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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Medical Devices (Coronavirus Test Device Approvals) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Philip Davies

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

Byrne, Ian (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)

Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)

† Dorries, Ms Nadine (Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health)

Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

† Duguid, David (Banff and Buchan)

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

McDonnell, John (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

† Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

Rees, Christina (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)

Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Ben Street, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 14 July 2021

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

Draft Medical Devices (Coronavirus Test Device Approvals) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

I thank Members for observing social distancing, and remind them that Mr Speaker has stated that face coverings should be worn in Committee unless Members are speaking or they are exempt. Hansard colleagues will be most grateful if Members could send their speaking notes to The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that, because of the inclement—to a Yorkshireman—hot weather, if people wish to remove their jackets they are welcome to do so.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Medical Devices (Coronavirus Test Device Approvals) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Please excuse my opening line—this will be my second pun before 9.30 in the morning—but we live in testing times, literally and metaphorically. The covid-19 pandemic has been a test—for our NHS, for us as a nation, and for everyone. In order to fight the virus, we have had to endure restrictions, but the resolute determination that people have shown during lockdown demonstrates the best of the British character. The amazing performance of our NHS has shown why the UK is stronger united against any storm that may hit these isles. Though many trials have broken upon us, this has not broken us.

As we continue to open up society—spending time with friends and family once again, and enjoying pubs, clubs, football matches and horse-racing—we cannot become complacent about the virus; we must remain vigilant. We are reliant on everyone to protect each other from the virus, and to take responsibility for their health. One in three people with coronavirus show no symptoms and are potentially spreading it without knowing, so testing will remain vital to controlling and containing the spread.

Employers and others are keen to buy their own tests for their staff, to pitch in and do their bit and take pressure off the NHS. I want to empower them to do that, but that requires them to be able to use tests that are at least as good as those in the NHS. However, of 280 tests assessed by the Department of Health and Social Care for public procurement, only 50 were found to reliably detect the virus.

No one wants one bad test kit to reset a year of hard work by giving false negatives that cause people to unknowingly spread the virus once more. That is why we need a strong, independent validation system, with robust enforcement, to enable delivery of reliable, affordable and high-quality tests. First and foremost, any regulations should help protect public health. Strong yet agile regulation for covid-19 tests is essential to that end. As individuals and businesses take on more of a role in our testing effort, it will become a partnership between people, Government and the private sector, with independent validation underpinning trust and confidence in the testing market and remedying the current market failure, to the benefit of both consumers and producers.

It is vital that consumers have clear, comparable information that lets them cut through the confusion and buy with confidence. I want people to know that if they choose to buy tests, the ones available will be as good as those that they would receive on the NHS, so that they can trust the results that they get. That will empower people to take charge and make their own decisions about managing their personal health. This is a chance for producers to show what their tests can do through a fair and equitable system.

Some producers of tests have invested in these technologies in good faith, and feel that they have effective tests that they have successfully trialled with their own processes, but cannot seem to get them validated. Understandably, they question the Porton Down protocols and feel disappointed that they cannot join the procurement frameworks. I hear those concerns and share the frustration, but my message is that our validation processes are the most thorough in the world. Companies often question standards that they cannot meet, but we stand by those standards and will not buy tests that do not meet them. We work with firms to try to get them to the right standard. Patients and taxpayers would not thank us if we bought tests that did not perform to those standards. Self-certification by diagnostic firms is not an approach that has proved reliable during the pandemic.

This statutory instrument, which the Government have laid before Parliament, will establish a clear regulatory regime through which the Government will ensure that all tests on the UK market meet the performance standards set for the NHS. We have experience of validating tests for Government procurement; the regulations build on that expertise to create an agile regime that will validate all polymerase chain reaction and lateral flow tests that meet those standards. We are confident that this will enable the ongoing supply of high-quality tests to the UK market.

The regulations set clear performance thresholds, which provide rigorous yet fair criteria that industry will have to meet by undergoing an expert review. Manufacturers should see that as an opportunity to have their products tested, and to get feedback. It is an opportunity to have high-quality scientific advisers assess the product, and then to allow businesses to make it a race to the bottom, minimising costs while they take advantage of the pandemic to maximise their profits. We will publish a register of tests that pass validation, along with other information that is clear and comparable. Empowered by that information, consumers and companies can make informed and prudent choices when buying kits for themselves, their families or their workforce.

We intend the regime to recover its costs primarily from manufacturers, rather than being supported by taxpayers. However, I am conscious of the concerns raised during the consultation that fees set too high could be a barrier to small and medium-sized manufacturers entering the market. We firmly recognise the important, innovative contribution our small and medium-sized enterprises make. We have implemented a discount for such businesses, so that their dynamism, creativity and nimbleness continue to bring new tests to market to meet the changing needs of people and businesses.

Industry will require time to adapt to our new regulatory requirements. We have balanced the need to give industry reasonable time against the need to remedy the market failure. To strike this balance, I have instituted phased grace periods for those manufacturers who work with us. This will mean any tests already on the market will be able to remain there if the manufacturers do what is required of them. I have clearly set out that they have until 1 September 2021 to register their tests for the validation process.

