With the leave of the House, we will debate motions 2 to 5 together.
I beg to move,
That the draft Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.
With this, we shall consider the following motions:
That the draft Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
That the draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
That the draft Animal Feed (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 5 February 2019, be approved.
The instruments, which all concern food and feed safety, relate to those substances collectively known as “regulated products” and to animal feed hygiene and marketing. They are made under the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to carry out necessary amendments to the overarching food regulations so that those can continue to protect public health from risks that may arise in connection with the consumption of food. These are protections that our constituents would expect us to pass.
As the UK leaves the European Union, the Government remain committed to maintaining the high standards of food and feed safety and consumer protection that we enjoy in this country. As some hon. Members are aware, I have recently presented numerous instruments that will help to deliver a functioning body of food and feed law. I say “some hon. Members” because, by and large, they have been taken upstairs—so I like to think that today is a bit like me moving from BBC2 to the primetime slot on BBC1. The instruments will correct deficiencies in the regulations to ensure that the UK is prepared in the event we leave the EU without an agreement.
As with all the previous statutory instruments I have presented, I wish to make it clear that these instruments make no policy changes and that it is not our intention to make any at the present time. Similarly, they are crucial to maintaining the effective controls and standards that protect public health and consumer interests in relation to regulated products used in and on food and animal feed.
As the Minister knows, in the ceramics industry contact with food is a huge part of the regulations. What assurances can he give to me that I can relay to the industry that should Europe change its own arrangements for contact rates and provisions—in other words, if our regulatory systems diverge—producers in this country that are in line with our regulations could still sell to the EU?
I shall be able to talk in more detail about the ceramics issue, which I can well imagine is of great interest to the hon. Gentleman. However, the point of the regulations is to port across everything that is currently on the EU’s statute book. We have 100% regulatory alignment at this stage, because we are a member state at present; if we have a withdrawal agreement in place, there will of course be a seamless bridge. The purpose of the instruments is to ensure that that seamless bridge comes about regardless.
If, when we are a third country, we as a nation, and this as a sovereign Parliament, decided to make a change to the regulations, we would have to do so with the consent of Members. All the considerations would be taken into account, including the impact on areas such as the one that the hon. Gentleman represents, and I am pretty sure that he would be a very loud voice in any future debate. I hope that that answers his question.
What consultation has there been with the devolved nations?
I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear with me. I will definitely come on to that, in respect of all the SIs.
As I said to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), the purpose of the SIs is to ensure that UK domestic legislation that implements directly applicable EU regulations continues to function effectively after exit day. The proposed amendments are critical to ensuring that there is minimal disruption to novel foods, feed additives and other regulated products collectively if we do not reach a deal with the EU.
The first SI, the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019—also known as Food Contact Materials—refers to all items that are intended to come into contact with food, both directly and indirectly. They include processing line machinery, transport containers—not vehicles, but the actual containers of food—kitchen equipment, packaging, cutlery as sold and dishes and utensils as sold, and can be made from a variety of materials including metal, paper, plastic, wood, rubber and, indeed, ceramics.
Let me say for the benefit of Members who do not live and breathe these regulations, in the unlikely event that there are any, that specific examples of food contact materials are tin cans for holding baked beans and plastic bottles for holding water. The regulations will ensure that those materials are robust enough to do the job, but safe enough to do it without transferring anything to the foodstuffs.
The instrument is critical in meeting our priority of maintaining after we leave the European Union the very high standards of food safety and consumer protection that we currently enjoy in this country. It will ensure that provisions in four main pieces of EU food contact materials legislation continue to function effectively in the UK after exit day. The first is European Commission regulation 1935/2004, which sets out the framework for all materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. The regulations then become progressively more specific. The second is regulation 10/2011, on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. The third is regulation 450/2009, on active and intelligent materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. The fourth is regulation 2023/2006, on good manufacturing practice for materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.
The instrument also makes relevant changes to other specific technical pieces of legislation on individual types of food contact material. It will ensure that regulatory controls for food contact materials continue to function effectively after exit day, that public health continues to be protected, and that high standards of food safety are maintained. Consumers must be protected against potential adverse effects of exposure to some substances used in the manufacture of materials and articles that are in contact with the food that we eat. The instrument will ensure that the effectiveness of the controls that we have is maintained.
This instrument, and the other SIs that we are debating today as part of the fourth and final bundle, will transfer responsibilities incumbent on the European Commission from Ministers in the European Council to Ministers in England, Wales and Scotland and the devolved authority in Northern Ireland. It will also transfer responsibility currently incumbent on the European Food Standards Authority to the relevant food safety authority: the Food Standards Agency, for which I hold ministerial responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Food Standards Scotland north of the border. The change will also ensure a robust system of control to underpin UK businesses’ ability to trade both domestically and internationally.
