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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 20 January 2021

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Philip Hollobone

Andrew, Stuart (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)

Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)

Davies, Geraint (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)

Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)

Fell, Simon (Barrow and Furness) (Con)

† Hall, Luke (Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government)

Jones, Mr Marcus (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)

Mayhew, Jerome (Broadland) (Con)

Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

† Reed, Steve (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op)

Whitley, Mick (Birkenhead) (Lab)

Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)

Seb Newman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended (Standing Order No. 118(2)):

Wragg, Mr William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 20 January 2021

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Draft West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021

Before we begin, I would like to remind hon. Members to observe social distancing and sit only in places that are clearly marked. Hansard colleagues would be most grateful if Members sent their speaking notes to

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Laid before the House on 17 December 2020, the draft order, if approved and made, will implement the devolution deal agreed between the Government and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget on 11 March 2020. Therefore, the order will establish the office of Mayor of West Yorkshire, with the first election taking place on 6 May 2021. The Mayor will be chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which comprises the constituent councils of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield. The order transfers police and crime commissioner functions for West Yorkshire to the combined authority, to be exercised by the Mayor. In addition to the PCC functions, the order confers significant other powers on the Mayor and combined authority, as envisaged in the devolution deal, which relate to education and skills, regeneration, a mayoral development corporation and transport. It also amends certain of the combined authority’s governance arrangements in order to reflect those powers and the role of the Mayor.

Most importantly, the making of the order opens a way to providing the very considerable funding for this area, as set out in the deal. That includes £38 million of annual investment funding for West Yorkshire for the next 30 years, comprising in total more than £1.1 billion, to be invested by West Yorkshire to drive—

Was the money mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister conditional on acceptance of this mayoral model, and might it not be considered somewhat as a municipal bribe?

The transport funding set out in the Budget previously was conditional on expansion of the mayoral combined authority. I think it is right to say that all parties who have entered into this deal did so willingly and in good faith and have made positive arguments for the extra accountability and benefits that it will bring to the region. The £1.1 billion can be invested in tackling the priorities of West Yorkshire. It includes £317 million from the transforming cities fund, with flexibilities on spend, as well as control of the annual adult education budget.

All this will help the Mayor and local leaders to drive the area’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic. At this point, I place on record my thanks to all the local government leaders, councillors and officers in West Yorkshire for their hard work, not just in securing and agreeing the details of this deal, but in their response to the pandemic, which has been diligent and remarkable.

The order will be made, if Parliament approves, under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. As required by that legislation, we have laid, along with this order, an S105B report, which provides details about the public authority functions that we are devolving to the combined authority, some of which will be exercisable by the Mayor.

The statutory origin of the order is in a governance review and scheme adopted in April 2020 by the combined authority, with its five constituent councils, in accordance with the requirement of the 2009 Act. The scheme proposed additional functions to be conferred on the combined authority, as envisaged in the devolution deal, specifying which would be exercised by the Mayor and certain amendments to governance arrangements.

As provided for by the 2009 Act, the combined authority and the councils consulted on the proposals in their scheme, promoting the consultation through regional and local media, social media and posters at public buildings. Responses were accepted through the combined authority website, as well as email, letter and a hard copy form. The consultation ran from 25 May to 20 July 2020, and in total 4,413 people responded to the consultation through a variety of platforms. As statute requires, the combined authority provided the Secretary of State with a summary of the responses to the consultation, on 14 September, and the results show that the proposals are strongly supported by the public and stakeholders.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is being very generous and is probably somewhat taken aback by my secondment to this Committee this morning. I thank him for his forbearance. In the summary of responses, did he receive a single positive response from a Conservative Member of Parliament?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We have had extensive engagement with Members of Parliament in West Yorkshire throughout the process and have met on numerous occasions. Of the eight questions posed in the consultation, all received clear majority support in the consultation responses that have been received. In laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the statutory tests in the 2009 Act are met—that no further consultation is necessary and that conferring the proposed powers would likely improve the exercise of statutory functions in the combined authority area—and are appropriate, having regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective local government. Where the functions are local authority functions, they can be appropriately exercised by the combined authority. Furthermore, as required by statute, the combined authority and the five constituent councils consented to the making of this order.