They will then have until 31 October to complete and pass the process.

The diagnostic device manufacturers in the UK include a few big players, but 90% are small and medium-sized enterprises. We have implemented a discounted fee for them, so that they continue to bring new tests to market, and meet the changing needs of people and businesses. I am confident that any well-run company with a quality product can meet the lower fee of £6,400.

No one wants a regulatory wasteland, full of failed businesses, where we are entangled by distrust, disreputable weeds grow, and consumers have to beware with every step. Good regulation helps to ensure a well maintained garden where businesses thrive and blossom into success, where there is trust between buyers and sellers, and where consumers are safe to explore.

I do not see passing these regulations as the end; it is merely the beginning. I will add to the regulations later this year with a further laboratory stage, underpinned by a second statutory instrument. That will also provide an opportunity to consider emerging issues. Beyond that, my officials will continually engage with stakeholders to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible, and will conduct a review next year, which I will lay before the House. The review will provide recommendations on how to refine the regulations, and on what lessons we can learn to help bolster the diagnostic legacy of this pandemic.

The BMJ highlighted the importance of early diagnostics, and set out why we need a sea change to our approach to disease management once the pandemic passes:

“Poor diagnostic preparedness has contributed to significant delays in the identification of recent outbreaks for multiple pathogens, including Ebola, Lassa fever, yellow fever and Zika, primarily due to poor local diagnostic capacity. In the case of the 2013–2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa…postoutbreak analyses suggest that diagnosing 60% of patients within 1 day instead of 5 days could have reduced the attack rate from 80% to nearly 0%. In the end, it was diagnostics information coupled with appropriate interventions that led to eventual containment of the outbreak, but the delays resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in the cost of response.”

It is clear that long-term benefits come from a thorough testing culture, and the challenge going forward is to deliver the latest innovations at affordable prices. I want our regulations to help manufacturers rise to this challenge, and to leave a diagnostic legacy that does not just improve our everyday health but makes us more resilient in dealing with winter flu and challenges in the decades ahead.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies, and to be part of the proceedings that make first use of a new power under the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021; it feels like a long time since we were sitting in a similar Committee Room debating that Act. I am grateful to the Government for the briefing session for Members of both Houses last week, in which we were able to ask a number of important questions.

High-quality testing is a crucial part of fighting coronavirus. Knowing who has it and who they have been in contact with, and supporting them and their contacts as they isolate themselves, is a core way of preventing transmission. Even as we start to reopen significant aspects of British life, that basic principle will remain with us for some time, so it is right that testing be put on a high-quality, properly regulated footing. While members of the public are not at direct risk from bad tests, the knock-on impact of a false positive or negative is serious, so we need to set up a regime that reduces the risk of that as much as possible. Of the 280 tests available, only 50 would pass the relevant standards. That is sobering, and good reason for us in this place to act. We therefore do not intend to divide the Committee, but I would like details from the Minister.

The explanatory memorandum describes the regulations as “urgent” action. We are some 16 months into this crisis, and the powers have been available under the 2021 Act for some months; is this the fastest the response could have been? When the regulations were considered in the other place earlier this week, there was a suggestion that the reason for the new-found urgency was that the Government wish to transition to a charging model of testing, rather than the current public health model in which tests are made widely available for free. Lord Bethell said that was not the case; I am hoping that the Minister will give the same commitment, and will say that free testing will be available after the regulations are approved next Monday, and while we deal with the current peak of infections.

The Minister talked about a partnership going forward. I understand that the Government cannot be expected to carry the entire burden indefinitely, certainly not for private entities, but what will that partnership look like for the rest of this year? Assuming that we do not lose free tests in the short or medium term, there is an expectation that we will start to see an increase in testing through the private route. I did not hear, in the Minister’s opening speech, assurances on how those tests will be linked to NHS Test and Trace. There is value in testing in and of itself—it lets individuals know whether they need to self-isolate—but the point of having a central system is that we can have surveillance around the virus, and critically we can seek contacts and get them to isolate, too. Will the obligation still be on the individual, and will there still be support from the state?

I asked this at the briefing but did not get a particularly detailed answer, so I will try again. On the fees regime, we support, of course, the discount for small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up the bulk of the market, as the Minister said. In general, though, that £14,000 figure seemed quite high, not to mention suspiciously rounded, for a full cost recovery model. Will she share the breakdown of the costs? If she does not have that information with her, perhaps she might put it in the Library, because there is interest in it.

The instrument allows the Secretary of State to exempt tests on a case-by-case basis to avoid supply issues for the NHS. However, tests procured by the Department of Health and Social Care or the NHS are exempt already, so why is that necessary? The main weakness of the 2021 Act was that it allowed too much regulation to be implemented or set aside at the stroke of a pen by a Minister acting as a Caesar, rather than as someone who is accountable to Parliament. There does not seem a lot of point in doing what we do, either downstairs or up here, if a Minister can later decide that they are not interested in a certain provision of a regulation or Act. That should be avoided as much as possible, and I cannot see its value in this case. I may be missing the point, but I hope the Minister will address that, or at least say what safeguards will be put in place, and what reporting there will be of the provision’s use.

