Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Philip Davies
Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
† Atherton, Sarah (Wrexham) (Con)
† Brereton, Jack (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
† Buchan, Felicity (Kensington) (Con)
† Coutinho, Claire (East Surrey) (Con)
Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Elphicke, Mrs Natalie (Dover) (Con)
† Gideon, Jo (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)
† Hunt, Tom (Ipswich) (Con)
Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)
† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Pow, Rebecca (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)
† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)
† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)
Nicholas Taylor, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee
Wednesday 11 November 2020
[Philip Davies in the Chair]
Draft Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Before we begin, may I remind Members about the social distancing regulations? Thank you, everyone, for sticking with them. Hansard colleagues will be grateful if any speaking notes could be sent to email@example.com.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair bright and early this morning, Mr Davies.
The draft regulations were laid before the House on 12 October. They make operability changes to retained European Union law and implement the Northern Ireland protocol in the context of the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, or CITES. That will be done by making changes to the UK’s existing CITES regime, comprised primarily of retained EU law, in so far as it will operate in Great Britain, to ensure that the relevant EU regulations may continue to be properly implemented in Northern Ireland, as required by the protocol.
Additionally, the draft regulations will consolidate previous statutory instruments making operability fixes to retained EU law, so that the changes appear in one place. The regulations also make further operability fixes in respect of more recent EU legislation that will become retained EU law, and minor corrections to regulations that were not dealt with in earlier amendments. The draft instrument makes a number of amendments, but it makes no changes to policy, other than those necessitated by the Northern Ireland protocol—that is the important thing to note.
CITES provides protection to more than 35,000 different species of endangered animals and plants, the range of which is incredibly diverse, from lions and giraffes, and parrots and turtles, to corals, orchids and the rosewood commonly found in guitars. I believe that you are quite an animal lover, Mr Davies, so you will be familiar with a lot of those creatures. By regulating international trade in animals and plants and in their parts, CITES aims to reduce the threat to those species in the wild.
CITES is implemented throughout the EU by the EU wildlife trade regulations, known as EUWTR, which are applicable in the UK. Those regulations set out the controls for trade in endangered species of wild animals and plants to and from the EU, the UK and the rest of the world. Many UK businesses trade in CITES specimens, and the relevant sectors are varied, from musicians and fashion, to pharmaceuticals and zoos.
The UK is party to CITES in its own right and will continue to be bound by its obligations after the end of the transition, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations with the EU. The UK is committed to supporting the work of CITES now and in future. At the CITES conference of the parties in August 2019, the UK used its world-leading scientific and technical expertise to play a pivotal role in proceedings. As a result of that work, 93 new species, including mako sharks and several species of gecko and newt, now benefit from enhanced protection under the convention. We have that world-leading reputation for such work, which obviously we will continue.
The primary purpose of the draft instrument is to make operability fixes to retained EU law and to implement the Northern Ireland protocol with regard to CITES. In doing so, we are consolidating into one instrument amendments made by previous CITES EU exit SIs that have not yet come into force, to make regulations clearer and more accessible to users.
In implementing the protocol and our convention obligations, CITES documents and relevant checks will be required for CITES specimens travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in both directions. That will affect traders in Northern Ireland and traders in Great Britain who regularly move specimens in and out of Northern Ireland.
The instrument will also make operability fixes in respect of more recent EU legislation, which will become EU retained law, and minor corrections not included in the previous instruments. For example, the instrument deals with a new suspensions regulation of 2019, which replaces and updates an earlier regulation. The suspensions regulation provides for bans on imports of certain specimens from certain countries needing additional protection—for example, wild lions from Ethiopia, wild Dryas monkeys from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and African cherry wood from Equatorial Guinea.
Part 2 of the instrument amends domestic regulations that provide for, among other things, enforcement powers with regard to CITES. Part 3 amends retained EU regulations on CITES to ensure that the regime is operable in Great Britain after the end of the transition period. The instrument was sent to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for pre-scrutiny and was returned with minor comments relating primarily to minor drafting issues. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a number of questions, as outlined in its report. Those questions related to the practical implications of documentary checks for movement between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and examples of what types of species are commonly traded in the United Kingdom.
Traders moving CITES specimens between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will at the end of the transition period be required to obtain and present relevant CITES documentation. Interestingly, there is currently no data on movements of CITES species between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as that trade does not yet require documentation. Members may be interested to hear that the most commonly traded species between the UK and the rest of the world are alligators and crocodiles, for their leather, and live falcons, I believe for falconry—they are pets, really—and potentially for pest control.
The changes made by the instrument will affect DEFRA and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, as documentation that was previously required at the EU border will now be required at the UK border—Great Britain or Northern Ireland, as the case may be. APHA has increased staff numbers in anticipation of that increased workload. As I said, the statutory instrument does not change policy other than as required by the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, so no consultation was undertaken. Drafts of the instrument were, however, shared with the devolved Administrations during its development and drafting. In line with published guidance, there is no need to conduct an impact assessment of the instrument because there is no, or no significant, impact on the public, private or voluntary sectors. The territorial extent of the instrument is the United Kingdom.