If the draft order is approved, it will give effect to the provisions of the devolution deal. PCC functions will be transferred. The order is clear that the Mayor’s role as the holder of PCC functions is carved out, and that decisions around police property, rights and liabilities are the Mayor’s responsibility, and there remains a distinct precept. All money relating to policing must be paid into and out of the police fund, and that money can be spent only on policing and matters related to the Mayor’s PCC functions.

A new police and crime panel is to be created, which will exercise broadly the same functions as the police and crime panel under the PCC model. The financial year of the PCC and chief constable for West Yorkshire is to be extended from 31 March to 9 May 2021 to rationalise accounting processes and avoid preparing additional accounts for the one-month interim period. Any receipts will be paid to the police fund to ensure that police funding is protected, and a new police and crime panel is to be created to exercise the same functions as those under the PCC model.

To improve the supply and quality of housing to facilitate the regeneration of West Yorkshire, the combined authority will be conferred regeneration powers and land acquisition and disposal powers. Those will be exercised concurrently with Homes England, enabling the combined authority, working closely with Homes England, to promote regeneration.

The compulsory purchase of land will be a mayoral function, and any decisions will require consent from the West Yorkshire combined authority member whose local government area contains any parts of the proposed land. The order also includes constitutional provisions reflecting the powers conferred and the role of the Mayor. There is provision regarding voting arrangements, so that any decision of the combined authority about its new powers conferred through this order must include the Mayor and the majority of members in favour of that decision. The order also provides for the establishment of an independent remuneration panel to recommend the allowances of the Mayor and deputy Mayor.

This order, which is supported locally, is a significant step forward for West Yorkshire’s businesses and communities. It is key to the city region’s economic recovery, and I commend it to the Committee.

Members will be delighted to know that the debate can last until five minutes to 11. I call Steve Reed.

Thank you, Mr Hollobone; I might not avail myself of all the time that you have generously allocated to us.

I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. I suspect this will not be the most ferociously divisive and controversial matter to come before us in current times. Labour Members support the creation of the combined authority and Mayor for West Yorkshire. In fact, we would like to see the Government go further and faster. The pandemic has taught us many things, and one of them is about the limitations of over-centralisation and the benefits of opening up power more widely across the country. In that context, the leader of the Labour party is establishing a constitutional commission, which I hope will be able to work across parties, and certainly with civil society and the public, to try to find more ways to open up power and decision making to people across all parts of the United Kingdom and into every community that makes up our country.

I am not going to challenge the Minister on the proposals but I have a few questions to ask, in the spirit of looking for the Government to go further and faster. Will the combined authority and the Mayor of West Yorkshire play a role in decisions about the allocation of funds through the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund? Are the Government considering the devolution of further powers to the combined authority or, indeed, to Mayors and combined authorities in other parts of the country, as part of the deepening of devolution? There have been some delays in the publication of the devolution White Paper. Can the Minister tell us yet when we might expect to see that White Paper and be able to engage in the debate that will follow about the most appropriate way to move forward with a devolution agenda, particularly as we build back after the pandemic?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Hollobone, on this delegated legislation Committee and to witness the forensic scrutiny to which Her Majesty’s Government are subjected on these occasions. It is truly inspiring.

I want, if I may, to draw on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister, who gave a slightly curtailed exposition of the measure before us today. I speak with a degree of experience and, noting the preponderance of Whips on the Committee, I am reminded the occasion when, as a junior Member—I still am, compared with many, although I may not sound it at times—I was subjected to a threat, if I can call it that; perhaps I can say “a friendly threat”. It was made by a then member of the Government Whips Office, when, for mildly questioning the Government’s devolution policy at the time, particularly with respect to Greater Manchester, I was threatened with “serious consequences”.

When I inquired of that member of the Government Whips Office why my impertinence would meet with such a reaction, he was unable to elaborate on the nature of those serious consequences. However, I imagine one of the reasons why I am in my place today—and, if I may be so bold, perhaps why you are in yours, Mr Hollobone, and the Minister and the Whips are in theirs—is that I have perhaps found out those particular serious consequences after all, because it hindered my progression up the greasy pole. However, that does not particularly bother me.

My reason for wanting to speak briefly about the draft order is that I think the Government are at risk of persisting with what is frankly an Osborne hangover. A number of us felt that we had dismissed the legacy of the ancien régime in our party, but we seem to be making exactly the same mistakes again. I draw to the Committee’s attention the recent issues in Greater Manchester, in particular the combination of the police and crime commissioner role with that of the Mayor, and the complete lack of accountability for what has been a tragedy for 80,000 victims of crime who were unable to register those crimes.