In a growing market such as this, there will still be some who choose to break the rules, thinking it a route to quick profit. Presumably the enforcement will be for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Is it suitably resourced to tackle this in the short term, as it beds in? Will it have a specific team on it? Similarly, what will the fines regime look like, and will it compound for repeat offenders?

To finish where the Minister finished, the shadow Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), is fond—I wish he was not so fond—of saying that we are in an era of pandemics. I am not attracted to that characterisation, but as the Minister put it, disease management is something that, globally, we clearly have to get much better at. This may not be the last time that we deal with something like this. The points that she made on the management of the Ebola virus were very interesting. On future-proofing, how portable is this model for testing in future pandemics? Or will it hold merely for covid-19? Rather than waiting 16 months, we would be able to implement it much more quickly.

As I said, I do not intend to divide the Committee. I know that I have fired off a number of questions. I hope that, if the Minister does not have all the information today, she might be able to follow up in writing.

I was furiously trying to write down all the questions, because there were a lot in rapid succession. I am afraid I did not get them all down—the hon. Member was too fast.

Why now? I think I have said before to the hon. Member in Committee that we started at zero. We started with nothing—with no tests—when the global pandemic landed on our shores. It does not take a great deal of imagination to understand that we have been running to catch up, including by developing tests, Test and Trace, vaccines, isolation techniques and local management outbreak plans. The whole management of covid has been a mammoth effort.

The market is dominated by free tests from NHS Test and Trace, with the exception of tests for international travel. Obviously, there are exceptions. I am glad that the hon. Member noted what I thought was the most important part of my speech. There are other pandemic outbreaks that we can learn from, such as Zika, Ebola and yellow fever. The post-pandemic analysis shows us that if, in those examples, there had been more diagnostic post-pandemic testing, deaths could have been down to almost 0%. That is obviously where we need to move to. As we come out of the pandemic, we need to learn from the examples of pandemics of the past, and need testing that meets our high standards to be available to anyone or any organisation that needs or wants it. As I said, our standards are the highest in the world, and we will continue to maintain them.

Now is the time, coming out of the pandemic, when we need to put this in place, so that anyone or any organisation that wants to be additionally vigilant as we open up can be. The hon. Member asked me to confirm what Lord Bethell mentioned in a debate—I do not know when that was. Access to the NHS is part of the overall offer for individuals who want to access testing. However, businesses and private venues that want to put in place their own measures for the protection of their staff, for international travel and for opening up will also have access to tests.

I think the hon. Gentleman then asked another question; officials will have taken a note, and we will respond to him. On how we will ensure that test results are reported, it is a legal requirement that where a test is conducted by a testing provider, the result, whatever the outcome, be reported to Public Health England—or the UK health security agency, as it will be. This must be done within 24 hours, because covid is a notifiable disease; under the framework of that legislation, PHE has to be notified of any test result. We will know the results of those tests.

I am confident that the regulations are a proportionate and appropriate measure to ensure that all PCR and lateral flow tests available across the UK will, as I mentioned in relation to Porton Down, meet the same world-leading standard—a standard of which we should be proud. Being free to set our own regulations allows the UK to innovate, and to create agile yet strong regulations that can set new standards. Other countries will be watching how we do it. We have done it with vaccination; they will be watching how we manage post-pandemic, and how we manage testing. That new approach to regulation gives businesses seeking to enter the UK market the certainty they need, while providing strong safeguards for consumers.

British manufacturers and pharmaceutical research and engineering firms have led the way in the global effort to combat the virus, keeping the NHS supplied with kits, tests and medicines over the past year. The UK should be proud of how it has risen to the challenge of the pandemic. We have grown our diagnostics capability dramatically: we now have a total laboratory capacity of 6 million PCR tests. The Government have to date administered 214 million tests in total, delivering well over a million tests daily. The UK now has one of the largest diagnostics capabilities in the world.

We have also supported the growth of the private market through the accreditation of testing service providers. There are now more than 1,200 private providers of general testing, with the United Kingdom Accreditation Service administering the accreditation process. Regulating services is only half of the market; we must also regulate the goods side. We estimate that around 97 million CE-marked lateral flow device test kits reach the UK domestic market per week, and that capacity is growing. Because of that growth, it is important to get this regulatory regime in place now. We need to make sure the regulation is there to provide standards and to support growing markets, particularly in the arts and culture, and the workplace generally.

As we look forward to a future in which we can once again spend time with friends and family, enjoy the arts and sport, and work and shop as we once did, we must remain vigilant against the virus. It will still be there. We all have a part to play in keeping each other safe, and we have a duty towards our families, friends and colleagues. Testing is vital to that new paradigm. No one wants false negatives, which cause people unknowingly to allow the virus to spread. A mandatory validation scheme will not limit the supply of high-quality tests. Rather, the policy will ensure that poorly performing test kits that would not have helped our collective effort to combat covid-19 can be identified and removed from the market. They simply will not pass the test.