Let me now say something about the impact of this instrument on industry. The proposed amendments are expected to have a very minimal impact on businesses that produce or use food contact materials or articles. Existing provisions have received very positive feedback from our previous consultations, and there is no evidence that the changes required will be detrimental to industry. I was asked about the devolved Administrations. They have consented to the instrument. We liaise closely at official level with our opposite numbers, and, as with the instruments that we have already debated, throughout this month we have engaged positively with the devolved Administrations throughout the development of these instruments. Let me place on the record again my thanks to them for their positive engagement with me and my team.
I am pleased by the Minister’s reassurance about the commitment to the extremely high standards of food safety that exist in our country, but will he consider making some improvements as we take on this responsibility in our sovereign Parliament? A number of my constituents are worried about claims that many of the plastic items used to store and protect food are biodegradable or recyclable when that is actually not true. Will the Minister consider improving the current standards in future, so that we can have proper regulation and proper communications about how biodegradable or recyclable plastics really are?
It is good to see my hon. Friend here, but not so good to see her there. She knows what I mean.
Along with the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), I chaired the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer for many years. There is definitely talk in the lobbying community about plastics and their impact, and, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West knows, pieces of academic work make claims in that respect. Those claims are certainly not proven, and there is a wide range of scientific debate about them.
I take my hon. Friend’s point about biodegradable plastics, but it is not specifically a matter for me. The instruments deal with food standards and food safety. They do not make any degradations in our food safety, but neither do they make any improvements; they are housekeeping measures.
The second SI, the Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, is also crucial to meeting our objective of ensuring that the current high standards are maintained. It was made under the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to make necessary amendments to retained EU genetically modified food and feed law. It will ensure that regulatory controls for GM food and feed continue to function effectively after exit day, and that public and animal health and, crucially public confidence are protected. The EU law governing GM food and feed provides a harmonised regulatory framework, including transparent and time-limited procedures for robust risk assessment and authorisation before these products can be placed on the market, and we believe that those strict controls must be maintained.
Food safety is a critical element in the fight against antimicrobial resistance and the tackling of superbugs. Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in this area after we have left the European Union?
I would have been disappointed if my hon. Friend had not raised the subject of antimicrobial resistance. He is ingenious in managing to get it into every debate. He knows of my commitment in that regard, not just domestically but internationally. This country is rightly respected and looked to for its work in the field, and I thank him for putting that on the record.
We have received assurances from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that in no way will any of our food standards be lowered as we leave the EU. That is very important to all our constituents, not least the people of Taunton Deane. Will the Minister assure me that we will stick to that, and, indeed, that there might be opportunities to raise our standards so that we are effectively a leader in many areas of the food, farming and animal feed sector?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is an interesting one to bring up at this moment. We have been very clear across Government from the Prime Minister down, including the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals as a result of leaving the EU, and that we will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure that standards are protected and we are not therefore left at a competitive advantage. My hon. Friend mentioned the Environment Secretary, who made that point very clearly at the Oxford farming conference, I think earlier this month. That is very much where this House is, and that is very much where I am as Minister responsible for food safety. I hope that is clear.
The law governing GM food and feed provides a harmonised regulatory framework. The authorisation process involves a safety evaluation based on rigorous scrutiny of scientific data by the European Food Safety Authority in line with international guidelines. GM events for use as food and/or feed are authorised by means of individual pieces of legislation. Authorisations are granted for a period of 10 years, which may be renewed if, following assessment of the required renewal data, the previous risk assessment remains valid. The rules also provide for the withdrawal of authorisations in appropriate circumstances.
There are also very clear requirements for the traceability of genetically modified organisms and the labelling of GM food and feed products, and importantly this enables products to be tracked through all stages of the supply chain. So the instrument ensures the continuation of these robust and effective GM food and feed safety labelling controls after we leave the EU.
As was the case with the other SIs, this instrument will make no change to policy beyond the technical amendments necessary, but it assigns powers and responsibilities currently incumbent on EU entities to appropriate UK entities. So I want to be clear that powers to make legislation, and risk management functions currently held by the European Commission to authorise GM food and feed and revoke or modify authorisations, will be assigned to Ministers in England, Wales and Scotland and the devolved authority in Northern Ireland. Those include discretionary powers to set down detailed rules that work for the UK in relation to the UK reference lavatory—laboratory, sorry, not lavatory; that would be strange.
Returning to industry, no changes to the way in which UK food or feed businesses are operated or regulated will arise from this instrument. There will be a continuation of the robust authorisation system I have outlined, the labelling requirements I have touched on, and the controls for GM food and feed that UK industry is familiar with and relies upon. The instrument enables the continued use of GM food and feed authorised in the UK. Again, the devolved Administrations provided their consent for it.
Thirdly, the Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 are another instrument to be made under the powers of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Novel foods are those that are relatively new or do not have a significant history of consumption in the EU. Those foods must be assessed for safety before they are introduced into the market to ensure that they do not present a risk to public health. This instrument will ensure that the regulation of and controls on novel foods continue to function effectively after exit day and that public health is protected. Anything permitted prior to exit day will be permitted after exit day. The purpose of the instrument—which again makes no policy changes—is to rectify deficiencies in the retained legislation. So foods new to the market are not assumed to be safe; that is where we have decided to place the burden. In the interests of public health the regulations require novel foods to have a pre-market safety assessment to identify whether they pose a risk and how that risk could be managed. The regulations will ensure that the existing levels of public health protection and food safety are maintained.