I mention that because, as we amalgamate and create new structures, we are in danger of forgetting what powers of scrutiny there may be. A cursory glance at the draft order shows that the Mayor has the ability to appoint deputies who are themselves entirely unaccountable to the electorate.

I also note my hon. Friend the Minister’s brief mention of constitutional matters, particularly the voting arrangements. I thought that the Conservative party was the party of first past the post. Yet, again, on this occasion we are creating an elected office with a frankly rather mixed system, which does not reflect the advantages of first past the post.

Recently, or not so recently now—in 2019—we were able to secure a number of seats in the north of England that we, as the Conservative party, have not held for many years. Yet with the constant march of creating these bodies, I fear we are at risk of once again subjecting areas to the rule of socialists—areas that we have hitherto sought to liberate from that burden.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and the hon. Member for Croydon North for their remarks, and the Committee for its consideration today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove raised his concerns and objections to the deal. I think it presents not a serious threat, but rather a serious opportunity for West Yorkshire, with the extra funding and investment that we are putting into this deal. It will allow regeneration opportunities to open up and bring investment into a community that has supported the deal through individual councils. This is a positive step forward for West Yorkshire, which is why it has received support from local leaders.

My hon. Friend also talked about devolving powers locally. We think that it is the right course of action. Devolving power is the best mechanism to secure the most possible local support and involvement in decision making, which we think is a positive step forward.

My hon. Friend also referenced the deputy Mayor and the lack of accountability. The deputy Mayor is appointed by the Mayor, and is accountable directly to the public through the Mayor themselves, so we think that is a positive step forward. It is supported widely locally. All the questions that were raised were broadly supported by the responses received during the consultation process.

The hon. Member for Croydon North asked a number of questions. I am grateful for his and his party’s support on this matter. He asked questions about the Mayor’s role in the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund, and he is right to do so. We will make sure that those questions are answered in the new prospectus, when it is published shortly. I note his questions and we will make sure that they are answered through the proper channel.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the devolution of further powers as part of this process. It is right that the planning powers were not committed as part of this deal, and we will look to have those conversations once the wider planning reforms are agreed. We will take those conversations forward with the Mayor, once they are elected. The hon. Gentleman also made some general comments about the local response to the pandemic, and the amazing work of mayors, councillors and local administrations around the country. I join him in that.

I believe that this order and the deal that it implements will make a significant contribution to the future of West Yorkshire. It brings power closer to communities, and it will play an important part in the economic recovery and the response to the pandemic. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 Draft Plant Health (Amendment) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir David Amess

Andrew, Stuart (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)

Betts, Mr Clive (Sheffield South East) (Lab)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)

† Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

Gardiner, Barry (Brent North) (Lab)

Griffith, Andrew (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)

Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)

Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

Lockhart, Carla (Upper Bann) (DUP)

Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)

† Prentis, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)

Wakeford, Christian (Bury South) (Con)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Nicholas Taylor, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 20 January 2021

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020

Colleagues, will you make sure that you let Hansard have a copy of your speech at the end of proceedings?

I will now call the Minister to move the motion and to speak to both statutory instruments. At the end of the debate, I will put the Question on the first motion and then ask the Minister to move the second motion.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1631).

With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Plant Health (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

The regulations and the draft regulations were laid before this House on 22 December and 9 December last year, respectively.

The regulations complete the suite of European Union exit amendments set out in the Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were debated unopposed in the House on 30 November 2020, and came into force shortly before midnight on 31 December. As with the first SI, the second one—the regulations before us —amends EU retained regulations governing official controls on imports to Great Britain of animals and animal products, and plants and plant products, including food and other imports relevant to the agrifood chain, collectively known as sanitary and phytosanitary or SPS checks.

The EU regulatory structure being retained and made operable by the amendments is extensive and complex. Owing to the intricacy of the amendments required, we took the decision to divide the necessary legislation into two instruments. That is why we are debating this second one today. The first focused on operability amendments to the main body of EU official controls regulations. This one makes similar operability amendments to more than 30 separate tertiary regulations, covering procedural aspects of the official controls regime, including regulation of model certificates, transits and transhipments, operation of border control posts and specific requirements for certain categories of animal and plant import control. The SI ensures that we can continue to deliver robust, effective controls and checks on all food, animal and plant imports.