I regret that we are considering the regulations without an accompanying impact assessment and opinion. The timescales have meant that we have not yet been able to produce an IA with which the Regulatory Policy Committee is content. We continue to work with the RPC to ensure that we have a robust assessment of the impact for inclusion in the business impact target, although we accept that that assessment will come too late to have been of use in this debate. I am grateful to the RPC for the effort it has put into accommodating our timescales. We are working so thoroughly on the evidence and analysis for the IA, as the Government are clear that we want to be a world leader in agile regulation. This will likely encourage businesses to locate more research and/or manufacturing in the UK. It is clear that the regulatory regime that we are debating will provide only benefits for the safeguarding of public health, and certainty for businesses.

To some, this may seem a radical intervention in the market, but I am reminded of John Snow, the father of epidemiology. When the evidence is clear and change is needed quickly, radical action is no vice; it is a virtue. That change could be as simple as removing a pump handle, as Dr Snow did to prove that the source of cholera was in London’s water supply, or acting to ensure consistent standards that bring the best of business creativity to bear for the public good. This is the benefit of agile regulation. It does not force businesses on to particular paths of innovation, constraining them with costly rules that deter risk-taking. Instead, it adapts to keep consumers safe.

Having been on various Statutory Instrument Committees over the 17 months of the pandemic, I can say that this is one of the more positive SIs that I have had the pleasure to present, knowing as I do that it will bring about collective good and assist us with our post-pandemic preparedness.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Fisheries Act 2020 (Scheme for Financial Assistance) (England) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Derek Twigg

Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)

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

Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

Freer, Mike (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

† Glindon, Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab)

Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

Harris, Rebecca (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

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

Keeley, Barbara (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Osamor, Kate (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)

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

† Sambrook, Gary (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)

Vaz, Valerie (Walsall South) (Lab)

Ian Bradshaw, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 14 July 2021

[Derek Twigg in the Chair]

Draft Fisheries Act 2020 (Scheme for Financial Assistance) (England) Regulations 2021

Before we begin, I remind Members that we have moved to one-metre social distancing in general Committees, in line with the Chamber and Westminster Hall. Members should continue to sit only in the places that are clearly marked. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Committee. Hansard colleagues be most grateful if Members sent their speaking notes to

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Fisheries Act 2020 (Scheme for Financial Assistance) (England) Regulations 2021.

The regulations were laid before the House on 15 June and will provide the long-term legal foundation for the payment of grants to the English seafood sector. They have been specifically designed to support the needs of the sector and give full control and accountability for the delivery of financial support. The Fisheries Act 2020 gives the UK full control of its fishing waters for the first time since 1973 and provides the legal framework for policies to be tailored to the needs of industry, while still protecting the marine environment. Now that we have left the European Union, this will ensure a more responsive and autonomous scheme that better supports our newly independent coastal status.

The regulations cover the payment of grants by the Marine Management Organisation to the seafood sector in England, and include the provisions and payment conditions that must be adhered to. One useful change that will be noted by certain members of the Committee is that recreational sea fishers will now be included. The instrument has been carefully developed to ensure that future grant schemes have the flexibility to meet new policies and the needs of the English seafood sector, as they change over time. The passing of this instrument will not make any significant policy changes to the scope of grant funding for the seafood sector, and will ensure that we are using regulations specifically designed to support the English seafood industry.

The fisheries and seafood scheme opened on 6 April 2021 to provide financial assistance to projects that enhance the marine environment and support sustainable growth in the catching, processing and aquaculture sectors. The scheme is currently operating under spending powers in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which, unlike this SI, does not set specific conditions on activity restrictions. This SI will provide a more detailed framework for the scheme to operate within and give applicants and administrators more certainty about the legal status of the scheme.

The scheme will provide £6.1 million of funding in England for the current financial year. In the short term, that will help to provide stability and continuity to the industry by supporting businesses to take advantage of opportunities outside the EU. In the longer term, the scheme will drive meaningful change to increase sustainability, provide world-class fisheries management, and deliver a decarbonised sector and a thriving marine environment. The scheme has been very much improved by those who work in the fishing industry, with whom we have worked closely. The opening of the scheme has been welcomed and demand has been high.

These regulations expand previous domestic fisheries funding powers to ensure a more responsive scheme that better supports our seafood sector. This support is vital to deliver our vision for clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas, and I commend this instrument to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to respond on behalf of the massed hordes of Labour MPs in this Committee today.

This is a really important SI. The Minister will know, because we were in the same debate on fisheries policy yesterday, just how betrayed and let down fishing feels because of the poor Brexit deal—the promises that were made and the breaking of those promises. That is why these types of SIs must be got right, and their implementation must be got right as well. We know that British fishing has been sold out by the Government. In the last few months we have seen our distant water fleet tied up, shellfish rotting at the ports, unable to be exported, and EU boats catching non-quota species basically unchecked, with no real time data-sharing arrangements in place due to a botched deal between the Government and the EU.

Fishing really is crying out for help, which is why it is important that this SI is adequate and properly resourced and, importantly, that the correct decisions are made as a result of it. We support a well-resourced and well-managed fund for the fishing industry to get the vital support it so desperately needs. We will not stand in the way of passing this instrument today, but I have some questions for the Minister that I hope she will be able to answer. The questions express not so much my personal concern, but the concerns of fishers whom we have spoken to in advance.

