
The instrument is affirmative, as it amends existing powers to legislate, in particular in section 30(2) of the Fisheries Act 1981, and in the Sea Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2002. The statutory instrument has therefore not been examined by the withdrawal Act sifting Committees.
I rise to raise two issues with regard to section 30 of the Fisheries Act 1981, because of the effect it has on England and Wales, and on Scotland. Regulation 3(4)(b) under part 2, “Amendment of primary legislation”, mentions
“enforceable Community restrictions, and enforceable EU obligations”.
My understanding is that the Fisheries Act also refers to “enforceable EU restrictions”, so I wonder whether the intention is to leave in “enforceable EU restrictions” or to remove that part and replace it with something else. I rise as a new member of the Committee, unsure about how we go about amending a statutory instrument once it passes through here.
The same question arises with regard to regulation 3(4)(c), which states, in relation to section 30(2) of the Act,
“for ‘enforceable Community restriction or other’ substitute ‘retained EU restriction or retained EU’”.
It seems to be silent with regard to the enforceable EU restriction contained in the Act.
If there are any different answers, I will consider them before coming to my closing remarks, but I think the answer is that in all these cases our intention is to bring across retained EU law, the enforcement of which would then be done domestically. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we do not want to retain anything in our domestic statute that could in future be enforceable by the EU itself. The purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and indeed of these statutory instruments, is to ensure that we have an operable law book on day one, without leaving open the idea that the European Union could enforce anything under those.
My view is that they should be retained EU restrictions, but I will have a specific look at that before the end of this debate. Those restrictions would be retained EU restrictions rather than EU restrictions per se.
The amendments made by this statutory instrument fall into four main categories. First, where there are references to “an enforceable EU obligation” or “enforceable EU restrictions”, these are amended to “a retained EU obligation” or “retained EU restrictions”, to ensure that they remain operable as part of retained EU law. For example, section 30 of the Fisheries Act 1981, which we have just discussed at some length, concerns the enforcement of EU rules relating to sea fishing. Amendments to section 30 change references to enforceable Community or EU obligations and restrictions to retained EU obligations and restrictions, to ensure continued operability of those enforcement provisions on EU exit. I hope that point reinforces what I have just explained to the hon. Member for East Lothian.
Secondly, there are some provisions that will be redundant or inoperable in UK law after EU exit. For example, paragraph 5 of schedule 4 to the merchant shipping regulations refers to an “EC number” in the list of details to be recorded on the register of British fishing vessels. That has been removed. Likewise, a reference to euros has been converted to pound sterling in the fish labelling regulations.
Thirdly, references to “member state or third country” are replaced in future simply with “third country”, because in this context existing EU member states will be categorised as third countries after we leave the European Union. For example, in article 3 of the Sea Fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing) Order 2009, the definition of a third-country fishing vessel, which was
“a fishing vessel which is not a Community fishing vessel”,
has been amended to,
“a fishing vessel which is not a United Kingdom fishing vessel”.
Finally, cross-references to EU regulations are amended to bring them into line with technical amendments made to those regulations in the main Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018. For example, in the fish labelling regulations, the designation of the Secretary of State to draw up a list of commercial designations of species has been deleted, because that is now provided for in Council Regulation (EC) 1379/2013, as amended by the main common fisheries policy SI. This is a consequential amendment arising from the amendments made by that SI.
This SI and the other UK-wide fisheries SIs have been developed and drafted in close co-operation with the devolved Administrations, reflecting the devolution settlements. The amendments made by this instrument mainly extend and apply to the United Kingdom, with some exceptions, so each of the devolved Administrations were heavily involved in developing the approach. A targeted engagement was carried out for the fisheries SIs, involving key stakeholders from the fisheries sector, the food industry and environmental non-governmental organisations. Additionally, a 10-week consultation was conducted through the fisheries White Paper, which described future fisheries policy as well as the legislative approach taken by these statutory instruments. Stakeholders were broadly supportive of the approach.
This legislation is complemented by the Fisheries Bill, which will deliver our promise to take back control of our waters and decide who may fish in them and on what terms. It creates the powers to allow us, over time, to build a sustainable and profitable fishing industry. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. The Minister says that the purpose of this SI is to preserve and protect the existing EU policy regime, rather than to introduce new policies. He has stood up and told us that there is nothing to worry about—his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), did the same yesterday in a similar Delegated Legislation Committee—because all they are doing is transposing EU law into UK law, replacing “Europe” with “UK” and “EU Commissioner” with “Secretary of State”, so we have nothing to worry about.
However, as we saw with the Fisheries Bill, at the start the Minister said the objectives were simply being copied over from the CFP, but we know that the date for maximum sustainable yield by 2020 was removed from the Bill and two new objectives were added. Things can change when laws are transposed. Secondary legislation ought to be used for technical, non-partisan, non-controversial changes, but the Government are continuing to push contentious legislation with high policy content through the SI process. I said last night in another Delegated Legislation Committee that we are concerned that we are being asked to wave through statutory instruments at breakneck speed without sufficient scrutiny.
A total of 343 SIs have been laid since June 2018. I did not get a reply to this question last night, so I would like to ask the Minister now. How many of those does he expect to be completed by exit day on 29 March? How many of those does he expect to be Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs SIs? The Government expect us to wave through hundreds of these hurried SIs. This particular one combines 13 pieces of legislation, and yesterday’s contained 21. That seems a lot of change to debate in such a short amount of time.
What methodology is the Minister’s Department using in grouping these 13 pieces of legislation, especially as this is a two-part SI, as he mentioned? There is a deep irony that Brexit was sold to the country as a way of taking back control when at every turn the Government have tried to thwart decent parliamentary scrutiny. We have an SI Committee here with a Government majority, even though they do not enjoy one in the House.
I worry about the Minister, because I know he is a very busy man, with two pieces of primary legislation and an awful lot of SIs, as well as running large chunks of the Department while his Secretary of State goes on manoeuvres. I do hope he has had enough time to look through all these SIs to ensure that there are no drafting defects, because we have had drafting defects in SIs before, which we need to look at.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian rightly raised concerns about the difference between retained EU restrictions and retained EU obligations. In regulations 3(4)(d), 3(5)(d), 4(2)(b), 4(4)(b)(ii) and 4(5)(b), references to “enforceable EU restriction” and “enforceable EU obligation” in the Fisheries Act 1981 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 are replaced with references to “retained EU restriction” and “retained EU obligation”. Although the SI includes a definition of EU restriction, there is no corresponding definition of retained EU obligation. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether, as defined in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, that applies to specific regulations and not SIs more generally. Will he clarify whether that was an intentional discrepancy or difference, and what the difference is between the retained EU obligation and that retained EU restriction, in how it will be enforced?
As I said to the Minister when we debated the Fisheries Bill in Committee, we do not leave the common fisheries policy every day—we do not leave the EU every day—so we need to ensure that we get it right. Because so much legislation is being amended in one bash, debated at most for the length of a football game, without the chance for amendments, without impact assessments or pre-impact assessments and with limited consultation, I am concerned that there may be unintended consequences. I am sure the Minister will recall when the Government had to amend their own red tape challenge a few years ago. The Government’s own memo said at the time:
“Defra is introducing this instrument to provide Inshore Fisheries Conservation Officers with powers to enforce a list of EU fisheries technical and conservation measures that were inadvertently revoked as part of the Red Tape Challenge.”