As a result of the protocol, documentation will be required for the movement of CITES specimens between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That will require additional enforcement by Border Force at points of entry and exit between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Border Force has increased staff numbers and trained new staff in order to address that increase and is well prepared for those additional checks from the end of the transition period. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies, and to be back with the Minister. Yesterday we were on the Environment Bill Committee and we will be on it again tomorrow.
CITES is widely praised and supported and is very important. I first came across it in detail during the 2015 general election. The city of Cambridge has an extraordinary number of husting events—25 to 30 of them—and one was devoted entirely to CITES. That tells us something about Cambridge, as well as about the importance of CITES. One of the speakers on that occasion was none other than Tony Juniper, who now of course chairs Natural England. At the time he was a candidate for the Green party.
One of the pleasures of the statutory instrument process is that our debates are often prefigured by discussion in the other place, so it is possible to see what others have said. The introduction of my colleague Baroness Jones of Whitchurch was so good that I feel little need to change it. She said:
“The CITES international agreement is an absolutely vital protection for endangered wild animals and plants, as the Minister explained. We know that the trade across borders is worth billions of pounds. It covers exotic live animals as well as animal products and plants. Sadly, it attracts some of the most unscrupulous international gangs, which will readily flout the rules in pursuit of profit. So it is crucial that we have robust laws to ensure that the rules are properly enforced and that no loopholes can be exploited. So far, we on these Benches have supported the UK Government’s leadership on international co-operation with CITES, although we believe that they could have moved faster to enforce and expand UK laws to protect endangered species.
It is important that the regulations before us today are absolutely watertight. This is particularly important as the application of the Northern Ireland protocol opens up a new dynamic in border control. We do not want any minor discrepancies between the different regimes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland—and, by extension, in the single market—to unintentionally open loopholes that could be exploited by criminal gangs.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 November 2020; Vol. 807, c. GC261.]
In the Minister’s opening remarks, she cited the UK’s influence at the 2019 conference of the parties. She mentioned some of the 93 new species that are afforded protection, including—I picked similar examples—the swallowtail butterfly and several species of gecko and newt. Sadly, there is no additional protection for newt counters, nor indeed for Prime Ministers who think that concern for such creatures is to be derided. I suspect there are differences of opinion on the Government Benches on the policy on newts. The Minister will be delighted to know that this is a subject to which I will return in the coming days.
I also take issue with the statement in the explanatory memorandum that there is no impact. We need to think about the real-world consequences. There may be no change in legislation, but there certainly is a significant impact on the people who have to administer these systems. The Minister has talked about additional staffing. There was a time when Conservatives would instantly say to a Labour Government, “Where’s the money coming from?” It is coming from businesses, so there is impact out there.
I also note with joy the term “operability fix”. The Minister in the other place talked about “consolidating operability fixes”—a marvellous piece of jargon, which I think basically means pulling together a whole range of previous errors, mistakes, gaps and so on. However, it is a difficult process and I pay tribute to those who had to draft this stuff. Anyone who has read through it—I am sure people have read in detail the 25 pages of changes attached to the statutory instrument—will have seen how much work must be going into the process.
The Minister said that documentation will now be required at the UK border. I ask her to confirm where that border is. I suspect it is somewhere in the Irish sea—the place where the Prime Minister said no border should ever go. Perhaps she could also tell us where the border posts will be and tell us a little more about staffing. She says that APHA has increased its staff numbers. Of course, “increase” is a very vague term. By how much has it increased its staff numbers, and by how much does it need to increase them to make the system work?
ClientEarth raised detailed questions in its correspondence with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which were pursued by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I would like to go through those so that we have the answers on the record. It pointed out:
“Regulation 7(2)(a) and 7(2)(r) remove references to the ‘committee’ and the ‘scientific review group’. Other parts of the regulations, including Regulation 7(5)(b)(ii)(aa) and 7(5)(c)(ii)(aa), remove requirements to consider to consider the opinion of the scientific review group before the domestic scientific authority can advise on the import of wild species. Whilst the UK will no longer collaborate with other Member States in this way, the loss of this collaboration mechanism with other scientific bodies is disappointing. In addition, in certain instances references to the scientific review group are replaced with references to a ‘scientific authority’, but in other instances the role of the scientific review group is not replaced.”
We do have a reply from DEFRA, but I have to say that I found it slightly insulting. It basically makes the assertion that we are the best in the world and there is nothing to worry about—we could possibly be described as “world-beating”. I think a little more humility might be useful sometimes. It goes on to say that we are no longer “bound by EU structures”, which implies that those somehow weaken the process. It goes on to talk about our scientific authorities, which are of course very good:
“The Joint Nature Conservation Committee…for fauna and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew for flora”.
Of course those are good, but is it not always better to collaborate? I would be grateful for the Minister’s view on how we might better collaborate in future.
