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Exiting the European Union (Agriculture)

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 1 October 2019

I beg to move,

That the draft Common Agricultural Policy and Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 24 July, be approved.

This statutory instrument concerns the common organisation of the agriculture markets, more commonly referred to as the CMO. As I said earlier, in March this year six EU exit operability SIs concerning the CMO were debated in the House, approved and made. They applied operability amendments to retained EU regulations which set out the overarching framework for the CMO and the detailed rules contained therein. This instrument amends some of the existing SIs to make simple corrections ensuring that when provisions refer to a transitional period, in common with the previous SI, it can be realised as intended, notwithstanding the delaying of EU exit until 31 October.

Five different transitional periods are set out in the existing EU exit SIs. The first and second concern special provisions for the import of wine and the labelling of imported wine. Under EU law, third countries wishing to import wine into the EU must produce it in accordance with specified oenological practices, and are required to provide key information on the content of the shipment, including a certificate evidencing compliance with EU rules and an analysis report. Those rules are being retained through retained EU law, but we are only retaining oenological practices that relate to domestic wine production.

We are also amending wine labelling rules to make them more appropriate for the UK market. For example, we are requiring certain information to be written in English whether or not it also appears in another language. However, we are providing for a transitional period of 21 months, consistent with that in other labelling provisions, during which wine that is labelled in accordance with current rules and produced in accordance with oenological practices authorised under EU law may be imported into the UK for marketing to ensure that there is no disruption to the import of wine from the EU. During that period, we will also accept EU forms and certificates from third countries alongside the new UK certificates.

The third and fourth transitional periods concern labelling for packages of fruit and vegetables, and for beef and veal. To ensure that consumers are not misled, for some products labelling changes are required primarily as a result of our no longer being a member of the EU. The terms “EU” and “non-EU” will be removed as options for describing the origin of the products, and pre-packaged fruit and vegetables will need to be labelled with the name and address of a UK seller after we leave the EU, rather than the information about an EU seller. We have introduced a transitional period of 21 months to mitigate the effects of these labelling changes on business.

The final transition period concerns import documentation for hops. Current EU legislation requires hops imported from third countries to be accompanied by an attestation certifying compliance with EU marketing standards. We are rolling over this legislation into UK law and providing for a transitional period of two years for documents that we accept from third countries, including the EU—which is about to become a third country—attesting that imported hops meet marketing standards requirements. During those two years both the new UK forms and certificates and the EU versions can be accepted, provided that the EU’s standards remain at least as high as those in the UK. This will allow importers time to transition to using the new forms of documentation, while ensuring that we accept only produce that is assured to meet UK standards.

In the original SIs, in common with the previous one we debated, the end dates of the transitional periods are explicitly stated as a specific date. For example, a transitional period lasting two years is expressed as a

“transitional period ending 29th March 2021”.

However, the extension of article 50 to 31 October means that we need to change the legislation to ensure that the intended period of transition remains in place. Therefore, the instrument under debate now makes a simple amendment to the existing EU Exit operability SIs so that the transitional periods apply for the duration intended.

The instrument also makes minor amendments to a series of other domestic EU exit SIs relating to marketing standards, the horizontal CAP legislation and the rural development programmes in order to remove ambiguity and inconsistencies, or to simply correct typographical errors. This instrument relates to areas of devolved competence. I can assure the House that we have consulted extensively with the devolved Administrations on its content and have received their consent to lay the SI. I therefore commend these regulations to the House.

I am delighted to be here for the second of our four statutory instruments. I want to push the Minister a bit further. He did not manage to answer one of the things that I slipped into the first SI. What is the process of accountability? As we do not have the Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill enacted, we do not yet have the office for environmental protection. I ask again politely what and who is going to provide the sort of testing regime that is now talked about in these five conflated SIs? They are largely about wine—oenological; it is good to get that on the record. It is important that we know that someone somewhere will be able properly to scrutinise labelling and to test what is coming in. Currently, as far as I know, this happens seamlessly across the 28 countries, of which we are one. It will not be seamless when we have left because the wines that come from the EU will go through whatever process the Minister is going to explain to me in a minute.

I am not saying that at the moment there is a clarity because I, for one, do not know exactly how wine is tested to see that what people are buying is safe and what they think they are buying in terms of the proof and the quality, and that the labelling tells us what the wine is and where it came from so that people know what they are drinking. I just push the Minister politely to ask what process the Government have put in place for these interim arrangements?