The EU framework regulation on novel foods is supported by four implementing measures, which provide the detailed rules, data requirements and administrative procedures governing all novel products. This instrument will ensure that provisions in the four main pieces of EU legislation continue to function effectively after we leave. They will correct the following retained EU law: regulation 2015/2283, which is the main framework for regulation on novel foods; regulation 2017/2469, which provides administrative and scientific requirements for the applications; regulation 2017/2468, which provides administrative and scientific requirements concerning traditional foods from third countries, which of course there would be; and regulation 2017/2470, which establishes a Union list of novel foods. Finally, regulation 2018/456 establishes procedural steps for the consultation process to determine the status of novel foods.
I know that food businesses watch these proceedings with interest, and there will be no change in how they are regulated. The instrument will, however, ensure that the robust system of controls that underpins UK businesses’ ability to trade both domestically and internationally continues. Again, we have engaged positively with the devolved Administrations, and we have their consent for this instrument.
Finally, the Animal Feed (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which concern feed law, are also made under powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We are making necessary amendments to the overarching food and feed regulations under the powers in the Act, so that we continue to protect the public. The primary purpose of this instrument is to ensure that feed legislation continues to function effectively. The retained EU legislation on animal feed encompasses requirements relating to feed additives, feed hygiene, sampling—when local authorities do sampling, for instance—marketing, and the use of feed, including labelling.
This instrument will fix the inoperabilities in the retained EU legislation and provide a continuation of the legal requirements that already exist in EU law. These proposed amendments are equally crucial to maintain a functioning statute book and to maintain public safety and confidence. The instrument introduces a number of changes, but the purpose of them is to ensure that the animal feed regulations remain operable after EU exit.
Risk assessment responsibilities, currently incumbent on EFSA, will be assigned to the Food Standards Agency and, again, Food Standards Scotland north of the border, and again, we have had consent from the devolved Administrations.
These four statutory instruments are all necessary to ensure that our legislation relating to food and animal feed safety and hygiene continues to work effectively after EU exit day. No policy changes are being made. I hope the House will support the proposed amendments in these four instruments to ensure that continuation, and I commend them to the House.
I start by thanking the Minister for introducing these statutory instruments on the Floor of the House this afternoon and for summarising them so clearly for us. I would also like to start, as I always do, by putting on record once again my disappointment and concern that there could be as few as 10 days before we leave the EU, yet we are still dealing with crucial legislation concerning our food safety. The Government have run down the clock for more than two years and only now, when the deadline is so close, are we considering important legislation that could impact the public’s health if we do not get it right. Of course, that is because the threat of no deal is still hanging over us. I know that the Minister wants to get this right, which is why I have supported him throughout the discussions on these SIs, but I am still disappointed at the way the Government have handled this.
These statutory instruments will transfer tasks and roles assigned to the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority to an appropriate UK entity. Will the Minister please confirm who that appropriate UK entity will be? While we are taking these SIs as a group, which I welcome, I would like to raise some concerns about each of them in turn.
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that this is as much to do with DEFRA as with the Department of Health and Social Care, and it shows why we need a food strategy in this country so that we can sort out some of the nonsense caused by the overlap between different Departments.
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I discussed with the Government and Opposition Whips where responsibility for these SIs fell. There is so much crossover between food and health policy, and we are doing the best we can with the hand we have been dealt, but we should probably look more into this issue going forward.
I do not want to take my hon. Friend off the point too much, but it crossed my mind when I was listening to the Minister—I apologise to him for coming in late— that issues have been raised in the press, certainly recently, about imported food and the use of chlorine to cleanse it. Does my hon. Friend have a view about that?
Yes. The issue of chlorine-washed chicken did come up in some of the SI Committees that were held upstairs, and the Minister assured Committee members that chicken would continue to be washed in fresh water and that there would be no sneaking chlorinated chicken into our food chain. I am sure he will reaffirm that today.
The first SI today is the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. As consumers, we are all familiar with the plastic packaging around almost every product—I suppose we are moving on to environmental policies in talking about the waste element of this, but the issue is at the forefront of consumer consciousness. Has the Minister had any conversations with his colleagues at DEFRA about the UK’s commitment to reducing plastic waste and about how this SI could help facilitate that? The authorised list of substances permitted for use in food contact plastics is generally updated several times a year. Which body will now undertake that work, and does it have sufficient resources to do so? Will the updated list be in line with that of our European neighbours?