The second question, I am afraid, leads to another equally complacent answer, which led the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to say that although DEFRA may be confident about that, it is not convinced that the measures in place do not
“pose a risk of spreading disease.”
That is a serious concern about the holding of particular specimens.
The third question asks about collaboration and the enforcement group, currently at EU level, for which there is no apparent domestic equivalent. The responsibility would pass to the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Border Force. Can the Minister explain what that enforcement group did before and how it will be replicated? My guess is that it will be a question of oversight. If so, there may be an observation that the National Wildlife Crime Unit is very pressed. Some hon. Members will remember that, a few years ago, there were real questions about its future funding. In 2016, it was given a four-year funding settlement, which brings us to today. Anyone who has been involved with it knows what excellent work it does and how hard pressed it is to do it. That raises the question whether it will be able to take on extra responsibilities.
ClientEarth’s final question is about the removal of sanctions and seizures. DEFRA says in reply that that is already in the domestic enforcement legislation. Is it an exact equivalent or are there differences?
In general, can the Minister confirm how the UK will continue to collaborate internationally to prevent the unlawful import of wild species? Although she is likely to assert that the effect of the regulations will not be a weaker regime for the implementation and enforcement of CITES in the UK, can she provide any evidence of that? It is all very well to assert it, but what independent assessment has been done? I suspect that the answer is, “Truthfully, we don’t know. Only time will tell,” and that, as with all our other environmental protections, despite the bluster and spin, they will be weaker next month than they are today.
I thank the shadow Minister for his comments and the raft of questions. He has obviously looked closely at what has happened in the other place and has put the measure under a great deal of scrutiny. I will set it in context quickly, then run through as many of the questions as I had time to note down, because they were coming thick and fast. If he feels that I do not cover something, I am happy to follow up afterwards, if that is acceptable.
To prepare for the end of the transition period, it is essential to have the right legislation in place to continue to protect our endangered species, in accordance with our international obligations, to ensure that trade does not threaten the survival of those species in the wild. The UK remains absolutely committed to supporting work on CITES. The hon. Gentleman was slightly derogatory about our global leadership, but we are recognised around the world for our scientific lead on this issue—that is genuinely true—and we will not lessen or weaken that in any way. Indeed, there might be opportunities to strengthen it, which I would be keen on.
As hon. Members know, I am a great supporter of our National Wildlife Crime Unit and, as a Back Bencher, I fought to get that money committed for it. I think the hon. Gentleman was involved in that as well, from the other side of the House: it was a joint initiative. I was interested to hear about the CITES hustings that he attended, which sound fascinating.
It is an important point. I am really annoyed with myself, because I read about it last night and I cannot lay my hands on the actual details. May I write to the hon. Gentleman about that? Certainly, it is in there and it has been highlighted. I will give him chapter and verse in writing.
The instrument will achieve that protection by ensuring that relevant regulations can operate properly after the end of the transition period. It will make operability changes to retained EU law, ensure implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol with regard to CITES and consolidate amendments made by earlier instruments that have not yet come into force, to make regulation clearer and more accessible to all who use them. The important thing is that there will not be any changes to policy, other than those necessitated by the Northern Ireland protocol. That should give some assurances.
I will go through some of the comments. I hope I can give some more useful background. The hon. Gentleman referred to our scientific involvement. As we have left the EU, we will no longer participate in or be bound by the EU structures, including the EU scientific review group, under CITES regulations applicable to GB, but our scientific authorities, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee for fauna and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for flora—which is, of course, world-leading—will continue to provide advice on a range of CITES matters and to collaborate internationally with other CITES scientific authorities as appropriate. Our involvement in the convention to which I referred demonstrates that we will not be weakening in that respect.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that we might somehow weaken our combatting of the illegal wildlife trade. It is essential that we keep our eye on that. The draft SI will not weaken that. The UK is and will remain a world leader in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. In 2018, the UK convened the largest ever global international wildlife trade conference, at which 65 countries signed up to the London declaration committing to take urgent and co-ordinated action against the illegal wildlife trade. That is not something we will suddenly drop. Through our internationally renowned IWT challenge fund, we have committed £26 million since 2014 to 85 projects around the world that directly counter the illegal wildlife trade, including projects to reduce demand, to strengthen enforcement, to ensure effective legal frameworks and to develop sustainable livelihoods.
In the same ways as we have been doing it before, through our international connections. We have Lord Goldsmith in our Department, and he does a great deal of work on this agenda internationally—he is also the international environment Minister. We will keep all our links going.
The very fact that we are holding COP26—it is on climate change, environment and biodiversity, and we have nature and adaptation as part of that now—means that there are levers that link to this important issue. A lot of the illegal wildlife trade is linked to the devastation of our forests and the destruction of habitats. They are all closely interlinked, and that is something we intend to be leaders in, continuing our work.
At the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Prime Minister announced a scaling up of UK funding to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, as part of a £220 million international biodiversity fund. I hope that gives some reassurances that we are absolutely committed. It is something the Prime Minister is particularly interested in.