The instrument will give powers to the MMO to administer payments to fishers. For some fishers that is causing anxiety, and I will explain to the Minister why that is the case. It largely relates to concerns about the transparency and openness of decision-making processes that have been undertaken over the past year. The Minister and I probably share a desire for greater openness and transparency, and I hope that she will reflect that in discussions with the MMO when she looks at implementing the SI in due course. The SI will give the MMO more powers to set schemes, approve payments, and revoke, suspend or even reclaim money. That is all without a proper duty under the SI to convey the reasons to the applicants, let alone an open and transparent process or an independent appeals process.

The SI will hand powers to the MMO without any indication of how its decisions will be scrutinised, how fishers can appeal bad decisions or how the decision makers will be held to account. Can the Minister outline what scrutiny will be in place for MMO decisions after an award of funding or a rejection of an application? Can she tell us what the appeals process will be for fishers if the MMO gets decisions wrong, or a decision has been taken on incorrect grounds?

We know all too well that things can go wrong when DEFRA throws cash into its menagerie of non-departmental public bodies. Last year’s domestic seafood supply scheme handed out hundreds of thousands of pounds to companies, some of which had huge reserves, running into millions of pounds in some cases. The great concern is what will happen to our small-scale fishers. The Minister and I have had many debates, in this room and elsewhere, about the desire to focus on small-scale fishers. Labour’s view is that our small fishers are the backbone of our fleet and deserve the lion’s share of attention from Ministers. However, the funding has not always followed that in the past year. As the Minister said, the SI does not set out any significant changes in regulations or policy, but that is why fishers are concerned that it will reinforce the present situation, in which larger fishing businesses, including foreign-owned fishing businesses, receive the greater share and smaller fishing businesses, for whom support and intervention can have a more profound positive effect, will be overlooked.

Some fishers were concerned about the openness and transparency of the process in the past year, how decisions were taken, who sat on the panels taking the decisions, and what interests they took in with them. It is important that we have industry representatives assisting the MMO to make decisions, but there should be a focus on ensuring that those industry representatives are representative of the whole fishing sector—because as the Minister knows, there are dozens of different fishing industries, catching different species in different locations, with different gear set up very differently—and also on ensuring that there is always a voice for small fishers on decision-making panels. There should be a space reserved for them. The smaller fishers associations are not as well resourced as the larger ones, and I appreciate that availability may be an issue, but the Minister should task the MMO to ensure that, regardless of the issue being debated or the applicants, there is a seat for a small fisher to help to inform the decisions that are being taken.

Some fishers have told us about their concerns that some of the organisations that received money last time had connections, through membership bodies, to some of the people on the panel. I do not wish to suggest that any decisions were made improperly, but we must ensure that the sense is that all decisions are beyond reproach and are made wisely. We know, sadly, that some recipients of past funding were at risk of being struck off at Companies House for late filing. Some had not even set up their companies after the application was submitted, and some of the projects given funding had been planned before the pandemic hit. How does the Minister feel the decision-making processes have gone to date, and can any enhancements to scrutiny and openness be provided for with the additional powers in these regulations?

The Minister will know, because I mentioned it yesterday, that the Seafarers UK report, which is a good one, stated that most small-scale fishers have little or no savings or financial resilience, and that was before the start of the pandemic. That places a greater onus on decision makers to ensure faster processing and a greater focus on applications from small-scale fishers, many of whom will not be able to access the professional bid writing support that is available to larger organisations. Making sure this works is really important. We need proper transparency in these decision-making processes and proper reporting.

Earlier I briefly mentioned the appeals process. I would be grateful if the Minister set out where in this SI there is scope for an appeals process. My understanding is that the only provision anywhere close to that is regulation 8, on decision and notification, which says:

“The Marine Management Organisation must…decide whether to approve an application unconditionally, to refuse or reject it”

and to

“notify the applicant of the decision made under sub-paragraph (a).”

I want to see applicants notified of decisions, but I also want to understand what happens when decisions are wrong, or where a decision might have been made incorrectly, on the basis of a different interpretation of the evidence before the MMO. There does not seem to be any scope for appeals in the process. That does not sit right with me, and I hope it does not sit right with other members of the Committee, who I think would want to know that there can be an appeal in the event of a decision being made incorrectly.

That is especially important for small-scale fishers, who by and large do not specialise in bid writing and appeal writing. They are professional fishers; they are really good at that, but not necessarily at completing all the forms. Certainly, that is much of the feedback that I have had when speaking to fishers in Plymouth about this, so I would be grateful if the Minister set out what the appeals process is. If there is not an appeals process in the SI, could one be added subsequently, albeit on an informal basis, or brought back in a future SI? We certainly have a lot of them that could assist in updating this area.

I am grateful that the Minister set out in her opening remarks that there is support available for recreational fishers. The hon. Member for North Cornwall and I share much in common in our support for recreational fishing, which is a significant part of our fishing industry in the south-west. It has potential for huge growth if appropriate decisions are taken to provide support in catching species—the Minister will know that I am keen, as the hon. Gentleman is, to see a catch-and-release fishery for Atlantic bluefin tuna, rather than the catch-and-eat fishery, to preserve these amazing marine species—and also to ensure a focus on decarbonisation, not only of recreational fishing boats but of commercial fishing boats too.