We have now started to phase in border controls on imports from the European economic area. That prioritises flow at the border and gives business and industry longer to prepare for the full controls regime. It is a temporary, pragmatic step to support international trade and mitigate disruption, made necessary partly by the impact of the pandemic. From July this year, we will have controls in place for all imports of EU SPS goods.

Moving on, the draft plant health regulations will help us to achieve unfettered market access for Northern Irish businesses moving goods into Great Britain, which is a key commitment of the Northern Ireland protocol and of the UK internal market. The draft regulations specify the mechanism to allow regulated plants and plant materials to move from Northern Ireland into Great Britain. The instrument will not introduce any policy changes, and the devolved Administrations have given their consent.

The draft regulations will protect biosecurity and support trade by amending retained EU law to allow movements of qualifying goods into Great Britain under an EU plant passport. For Northern Irish businesses trading with Great Britain, nothing will change compared with the situation at the end of last year. It makes amendments to the format of UK plant passports, to allow identification of qualifying goods on the GB market, which should ensure traceability in the event of a biosecurity issues arising.

Once in Great Britain, an EU plant passport can continue to accompany the qualifying goods—it will look simply like a label. Authorised operators will also have the option to replace the EU plant passport with a UK plant passport, should they, for example, want to split a consignment where each trade unit is not already covered by an individual plant passport.

The draft regulations also provide for goods to be assessed against GB plant health standards where those differ from those of the EU, and there is an option for the authorised operator to issue a UK plant passport where goods are assessed as meeting GB plant health requirements. Under the terms of the protocol, Northern Ireland will maintain alignment with the EU plant health regime rather than that of Great Britain. Finally, the regulations make consequential amendments to domestic legislation.

The regulations and draft regulations will ensure that legislation to maintain UK biosecurity will continue to function in Great Britain and that we shall continue to deliver an effective imports system that guarantees our high standards of food and animal safety, while ensuring frictionless trading and movements.

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve with you in the Chair, Sir David. It brings back happy memories of considering the Bill that became the Agriculture Act 2020. Of course, we are returning to the ongoing dialogue about the changes to checks and controls on food and plant movements that we were enjoying last year.

I note that the first of the statutory instruments has a similar title—with the helpful addition of a bracketed No. 2 for clarification—to the one that we discussed at the end of November, to which the Minister has made reference. On that occasion our exchanges were brief, and lasted no more than 10 minutes. Once again I assure the Minister that the Opposition will not oppose the measures, because we want the systems to work. However, I cannot promise to be quite so brief today.

The fact that we are not opposing the measures and that once again the discussion is likely to be relatively short raises the question of why Members have been brought to London, which in my view puts staff and Members at risk. Ministers can do Zoom calls with 250 participants. I am not sure whether they always do them very well, although perhaps I am being unkind. However, I wonder why on earth seven or eight of us must be physically in this room at a time of maximum danger. Perhaps that point could be relayed to the authorities that make such decisions. I understand that we shall be doing the same on Monday.

Having got those matters off my chest, I will turn to the statutory instruments. As the Minister said, the issues are important and complicated, with a panoply of controls being transposed into UK law. Now we are in the possibly more advantageous position of having some experience of how things are going. Sadly, I am afraid that we see on a daily basis that the promises about many of the systems—that they would be ready and working—were just that: promises. The reality has been rather different, and the extraordinary assertion by the Prime Minister that there were to be no non-tariff barriers has been shown to be completely inaccurate, as we said at the time.

In the explanatory memorandum to the first of the statutory instruments, on official controls, we begin to get an explanation of what was happening in December as the UK sought essential third-country status. I remember questioning the Minister at the time, and as always she was helpful, if discreet. Paragraphs 7.4 and 7.5 explain the time constraints and the fact that effectively a two-stage process was needed, with more than 30 regulations intended for inclusion in the first statutory instrument being held over. As is outlined in paragraph 7.6, the regulations were implemented first, and are now being debated. So much for taking back control.

My first question is relatively simple. If there was to be a two-stage process, why were we not told that in November? I have no recollection of that being explained. Clearly the Government knew what they were doing, but why could not the British public or, indeed, Parliament, be trusted with the information about what was going on, given that it has such a direct impact on us? Why the secrecy? Of course, it raises the question of what we are not being told now.