I want to be clear that several SIs were made in 2019 in order to make CITES operable in the UK. In view of further changes that we needed to make as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol, we considered that it would be preferable to put all the necessary changes into one piece of legislation, to make it more accessible, clearer for users and to increase transparency. Potentially, the draft regulations will help the whole issue of tackling the illegal wildlife trade.
I was asked about the impact on business. CITES checks are not particularly onerous. CITES requires 100% documentary checks, as opposed to physical checks on consignments—we do not expect our Border Force control to open the alligator cages. The documentary checks involve Border Force inspecting—I said that, but perhaps I should retract it—and endorsing and wet stamping relevant import and export permits and other documents. Physical checks take place only on a risk basis.
Costs for permits and certificates are set out in the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Fees) Regulations 2009. They would be incurred by traders wishing to obtain such documents. We have liaised regularly with Border Force colleagues on the need for those checks, and Border Force already carries out such checks on consignments from the rest of the world. It has increased its staff numbers to meet the additional requirements. DEFRA has been working closely with APHA, which has been involved in recruiting and training staff to deal with the project and the uplift in the volume of CITES movements and documentation anticipated. I think I have covered the scientific organisations.
The shadow Minister then touched on where the specimens or species would be imported through. CITES specimens must enter and exit Great Britain and Northern Ireland through points of entry and exit designed especially for that purpose. We are designating 29 UK sea and airports for use after the end of the transition period. There is a list of the ports on the Government website, gov.uk. In particular, I highlight that Belfast International airport and Belfast seaport will be among those designations at the end of the transition period.
I hope that covers the main points of the inquiries quite rightly raised by the shadow Minister, because it is important for us to get the legislation right. To close, as I have outlined, the draft instrument makes operability changes to EU-derived domestic regulations and retained direct EU legislation, and implements the Northern Ireland protocol with regard to CITES. It will ensure that appropriate protections for the trade in endangered specimens continue to be in place after the end of the transition.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Public Procurement (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr Philip Hollobone
† Allan, Lucy (Telford) (Con)
† Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
† Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)
† Garnier, Mark (Wyre Forest) (Con)
† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)
Grady, Patrick (Glasgow North) (SNP)
† Holden, Mr Richard (North West Durham) (Con)
† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)
Jarvis, Dan (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
† Largan, Robert (High Peak) (Con)
† Lopez, Julia (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)
† Pawsey, Mark (Rugby) (Con)
† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)
Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Yasin, Mohammad (Bedford) (Lab)
Seb Newman, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee
Wednesday 11 November 2020
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Draft Public Procurement (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
I call the Minister to move the motion in what I believe is her debut Delegated Legislation Committee performance.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Public Procurement (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
It is an honour to make my first statutory instrument under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It ensures that the UK meets the requirements of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and replaces earlier statutory instruments that did not reflect those circumstances.
The instrument is essential to ensure that there is legal clarity for public procurement at the end of the transition period, and certainty while wider procurement reforms are considered and introduced in domestic legislation. The majority of it is unchanged from the Public Procurement (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were debated in both Houses and made on 13 March 2019, and which addressed deficiencies in a no-deal scenario.
To provide legal clarity in public procurement, the instrument consolidates the 2019 regulations and incorporates changes in new provisions where relevant. As in the 2019 regulations, the amendments made by the instrument do not amount to a material change in procurement policy. They will ensure that the UK’s procurement system continues to function as intended at the end of the transition period and will grant certainty to UK contracting entities that they can continue to procure goods and services without substantial changes in the process. In that way, the Government are ensuring that those entities can continue to obtain value for money for UK taxpayers.
Principally, the instrument makes amendments to the three sets of regulations that implement EU directives on awarding contracts and concessions in the public and utilities sectors outside the field of defence and security. It seeks to provide a level of continuity for procurement procedures that began before the end of the transition period. Procurements that fall within that category, including orders from ongoing contracts such as framework agreements, will continue in substance to follow the unamended procurement regulations.
The instrument makes various amendments to the procurement regulations, to reflect recent amendments made to other domestic and retained direct EU legislation, for example in relation to the acceptable formats for advanced electronic signatures and the applicable rules for determining the origin of products. To enable the procurement regulations to reflect technological developments, and full and ongoing interoperability in electronic invoicing, a power has been conferred on the Minister for the Cabinet Office to make regulations to substitute a different e-invoicing standard or a different reference to the same standard, or to make changes to specific syntaxes for e-invoices.
The instruments disapplies, for the whole of the UK, the rights derived from article 18 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union and parallel provisions in other agreements. Retaining those rights would leave a lack of clarity as to whether EU parties were in the scope of article 18 of the TFEU and therefore had additional rights in the UK compared with non-EU countries—for example, suppliers from the EU may be provided with additional rights compared with third-country suppliers.
The UK has been invited to accede to the Agreement on Government Procurement in its own right. The instrument contains contingency arrangements in case we are unable to legislate for GPA accession due to a delay in the Trade Bill. It mitigates the risk of a short gap in GPA membership by facilitating continued market access.