Moving on to the genetically modified food and feed regulations, all authorised genetically modified food and feed must have a method of detection scientifically assessed and validated by the European Union laboratory, in collaboration with the European network of GMO—genetically modified organism—laboratories. What body will now scientifically assess and validate food and feed? Will the assessment process change, and will businesses have to complete a more complex process than currently? Will the UK be part of the European network of GMO laboratories after we leave the EU? If not, will the UK’s validation of GM food and feed be aligned with European network standards to ensure that GM food and feed from the EU can be placed on the UK market after Brexit and vice versa?
Can the Minister assure the House that GM food and feed will be authorised for sale only if they are judged not to present a risk to health, not to mislead consumers and not to have less nutritional value than their non-GM counterparts? Has he made any assessment of the impact that this SI may have on businesses? Has the Department contacted the food and feed industry to notify it of the changes in this SI?
Moving on to what is perhaps the most interesting of the SIs, on the regulation of novel foods, I was surprised to learn that chia seeds are classed as a novel food by the EU. I am sure I eat some of them; I have some in the cupboard—I think you sprinkle them on breakfast cereal and other things to try to get their goodness into you. Lots of other new products that I had not realised were classed as novel foods are now entering the market. I am pleased that foods that are new to the market are not automatically assumed to be safe. Novel foods must have a pre-market safety assessment before being placed on the market.
The geographical scope of the existing regulations is being maintained so that food that had a history of consumption in member states of the EU, and that could therefore be marketed in the EU without needing to be authorised, will not become novel and require authorisation to be sold in the UK when we leave. However, when we do leave the EU and new foods are added to the EU’s novel food list, will the UK mirror the same list and authorisation, or will it conduct its own review and authorisation? If the UK conducts its own review, which body will do it? Will the EU’s assessment be taken into account when we conduct a UK-only assessment? Public safety is paramount in all of this, as the Minister and I have discussed many times, so it is important that any reviewing body has the funding and resources to conduct a review. Can the Minister confirm that that is indeed the case?
Will a list of novel foods be available in the UK? Consumers are becoming more and more conscious about what is in the foods they eat, and rightly so. Any list must therefore detail all the information taken into account during the assessment so that consumers can make their own decisions. Packaging must also be clearly labelled with information about novel foods to ensure consumers are aware that their food is safe. It is of course highly important that any food entering the UK market for the first time is safe for human consumption. Leaving the EU should not mean a reduction in our food health standards.
Finally, the anomaly among these SIs, if we did not think that novel food was an anomaly, is the animal feed regulations—I suppose the Minister and I are discussing them because we are the Health Minister and the shadow Health Minister. This SI focuses on animal health and welfare, while taking into account the impact that that can have on human health—that is probably why it has fallen to the Minister and myself to debate it.
The SI says that all rules will remain the same as at present and that there will be a smooth transition for businesses, the feed sector and consumers. The elements of the instrument addressing deficiencies in the Animal Feed (Composition, Marketing and Use) (England) Regulations 2015 apply only in England. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations? Is he confident that any regulations on animal feed will be similar, if not the same?
Any animal feed on the market, or used, anywhere in the UK must be safe. The conditions set out for labelling, packaging, sampling, analysis and hygiene must also meet a high standard to protect animal health and wellbeing. Animal feed must also be tested to ensure that it is not harmful to humans in the food chain.
Finally, any changes as a result of this SI must be effectively communicated to the agencies affected in a timely manner. With what could be as few as 10 days to go until Brexit day, will the Minister please confirm that he has had conversations with such agencies to notify them of any changes? The regulations must also be able to be amended easily in the event of emerging threats or changes in safety standards.
In closing, I would like to put on record once again that I am disappointed and concerned that it has come to this just 10 days—if nothing changes—before we are due to leave the EU and that we are still tying up loose ends in such legislation, which is so important to our food safety. We cannot let food safety standards slip as a result of Brexit. They are crucial to human and animal health, safety and welfare. That is why, although I am concerned about the way the Government are rushing through important legislation such as this, I none the less support these SIs. The UK’s food safety standards are paramount to our health and something we must not compromise on. With those remarks, I look forward to the Minister’s response. As ever, I hope he is able to answer some of my questions.
It is absolutely crucial that the Government take seriously the protection of public health in respect of food. We pride ourselves on our high standards of food production. As I mentioned earlier to the Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a commitment that we would in no way do anything to undermine or lower our standards as we exit the EU. I think a great many of us in the Chamber will be holding his feet to the fire on that commitment. Indeed, not only would we like to keep the standards that we have, but we may want to strengthen them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) said, we may want to address packaging in a different way, for example, and we have an opportunity to do so.
I support the approval of these statutory regulations, remembering that they relate not just to the food that we eat, but to imported feed—the soya, the grain and the other myriad crops—for the animals that turn into our meat. The regulations must be in place on day one after we leave the EU, because it is important that businesses can just carry on working. I have met several people from the agricultural supply trade, and they have stressed that point to me, because they want to carry on with business as usual. I was therefore pleased to hear from the Minister that businesses are backing these regulations.
The draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 deals with interesting foods such as chia seeds, which I have on my porridge every morning. They are supposed to be a superfood, so I thought that they may do me some good. They are new to the market and, like all novel foods, they had to undergo a pre-market safety check. I am pleased that the regulations mean that we will adopt the whole system that applies to novel foods, which is important for public health and safeguarding. New products must undergo an assessment of the level of risk and then an assessment of how to manage that risk and, quite rightly, we are adopting the tried and tested methods of the EU. They seem to be working so far because nothing untoward has happened to me as a result of eating chia seeds, and I hope that nothing will. It is important to continue to follow the process and to ensure that we keep the labelling and packaging right so that people know about novel foods.
I shall now turn quickly to the draft Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. It is essential that the system for GM food and animal feed is transparent and well regulated and that it involves a trusted safety evaluation based on sound science. We must adhere to a strict practice, and the EU has an established method, so I am pleased that we are adopting it. It is important to ensure that any process also applies to imports, because we do not want our industry to be undermined by any other country with lower GM standards, something that has been highlighted to me by several people when it comes to soya, for example. We must also ensure that the tracking and labelling systems are in place for GM products.
While we are adopting EU measures lock, stock and barrel, should the EU make any changes to its regulations, we should examine them and consider whether we want to adopt them and whether we may want to add some other standards. If we do that, we should use a bona fide method that protects our consumers while enabling the worldwide trade in which we want to engage.
I assume that the draft regulations will dovetail perfectly with the ambitions in the Agriculture Bill, which sets out plans for a completely new and exciting rethink of land-use policy and for delivering public goods for public benefit. While food is not specifically listed as public good, it is part and parcel of the Bill, and ensuring that we have high standards will be part of all that, so I would like some assurances from the Minister. One thing is for sure: we cannot mess around with food safety. Consumer safety is of utmost importance, and it is beholden on us to put measures in place to ensure that it is properly addressed as we exit the EU. I welcome the approval of these statutory instruments.
Many myths were spoken about leaving the EU, but one of the biggest was that it was a means of cutting bureaucracy. In fact, as is becoming obvious by the mess that this place has gotten itself into, we have been lucky over the past few decades that so much red tape has been efficiently managed from Brussels. Access to collective European bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority—expert scientists who independently research and advise and ensure that food standards legislation is fit for purpose—will be sorely missed. We must co-operate with national agencies like Food Standards Scotland, which has been a driving force for public health improvements. However, here we are in the midst of a Brexit bourach. As the damaging deal remains stuck in the mud, we have a torrent of statutory instruments to process simply to get to the starting block.
Existing protections and permissions over food contact materials must continue post- Brexit. No one wants a fall in the standards for containers transporting our food or the machinery processing our food, or for packaging, kitchenware, tableware and so forth—standards that successive UK Governments have contributed towards creating. The same applies, of course, to food standards, and my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) will be speaking more about the draft Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
It is vital that evidence-led food safety and food standards are not diminished or diluted by Brexit, which is important for our future trade with the EU as well as for public health. Any increased auditing of food safety standards and procedures at the borders will take a heavy toll on a sector that is already facing enough challenges from Brexit. Looming trade tariffs on agricultural products could close export markets and put thousands out of jobs and close hundreds of businesses. The loss of the European workforce that keeps everything flowing—pickers and packers, food processors, haulage drivers and vets—will also be a substantial blow. There is a threat to Scotland’s carefully cultivated brand identity and our protected geographical indicators. Brexit threatens all of it.
The EU accounts for 70% of annual Scottish food exports, so the possible damage is incredibly worrying, with the industry warning that a no-deal Brexit would cost £2 billion a year. The Government’s own analysis shows that the effect of crashing out of Europe on the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries would hit Scotland hardest—twice as hard as England—slashing the economy by 8%. No Government should contemplate such a self-destructive move, but the Secretary of State for Scotland sat on his hands while his Tory colleagues toyed with the no-deal catastrophe button. We cannot allow Scotland’s successful food and drinks sector to be hijacked by Brexiteers and those who enable them for party political purposes. Exports of iconic Scottish produce, such as whisky, beef, langoustines and salmon, are worth four times as much to the Scottish economy as they are to the UK’s, and seven of the top 10 food export destinations are EU countries.
We are here today to debate the replacements for legislation that we already have because of some xenophobic fear of the EU, but we still do not have cast-iron guarantees about the long-term protection of our food standards in international trade negotiations. Billions of pounds that should be spent on tackling the problems that people face the length and breadth of these islands is being wasted on Brexit bureaucracy, and countless hours of MPs’ time are being wasted replacing legislation that we already had with near-identical legislation. Kafka never came close.
I rise in support of all four statutory instruments. While this House, in its wisdom, has decided to send our Prime Minister on her hands and knees to beg for an extension to our leaving the European Union, we do not yet know what the EU’s counter-offer will be or whether the terms of that extension will be palatable and acceptable to the House. It therefore remains imperative that we continue to ensure that we have an operable lawbook for day one should we still be required to leave at the end of this month without an agreement.