It is always interesting to scrutinise statutory instruments when they have already been discussed in the other place. Not only does one get to hear the Government speech twice, which is of course a great pleasure, but the Minister in the other place is particularly diligent and exhaustive in his replies, and his inquisitors are often highly experienced former occupants of the role. I therefore watched yesterday’s exchanges closely and noted that there were so many pressing questions from the noble Lords that the Minister promised to answer in what he described as a “substantial letter”. Today, officials have had a further day to mull over some of the points that were raised, and I hope that we can have some more direct answers immediately.

Lord Rooker as ever asked incisive questions on reference laboratories, and others, including my colleague the shadow Minister, Baroness Hayman, joined him in pressing on that issue. The answer seemed to me to be somewhat vague, so I ask directly again about the reintroduction of European Union reference laboratories into this instrument. DEFRA’s answer to the questions—some of which were posed by Friends of the Earth in response to the points raised by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—implies we do not currently have a reference laboratory that uses the standard operating procedures. Could the Minister elaborate on that? In my view, saying that the intention is that it will be done does not seem good enough.

We also learned about the staged implementation of measures, with pre-notification requirements from April and full controls from July. Yet, when responding to Baroness Hayman, the Minister told of 29 applications to build new border control posts, and 14 in Scotland—applications to build. Could the Minister tell us how long will that take? Will they be in place and operating in 24 weeks’ time? On staffing, as Lord Rooker asked, how many of the staff needed for April will be in place? It is mid-January now. They need to be recruited and trained.

When it comes to the computer systems, as a former IT person myself, I rather enjoyed the naive optimism of the Minister, as he gamely admitted computers were not really his thing and that systems were “under development”—for July! In my experience, I do not think that is likely. We have already seen the myriad problems being faced by businesses with systems that do not work. It looks as if it is going to get a whole lot worse yet. I ask the Minister to explain to us today, or maybe add to her colleague’s “substantial letter”, which systems are under development and what stage that development has reached.

Let me pick up some of the further points raised by Friends of the Earth. I am grateful for its detailed reading of these instruments, which helpfully highlight the reduction in oversight and transparency of import conditions under regulation 2 of the lead SI. I have complained to the Minister before about the negative SI procedure. I gently remind her that the relaxation of competition rules in the grocery sector, which were prayed against last summer, have still not been heard. Indeed, in that time they have lapsed, so competition was restored, and then they were relaxed again through, I imagine, a further negative instrument. Yet there has been no discussion and no scrutiny. I have no objection to prompt action, but I do object to a lack of transparency.

I must conclude that the system does not work, and Friends of the Earth is right to question the cumulative potential impact. The Minister will be aware that following the votes on the Trade Bill last night, critics are pointing to examples where Government can now make changes, lowering standards out of sight. I am afraid that we are now seeing many examples of exactly that happening.

The answer to Friends of the Earth’s questions includes the extraordinary assertion by DEFRA that the exercise of the power referenced by one of the questions was,

“unlikely to be sufficiently serious or contentious to justify using the affirmative resolution procedure”.

Of course, DEFRA would say that, but it is not for Government to decide whether their actions are contentious; that is for Parliament.

Could the Minister clarify the meaning of regulation 13 and the minimum specific requirements for vets? I really do not like the sound of it. It is pretty clear that we do not have enough vets. Does this give Ministers the powers to solve the problem by reducing the veterinary oversight? I hope not, but hidden in the labyrinthine details of these regulations are too many opportunities for what many would see as deregulation by stealth.

Friends of the Earth also queries the pest risk emergency lists. The answer given was again, essentially, “We have an expert group, the UK Plant Health Risk Group, so trust us.” Well, we broadly do, but yet again, it looks to me that there is again a reduction in transparency. I hope the Minister can persuade me that I am wrong.

Let me move to the draft regulations on plant health. Again, we will not oppose it, because we want the system to work, and we are reassured that the Horticultural Trades Association is happy with this. It tells me:

“The key SI for us is the Plant Health Regulation which sets out the requirement for Qualifying Northern Ireland Goods to enter GB under an EU Plant Passport and sets out how these EU Plant Passported goods should be treated once in GB. However, a key point we would make here is that this SI exempts goods traveling from within the EU plant health area traveling NI to GB, whereas the EU has not made the same exemptions for goods traveling from GB to NI.”

This is, of course, a recurrent theme. Could the Minister update us on any representations being made, and whether she thinks this is an advantageous arrangement for us? I suspect, like me, she does not.