I have picked out some of the key features of the draft statutory instrument, but it does a lot of technical work. The particularly full explanatory memorandum to the instrument contains a lot of detail on the technical matters that I very much do not wish to detain the Committee with.
Left unamended, the existing regulations would not work as intended and the EU exit regulations made last year in the context of a no-deal scenario would come into force. That would amount to a breach of our international obligations and would cause confusion and uncertainty among procurers and suppliers, which would hamper the public sector’s ability to obtain value for money from procurement. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Hon. Members will be pleased to know that the debate can last until 4 o’clock.
I will see what I can do, Mr Hollobone, to reflect the importance of the Minister’s debut—at least until about 3.55 pm.
As the Minister outlined, the regulations largely carry over the processes that we have had in place as EU members and put them in a new, UK-only framework. They are obviously necessary. They also lay the legal foundation for our individual membership of the Agreement on Government Procurement with the World Trade Organisation.
The Government recognise in the expansive explanatory memorandum to which the Minister referred that the regulations are a work in progress. As the memorandum highlights, it is “likely” that sections of the instrument that we are being asked to approve today will need to be “revoked and replaced” within the next few months—and not for the first time. Irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations on our future relationship, we have known for four years that we will be leaving the EU, and the withdrawal agreement was agreed more than 12 months ago. However, with less than two months before the end of the transition period, we are being presented with regulations that are not fully fit for purpose. Nevertheless, they are necessary regulations that sensibly provide for us to broadly continue the existing procedures, with which we agree. We clearly need a new framework and a smooth transition in the interests of fairness, effectiveness and transparency. Although we do not oppose this statutory instrument, we have some questions on points of detail.
In line with the approach of keeping things much as they are, these regulations contain certain steady state amendments, such as removing references to the Official Journal of the European Union, which is to be replaced by a new UK e-notification service. Public bodies will be required to submit notices to that service in place of the EU publications office, so will the Minister confirm that the new e-notification service will be up and running by the end of the transition period, as the Government have previously promised? Will she also outline what guidance and support has been prepared to assist those who will be required to use it?
The instrument transfers to the Minister for the Cabinet Office the European Commission’s function to revalue the main financial thresholds. It also replaces cross-references to thresholds in the relevant EU directive with sterling values contained within the regulations themselves, and it provides for the Commission’s biannual review of the thresholds to be undertaken by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. That is all quite straightforward, but we would like assurance from the Minister that none of those provisions will impact on existing rights. For example, regulation 7(4) revokes regulation 90 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, albeit allowing for a year before it does so.
In part 5 of the instrument, regulation 25 removes any prohibition on awarding contracts on the grounds of nationality, and regulation 26 removes the international obligations the UK entered into when it was part of the EU. Will the Minister explain the rationale for regulation 25 and, in the context of regulation 26, outline how the Government will ensure that standards are strengthened and not diminished?
Government procurement is clearly under the spotlight at the moment—the issue was raised at Prime Minister’s questions today—and so this is a good time to reflect on our procedures. In recent months, the Government have delayed publication of awarded contracts long after the required timescales. They have heavily redacted the details of those contracts, needlessly avoided competitive tendering, and used commercial sensitivity as an excuse not to provide basic information to reasonable questions, such as: what are the names of Serco’s 29 contact-tracing subcontractors? Even allowing for the challenges of the pandemic, that is simply not good enough. The Government must meet the minimum levels of transparency and the highest standards that we expect to underpin procurement rules.
We understand that the Government are planning to publish a Green Paper on procurement, which might mean that some of these regulations will work differently in future. Can the Minister provide any further information on how the regulations might be affected, and will she assure us that there will be meaningful consultation with the local representatives responsible for so much of the nation’s procurement? When we sought views on the regulations, the Local Government Association told us:
“Councils need a simple and efficient public procurement regime which ensures the best value for public money and respects local decision-making. Shorter timescales, lighter-touch advertising requirements and award procedures, a speedier way of dealing with legal challenges, greater negotiation with suppliers, and a new focus on SMEs and voluntary community and social enterprises (VCSEs) would also be of benefit.”
For too long, Ministers have hidden behind EU procurement laws as a reason not to do more, while other countries have used the same procurement framework to improve economic and social outcomes. We could, for example, apply the principles of the Welsh Government’s code of practice for ethical employment, which promotes decent jobs and the living wage, and protects against exploitative practices at work.
The Opposition’s ambition for procurement is not limited to price. We want more public bodies to be able to use procurement to strengthen employment standards, improve supply chains, tackle carbon emissions and support other policy objectives—using public money to give the broadest gain for the taxpayer, as part of joined-up government. In addition to answering my specific questions, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us more about the Government’s plans to build on the regulations to achieve those broader objectives.