We know that such errors can and do happen and that there is a risk they will happen more frequently when SIs are hurried through without substantial stakeholder feedback.
Although a different Minister introduced yesterday’s statutory instrument, I spoke about the need for impact assessments, to ensure that the impact of these SIs is adequately understood. The explanatory note for this SI states:
“There is no, or no significant, impact.”
However, below that it states that there is to be no impact. There is a difference between no impact and no significant impact. I know that the Minister will not want to hide behind parliamentary protocol to define the difference between the two. Can he tell us whether there is to be an impact, no significant impact or some impact?
The explanatory note states:
“An Impact Assessment has not been prepared,”
because it is expected to have no impact. If no impact assessment was prepared, how does the Minister know that there will be no impact? Can he go into more detail? Was there a pre-impact assessment to inform whether an impact assessment was required? The wording of
“no, or no significant, impact”
is problematic. As we get through as many of these SIs as the Government intend to, will the Minister clarify this point. “No impact” and “no significant impact” are two very different things, and clarification would help stakeholders and parliamentarians to understand whether the Government have done their homework. They have put a broad spectrum between “no” and “no significant” impact.
Yesterday the Minister’s colleague told me that this was simply parliamentary drafting and that she herself had wanted to change the wording of the SI. Does today’s Minister agree with yesterday’s Minister that there is no or no significant impact, and did he too ask for the drafting to be changed? There is a difference and it really matters.
One of the huge unintended consequences of the SIs that we are considering is the potential loss of access to independent scientific expertise currently provided at EU level. We currently have access to EU-wide research and analysis that can help shape our decisions, but in future that will not necessarily be available to us. I want to look, in particular, at the Eels (England and Wales) Regulations 2009, which I am sure we have all familiarised ourselves with in advance of the Committee. Regulation 8(3) of this SI removes regulation 11 from those eels regulations, which states:
“This regulation applies where the Agency determines that a reduction in the fishing effort for eels is required in order to comply with Article 5(4) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007.”
That is about establishing measures for the recovery of European eel stocks.
When those elements are removed, it is important that we consider the potential for overfishing in this area. It also provides me with the opportunity to put the Minister on the spot in relation to recent news stories about coked-up eels in the River Thames becoming hyper-active because of the high levels of cocaine in the river. It could be that the eels are considering a future career in advertising or financial services, but I suspect that there are problems with high levels of cocaine. The Department has not yet commented on that story, so will the Minister say what steps it is taking to ensure that the high levels of cocaine do not affect our eels in future?
Concerns have also been raised about the changes to inshore fisheries and conservation officers. Regulation 14(3)(b) removes references to article 42 of the control regulation from the Sea Fishing (Enforcement) Regulations 2018, which were introduced only last year. I am concerned that regulations introduced only last year, effectively by the same Government pursuing the same policy on Brexit, now requires amendment less than 12 months later. People will not have confidence that the Department drafted complete legislation in the first place if, less than 12 months later, we have to redraft elements that were passed only a year ago, when our exit from the European Union was established Government policy.
The effect of that change is that inshore fisheries and conservation officers will no longer have the power to enforce article 42 of the control regulation, which states
“fishing vessels engaged in fisheries subject to a multi-annual plan shall not tranship their catches on board of any other vessel in a designated port or in places close to the shore unless they have been weighed in accordance with Article 60 of the Control Regulation.”
That presents a risk that the rules on weighing catches will be evaded and could result in overfishing. Will the Minister explain why the change has been made and whether the consequences have been mapped out?
Turning to the European maritime and fisheries fund, regulation 13 amends the Grants for Fishing and Aquaculture Industries Regulations 2015 procedures by omitting the EMFF. Following our departure from the EU, EMFF subsidies, which are worth around £30 million a year to coastal communities, will cease to be available to the UK industry. Although many fishing communities’ access to waters has often been limited by the CFP, they have benefited from EMFF funding. In our discussions on the Fisheries Bill, the Minister alluded to changes to the EMFF being announced in future. Given that this SI creates restrictions on access to that funding, will the Minister clarify whether the Government are committed to match every penny that goes to coastal communities from a replacement EMFF fund and when the details of that fund will be announced, especially as we are now fewer than 60 days away from leaving the European Union? It will be a requirement for those coastal communities to have access to funding, which is currently uncertain.
I know that the Minister and the Government are under huge pressure to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s before we leave the EU, but the number of concerns raised by stakeholders, combined with the manner in which these SIs are often rushed out, suggest that there has not been enough time offered for consultation and pre-lay scrutiny. In yesterday’s SI we heard about the wondrous reading room that DEFRA has assembled for its SIs, which has been offered to stakeholders for prelegislative scrutiny of some SIs. Can he tell us how many stakeholders have taken part in the reading room activities on this SI? How much notice are stakeholders given to access SIs in the reading room, and will he publish details of their concerns? We have also had questions on how stakeholders who are not currently privy to the reading room can gain access.
In yesterday’s discussion I raised with the Minister a suggestion from a noble Baroness in the other place about parliamentarians’ access to the SI reading room. Before SIs are formally laid in the House, we could have access to that pre-lay scrutiny, as other stakeholders have. It is important that Members of different parties are willing to get these regulations right. Access for parliamentarians, especially those with a particular interest in these regulations, could help improve the legislation.
Before I conclude, I remind the Minister that there is something missing from this SI, which relates to a commitment he gave in the Fisheries Bill to ban electric pulse beam fishing. He promised in Committee that he would share a draft SI to ban the cruel use of electric pulse fishing in UK waters when we leave the common fisheries policy. He will recall that the Opposition tabled amendment 66 to the Fisheries Bill on 13 December 2018. On the Government side, the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) tabled amendment 92. Both amendments aim to prohibit electric pulse fishing within British fishery limits, a policy proposal that enjoys cross-party and large stakeholder support, especially in our coastal communities.
Members of different parties made good arguments in support of those amendments. They were supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party but, due to assurances made by the Minister in his response, neither I nor the hon. Member for Waveney pushed the amendments to a vote, which would have likely secured a change in the wording of the Bill and a Government defeat. In his response, the Minister proposed that
“the pulse trawling prohibition and the derogation are contained in technical conservation regulation 850/98. Article 31 of that regulation establishes the pulse trawling prohibition, and article 31a establishes the derogation. Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, regulation 850/98 will be coming across into UK law.”
He then said:
“We anticipate laying a statutory instrument to give effect to that in January”.
He gave assurances that
“placing this new clause on the face of the Bill is unnecessary”
“I am happy to share the draft of the statutory instrument that we intend to introduce in January with my hon. Friend and the shadow Minister before Report”.—[Official Report, 18 December 2018; Vol. 652, c. 232-233.]