The Horticultural Trades Association has also helpfully developed a seven-point plan to improve the phytosanitary and border control process with a series of detailed recommendations around developing better relationships and protocols, simplifying data entry and so on, of which I am sure the Minister is aware. I would welcome an update on progress on those points.

I will conclude by giving a practical example of why all this matters so much. It is a case passed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) involving a harrowing account from a business located in Hampshire. The company says—I am paraphrasing—that a system that worked perfectly well for over 20 years is now in chaos. It details extra costs of between £130 and £150 for inspection of each consignment coming from Europe, which it estimates will add an extra £30,000 per annum to its costs. The business says there are only two inspectors in northern Holland to check thousands of consignments, leading to huge delays. According to the company, “it’s insanity.”

Particularly relevant to this SI is what the company says about the UK plant passport, which I will quote in full:

“It is now required for plants to have the U.K. plant passport printed or displayed on them either on the pot or on the label or sleeve. What that means is that a sticker has to be attached to each item/carton/case with this new U.K. plant passport printed on it. So for imported food for the U.K. the EU growers EU plant passport is no longer enough (which has been perfectly acceptable for 40 years) now the U.K. plant passport has to be added. Each U.K. importer has a different U.K. plant passport number so it is impossible to have a generic or multi user solution. The extra work and cost involved in printing and attaching this U.K. plant passport is quite simply astonishing. Typically a truckload with plants can contain in excess of 20,000 plants. That is 20,000 stickers that need to be attached to each and every plant for just 1 truckload. It’s total madness!! I currently have 150 truckloads coming to UK. That is roughly 500,000 plants. All need to have new labels stuck on them!!”

Discussions of statutory instruments often seem dry, but they have an impact on the real world—on our constituents. It might be that there have been some misunderstandings here, and I hope the Minister or her officials can provide clarification. I will pass the details of this case to the Minister in the hope that some help can be offered. In the experience of those who need them, the systems currently in place are quite clearly not working.

The Prime Minister initially said there were no non-tariff barriers, but now the line is that there are “teething problems”. Frankly, they are not teething problems, but structural problems. I understand the Minister said as much during a Westminster Forum event this morning, although I would be grateful if she told me I am wrong about that. The first step in tackling a problem is to recognise and understand it, and not deny it. These are difficult issues that are not going away, and we need to resolve them quickly.

I will, as ever, try to answer all of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. If I miss one, it is inadvertent. I know that the Lords Minister will be writing a substantial letter, so I will ensure that reaches the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that my noble Friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble will pick up on some of the points that have been made in both Houses in the last two days.

On the general point, I will not get involved in the discussion about whether we should be here, but I heard what the hon. Gentleman said to you, Sir David. Negative SIs are published and are fully available for parliamentary scrutiny and debate, so I will not get involved in that debate either.

On why this SI was not debated at the time of the first official controls instrument, we laid that at the start of November and debated and published it by mid-December, because that was a condition of the Commission for us to be listed as a third country, which was critical for the movement of some goods that are imported into the UK. Given the complexity of the legislative amendments made to the whole body of retained EU legislation, we decided to deliver the amendments through two separate statutory instruments. There was no secrecy or peculiarity about that; it was merely a practical step and it is why we are here today. Both SIs were laid before the House in December—one on 9 December, and the other on 22 December—so they have been available to be scrutinised openly. That was what they were there for and the explanatory note makes that clear, so I do not think there has been any secrecy about the position.

I have read the Friends of the Earth queries, which are technical. The Minister in the other place made it clear that they required a detailed response, so I will leave those for the substantive letter from the Department. On border control posts and infrastructure, I have not read the Lords debate, but I suspect the other place was told that DEFRA had approved expressions of interests for 29 new BCPs from providers in England and Wales. The Animal and Plant Health Agency tells us that the building is progressing and it is confident that they can be ready by July. Two further applications are under consideration and further expressions of interest are expected in Scotland. That work is under way, and the teams working on it are hopeful—indeed, they expect—that it will be completed in time.

DEFRA is working with port health authorities, APHA and the Food Standards Agency to recruit and train the additional staff required for each stage of the import regime. We have recruited 176 plant health and seed inspectors who are in post now, and we expect their number to increase to up to 300 by July. For animals and animal products, we expect to employ 200 inspectors by April and a further 80 by July, together with 360 administrative staff. Recruitment has been ongoing since at least November and training is happening. A great deal of work is being done to get ready for our sensible, pragmatic and phased approach to bringing in the border checks. The EU reference laboratories are not covered in the official controls regulations, but I will write separately to the hon. Gentleman on that matter.