The Minister mentioned in her remarks yesterday that there are three pillars in the new fisheries fund announced by the Prime Minister when the deal was announced just before Christmas. One pillar will be about environmental performance and sustainability. I would be grateful if she expanded ever so slightly on that, because there is a real opportunity to decarbonise, moving from the heavy, thirsty, diesel engines that we have in the fishing fleet, towards electric and hydrogen propulsion. If the Minister has any time over the summer, I hope she will head to Plymouth to see the world’s first electric ferry, as a testbed for marinised battery technology, which can be scaled up to provide an alternative to many diesel engines. I would be grateful if she could again set out the three pillars for the sake of transparency.

Mr Twigg, you may know that I am not a fan of some of the wording of impact assessments, because I say it in every SI Committee—I hope the Minister will forgive me for having to hear it again. Page 3 of the explanatory memorandum says:

“There is no, or no significant, impact on business”

from this SI. First, those are two different things: either there is no impact or there is an impact. Secondly, if there is no impact on businesses, what is the point of this SI at all? The entire point of this statutory instrument is to provide financial assistance for fishing businesses, yet the Minister’s own impact assessment says there is “no, or no significant, impact on business”. Both of those cannot be right, so either we are wasting our time here today, passing legislation that will not have an impact to look busy, or the Minister has got the impact assessment wrong. I would be grateful if she set out which of those it is, because it cannot be both. There is either an impact or there is not. If there is not, we are all wasting our time and missing an opportunity to support our brilliant fishers around the coast.

I want to see proper support for our fishing industry and, as I made clear in the debate yesterday, a proper debate on the Floor of the House, when we come back after recess, to provide robust scrutiny ahead of any annual negotiations. I invite the Minister to look at whether fisheries support schemes need to be flexed in conjunction with the annual negotiations, because the annual negotiations will adjust the available quota for different species around the coast. That will have a knock-on and sometimes immediate effect on the financial viability of certain businesses, particularly if their quota goes down. Whether there is a moment to align some of the support mechanisms with the annual negotiations is the type of a constructive suggestion that Members on both sides of the House will be able to make in a beefed up annual fisheries debate on the Floor of the House. I hope that she will support that.

As it stands, we will not oppose the SI, but I have some questions, in particular about appeals and the impact assessment, that I hope the Minister will be able to answer.

I must have been in a different debate yesterday. I heard concerns and difficulties that had arisen in these very difficult 18 months during the pandemic, when many of our markets have not been open to us in the fishing sector, but I also heard tales of hope and optimism about domestic sales, for example, which have gone up 11% in the last year, and hopes for the future from around the country.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not detailing improper behaviour in previous schemes. He was careful to say that he was not, but then he also referenced some instances that would have been less than perfect had they been completely accurate. If there are specific concerns about the operation of previous schemes, I very much want to know about them, please. I ask him to write to me very soon and I will take them up with the MMO.

This is a new scheme; the appeals process, however, is being carried forward from previous schemes. I have been assured by the MMO that appeals will be dealt with separately from the original claim processes. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know more about it, probably the best thing that I can refer him to is the guidance on relating to the scheme. I may also be able to set his mind at rest by explaining that the scheme will be delivered by the MMO. Applicants can apply using an online application system. There will be competitive funding routes delivered throughout the financial year, which ought to help on his annual negotiations point. That will enable us to flex the importance of certain policy areas.

We think that introducing a competitive approach to some of the funds will deliver value for money and implement the funding values outlined in the Cabinet Office guidance and Her Majesty’s Treasury’s managing public money principles, all of which have to be read together, to look at the background for the scheme. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the scheme is available to applicants whose businesses, or vessels, are registered in England. Individuals can apply. Those who are engaged in commercial or recreational sea fishing, or agriculture or processing, can apply, as can a public body, university or research institute. Indeed, new entrants are very strongly encouraged to apply.

It may help if I give some examples of those to whom the fund has already been granted, because I think that will ease the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the inshore fleet, which he speaks about very passionately. One example is deck improvements to reduce injuries at sea, which I know is dear to his heart. Some money was granted to improve crew health and safety, with non-slip decking, upgraded deck hatches and safety railings. Another grant was given to food hygiene standards premises for the purchase of lobster storage tanks, fridges and freezers, and a shellfish boiler, which will add significant value to catches and enable the fishermen to sell directly to the public. That is the sort of scheme that is currently being considered.

The hon. Gentleman referenced the £100 million investment that the Prime Minister announced. That funding is completely separate, and in addition, obviously. The £100 million scheme is being developed to complement other financial support available to the UK seafood sector. I gave some details yesterday on the three pillars. I reassure the Committee that further details on the £100 million fund will be made available very soon, certainly this summer. We will concentrate on the science and innovation pathway first.