I had hoped to work with the Minister on drafting that important SI. I politely remind him that we have two days left in January for that SI to be shared with me. I have written to him to ask for a meeting to discuss the SI but am yet to receive a response. I ask him to address in his remarks how much of that SI has been drafted already, and whether stakeholders have been consulted. When he lays it, does he intend to put it in the reading room for stakeholders’ pre-lay scrutiny, and will he give parliamentarians, especially Members who sat on the Fisheries Bill Committee, advance notice to feed into that debate?
When we considered amendments to the Fisheries Bill, I said that if we did not have a sufficiently robust SI, the Opposition would table an amendment on Report. I know that the Minister takes this area very seriously, and I say to him in all sincerity that we have 48 hours to make good on his commitment. I would be grateful if he not only replied to my letter on this, but addressed the substantive subject of electric pulse beam fishing. There is cross-party agreement that we should not have it in UK waters and that we should not allow access to Dutch trawlers that, in effect, now operate a commercial fishery for electric pulse beam trawling. It causes so much devastation, especially in the North sea.
I am concerned that there is not enough in this SI that has been properly consulted on, and stakeholders have concerns about the speed with which these SIs are being hurried through. I think there is genuine concern about some elements of this SI, and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed those when he makes his concluding remarks.
The hon. Gentleman’s comments went somewhat outside scope towards the end. I will first address those pertinent to this particular order and then touch on some of the points he made at the end, although obviously they are also for discussion at a later date.
The first point to make, which is important, is that it is great that Parliament has—for the first time—the opportunity to debate these issues at all. Let us not forget that, as an EU member, our Parliament scarcely debated these technical issues: they came down through delegated Acts from the European Commission, and there was no parliamentary scrutiny or involvement at all.
Indeed, in the context of the so-called Henry VIII powers, it is important to recognise that probably the largest Henry VIII power used in recent times was the European Communities Act 1972 itself, which used to change our primary legislation willy-nilly. Many of the changes we are making to primary legislation here are simply changing a reference from EU law to retained EU law, when the power itself was initially created by that 1972 Act. Let us recognise that, in bringing forward these statutory instruments, we are re-establishing parliamentary scrutiny to this area for the first time in almost half a century. I welcome that.
The hon. Gentleman asks how many of these statutory instruments the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has; he mentioned that there were over 300 in total. As he may know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has 98 statutory instruments to get through. He asks when we will get those passed. We will do that by exit day on 29 March. We all recognise—and it has been speculated about—that, if necessary, Parliament may have to sit longer hours to ensure that we get this job done on time. But it is absolutely our plan and intention to lay all those 98 regulations, and to pass them in time for exit day on 29 March.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the grouping. There is a large number of these SIs, so it makes sense to group them. The methodology we are applying is simply to do with the similarity of subjects. I will explain this in the context of these SIs: had we laid the second SI that deals with directly applicable EU law in time, I probably would have advised that we group the two together. But in the event, that one was not laid before this one had a debating slot, so I said we should press ahead with this one anyway. The two go reasonably well together, however, and that is why I alluded to it in the first instance. One deals with directly applicable EU law and the other deals with consequential amendments to domestic EU law, particularly around enforcement. In all other areas, where they cover similar subjects but where—for good legal order—it makes sense to have them on separate orders, we are seeking to group those.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the term “retained EU obligation” and wanted me to explain what that means. That meaning is set out clearly in schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. On page 92, it defines a “retained EU obligation” as meaning an obligation that, first,
“was created or arose by or under the EU Treaties before exit day”
“forms part of retained EU law”
as modified from that time. That interpretation was set out in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and that amendment made consequential changes to the Interpretation Act 1978. The legal understanding of a “retained EU obligation” is clear and already in statute, and therefore does not need to be addressed in this order.
The hon. Gentleman asks what we mean by “no impact”, and how we can possibly know that there is no impact, or no meaningful impact. I simply say this: it is because, right across the board, these statutory instruments are—by definition—about simply continuing, as far as we are able to, the legislative book that we have, so that on day one of leaving the European Union our legal book is exactly the same as it was on day one before we left, save that there will be different institutions and Government Ministers responsible for enforcing those.
The reason why we can confidently say that there will be no impact is that we seek to make no change with the regulations. On whether there will be any meaningful impact in some cases, one could argue that if someone was changing currency from euro to sterling, there might be some familiarisation issues. If one was changing the precise nature of what needs to be recorded on a particular piece of paper, there might be some mild familiarisation issues. We think that those will be negligible, but they are why we include the term “no significant impact”.
The hon. Gentleman asked about our scientific expertise. We will be re-joining the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and will play a full part, as an independent coastal state, to develop science for our fisheries. It is also important to recognise that, although the European Union has a role in interpreting some of the science and making recommendations based on it, the collection of the science is done largely by CEFAS—our own fisheries science agency—through its survey vessels, such as the Endeavour, and through some of the other data that it captures. The collection of the raw data of the science is currently done by CEFAS, which is a world-leading agency. Indeed, it is probably the most important contributor to the EU understanding of fisheries science, and we will continue to have access to that after we leave.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of other points. He asked me to comment on coked-up eels in the Thames. Obviously, that is some way outside the scope of the regulations, but I am sure that we will be able to address the issue should it become a problem once we are an independent coastal state and can tackle such issues. Obviously, the report was a matter of some concern. He also asked specifically about the eel regulations and, in particular, why regulation 11 had been omitted. I am told that that was a time-limited provision applicable only in 2010, so it was therefore a redundant provision that it would have made no sense to keep in the SI.
Coked-up eels are an important issue, although I did seek to make light of it. There are two paragraphs in regulation 11 of the 2009 regulations, which was omitted. Paragraph (2) is the time-limited element and came to an end in 2010. Paragraph (1), however, did not. I would be grateful if the Minister asked his officials to look at the difference between paragraphs (1) and (2).
I will seek clarification and may get an update on the difference between paragraphs (1) and (2) before I conclude my comments.
The hon. Gentleman also made some comments about the replacement for the EMFF. As he will know, the Fisheries Bill, which we debated in Committee, creates the powers for us to issue grants to coastal communities and to fishermen to help them invest in more selective gear. It is absolutely our plan to replace the EMFF funds with future fisheries funds to support selective fishing and our coastal communities.
On pulse fishing, nothing has changed. Our intention is absolutely to bring a statutory instrument forward. Hon. Members will have noticed that these days, the House has a just-in-time delivery approach to legislation and agreements, but I absolutely stand by the undertaking that I gave.
Our intention is to lay the instrument during the month of January, but I will share it with the hon. Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, who tabled an amendment to the Bill on the matter, before the Bill reaches Report. I repeat that undertaking, which I gave to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that we will lay that particular instrument before the end of the month. If we do not, because we are unable to achieve those best endeavours as we had hoped in December, we will nevertheless not move to Report until we have done so and the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend have had an opportunity to debate it.
In conclusion, these amendments are simple but necessary to ensure that certain CFP and marine management measures continue to operate effectively and can be enforced after the UK leaves the EU. The technical connections to domestic legislation are important to enable the continued enforcement and maintenance of sustainable fisheries management in the UK. The instrument marks an important step towards having a cohesive statute book for exit day and provides us with a solid foundation.
I hope the Minister can satisfy two problems in one. To return to my earlier intervention, is he satisfied that the drafting in the statutory instrument gets over the problem of its miswording as compared with the Act? Does it achieve what he wants to achieve—to transfer the EU regulations and make them enforceable, albeit with a different title?