Continuing to try answer the questions in order, we are confident that we have enough trained vets. We made surge capacity of vets available over this period but not much has been used, so there is still spare surge capacity. I would never say that the situation is not challenging for exporters; I know it is, but we are confident that there is enough capacity at the moment and surge capacity is there if individuals need it.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to refer specific cases to me and my officials, who are working hand in hand to support companies that are trying to export. We will willingly take them up. I also encourage anybody trying to export to make full use of our training programmes, webinars and individual support. There is a great deal of support to get businesses ready for the new checks.

That was not quite the question I was asking, although we are all concerned about the availability of vets. The suggestion from Friends of the Earth is that within these changes Minsters may have given themselves the ability to reduce veterinary oversight, which is another way of dealing with the problem but not one that many would be happy with.

Certainly, the intention behind the statutory instruments is to have a robust system in place for protecting our biosecurity. I remember debating last year with the hon. Gentleman how to tailor our approach so that biosecurity in this country could be done better than over an entire continent. I will make sure that the my noble Friend Lord Gardiner answers the point made by Friends of the Earth, because I am not absolutely certain what point it is worried about, but I will look into it and make sure that the hon. Gentleman is copied into that letter.

Even though the second SI is clearly about NI to GB, a question was posed about what progress has been made on equivalence, and although that issue is not specifically in scope, I think it is only fair that I answer it briefly. If I may summarise, the question is what progress has been made in UK-EU equivalence negotiations. DEFRA submitted applications for third-country equivalence on a number of occasions, as I outlined many times last year. In late December, the EU formally confirmed that it would grant equivalence for seed and other propagating material and would lift prohibitions on ware potatoes, for example. The EU has published an equivalence decision for fruit and vegetable propagating material, which also included lifting the prohibition on ware potatoes, and we are currently waiting for it to reach a Council decision on forest reproductive material and agricultural seed. We are pushing the EU very hard for a timeline for that decision. We continue to push on a regular basis for the lifting of the prohibition, and we are pursuing an application under article 44 of the plant health regulation on the equivalence of plant health measures generally.

I hope that that deals with the substance of the questions, and I commend these two instruments to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.



That the Committee has considered the draft Plant Health (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.—(Victoria Prentis.)

Committee rose.

Operation of Air Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mark Pritchard

Anderson, Lee (Ashfield) (Con)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

Cummins, Judith (Bradford South) (Lab)

Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)

Girvan, Paul (South Antrim) (DUP)

Grady, Patrick (Glasgow North) (SNP)

Holden, Mr Richard (North West Durham) (Con)

Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

† Jones, Mr Marcus (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majestys Household)

† Kane, Mike (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)

† Maclean, Rachel (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

Mohindra, Mr Gagan (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)

O’Brien, Neil (Harborough) (Con)

Randall, Tom (Gedling) (Con)

Sambrook, Gary (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)

Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

† Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majestys Treasury)

Bradley Albrow, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 20 January 2021

[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

Operation of Air Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Operation of Air Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 1632).

These regulations are made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the instrument applies to the United Kingdom. The regulations ensure that EU regulation 1008/2008 on common rules for the operation of air services continues to function correctly in UK law after the transition period. They do so by amending the Operation of Air Services (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018. The need for today’s SI has arisen because the EU amended regulation 1008/2008 after the 2018 regulations were made.

In May last year, EU regulation 2020/696 inserted provisions into regulation 1008/2008 to address problems caused by the slump in air passengers resulting from the covid-19 pandemic. It also inserted powers for the Commission to extend the new provisions by delegated acts. The Commission used those powers and made further amendments to the regulation via two delegated regulations adopted on 16 December 2020, which extended two of the new provisions until the end of 2021, rather than them expiring at the end of 2020.

The extended provisions allow airlines in financial difficulty to retain their operating licences, subject to certain conditions, and allow airports to urgently replace ground handling providers, should they suddenly cease trading. I will describe those provisions in more detail shortly.

The SI was made using the made affirmative procedure as the only means to bring it into force before the end of the transition period while ensuring parliamentary scrutiny. As I have noted, the most recent EU amendments were not adopted until 16 December. Only then was it possible to determine the precise content of this SI. The SI was laid before the House on 23 December, the earliest opportunity after the Commission’s adoption of the delegated regulations.