The vast majority of the provisions in all the statutory instruments relate to the transfer of functions, principally from the European Commission to the food safety authority, which means Food Standards Scotland or the Food Standards Agency in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or in other instances to the appropriate authority, which largely means the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
There is something of an irony in our having a debate on the Floor of the House about whether, in all these statutory instruments, it is acceptable to replace “Commission” with “Food Safety Authority”, yet the original powers to which every one of these statutory instruments relates were imposed on us directly by the European Union, typically through implementing Acts or delegated Acts. There would have been little or no scrutiny in this House, and probably the best that could have been expected is a letter to the European Scrutiny Committee or, in some instances, the tabling of an explanatory memorandum before Parliament. The truth is that the most pernicious Henry VIII power we have seen in this country in modern times is section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, which has led to widespread changes in primary legislation.
Today I will focus on a specific point that is relevant to all four statutory instruments, which is the respective roles of the Food Standards Agency, on the one hand, and Ministers, on the other. The hon. Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for Stroud (Dr Drew) both mentioned the role of DEFRA, as the Department in which much of the technical expertise rests. Having experienced it for five and a half years as a Minister, there is something of an issue around our current food standards architecture in this country.
The Food Standards Agency was established in the wake of the BSE crisis, and it was made independent in a very special way, through statute, to be entirely insulated from the Government and Ministers. Although the Department of Health and Social Care is its sponsoring Department, Health Ministers seldom show direct policy interest in the FSA’s decisions, rightly recognising that it was established to be entirely independent.
However, there is an issue in how the FSA was set up, because the events that preceded its formation mean that, first, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, latterly, DEFRA have been more divorced from its work than they ought to have been, as DEFRA is the Whitehall Department with the vast majority of technical and policy knowledge in this area.
I have always had very good relations with Heather Hancock, the chair of the FSA. However, I have always sensed that the FSA board, collectively, is sometimes prone to being somewhat supercilious in its denial of the expertise in DEFRA and, worse, is prone to making rather unfair assumptions about DEFRA’s motives in advancing issues or concerns on particular policy fronts. That is, of course, until something goes wrong.
In 2013, when we faced the horsemeat scandal, Health Ministers did not want to get involved, the FSA sat on its hands and it was left to the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), to step into the breach. DEFRA took control of the crisis and took ownership of events by setting up a review of food crime and crafting a policy that resulted in a new food crime unit.
When these regulations were originally considered, some on the FSA board sought significantly to extend the FSA’s powers by taking direct decision-making responsibility in some of these areas, which would have gone a long way beyond its current remit. The Minister’s predecessor and I resisted that approach, and I am pleased to see that the approach we recommended is reflected in all these statutory instruments. We proposed, first, that the FSA should give independent advice to Ministers and that that advice should be public for all to see. Secondly, we recommended that Ministers should have regard to that advice. Thirdly, we recommended that if Ministers choose not to follow the advice, they should have to publish their reasons for not doing so. Those points are reflected variously in regulation 17 of the animal feed regulations, regulation 23 of the novel food regulations and regulation 23 of the genetically modified food and feed regulations.
This is important because, as a holding pattern, we need to ensure there is a presumption for following the advice of the Food Standards Agency. Until we have established a long-term settlement on which decisions should be taken independently by the FSA and which decisions should be taken by Ministers, subject to clear advice from the FSA, this sensible holding pattern makes absolute sense.
In the longer term, although I would not do anything to undermine the independence of the FSA—it was set up in the way it was for good reason—there is a case for trying to increase some of its democratic accountability, and there may be things we could learn, for instance, from the model we have for the Health and Safety Executive. It has now been several decades since the BSE crisis, and it is perhaps time to consider what the food safety architecture should look like, but that is a debate for another time. I fully support all four of these statutory instruments.
Regardless of my party’s opposition, in principle and in entirety, to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, I recognise that it is crucial that statutory instruments are enacted to preserve a framework around the status quo. That framework will be essential to our future trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world.
Scotland’s booming food and drinks industrysupports 119,000 jobs and exports £6 billion-worth of produce, 40% of which goes to our European neighbours. Consumers and farmers remain sceptical about the need for GM crops, and allowing GM crops in Scotland would threaten our country’s international reputation as a clean, green food and drink producer.
The Scottish Government remain totally committed to opting out of allowing the cultivation of GM crops, thereby giving policy certainty to producers and investors, in stark contrast to the uncertainty and paralysis of the UK Government. Public concern about hormone-tainted meat and chlorine-washed chicken demonstrates how critical food standards will be post-Brexit, both at home and abroad. In my hometown of Denny, which is in my Falkirk constituency, we have a business that exports broiler chickens to Europe and the world, and everywhere it sends those chickens it is recognised as the best in the world. My party intends to ensure that this valuable industry continues to flourish, and we will oppose any attempt to lower the food standards on which its future depends.