This instrument will provide a long-term legal foundation to deliver the payment of grants to the English seafood sector. It has been specifically designed for that purpose and will ensure that we have full control and accountability of the fisheries and seafood scheme. I am pleased that it includes recreational fishing, and I look forward to continuing to work with members of the Committee on a catch-and-release scheme for bluefin tuna. The instrument is key to delivering the Government’s manifesto commitments and securing a thriving and sustainable marine environment. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) and Biofuel (Labelling) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson

Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)

Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

Duguid, David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)

Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

Harris, Rebecca (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Hillier, Meg (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)

Lloyd, Tony (Rochdale) (Lab)

† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

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

† Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

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

† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)

† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Sarah Ioannou, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 14 July 2021

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Draft Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) and Biofuel (Labelling) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021

Before we begin, I remind hon. Members to observe social distancing and sit only in places that are clearly marked. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Committee other than when speaking or if exempt. Hansard colleagues would be most grateful if Members could send their speaking notes to Before I call the Minister, I remind hon. Members that 17 Members were appointed to the Committee, so we should not really be having to wait for people to turn up.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) and Biofuel (Labelling) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. The statutory instrument would introduce E10 as standard petrol across Great Britain, while ensuring that the current E5 grade remains available for those who need it. E10 petrol contains up to 10% renewable ethanol—double the amount that can be blended in today’s E5 grade. This change is a crucial step to maximising the biofuel blending capacity in the UK fuel market, driving transport decarbonisation while supporting the UK’s biofuel and agricultural sectors.

Introducing E10 allows us to cut carbon emissions from cars, motorbikes and other petrol-powered equipment in use today simply by increasing the limit to which renewable fuel can be blended into standard petrol. It is one of the very few measures available to us today with an immediate impact, providing the basis for a step change in renewable fuel blending. E10 petrol is a proven fuel that is already used across the world, including across Europe and the United States. We also have a valuable domestic bioethanol industry that would benefit from increased demand. Indeed, following our policy announcement, one large facility operator has already announced that it is recommencing production.

Such facilities play significant roles in their local economies, employing hundreds of skilled workers directly and supporting thousands of jobs in the wider community. That community includes the agricultural sector, with locally grown feed wheat used to produce ethanol, while by-products such as animal feed are supplied to livestock farmers in place of soy imports. It is vital to support those industries as we endeavour to build back greener, with low-carbon industrial hubs crucial to our path towards net zero by 2050.

Introducing E10 is part of a wider set of measures to encourage renewable fuels. We announced today ambitious plans to increase renewable fuel targets under the renewable transport fuel obligation, alongside our transport decarbonisation plan. Renewable fuel targets have risen over the past three years, with fuel suppliers now blending very close to the 7% biodiesel limit for road diesel and the 5% bioethanol limit for standard petrol. The draft regulations will unblock additional capacity to increase blending in the fuels that we all use every day, with only a short transition period. Although other renewable fuels will also be required to increase carbon savings in the medium to longer term, moving to E10 is the only immediately viable next step.

Although 95% of all petrol vehicles can use E10, some older vehicles cannot. That is why the instrument includes provisions to keep the current E5 petrol available in the higher octane super grade. Together with wider exemptions for some remote areas, that ensures that petrol suitable for every vehicle will remain available across the country. We also launched a comprehensive communications campaign, involving local radio, roadside posters, social media and information at forecourts. That informs motorists of the changes to petrol this summer and directs vehicle owners to our online compatibility checker, ensuring that everyone can be clear on the right fuel for their vehicle or equipment.

The SI also makes amendments that are required following our departure from the European Union. We have replaced references to EU legislation with references to domestic legislation to ensure the ongoing operability of our fuel standards. In proposing the statutory instrument, the Department has carefully considered a balance of interests. It recognises the need to maximise our efforts to decarbonise vehicles on the road today and support our domestic renewable fuel industry, while maintaining access to a suitable petrol grade for all. I believe that introducing E10 petrol this September ahead of RTFO increases planned for January strikes that balance, and I commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.

It was the last Labour Government who introduced the RTFO, which helped to support the UK’s biofuel industry and lower emissions by introducing E5 fuel as an obligation for fuel suppliers, but obviously times have moved on, and the RTFO is in desperate need of reform. For example, I have just been talking to the maritime industry about how it can be reformed for that sector.

The Government have for a long time indicated their intention to move towards E10, so today should in theory be something to celebrate. However, correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that what we have in front of us is only a minimum requirement on suppliers to move to 5.5%. The ambition is E10, but the obligation is much less; it is not really an E10 obligation. I really do not see why the Government are being so unambitious on this, particularly when the majority of responses to their own consultation called for greater ambition.

I know that the Government have claimed that they will review the policy in five years, but given that we have the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles coming in, now is the window to make real progress on the fossil fuels that are being used in cars, not in five years’ time, when hopefully many car owners will have made the transition to electric. That would be my question to the Minister: why leave it to suppliers to decide whether they will embrace the upper limit of 10% blended biofuels? Also, at what point does she see E5 petrol being phased out?