Yes, I am satisfied, based on the point I raised with the hon. Gentleman earlier. Replacing
“enforceable Community restrictions, and enforceable EU obligations”
“retained EU restrictions and retained EU obligations”
covers all those things. It is very clear that the provision is in the context of retained EU obligations and restrictions, rather than EU obligations and restrictions themselves.
For my own satisfaction as much as anything else, the 1981 Act talks about
“enforceable Community restrictions, enforceable EU restrictions, and enforceable EU obligations”,
yet the quote that has been lifted—the quote that will be replaced—discusses only
“enforceable Community restrictions, and enforceable EU obligations”.
It therefore omits four crucial words. The SI then repeats the four words by putting them back in. The thing that concerns me is that when people come to reconcile the 1981 Act with the statutory instrument, there may be a duplication or error, in which case people will have to go back to statutory interpretation. They may need to have to look at the notes to decide what we meant.
What I will do is check the hon. Gentleman’s point and write to him. This is a point he has persisted with. I feel I have answered him, and from the notes I have seen, I am satisfied that the regulations address the two things and catch all the possibilities. I will double-check the specific point he makes just to ensure there are no omissions in the language.
I turn to the point that the shadow Minister raised about the all-important eels regulations. Regulation 11(1) states that it
“applies where the Agency determines that a reduction in the fishing effort for eels is required in order to comply with Article 5(4)”.
Article 5(4) is being deleted, because it relates to the setting up of eel management plans. That has already been completed. The two provisions are linked, in that one was effectively a requirement on the Environment Agency to determine those reductions, but that was in the context of the bit we deleted. Both become redundant, since they relate to one another.
In conclusion, we have had a comprehensive discussion on the regulations. I am grateful to Members for raising points of detail on them, which are important. The shadow Minister is right that we need to get it right. We have embarked on a huge endeavour.
Before the Minister sits down, will he address the point about parliamentarians having access to the pre-lay reading room? If he cannot answer that immediately, will he endeavour to write to us? An element of additional scrutiny is needed, especially considering the volume of SIs and the speed with which the Government intend to bring them forward. There is a lack of an opportunity to scrutinise. Scrutiny of SIs would normally happen every now and again, but in this time there is a risk of it happening every single day, and we may miss out on the opportunity. It should be made easier. Will the Minister endeavour to write to me?
The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point, but it goes beyond something I am able to agree here, since the Government across the board are looking at the issues and different Departments are approaching them in different ways. I will take away his suggestion.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about stakeholders. We are fairly open to allowing them to come in and discuss any concerns they have with us. We have a comprehensive list of fisheries stakeholders, notably the green NGOs, which already attend a number of the events we have. All the fishing representative organisations are invited as well. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Fisheries (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Draft Maritime Transport Access to Trade and Cabotage (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr Charles Walker
† Docherty-Hughes, Martin (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)
† Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
† Fysh, Mr Marcus (Yeovil) (Con)
† George, Ruth (High Peak) (Lab)
† Ghani, Ms Nusrat (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
† Grant, Bill (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Con)
† Heappey, James (Wells) (Con)
† Hill, Mike (Hartlepool) (Lab)
† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
† Jones, Susan Elan (Clwyd South) (Lab)
† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)
† Timms, Stephen (East Ham) (Lab)
† Tredinnick, David (Bosworth) (Con)
† Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
Anwen Rees, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 29 January 2019
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
Draft Maritime Transport Access to Trade and Cabotage (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Maritime Transport Access to Trade and Cabotage (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, in this oasis of calm on this ordinary Tuesday afternoon. The Department for Transport has conducted intensive work to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU, which includes ensuring that our statute book continues to function. The Department plans to lay about 65 statutory instruments before exit day; I believe that 44 of those have already been laid.
The regulations before the Committee revoke EU legislation that would otherwise be retained in UK law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. For the most part, that legislation would be redundant after we leave the EU; it would have no effect. For example, Council regulation 4058/86 is about anti-competitive measures taken by non-EU countries. It allows member states to ask the European Commission to co-ordinate retaliatory action against such countries. That remedy will not be available to the UK when we are no longer a member state.
EU regulation 3577/92 gives member states rights to provide maritime cabotage with another member state. For the information of hon. Members, I should say that “cabotage” in this context is essentially the operation of ships between two UK ports, or one-port operations to and from an offshore site. If we do not revoke that regulation, it will be retained in UK law, which would mean that member states would continue to have cabotage rights in UK waters but UK vessels would no longer have such rights across EU waters.
It is important to say that the UK has no intention of restricting cabotage by EU vessels in UK waters. By removing the statutory rights provided in the regulation, we are simply putting EU vessels on the same footing as vessels from other countries: that is, they will continue to be able to operate cabotage without any express statutory right.
In preparing this legislation, the Department has discussed the scale of activity with the UK Chamber of Shipping. In practice, relatively little cabotage is undertaken by UK-flagged vessels in EU waters. Furthermore, a number of EU countries have an open approach to cabotage, as do we. We expect there to be very little change in the provision of cabotage by UK operators in EU waters after the UK leaves the EU, and these regulations do not change that position.
There is also no reason to believe that the regulations will have any effect on service provision by EU operators in UK waters. As I mentioned, the UK has no intention of restricting cabotage: we believe that an open approach promotes competition, leading to better and more efficient services. However, the UK does not intend for member state cabotage rights to continue to be expressly guaranteed in UK legislation.
The changes made by these regulations are appropriate to ensure that on exit day, the UK statute book does not contain regulations that are redundant. The regulations are fully supported by the Government, and I commend them to the Committee.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Walker, and to serve under your chairmanship. As the Minister has mentioned, this instrument revokes legislation related to trade and cabotage that the UK will no longer benefit from, or be subject to, when we leave the European Union. All the regulations will either be revoked completely or replaced by existing UK law.
The instrument effectively takes away—albeit indirectly —the legal implementation of our signing of the OECD shipping principles for access from third countries’ flagged ships for international shipping, which is council regulation 4057/86 of 22 December 1986 on unfair pricing practices in maritime transport. Without a direct UK replacement, doing so would be a backwards step, and the instrument does not make clear how or when a replacement will be introduced.
Council regulation 3577/92 applies the principle of freedom to provide services to maritime transport within member states—that is, maritime cabotage. My understanding is that the instrument states that that principle will be retained in UK law, but does not adequately explain how. For example, it does not make clear the timeline between revocation of the EU regulation and its retention in UK law. What impact will the instrument have on public contracts that use that regulation that are currently out to tender? Again, the instrument does not cover that.
The explanatory memorandum states:
“The UK Government has agreed with its Scottish and Welsh counterparts to draft”
amendments to the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006. Will there be wider consultation on the draft regulations with trade unions, passenger groups and other stakeholders? The instrument does not make that clear at all.