The UK imports around £2 billion-worth of animal feed, much of it from the EU or through EU ports. Maintaining high quality standards and as free a flow of trade in such commodities as possible is vital to Scotland’s rural communities, particularly those in less favoured areas. Just yesterday, the Scottish non-governmental organisation Scottish Rural Action, a great voice for Scottish rural communities, released a hard-hitting report documenting the widespread anger and frustration felt in Scotland’s rural communities, and reporting fears of 21st-century clearances in Brexit’s wake. These communities need assurances and protection.
The health and welfare of the UK’s 54 million pets also hang in the balance. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association has placed feed safety standards, together with animal health and welfare, at the top of the list of priorities in its Brexit manifesto. Some 80% of its members export to our European neighbours, and half of them import raw materials or finished goods from the EU.
These statutory instruments do not change the legal status quo, and therefore they safeguard confidence in the maintenance of quality standards. In turn, they ensure confidence in our food and drink industry and in the animal feed sector, and that confidence should be maintained. My party intends to ensure that these valuable industries continue to flourish, and we will oppose any attempt to lower these standards.
We have heard a number of well-made points, to which I am pleased to respond.
My dear friend opposite, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), often makes the point that it is late in the day. It is late in the day, but we did not say that all the SIs would be done a year ago. These are complex matters and we have to get them right. Whether they are taken now or next Tuesday is immaterial. The fact is that they will be done, as long as the House agrees to them today. It is important that they are done, because we need to make sure that the law is in the right state, as I set out in my remarks.
The hon. Lady asked about risk assessments, risk management and the loss of EFSA and its scientific expertise. Leaving the EU does not change the FSA’s top priority, which is rightly to ensure that food remains safe. The FSA has strengthened its risk-analysis process in preparation for EU exit. It has had significant extra funding this year of £14 million. That point has been raised by other hon. Members in respect of the FSA’s capabilities.
The FSA will undertake robust risk assessments and provide evidence-based risk management advice and recommendations on future food and feed safety issues. That is nothing new. The UK already produces independent risk assessments that are recognised internationally. The FSA currently undertakes a significant amount of the risk assessment and management work to maintain the high standards we expect.
The point about chlorine-washed chicken came up again, although the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) is no longer in his place. I have been clear about that point many, many times. Chlorine has not been approved and so cannot be used. Chicken that is washed with chlorine cannot be placed on the UK market. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I have been very clear about that.
The lav—I nearly did it again! I meant to say the laboratory capability. Edit the record. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West made a very good point about having the laboratory capability to assess and validate the methods of detection with the same rigour that we have had at EU level. The bottom line is that the UK is developing alternative approaches to deliver the necessary functions that are currently provided by EFSA, the European Commission and other institutions, including the EU reference laboratory.
We will build on our capacity and capability to carry out those risk assessments and then to manage and control the food and feed safety risks. We already have the network of national reference laboratories in place that help to ensure the safety of our food and feed, and to prevent the entry and spread of infectious diseases in crops, livestock and feed. They are recognised internationally for their scientific expertise, and we are working with them to ensure that they are able to validate new analytical methods and ensure that they can mirror the scientific capability that we have.
The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West asked about novel foods. I am touched that she thinks that is the most interesting of the four SIs—it is a low bar, but I take her point. She asked whether the UK will maintain the existing process or conduct our own review and assessment. We will start from the list as it stands on exit day. As I said to other Members, there will be full convergence at exit day. Any applications will then be assessed by our UK risk assessors. To answer her question directly, the UK advisory committee on novel foods is the body that will perform the role. That body existed prior to 2015, when that was transferred as a Commission competence. It will be unfrozen and will again carry out assessments for the novel list.
On materials and articles that are in contact with food, the hon. Lady made a point about recycling. She was referring to the requirements of Commission regulation 10/2011. That will be maintained, as I said in my opening remarks. The FSA works very closely with DEFRA, but the recycling remit lies with the Department and is not in scope of the amendments we are discussing today.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) is no longer in his place, but I will still respond to his point. He spoke about a food strategy to deal with the crossover between the Department of Health and Social Care and DEFRA. That point was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). I am the sponsor of the FSA as an arm’s length body. It works very closely with DEFRA, the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, for which I am also responsible. We continue to take a co-ordinated approach on food to support consumer choice. Yes, the fourth SI on feed could as easily have been introduced by a DEFRA Minister, but as my hon. Friend knows full well, what we give to animals ends up in the food chain, so it ends up in my brief.
The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West touched on consultation. She is often rightly concerned about the impact on industry, which was also mentioned by other hon. Members. We carried out a full public consultation on the proposed approach to retained EU law in the food and safety space before we tabled the SIs. It was open for six weeks from 4 September until the middle of October. The approach we outlined proposed making a number of corrections to retained EU law under the powers of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The responses we received are all available on the food.gov.uk website. Generally speaking, of the 59 responses received, 82% supported or did not disagree in any way with the approach we proposed.