Does the Minister acknowledge that this will not work unless we have greater transparency in the supply of biofuels? She talked about supporting biofuel production in this country, and the use that various agricultural by-products could be put to, but we know that there will still be imports, and we have real concern about the source of many imported biofuels. Research from Transport and Environment has shown that nearly half of what was described as used cooking oil supplied to the UK last year came from China and Malaysia. Guarantees were not really in place that that oil was genuinely waste oil, and not products that were produced just for use in transportation or diverted away from other uses. We do not want to see that. We want to see waste products used.

We could be fuelling overseas deforestation through a demand for biofuels from supply chains that are not sufficiently transparent. Obviously, that would severely undermine any emissions savings from blending biofuels. There is no point in trying to move towards more sustainable petrol if we are contributing to destroying the Amazon rainforest in the process. I would therefore welcome clarification from the Minister on what plans the Government have to monitor that, to ensure that supply chains for imported biofuels are fully transparent and not linked to deforestation. That is not addressed in today’s legislation.

We need to move beyond a primary focus on biofuels when it comes to the RTFO. Many nations across Europe have taken the step of supporting the inclusion of renewable electricity in similar mechanisms, but the UK is yet to follow suit. I have not seen the transport decarbonisation plan yet. It is rather surprising, given that the statement is about to be made in the House, that when I went to the Vote Office earlier I was told that it would not be available until the Minister sits down. It seems odd to me that we can have a statement discussing a transport decarbonisation plan before people have been able to see it. Quite a lot of outside organisations seem to have obtained an advance copy, so it is a bit frustrating that MPs cannot. I hope that there is something in it on this issue.

The inclusion of renewable electricity in a reformed RTFO would bring many benefits, including securing sustainable funding streams for charge point operators. At the moment, low local authority take-up for Government grants for public charge points has shown the flaws in Department for Transport’s approach to expanding our charging network. The current system of incentives, with short-term support for charge points that offer little financial return, such as those in areas where they will not get much use and there is little chance of the operators being able to recoup money from users, is just not delivering the nationwide network of charge points that we need. They will be concentrated in the urban areas with high use. Reforms to the RTFO could be one way to address that, and I would welcome the Minister clarifying whether her Department is considering expanding the scope of the RTFO after today.

The Government need to be bolder and work to make the RTFO fit for the future. The shift to electric vehicles has to be considered as part of that. More urgently, it needs to be done in a way that ensures that any direct or indirect deforestation is stamped out in our supply chains. With those points in mind, Labour will abstain today on the basis that the SI does nothing to address concerns about overseas deforestation in imported biofuel supply chains, does not deliver on the much needed broader reform to the RTFO, and is deeply unambitious when it comes to the blending obligation on fuel suppliers.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. It is a shame that she is abstaining, but nevertheless we will push forward with our ambitious plans, because this is a major step along the way to our world-leading plans to decarbonise the entire transport sector. I am very happy to have a detailed discussion with her about some of the issues that she raised, but I assure her that some of the comments that she made about deforestation are wide of the mark.

Let me turn to the detail. The hon. Lady mentioned the percentage allowed in E10. As I am sure she is aware, the existing industry standard for E10 allows for an ethanol content between 0% and 10%. By setting a 5.5% limit in legislation we ensure that the fuel blend will contain more renewable ethanol than existing blends and has to be marketed as E10, levelling the playing field across the sector. Bioethanol blending will be driven by the RTFO, as she referenced, which sets targets for overall biofuel supply. We therefore expect bioethanol to be blended at levels higher than 5.5%, particularly following the increase of targets.

The hon. Lady mentioned sustainability. We have one of the most robust set of measures in the world to ensure that our fuels are sustainable and do not have any adverse consequences, such as those that she referenced. Waste-derived biofuels make up over two thirds of renewable fuel supplied under the RTFO, and the share of biofuels from feedstocks associated with a high risk of leading to indirect land use change, including deforestation, in particular oilseeds such as palm, soy or rapeseed, is minimal in the UK. Our crop cap is in fact one of the tightest in Europe. It is currently set at 4% and will decrease to 2% by 2032.

The hon. Lady mentioned some of the issues around charging infrastructure. I assure her that the transport decarbonisation plan will be available to view on I am informed that it will be uploaded within the next few minutes, or very shortly. I very much hope that it will be there. When she reads it, I am sure that she will have many questions, and I am happy to answer them all. I remind her that our electric vehicle charging infrastructure network is out of scope for today’s debate, but it is increasing by 10% year on year. We already have one of the largest networks of charging infrastructure on the strategic road network in Europe, and it is increasing at a rate of knots.

I thank the hon. Lady for her consideration of these points. This is a small but very important step. As we transition to zero-emission vehicles, it is vital that we do not ignore the measures available to us today to reduce emissions. The SI does that by doubling the amount of renewable fuel that can be blended. It supports our vital domestic carbon industry. Securing such facilities will help to foster new investment and secure many jobs to build a world-class renewable fuel sector in the UK, so it is a shame that Labour is not supporting new jobs in parts of the country where this is a new industry. This measure is part of wider policy proposals to reduce emissions. Timing is very important. We need to ensure that we can roll this out in as smooth a way as possible before the increases to our renewable fuels targets in January. I hope that the Committee will join me in supporting the statutory instrument.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.