I appreciate the hon. Member’s scrutiny. It is very important that we build public confidence in everything that we are trying to do on procurement. Ultimately, this is a narrow piece of legislation. We need to ensure that the public procurement regulatory regime will function after the end of the transition period, and that we have continuity and legal certainty for procurers and suppliers. There are many moving parts to the negotiations, and this is a belt and braces approach to ensure that all the legal details are tied up in time for the end of the transition period.
We are doing such things as transferring powers from the EU to the Cabinet Office, which will obviously happen once we are no longer in the transition period. The hon. Member asked about our e-tender service. I have spoken to officials about it, and I am assured that the new system, moving away from the EU’s notification system, will be up and running by 11 o’clock on 31 December. He rightly touched on our wider ambitions for public procurement and the Green Paper, which is currently in draft form. Ministers are starting to look through it, ensuring that it fits with our own ambitions for the work that we want to do on this area, particularly on social value.
The hon. Member talked about the need to simplify procedures to ensure that local authorities and officials understand the rules. That means not only simplifying everything that we are doing and helping businesses to access exciting public procurement opportunities, but ensuring that we have training in place for officials, both in central Government agencies and in local authorities, to understand the new rules and articulate them to businesses so that the system functions as a whole.
The hon. Member talked about procurement during the pandemic. I want to ensure that we retain public confidence in everything that we do on contracts that have been let. We are working with the National Audit Office on those issues. I am sure that we will have further opportunities to debate them in the House, including during Cabinet Office oral questions tomorrow. Ultimately, this is a very narrow amendment that tries to ensure that we have covered all bases when it comes to leaving the transition period, and I commend it to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Peter Dowd
Begum, Apsana (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)
† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)
† Britcliffe, Sara (Hyndburn) (Con)
Cummins, Judith (Bradford South) (Lab)
Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
† Johnson, Gareth (Dartford) (Con)
† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)
† Mak, Alan (Havant) (Con)
† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)
† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† O'Brien, Neil (Harborough) (Con)
† Prentis, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)
† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)
Elektra Garvie-Adams, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee
Wednesday 11 November 2020
[Peter Dowd in the Chair]
Draft Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Before we begin, I remind the Committee of the social distancing regulations. Spaces available to Members are clearly marked, and unmarked spaces must not be occupied. The usual convention of Government and Opposition sides is waived on this occasion, so Members may sit anywhere. Finally, Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members sent any speaking notes to the usual email address.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd.
I stress that the instruments before the Committee will make no changes to policy on either organic products or genetic modified organisms, which I will refer to as GMOs. The amendments are required primarily as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol and to ensure that existing legislation continues to operate as intended. As established in the protocol, European Union legislation will continue to apply to Northern Ireland after the end of this year. The existing EU exit legislation therefore needs very minor technical amendments to reflect the fact that retained EU law, whether on organics or GMOs, will be substantively applicable in Great Britain only. The changes do no more than is necessary to meet our legal obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol and will ensure that our legislation works smoothly.
The instrument on organic products will make minor amendments to our organics legislation, ensuring that it is operable at the end of this year by, for example, changing references from “UK” to “GB”. The instrument will also amend retained EU legislation to allow organic producers to continue to have a derogation to use 5% of non-organic protein feed for organic pork and poultry to the end of 2022. The EU has made the same decision to extend that derogation.
No new policy is introduced by the instrument, and our standards of organic production remain the same. The Government are strongly supportive of organic standards, many of which were developed in the UK. There is good news on organics: over the course of this year, purchasing of organics has risen by over 9%, probably as a result of people’s buying habits during the pandemic.
Under the protocol, EU law on organics will continue to have effect in Northern Ireland, so the retained EU law need apply only in GB. That means that the Northern Irish organics market will remain the same. We are working really closely with Northern Irish colleagues to prepare for the end of this year, including by setting up a Northern Ireland competent authority on organics. We remain committed to ensuring that trade between GB and NI will continue, and we will recognise the EU as having an equivalent organic regime to the UK until 2022, which should provide certainty on imports for the immediate future. We hope that the EU will reciprocate on that very shortly.
Failure to adopt the instrument would put 6,000 largely small UK organic operators at risk. The instrument relates to devolved matters and the devolved Administrations have consented.
The instrument on genetically modified organisms has the primary purpose of making technical amendments to existing EU exit legislation, which are required as a consequence of the Northern Ireland protocol. Again, there will be no changes to policy. Detailed EU legislation provides a robust framework for the approval of GMOs, in order to protect both the environment and human health. Our existing exit legislation is intended to maintain that regime at the end of the transition period.
The original statutory instrument was drafted on the basis that the arrangements would be needed throughout the UK. Now, of course, we do not need to apply them to Northern Ireland. The amendments we have made are to change references to the UK or institutions in the UK to references to GB or institutions in GB. We must also revoke amendments to Northern Irish legislation, which are no longer required because of the protocol.
In addition to the provisions already described, the instrument makes a further amendment to retained direct EU legislation relating to the traceability and labelling of GMOs. That additional amendment revokes the legislation-making power currently conferred on the Commission, as that will have no practical effect after the end of the transition period.