Given that the Government refuse to rule out a disastrous no-deal Brexit, I wonder whether the Minister call tell us what assessment has been made of what the removal of cabotage rights will mean for UK shippers in a no-deal scenario. Have the Government made any attempt to negotiate guarantees for the extension of maritime cabotage rights with the EU in a no-deal situation? Are the Government seeking to agree reciprocal cabotage rights for EU and UK shippers as part of our longer-term relationship with the EU? Has the Minister spoken to her EU counterparts about the possibility, and is she confident of achieving that objective? Without real clarification of those points, I will struggle to say that the Opposition can support the instrument.
I rise very briefly to make just a few points. Following on from what the shadow Minister said, the Scottish National party has grave concerns that the UK Government do not intend, through this instrument, to ensure that cabotage rights for EU member states continue to be expressly guaranteed in UK legislation. That creates an essential issue of trust between European Union members and the UK, which will be outside the EU; it seems that the UK Government are not reciprocating their trust.
Continuity is critical as we are taken out of the EU. Many Opposition Members have supported instruments related to our leaving the EU because we want to maintain continuity. How can we support an instrument that does not do so? It seems the instrument would have an unacceptable impact on maritime trade, because it actively rescinds the basis on which EU ships transport, import and export, and breaks the EU shipping regime’s safety and environmental standards. Finally, the instrument does not provide continuity for shipping arrangements after we leave the EU. Therefore, at this moment in time, the SNP will not support it.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull East and for West Dunbartonshire for their contributions, which underline the importance of the maritime sector to the UK’s trading capacity and success. It is important that people understand that, despite revoking EU legislation, the UK will still operate a liberal cabotage regime. That means shipping companies registered in EU member states will still be able to operate in the UK as they do now, so very little will change.
Competition was mentioned. After exiting the EU, the UK will have a robust competition regime, overseen by the Competition and Markets Authority, and will be able to take trade remedies action in its own right under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation. If hon. Members have concerns about what may or may not happen in a no-deal scenario—obviously, this instrument is intended to ensure that we have everything in place for such a scenario—I suggest that they support the Prime Minister’s deal.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East mentioned consultation with unions. We undertook extensive consultation, not only with the UK Chamber of Shipping but with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. We can discuss many issues, but we need to ensure that, in a no-deal scenario, we continue doing business as we do today. That is what this statutory instrument is about.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. We are not only blessed with the International Maritime Organisation, across the water, but the maritime sector is a global sector and one that we take very seriously. Only last week, we launched “Maritime 2050”, working with all stakeholders. We communicate with as many agencies as we can. We want to do what we can to ensure that the maritime sector in the UK continues to be as robust as it is.
I turn to cabotage. The draft regulations will make no practical difference to cabotage arrangements in UK waters. Operators from EU or non-EU countries will be able to continue to provide cabotage services as they do now. However, EU operators will no longer have guaranteed rights, which operators from other countries similarly do not have in UK waters. Such rights would not be reciprocated for UK operators in EU waters, so it is reasonable for us to revoke them.
I am afraid the Minister did not answer my question. The question is, what discussions has the Minister had with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, which happens to be the biggest trade union in the sector, representing seafarers in this country? It seems incredible to me that the Government have not had any discussions with the RMT union. Will she be clear about that quite simple point?
What is incredible is that the RMT did not update the hon. Gentleman to say that we did indeed speak to it recently. The union made it very clear that this piece of legislation does not adversely affect its practical interests in any way. Perhaps that is the incredible piece of information that he can take back to the RMT.
The changes made in the draft regulations are appropriate. They will remove from the UK statute book regulations that would otherwise be retained after EU withdrawal. They are fully supported by the Government, and I commend them to the Committee.
Draft Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr Nigel Evans
† Allan, Lucy (Telford) (Con)
† Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)
† Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)
† Coffey, Dr Thérèse (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Drew, Dr David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Fellows, Marion (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Hodge, Dame Margaret (Barking) (Lab)
† Howell, John (Henley) (Con)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
Lammy, Mr David (Tottenham) (Lab)
† Morris, James (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
† Scully, Paul (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)
† Seely, Mr Bob (Isle of Wight) (Con)
† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
Stringer, Graham (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)
Dominic Stockbridge, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 29 January 2019
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
Draft Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. As the Committee will be aware, we are bringing forward legislation reflecting the fact that, in 2016, the population of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, to which Parliament subsequently agreed by passing the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Through the Act, we have the mechanism to ensure the transfer into UK law of legislation that is not already in place in UK law, so that the law will operate in the same way on the day after we leave the European Union as on the day before we leave the European Union.
The draft instrument will ensure that legislation preventing and managing the introduction and spread of invasive non-native species will continue to function when the UK has left the European Union. The cost of threats from invasive species has been estimated at £1.8 billion per annum and, since 2008, a Great Britain-wide strategy has been in place to deliver action to address the threats posed by such species. The draft instrument is being introduced under the correcting powers in section 8 of the 2018 Act. Principally, it makes amendments to the directly applicable EU regulation on invasive non-native species to address technical operability issues as a consequence of EU exit.
The devolved Administrations were closely engaged in developing the statutory instrument. As set out in part 1, it applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also extends to Scotland in respect of imports and exports, and to the offshore marine area. Domestic implementation of policy on non-native invasive species is a devolved matter. The Scottish Government have chosen to make the rest of the regulation operable in Scotland by means of their own secondary legislation, as is their right.
The draft instrument maintains existing safeguards. It does not create new policy or change current policy, and does not therefore put any new or greater administrative or economic burdens on businesses or other stakeholders. Although there was no statutory requirement to consult publicly on the instrument, officials have held discussions with key stakeholders from different sectors in its development. Stakeholders had the opportunity to view the draft instrument before it was laid before Parliament and did not raise any concerns. In fact, the first time we were made aware of any concerns was by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last Thursday, and I am happy to answer questions on that. In essence, a lot of the issues the RSPCA raised will be addressed by the enforcement regulations—another statutory instrument will be introduced once this SI has been passed—which also refer to elements of policy on management plans, muntjac deer, raccoon dogs and similar issues. The constraint in the 2018 Act’s mechanism for introducing SIs is that this is not about changing policy, but about making the law operable, and it would not therefore be appropriate to make those changes at this point or in this SI.
Part 2 the draft instrument makes a small amendment to section 11 of the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932, which, I should point out, does not apply to Northern Ireland and never has. The amendment ensures that we treat EU member states in the same way as other countries with regard to the restrictions on imports of species to which the 1932 Act applies.
Part 3 sets out the rest of the amendments made by the draft instrument, some of which are purely textual, such as removing references in the EU legislation to the UK as an EU member state. Others make devolved Ministers responsible for a range of measures necessary to operate the existing system, such as the obligation to establish and implement action plans to address the pathways of introduction and spread of these species.
The existing EU list of species, which is fundamental to preventing and managing the spread and introduction of invasive species, will continue to apply across all parts of the UK on exit day. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in Scotland for imports and exports, the EU list will become the list of species of special concern. We will retain the requirement to review this list at least every six years. Any change to the list will be informed by robust scientific advice provided by the UK replacement for the Commission’s scientific forum, and the underpinning risk analysis will be based on the criteria and principles set out in the EU regulation. A decision to amend the list can be made only by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Ministers in the other parts of the United Kingdom.