The first of the two provisions concerns air carrier licensing. Regulation 1008/2008 requires the Civil Aviation Authority to revoke or suspend the operating licence of an air carrier in financial difficulty and replace it with a temporary licence, but such action risks the integrity of the air carrier in the eyes of investors and customers, raising concerns about its viability. Normally, such actions are justified to tightly regulate carriers in financial difficulty, but during the covid-19 pandemic, all air carriers have suffered significant decreases in revenues, and a more flexible response is required.

Regulation 2020/696 inserted a new provision allowing regulators not to revoke or suspend operating licences where the carrier is in financial difficulty, providing a financial assessment is undertaken, safety is not at risk and there is a realistic prospect of financial reconstruction within 12 months.

The second extended provision concerns ground handling. Where a ground handler has ceased trading before the end of its contract, the new provision allows airports to choose a new provider directly for a limited period rather than undertaking a tender process. Reduced demand increases the risk of sudden failure of ground handling companies. The new provision ensures minimal disruption at airports. References to the ground handling directive are replaced by reference to the Airports (Groundhandling) Regulations 1997, which transpose the directive. Provisions relating to the Commission’s delegated powers are revoked, because they are no longer relevant to the UK.

This SI demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring a fully functioning regulatory framework for the aviation industry. The impacts of the pandemic will continue for some time to come, and the provisions that I have described provide the Civil Aviation Authority and airports with additional flexibility to respond. I therefore commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, as ever.

We welcome this statutory instrument, which brings the updated EU regulation into UK law and ensures that the current temporary provision can continue as it is today, allowing for airlines to retain their operating licences for ground handling services to go on uninterrupted as the aviation sector continues to work through this critical time. Over the next weeks and months, it is going to be all about resilience for the industry.

As the constituency MP for Manchester airport, I was pleased to be asked by Government to serve on the Government taskforce when Thomas Cook collapsed. I want to place on record my gratitude to the former Business Secretary, the Department for Transport and others across Government for their support to staff, suppliers, stranded holidaymakers and many former employees who live in my constituency.

The airline’s collapse hit hard, with hundreds of dedicated long-term staff suddenly out of work. We are facing a similar situation in the current pandemic. We had already seen this happen in years past, with Monarch and the swift demise of Flybe. There is much work to be done to ensure that airline finances are more resilient. I look forward to working with Ministers and Government to ensure that that is the case, to prevent even more jobs and routes being lost to the UK. We have a world-class aviation sector and we need to keep it that way.

It is right that these regulations extend UK operating licences now, to remove the financial burden and give airlines a fighting chance of survival. That brings me to my recurring request—a request echoed by every major airline, airport and ground handling service company across the UK. Those pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears at Her Majesty’s Treasury. The sector will not survive, certainly not as a global leader, without more support from Government.

I must mention my support for the Treasury’s recently announced business rates relief for airports and ground handling services. Although those moneys are close to bridging the gaps in the sector, I urge the Minister to go back to the Treasury and work with it to provide a robust financial support package for the industry, to help the UK once again fly as a world leader. We want that sector-specific deal and are still calling for it on this side of the House.

The sector is still waiting for the Government to set out a clear plan for how they expect restrictions can be lifted with the vaccine roll-out. We need certainty and confidence if the sector is to take off and regain its place as a bastion of the British economy.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and the Committee for its consideration of the regulations. He put on record his thanks to the aviation sector, and I wish to associate myself with those comments. We all want a thriving aviation sector. This is part of our response to enable the sector to blossom throughout the pandemic.

It is the duty of a responsible Government to ensure that our statute book continues to function correctly after the end of the transition period, and that is exactly what the instrument will do. These regulations will make the changes necessary to ensure that the provisions of retained regulation 1008/2008 continue to function properly following the end of the transition period. They provide additional temporary flexibilities in responding to licensing issues, where airlines face financial difficulty and where airports need to urgently replace ground handling providers.

Turning to the hon. Gentleman’s comments about support for the sector, he will know that the airport and ground operation support scheme, announced on 24 November, will provide support for eligible businesses, subject to certain conditions and a cap per applicant of £8 million. The Department recognises the severe impact that covid-19 has had on travel. Work continues in order to understand how best industry can be supported now and in the future, as we hopefully emerge from the pandemic. I thank the Committee and hope Members will join me in supporting these regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.