I said to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) that I would come back to ceramics. The ceramics legislation dates from a European directive of 1984. Why it has not been updated before now is a fair question and one that I have asked of officials. I can write to him with more detail without detaining the House. He will be interested to know that work is ongoing at a European level to revise the legislation in this space. The FSA has collaborated closely with the UK industry on the establishment of the new European limits. He may wish to follow that up and check it in his constituency, but I am sure that is the case. Obviously, we are importing the law—the directives and the directions—as they stand. Therefore, anything that was in train on exit, we would not import.
It was interesting to hear the reflections of my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth on how the FSA grew out of the BSE crisis. We should also remember, as I have said many times, that EFSA grew out of the FSA. That is the rock on which it built its church, in many ways. The relationship between the FSA and EFSA is incredibly strong, even though the legal position will change. Many of the people there are actually our people. I am therefore confident that as the ceramics legislation changes, we will have a strong voice around the table, even if, legally, we are not around it.
I thank the Minister for that response. It will be heartening for some of the industries in my city, and I look forward to his letter. The issue that will be of most concern to them, albeit diminished because of his helpful answer, is that significant changes to the food contact regulations could affect the way in which they glaze their products through the use of cadmium or other elements. Whether that changes in the UK has an impact on them, but it also affects them if we lose step with Europe and have two operating standards for exports. I appreciate that that is more of a trade question than a contact question, but the two things are very much linked.
It is a trade question, but ultimately if we want to trade with our biggest trading partner and our neighbours in the EU, we have to maintain those standards. We would not want to do anything to hobble our world famous potteries industry. I know that he agrees with that sentiment.
A lot has been said about GM food and feed. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) made that the kernel of her remarks. The laws around genetic modification were very high profile, perhaps due to Prince Charles’s interventions, back when I was at school.
Not that long ago.
Quite right. The GM regulations are not about changing the robust controls that we have for GM food and feed; they are about correcting the deficiencies in the authorisations that will exist at the point of EU exit. I want to maintain those robust controls. I am putting in place a UK-centric authorisation process as a result of exit, but the data requirements and the robust scientific studies that are required for application will remain exactly the same. Any assessments made of GM food and feed will be made purely on scientific, evidence-based grounds. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that decisions are not made entirely on those grounds at an EU level at the moment. That is one of the benefits that we will glean from taking back control—I knew I would get it in there somewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned the Agriculture Bill. These SIs only fix the operability of EU law when it is brought into UK law. It is for the House to discuss and debate any changes required to give effect to policies in the Agriculture Bill, and I know that she will be at the heart of that.
The hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) are absolutely right, and I have said that whenever I have spoken about SIs. There has been a lot of talk of the withdrawal Act containing Henry VIII powers, but Henry VIII was an awful lot more powerful than the Act. It is a piece of housekeeping legislation that allows us to bridge EU regulations over to UK legislation; it does not allow us to make significant changes either way on standards. That is perfectly reasonable. Once this House resumes the role of a sovereign Parliament, it will be able to make those decisions for our country, and the Scottish Parliament will be able to do the same north of the border.
If I may say so respectfully, many of the arguments that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith made belong back before 2016. The country made a decision to leave the European Union. She argues against a no-deal Brexit, as I do—that is not the Government’s policy. I gently say to her that I keep voting for a safe exit from the European Union; she and her party do not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth, whom I am sorry to see on the Back Benches, because he was an excellent farming Minister, is absolutely right that this is about having an operable statute book and transferring functions. I have learned many things about food and feed in the past few months, because we are discussing them in the House of Commons and its Committees. That is very refreshing, and we will be doing so more, because when we introduce changes either way, they will have to be discussed and agreed by this House. He is right that they were previously only discussed by the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I am sure he thoroughly enjoyed that, but they are now discussed on the Floor of the House of Commons. That truly is progress.
My hon. Friend’s thoughts on the FSA’s conception and birth were very interesting. He was right to spot—he gave the paragraph references in three of the four SIs—that Ministers must have regard to FSA advice. He was also dead right to say that how operability will function is not a finished piece of work. That is why we have taken these powers in the first instance. Once we are a third country, we will have to refine and change that, and we will discuss it with the House and its various Committees. On the architecture, his advice about looking at the Health and Safety Executive was very interesting. I and the FSA, I am sure, will be very interested to talk to him in more detail about that.
We have spent a long time talking about housekeeping measures that will ensure that we maintain the food and feed standards that our constituents expect. Notwithstanding the difficulties we have deciphering what 17.5 million people meant when they voted leave, I am sure we all agree that they did not mean lower standards in the food that they eat and give to their children. These regulations play a very important part in ensuring that those standards are maintained when we leave the European Union.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.
Exiting the European Union (Agriculture)
That the draft Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.—(Steve Brine).
Exiting the European Union (Food)
That the draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.—(Steve Brine).
Exiting the European Union (Agriculture)
That the draft Animal Feed (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 5 February 2019, be approved.—(Steve Brine).