The instrument retains the obligation for Ministers to be supported by a committee and advised by a scientific forum. We propose that the Programme Board on Non-native Species, drawing on existing and extensive knowledge and experience, take on the role of the EU Committee, and the Non-native Risk Analysis Panel, which is often referred to as NNRAP, will take on the role of the EU’s scientific forum. These GB bodies will be extended to include Northern Ireland. The programme board delivers strategic consideration of the threat of invasive non-native species and is made up of senior representatives from across the Great Britain Administrations and their agencies.
The UK has significant expertise in invasive non-native species, including in the area of risk analysis, where we are among the leaders within Europe. NNRAP is a core group of risk analysis experts, chaired by Professor John Mumford of Imperial College London, who provide advice on risks associated with non-native species and pathways of introduction. We will continue to draw on the expertise of these highly respected scientists from the UK and overseas.
Invasive non-native species are no respecters of boundaries or borders, and the United Kingdom is committed to ongoing co-operation with the EU, its member states and other countries after exit. This instrument retains the obligation under the EU regulation for Ministers to make every effort to ensure close co-ordination with other countries, including, where appropriate, under regional and international agreements. There are strong references to that in the convention on biological diversity and the Bern convention, which we are already full members of.
With regard to ensuring transparency and accountability of environmental performance, the instrument will still require Ministers, in line with the current regulation, to report by June 2019, and every six years thereafter, on the implementation of the regulation, as well as to retain the duty to review and report by June 2021 on how the regulation has operated. More broadly, the Government published draft clauses on environmental principles just before Christmas to provide for independent scrutiny of the UK Government on the implementation of environmental law, and those are currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny via the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
The Government were strongly supportive of the strict measures in the EU invasives regulation when it came into force in 2015. These measures remain essential to tackle the significant threats that these species pose to our native plants and animals, and this instrument will ensure operability so that the strict protections that are in place for these species are maintained when we leave the European Union.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I welcome the Minister to her place; we will see an awful lot of one another in the coming weeks. I am not sure which of the 88 SIs we have to get through before the end of March this one is, but she is no doubt ticking them off on her calendar every day.
I will start by making the point that this process is not the way to run any Government; it is not effective scrutiny. As an Opposition, we will do the best we can, but the reality is that this process is being greatly rushed. It is difficult to know the enormity of what we are all taking on, because although this SI looks like a bit of a nothing SI, in fact, as anyone who reads anything about animal or plant diseases knows, these species could, effectively, wipe out the United Kingdom if we get this process wrong. Sadly, there is every chance that we will get it wrong.
I will also make the point that, as much as the civil service has done a very effective job—I am sure of that—a lot of this process is about taking out the words “Member State” and sticking in their place the words “appropriate authority”. I do not know how much European legislation and regulation over the last 45 years will be affected, but someone has had to do an awful lot of work, and I do not know whether they have done it well or whether they have covered all the bases.
The one bit of good news is, of course, that if any species are about to invade the British Isles, they can at least now get a British passport. That, no doubt, will make all the difference in terms of whether they arrive or not. [Laughter.] I am glad you got the joke, Mr Evans —at least you are awake.
This statutory instrument matters. I asked a parliamentary question in December about trees and tree diseases. There are now 1,820 notifiable tree diseases that affect various species in this country. The idea that this is a marginal, out-of-the-way statutory instrument misses the main point that disease is ever-present. We know that ash dieback and oak processionary moth have taken out our major trees in this country. We have to look at the impact very carefully.
When I sat on the EFRA Committee some years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and I looked at the environmental liability directive. When you get into these things, you realise the implications in terms of not only the diseases that have come in, but who was responsible for them—if they were spread by humankind. It is very difficult to lay the blame; we still do not know what caused foot and mouth back in the early noughties, although there are those who make allegations about how it was brought into this country. To put that into perspective, it cost the British economy £8 billion. Thankfully, the rerun was not as bad. As the Minister said, a cost of £1.8 billion a year has been allocated to the implications of the issues before us. So we are on our guard, because we know what the implications of these things can be.
I have a number of questions, which I accept that the Minister may not be able to entirely answer, so I am quite happy for her to write to me. I make the point again that I made throughout the Agriculture Bill Committee—many of us are in the same place again today: it is rather strange that we cannot even get the four nations of the United Kingdom to agree to some commonality over something as basic as invasive species control. That does not bode well for the future. Scotland may well be very competent to bring forward its own secondary legislation, but for those who farm on the Scottish borders it is not much consolation that Scotland will do things in its own way. It may do them better than us, or it may do them worse than us, but the fact is that it is not doing them with us. That undermined the effectiveness of the Agriculture Bill, which is still in this place, and, sadly, it is likely to mean that we will have some conflict if there is a disease outbreak between Scotland and England. It does not look good that we cannot even get the four countries of the United Kingdom to agree on a particular policy.
The House of Lords voted on this measure last week—I thought it was quite a good debate. A number of questions arose that the Government have not yet answered. First, my noble Friend Lord Adonis asked the Minister, Lord Gardiner, what other pieces of legislation this measure was in synch with. He asked what had happened to the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. They were on the Order Paper for debate last week, but did not come forward.
The explanation was that they had been stuck in a Joint Committee, but it makes it very difficult, certainly for the Opposition, to make sense of these issues when things are put on the Order Paper and expected to be debated—and it makes sense that they are debated together—but they then disappear. Likewise, I am not sure about the link—the Minister did refer to it—between this measure and the Invasive Non-native Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Regulations 2019, which clearly has an impact on the grey squirrel, muntjac and other species. What measures are being taken against those particular invasive species? It would be nice to know what the order of these bits of legislation is and what happens if we pass this one, which we may well do today, but then we have these other SIs, which have not been passed. We have just over a month before 29 March, but it is not at all clear where we will be in terms of the whole way in which the Government are performing.
Let me quickly look at what the Lords came up with. Among the key things they identified was that the preamble to much of the European regulation regarding invasive alien species is not included in this secondary legislation. Yet, according to all the different non-governmental organisations I have been in touch with, that is quite an important element of the way we lay down how these invasive species are dealt with. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have looked at how they can include that preamble not in today’s statutory instrument, obviously, but in a future statutory instrument.
In terms of what the Minister said about how we cobble together the organisations that will take over from the EU, I am a little confused about where this all fits with regard to the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, and particularly the office for environmental protection. Will the office for environmental protection oversee this piece of legislation, even though specific bodies she has referred to may have been given responsibility? The criticism advanced by those who welcome the Bill but who would say it needs to go further is that they are not sure what that body’s powers and responsibilities will be. It would be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about that.
This SI does not seem to change policy, but why was the Government’s commitment in this field—the Secretary of State has said on many occasions that they intend to enhance our environmental credentials—not taken up in regard to this SI? Are we just going to cut and paste from existing European regulations, which does not improve our environmental credentials at all?
It is unclear why there was no impact assessment. The Government argued that one was not necessary, because the regulations did not have a particular impact on the public or private sectors, but that seems strange, given that they will have a huge impact if they go wrong. It would be interesting to know what analysis has been done of the additional costs on business, individuals and the public sector if—as is likely—we find there is an impact as a result of invasive species coming on to our shores. That is linked with enforcement, because although we have these new bodies, I am not clear what powers they will have.