I know this is about transition. Maybe we shall just turn a blind eye for a time, and let come in what comes in—although someone will have to account for the tariffs, if and when we get to that stage, because the EU will put tariffs on our goods and services and we will put tariffs on EU goods and services. It would be interesting to know what the Minister has, through his Department, been able to do. Presumably, such work has been going on for the last n number of months, since we have been discussing all these statutory instruments. Following the delay—again we are at the final hurdle, or maybe not—the reality is that somebody somewhere must have this all ready to go from 1 November.

I politely push the Minister, given that we have not yet got the office for environmental protection, with all the different tentacles that it will have, to undertake such work. The response may be that we have our own Food Standards Agency, but at the moment a lot of that work is subsumed into that of the European Food Safety Authority, so someone needs to have this type of capability, and it would be good to know who, and when they will come into play.

It is a pleasure to appear after that crash of thunder, following the speech by the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew).

I refer hon. Members to my earlier remarks. Very little seems to have changed in the intervening period. The Minister mentioned that the intent was to retain only regulations that relate to domestic wine production. Does he mean wine made on these islands or domestic to the EU? If I heard him correctly, the UK Government are accepting the rules of the EU for wine production. Is that correct? Will the requirement to provide a UK seller for meat and other products, in addition to the EU’s current labelling rules, actually add red tape to the UK’s food market? It seems that we will in effect be accepting the EU’s single market rules and adding a few UK rules on top. I am not sure how that is taking back control, but I will be delighted to have it explained.

We rehearsed plenty of issues when we debated the previous statutory instrument, so I can be briefer, and I appreciate that both hon. Members who spoke have done so briefly.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew), the Labour shadow Minister, asked who would do this work. The office for environmental protection, which will obviously be a matter for the new environmental Bill, would not do any such work. We are talking here, probably, about marketing standards and labelling standards, and the Rural Payments Agency has an inspectorate that leads on that work; it always has done, and has done so incredibly well.

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the European Union does not have a directly employed army of inspectors in UK ports; the EU has a body of law, but UK agencies already do all such work. As he said, not only does the RPA monitor marketing standards, but there are other organisations as well. We have organisations that monitor pesticide residues; we have the FSA, which deals with food safety issues; we have organisations such as the Food and Environment Research Agency, which deals with plant health, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which deals with animal health. The technical expertise is already here in the UK, in our agencies; indeed, that technical expertise is often relied upon by the EU, not the other way round.

I accept that; many of our good people currently work for the EU. But is the Minister seriously suggesting that those people have carried out proper contingency planning on how they will do this monitoring in a month’s time? How would FERA—how would the RPA, which I have significant doubts about; I do not know how many scientists it actually employs—sit down and do the work to see whether what has been imported is what it says on the label?

The regulations provide for a transitional period, precisely to give people time to adjust. We will be saying to European wine exporters that they do not, on day one, have to apply for a UK certificate, or get UK certification. We are saying, very generously—it is not being reciprocated particularly yet—to the European Union that because we want to prioritise continuity in the short term while people adjust to this new situation, we will recognise their existing certification.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, there are no risks and nothing new is going to happen that has not already been happening under EU law for a number of years. This simply creates that transitional space to avoid UK authorities having to do unnecessary administration in the short term, and to avoid exporters having to go through unnecessary administration in order to continue to trade.

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. What then is to stop people labelling their cheap plonk as burgundy and sending it in the form in which they send their good stuff? How will we be able to tell that what we are getting is what it says on the label? I am really intrigued by this.

Well, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there is nothing to stop that happening now, apart from EU law. For 45 years we have relied on EU law being enforced in member states. We are simply saying that in the transitional period we anticipate that the EU will continue to abide by and enforce its own laws. If it becomes apparent that it no longer enforces its own laws, we have the powers in these measures to cease to recognise them, because we will maintain our standards.

In answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), I can confirm that there are two slightly separate provisions on wine. First, we are bringing across only those provisions that relate specifically to wines that we produce in the UK, in relation to the production side. We have a growing and very successful wine industry, particularly in sparkling wines. We will not be bringing across those provisions for wines that we do not produce in this country and that are made in other countries. Secondly, we are making those labelling transitional provisions available to all EU producers so that there will be no short-term interruption in the administration procedures that they have to follow.

I hope that I have addressed the points raised by the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. I commend the regulations to the House.

Question put and agreed to.