Failure to adopt the instrument would mean that the retained EU law would, by continuing to refer to the UK, not work smoothly in the GB space. It is also potentially confusing for Northern Ireland, as it would suggest that retained EU law applies there, when it will not.
GMO policy is devolved and will remain so. The devolved Administrations have been closely involved in the production of the instrument and gave consent. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Dowd, and it is a pleasure to continue the conversation with the Minister. I note a sense of humour has been introduced to this place. Whoever thought we would link organic products with genetically modified organisms? If I brought those two groups together in my constituency, it would be a fiery exchange.
One of the benefits of the current process is that the discussions we have in this place are often mirrored in discussions elsewhere. This instrument was discussed at some length yesterday in the other place—longer than it will be here today, I suspect. The organic products SI also refers, of course, to a similarly named SI that was discussed back in March last year, in that extraordinary pre-no deal panic period. Many of the arguments are therefore very well rehearsed.
Looking back at that debate, it was quite fascinating. Some of the characters involved as Back Benchers now occupy very senior positions in the Department, including the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who I think managed to name check almost every organic producer in her constituency in her excellent speech on that occasion.
We can all be proud of the organic sector, with its 6,000 producers, at least. It is very important to customers and producers, and its potential was discussed at some length in debates on the Agriculture Bill. The European Union has recently made a major commitment to organics up to 2030, which could have significant consequences for our own producers.
While the SI is limited in policy terms, the threats—or challenges, depending on how we want to see it—are grave and should not be underestimated. Looking back at earlier debates, the same key themes keep emerging. Today’s SI deals with one extra complication, which is the Northern Ireland protocol.
I was very struck by two points in those previous debates. The first was the wise words of my predecessor, Dr David Drew, who drew attention to just how complicated some of the negotiations are, not just with the European Union. He mentioned the long time it had taken to get equivalence agreements with the United States, for instance. I gently suggest that there could be some work here for the Trade and Agriculture Commission to get its teeth into fairly early on, to make sure that we can make good progress on such things.
I was also struck by comments at a recent meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on dairy from Richard Hampton, chief executive of Omsco, which I think is the second largest organic co-op in the country, responsible for two thirds of our organic milk. He was very worried that our £280 million export market into Europe faces some jeopardy at the moment not only because the EU has yet to recognise our organic standard, but because shipments will require export health certificates and higher costs. That is a series of very pressing issues, which I hope the Minister will update us on.
As chair of the dairy group, I appreciate the hon. Member’s membership. We had a very wide-ranging discussion around Operation Brock and some of the challenges in the dairy sector. Does he agree that expanding some of the very tight restraints within Operation Brock to incorporate organics, dairy and cheese would definitely be a help to much of the sector?
I am grateful for the work that the hon. Gentleman does convening that group, which I have found fascinating on recent occasions when I have been able to join. I very much agree that there are important opportunities as well as challenges at the moment.
One issue that came up in yesterday’s debate in the other place, as well as in previous discussions, involves the IT systems that may or may not be in place. I wonder whether the Minister can help us on TRACES—the Trade Control and Expert System—which is used to monitor and track some of the organic produce coming in. In the debate in March last year, the now Secretary of State talked about a new IT system that would be ready in good time for our departure from the European Union. The then Minister, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), clarified that it was the TRACES New Technology import system that was being replaced
“with a manual system for an interim period for organics”.—[Official Report, 18 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 896.]
At the time, an autumn 2020 implementation was hoped for. I ask the Minister for an update on whether that has happened. It seems relevant, because new challenges are introduced by this SI on GB-NI movement. Yesterday, the Minister in the other place was able to say only that we
“continue to discuss access to the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System New Technology—TRACES NT—for imports into Northern Ireland”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 November 2020; Vol. 807, c. 992.]
That question is certainly worth pursuing.
I echo the question raised by Baroness Hayman of Ullock yesterday on the existing derogation for porcine and poultry feed into 2021 and 2022, which the Minister raised in her opening comments. Yesterday, the question was: what will happen after that period? How will that be resolved? Will it be rolled forward? Will there be a review? Will there be a consultation? I do not think that the answer yesterday was particularly clear.
My main contribution this afternoon will be to draw attention to a very important letter that was sent from a range of organisations in September to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The group included the organic control bodies, the National Farmers Union, the Soil Association, the Food and Drink Federation and many more. They raised a series of concerns about the issues touched on by today’s SI and more widely.
I will quote only the part that is relevant today. They said:
“We are writing to you as representatives of the UK organics sector with a deep concern about the future of trade in organic products between the UK and the EU…Unless equivalence is secured as part of the UK-EU negotiations, British organic food producers will not be legally allowed to sell their products in the EU or in Northern Ireland, due to its status as part of the EU’s regulatory regime.
Global sales of organic products are rapidly approaching £100 billion and the UK is the world’s 9th biggest organic market worth £2.6 billion in 2019. Consistently strong growth in global consumer demand represents a significant opportunity for UK producers.”