That links directly to the enforcement and permitting regulations. Have they been consulted on and agreed? The Minister could nod or not. Those regulations are the one bit of this that have been quite controversial. They effectively mean that if a rescue centre takes in a squirrel, the centre is told to dispatch it, because it will not be able to release it back into the wild. There are implications for muntjac as well. I am not clear what powers will be there or who will enforce them. Are we talking about a series of fines for people who take in a grey squirrel that may be injured? Again, that is not clear. It is all involved with the enforcement regime. The RSPCA and other animal aid organisations have been very unhappy in terms of whether this could ever be enforced or properly introduced.
I have a few more questions for the Minister. The consultation on these regulations was undertaken on an “informal” and “limited” basis. I am not sure whether we should introduce legislation without consulting the appropriate organisations. The consulted organisations were rather limited—for example, I do not believe that the National Farmers Union was consulted, even though the regulations will have a big impact on British agriculture if and when they go wrong. It would be useful to know whether the Government, as part of their environmental Bill, which is a good bit of legislation, intend to have a much bigger consultation to ensure that people are fully informed on the impact of alien invasive species.
I have two more questions, and I am sure other hon. Members will have others. On the responsibilities exercised by the current EU bodies, to what extent—I think particularly of the trade control and expert system database—will we still have access to operational functions that the EU carries out? The EU has always been at its best in recognising that this is a pan-European problem; we cannot pretend that it just starts and ends at our coast. That is particularly important, because these issues affect marine species, as well as species on the land and in the air. I am not sure what we will do about the TRACES database—it is important, because it is something we share. British influence has been fundamental in the way we have built up that collection of data. It would be interesting to know whether we will have access to it or whether we will have to set up our own. Should the EU have an outbreak, will we get to share that information? That really matters, because when something happens, it will be too late. We need to do much more preventive and precautionary work.
My final question is the usual one. Should we crash out of the EU on 29 March, this legislation will presumably come into play immediately. There is no transition, so it has to be foolproof, but it is not clear how the different SIs fit in. It is unclear what we will be able to execute. There are no bodies at the moment; they are not set up. We have no environmental Bill or office for environmental protection. It would be interesting to know what contingencies the Minister has put in place, should we end up in a no-deal scenario and face an immediate problem, given that African swine fever is already on the continent and is, sadly, coming our way. We have done our best to prevent that, but we have to be very aware of these things.
Those are a number of questions, which I am sure the Minister will try to answer. I am happy for her to write to me on some of them. This SI is really important, but it does not look to be anything other than a cut and paste from the current EU regulation. Should it go wrong, it will have a major impact on our economy and on people living here, particularly in the farm economy. I hope that we get more warning of what measures are coming our way—this one was quite a sudden imposition on us today—and that we get to know the fuller picture, which the Government should give us. If nothing else, they have to explain to the people affected what should be done in preparation, particularly if we crash out, and what we should do anyway, as a country, in terms of good preparation work to forestall the worst impact of these invasive alien species.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your wise chairmanship, Mr Evans.
I listened to the Minister’s speech intently, and I have three specific questions to ask for the record. She talked about the scrutiny committees. Will she clarify whether they will be independent, and what weight they will have when their recommendations come to the Government? Secondly, will the UK have continued access to the EU invasive alien species information system? Thirdly, will the Government continue their commitment to ensure that UK invasive species legislation and public policy aligns with the Bern convention, the convention on biological diversity and the UN sustainable development goals?
Will the Minister clarify what she said about the statutory instrument being relevant to the campaign to control the spread of the grey squirrel and, by implication, to defend our native red squirrel? Will she update the Committee on how the campaign is going and, in that context, on whether the Government consider the ring-necked parakeet to be a non-native invasive species? The birds are extremely loud and numerous in many parts of the country. They are not only driving out our domestic birds but disturbing the peace significantly, in particular in the summer months in gardens and parks in a growing part of England.
Will the Minister comment on how the SI will protect the status of the very large proportion of EU nationals who work for our plant and animal health services? As she knows, they make a huge contribution and have done so for many years. What can she say to reassure them about their future after the end of March?
At the end of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, he asked how foolproof the SI is in the event of a crash-out no deal. Will the Minister clarify that? Is the SI fit for purpose in the event that the Government get the deal, and will it still be fit for purpose and do everything that she hopes and wants it to do if there is a crash-out no deal?
Will the Minister update the Committee on progress in the processing of the very large number of SIs coming before the House from her Department and other Departments? In the Health Committee yesterday, I asked the Health Secretary whether he was confident that the huge number of SIs due to come before the House in the next few weeks would get through in time for the end of March, even just those required for a no-deal crash-out Brexit. That follows comments by the Minister’s neighbouring former MP in Suffolk, Ben Gummer, in the Evening Standard yesterday. He said that it was simply impossible for the Government to get all the necessary legislation on to the statute book by the end of March. The Health Secretary denied that; he said that he was very confident, at least with SIs in his departmental responsibility, that they would get through. How confident is the Minister that all the relevant and necessary Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs SIs will get through in time?
The other remark the Health Secretary made that received quite a lot of coverage in today’s media—I do not know whether the Minister saw it—was that, in the event of no deal and a shortage of essential food supplies reaching our supermarkets, medicines and medical equipment would take priority over food supplies. Is that a conversation that the Health Secretary has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Minister? Is she aware that food would be sacrificed to medicine in the event of a crash-out, no-deal Brexit?
I would be grateful if the Minister responded to some of those questions in her closing remarks.
It is a pleasure to respond to the questions that have been raised. In answer to the hon. Member for Rotherham, the independent bodies are already in place, and they will continue to be in place. On access to notification and intelligence sharing, the system enables critical information to be shared quickly between member states and the Commission. We have developed contingency plans to mitigate the impact of losing access to the system; I will not say at this point that an agreement has been made that we can continue to access it, but I assure her that there is an obligation for Ministers to co-operate with one another. I expect that obligation to be upheld, especially with reference to treaties of which we are full members, such as the Bern convention and the convention on biological diversity.
I remind the Committee that it is not just from the European Union that diseases can enter. As someone who represents a port constituency, I know the level of detail that authorities go into when checking that things like pallets do not have the bugs and beetles that can sometimes invade unduly. A lot of work also goes on, under a risk-based approach, to inspect the importation of trees and so on, for similar reasons. There is no reason for any of that to change, and the advice from the independent bodies will still be there.
The sustainable development goals are not strictly treaties, although they have been agreed worldwide. They tend to be quite broad, but of course the United Kingdom Government have signed up to them, and we will continue to work on the outcomes that we have signed up to.
To reply briefly to the right hon. Member for Exeter, the point of the draft regulations is set out in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act; they are not about the status of EU nationals or other issues to which he referred. He asked whether the regulations are fit for purpose—yes, they are. I have confidence in the legal advice that was given to my noble Friend Lord Gardiner, who is the Minister responsible for this portfolio and who has signed a transparency statement to the effect that the regulations are to make the system operable and no more than that—they do not seek to get into other issues.
The hon. Member for Stroud raised several points about what more we could do on biosecurity policy. The point is that we are active in this space. I think it was last year that the Secretary of State wrote to the Commission to ask it to take greater action against the spread of Xylella fastidiosa. While ash dieback affects one species, at least 50 species would be affected by Xylella fastidiosa, so we were very keen for the Commission to step up its actions. There are a number of ways in which we are already active; that relationship will continue, although I accept that we will not be part of the European Union.
I have not read the article by my former right hon. Friend Ben Gummer, so I am not sure what he was referring to. I appreciate that he may have some doubt about the primary legislation that may be needed, but I have every confidence that the statutory instruments drafted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and by the devolved Administrations will mean that we will be ready for exit day as decreed.
I cannot remember how many SIs we have got through so far; this is my third affirmative SI, but a number of negative SIs have already been through the sifting Committee. There is another way in which the drafting of such statutory instruments is checked: the peers and hon. Members on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and the lawyers who advise it, scrutinise them to ensure that the drafting procedure is suitable. That Committee noted that the draft regulations have not been referred to the House; it is happy with them as drafted, in legal terms.
I hear what the Minister says. We do not doubt the skill of those who advise the Department, but a Treasury Minister confirmed to me before Christmas that 800 pieces of secondary legislation would need to be passed by 29 March in the event of no deal. The draft regulations are not particularly contentious, but we have been here for 35 minutes. Does the Minister genuinely believe that we can get through the outstanding pieces of legislation in two months? There are probably 700.
Within DEFRA, we have taken an approach of bringing several SIs into one, for instance when amending references to EU law and EU obligations so that they refer to retained EU law and retained EU obligations. For example, a statutory instrument that we debated yesterday will change several primary Acts—four, I think—and make three cross-cutting environmental amendments. We are grouping operability changes that commonly require several SIs within one SI. Those instruments often relate to one directive. The draft instrument covers one directive in its own right, which is why we are only discussing invasive species.
I appreciate the hon. Member for Stroud’s concerns about the draft instrument. As I say, it has been through the JCSI. It was laid in the first week of December, and prior to that, DEFRA opened it up to a group of stakeholders to look at, so that they could talk it through with our officials and raise any questions. So far, that has only happened to one other SI, to which he referred: the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Unfortunately, before that draft instrument made its way through the JCSI process, and in response to feedback from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Secretary of State took the decision to change it. I thought my noble Friend Lord Gardiner answered questions on that rather well. The draft instrument was again laid before Parliament last night and will come back before the House in due course. I do not have a date for its return. That shows how, via stakeholders coming to the Government with suggested changes, we have been able to effectively consider the draft instrument before reaching the Committee.
On the hon. Gentleman’s wider points, I fully understand the biosecurity threats.
Does that affect the draft Invasive Non-native Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Regulations, which were subject to consultation? Will that instrument be crucial for—dare I say it—the grey squirrel and the muntjac? It is entirely in line with this draft instrument, is it not, so when will it come forward?
As I just tried to explain, by going through this process with stakeholders we have changed that draft SI, which is why it was withdrawn and again laid last night.
The Government have not received any comments on this draft instrument, apart from what the RSPCA said about muntjacs and raccoon dogs. As I have tried to outline, the draft instrument is about operability, not changing policy. The draft enforcement regulations will be presented to the House, and I am happy to arrange for the hon. Gentleman to have a specific briefing on that. To reiterate, this is not about changing policy.
The hon. Gentleman was also concerned that the four nations could not get together. That is the element of devolution. There are quite a large number of our SIs over which the four nations have agreed to come together in different ways, but there are also those that the Governments have decided to approach through their own legislative vehicles. That is perfectly acceptable and respects the devolution process.
However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have had a Great Britain strategy since 2008, and we will continue to use that body to support all the Administrations as we work closely together on invasives. I particularly stress that the external borders of the United Kingdom are still a responsibility of the UK Government. However, the Scottish Government have decided to pursue domestic regulation through their own front.
On the impact assessment, the draft regulations will have no impact on external bodies, such as businesses, charities and voluntary bodies. A small cost is estimated for public sector bodies taking on the Commission’s functions, but those are limited and below the £5 million threshold, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is the level for publishing an impact assessment.
On the link between this statutory instrument and the invasive alien species order, this instrument will make the regulations controlling the spread and management of invasive alien species operable after we have left the EU. It will apply strict reservations on a list, to which I have already referred, so that such species cannot be imported, kept, bred, transported, sold, used or exchanged, allowed to reproduce or be grown, cultivated or released into the environment.
That list includes grey squirrels, although the debate is not about grey squirrels. The EU regulation has been in place since 2015. What has happened very recently is that Natural England has said it will not be issuing any licences for the release of grey squirrels. That may be a suitable debate for Westminster Hall, rather than here, but I point out that we know that grey squirrels threaten the existence of red squirrels, which are our native species. We need to stick up for the red squirrel.
The legal advice I have received is that we do not need to carry over the preambles. Section 6(3) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act is specific, and shows that the interpretation of the regulation that happens today—which is what the preamble is about—will be the same as that used post-exit. Any changes in policy in the future will have to be decided by Parliament through changes to regulations.
I assure the hon. Member for Stroud that the cross-cutting principles are effective in UK law already—he will be aware of the proposals in the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. In terms of oversight, the bodies to which he referred will continue. Will the office for environmental protection oversee this area? As it stands, the bodies are there to provide advice, which is taken. The basic function of the OEP, which the Government have set out, is effectively to replace the Commission in respect of whether we are applying environmental law as we should. It provides an alternative way to do that, but of course Parliament is also there to scrutinise and hold the Government to account.
The hon. Member for Stroud asked why this statutory instrument does not change policy. That is not what we are allowed to do through these SIs—that is for another day. On the databases, I have referred already to the fact that we cannot say today that we will have access to this database. That will be the subject of ongoing negotiation and discussion. However, there is an obligation to co-operate. I am aware that this is a cut and paste, which the hon. Gentleman referred to. That is the point; it is what this SI is supposed to be.
Are we negotiating over the TRACES database? Will we pay money to have access to that, or are we going to have our own database? That idea makes me feel cold, given that we are not necessarily that good at developing these databases, as even the Minister would accept. These things need to be understood. If we are shut out of that database, where will we get our information about invasive species from?
I have to say to the Committee that this is not my portfolio, so I have not been involved in the day-to-day negotiation about the IT elements. I want to point out that we have developed contingency plans to mitigate the impacts of losing access to the system. There is still the potential to make those changes as we move forward. If my noble Friend Lord Gardiner would like to say something that is different or to enhance what I have said, I will of course write to the hon. Gentleman.
In conclusion, this is a cut and paste from the existing EU regulation to ensure that when we leave the European Union the functions continue to have legal effect. I assure the Committee that the Government take the issue of biosecurity extremely seriously. We are very conscious of the concerns about African swine fever. We recently took action very deliberately against species that were being reintroduced on licence in the Forest of Dean, killing beavers, because they had a disease that was brought into this country. Unfortunately, they were imported from Germany, against the voluntary code of practice, which meant they should have come only from Norway or other parts of the United Kingdom. We will take action, even when it is unpopular, to make sure that we preserve the biosecurity of nature and animals in this country. I hope that the Committee will support the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.