That is very much as the Minister laid out. They went on to say:
“The EU market alone has seen a doubling of per capita spending on organic food in the last decade with the new EU draft policy Farm to Fork highlighting the growth and opportunities across the organics market. With the right deal in place, there remains very strong growth potential for organic trade between the UK and EU after the transition period ends… UK Organic Control Bodies have applied for recognition under the EU Regulation (EC) 1235/2008. In the event of these applications being successful but without an equivalency agreement in place, then any product destined for the EU, or potentially destined for the EU, would need to comply with Regulation (EU) 2018/848 and its delegating and implementing acts. It is estimated that around 80 per cent of UK organic operators would need to be certified to both the UK regulation and the EU regulation.
From a certification perspective, the control bodies will face new lengthy processes, having to certify to two regulations (the UK organic regulation and the EU regulation), issue nonconformances relating to each and issue two separate certificates. This will lead to significantly more administration as there will need to be accreditation to both the EU regulation and UK regulation, adding cost and regulatory burden to UK business.
Unless equivalence is secured as part of the negotiations, it would bring significant practical and financial problems… Manufacturers in Northern Ireland are likely to lose access to some essential sources of organic ingredients or products produced in Great Britain in favour of products from EU member states which will be able to be imported without additional administration, or certification requirements.
When exporting not only would British producers have to create new packaging with any reference to ‘organic’ removed, potentially increasing food and packaging waste, they will also lose their premium status and will quickly become unviable in terms of recouping the cost of production.”
I could go on—there is plenty more—but that quotation shows that there is a real issue. I ask the Minister to explain what our organic producers are to do in the face of such chronic uncertainty.
Yesterday, the Minister in the Lords expressed “hope” that the EU will reciprocate our recognition. He confirmed that six UK control bodies have individually applied for recognition by the EU. But here we are, six weeks before the key date, and we have got ourselves into this extraordinary position. He also confirmed that these applications are independent of the Government’s negotiations and not covered by any potential deal—what a mess.
I turn briefly to the GMO statutory instrument. We appreciate that during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, there was a debate in the other place about technological developments in gene editing. We very much welcome the Government’s assurances that no change will be suggested without a full and proper review. These are complicated issues that merit wide and full public discussion and debate. However, for the purposes of this SI, the issue is only about ensuring that the legislation works within Great Britain; each Administration will continue to make their own decisions.
I again echo a question posed by Baroness Hayman yesterday:
“if the UK were to grant a GMO authorisation to a product that did not enjoy similar accreditation at the EU level,”
what would be the impact on movement within the UK—that is, between GB and NI?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 November 2020; Vol. 807, c. 990.] She also asked whether the UK will maintain equivalence to the EU on GMOs, particularly in the context of the UK-US negotiations, and what potential impact that would have on our ability to export agricultural products to the EU.
I appreciate that these are major questions, and I wish the Minister well in attempting to answer them, but I do think they show the very difficult situation we are now in.
I will attempt to answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, but I must say that he has gone far wider than the scope of the SIs. As committed as we are to both the organic sector and to technological advances in agriculture, I do not think this is the proper forum for answering very broad, sectoral questions about our direction on either. Having said that, as he asked the questions, I will briefly touch on some of them.
We are working with stakeholders across the devolved Administrations to scope out the user needs for an electronic replacement for TRACES NT. From 1 January, while we develop the new import system, we will be using a manual system that mirrors the one recently replaced by the electronic TRACES NT system. We are continuing to communicate and issue guidance on the manual system to organic operators in the UK, and to those in third countries.
On the labelling issue, which is a wide question, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the vote on the control bodies recognition is likely to take place at the meeting at the end of November. We wish them well with that, but we also hope that trade between the EU and UK will continue in the long term. That is why, as I said earlier, we have decided to recognise the EU’s organic standards as equivalent until the end of 2021, while we make the long-term agreements with the EU, in order to allow producers in Great Britain the continued supply of organic products and ingredients that they currently enjoy.
The derogation about feed continues to the end of 2022, so we will let the hon. Gentleman know in due course what plans we have for the end of that period. I will not tie myself to anything at this point—we have many more pressing matters to decide on before then.
We intend to consult on GMOs, and we should start that consultation towards the end of this year. I anticipate that it will take 12 weeks and that it will be a very full review, and I look forward to engaging with the evidence that emerges.
If we make substantive changes to our policy on gene editing—there is some appetite in Government for doing that, as the Prime Minister himself has said—that would require legislative change. There would be a great deal of time to go over the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman in the course of passing that legislation.
I hope members of the Committee fully understand the need for the two sets of regulations, and the need to maintain operability and consistency of our legislation at the end of the transition period. The regulations help make the retained EU organic and GMO regimes operable, and ensure that the strict regulations that are currently in place will be maintained at the end of the transition period.
I therefore commend the two instruments to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
DRAFT GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (AMENDMENT) (EU EXIT) REGULATIONS 2020
That the Committee has considered the draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.—(Victoria Prentis.)