Wednesday 20 February 2019
Arrangement of Business
Good afternoon, my Lords. If there is a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, as indicated, this instrument extends to Northern Ireland only. I am most grateful to officials from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs who are here today to assist with advice and support.
The island of Ireland has only 10 native species of fish, which is 40 fewer than in Great Britain and 80 fewer than continental Europe. With fewer species, in turn, it has fewer aquatic pests and diseases and consequently has a higher aquatic health status. We must ensure that this situation is maintained. We also acknowledge the vulnerability of the Northern Ireland aquatic environment and therefore the aquaculture industry to the introduction of diseases and alien species.
In Northern Ireland, aquaculture is a small but very valuable market. In 2017, Northern Ireland aquaculture production accounted for 1,248 tonnes of fin-fish at a value of £6.8 million on 36 active licensed sites, and 5,831 tonnes of shellfish at a value of £9.07 million on 43 active aquaculture sites. The sector employs 93 full-time and 33 part-time staff. Freedom from disease underpins international regulations on the trade in live animals and their products. Northern Ireland enjoys a higher health status than the rest of the UK, as I said, as many of the most serious aquatic animal diseases do not currently exist there. The maintenance and protection of Northern Ireland’s aquatic health status safeguards the interest of the aquaculture sector, as well as the public, who derive health and well-being benefits from angling and other recreational activities.
This instrument will provide the necessary technical corrections to the Aquatic Animal Health Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009—the principal regulations—and the Alien and Locally Absent Species in Aquaculture Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 to enable operability when the UK leaves the EU. These regulations do not introduce any policy changes.
The UK Government remain committed to restoring devolution in Northern Ireland. However, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, UK Ministers have decided that in the interest of legal certainty in Northern Ireland the Government will take through the necessary secondary legislation at Westminster for Northern Ireland, in close consultation with the relevant Northern Ireland department.
The proposed amendments fall into three main categories. First, cross-references to EU instruments are amended so that they are operable. These amendments modify cross-references to the 2006 directive contained in the principal regulations, and are essential to ensure the operability of those regulations. These are common amendments which appear throughout EU exit statutory instruments for Northern Ireland, England and Wales and Scotland. The amendments include: the substitution of references to “Member State” or “Member States” with references to “Northern Ireland”, “the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs”, “Competent Authority”, or “UK or a constituent UK territory”; the substitution of references to “EU” with references to “UK”; and the substitution of references to articles in the directive with references to provisions in the domestic Northern Ireland regulations that transposed the directive—for example,
“as if … the reference to Article 4 of Directive 2006/88 were to regulation 7”.
Some of those cross-references themselves contain further cross-references to the directive. In those cases, the cross-references have been followed through to modify all necessary provisions.
The second category is provisions which will be redundant or inoperable in Northern Ireland law after EU exit. This instrument makes an amendment to the Alien and Locally Absent Species in Aquaculture Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012. The amendment removes the reference to a representative of the European Commission being able to accompany an inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
The last category is cross-references to directly applicable EU instruments to reflect technical amendments made to such instruments by other UK-wide SIs. Part II of annexe IV of directive 2006/88 contains a disease schedule which could have been modified only by the EU. It is to be replaced with a new annexe 1A inserted into Regulation 1251/2008 by the UK-wide Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. That will enable the UK to amend the list in retained EU law following exit. The amendments are made to replace references to annexe IV of the directive with references to annexe 1A to the regulation, which will ensure correct references to retained EU law in domestic Northern Ireland regulations.
Given the unique biodiversity of the island of Ireland, DAERA officials work closely with their southern counterparts on a wide range of fish health issues, especially contingency planning, trade matters, disease and biosecurity. Co-operation on those matters was in place long before both countries joined the EU and will continue when the UK leaves it. There is a very close working relationship across the island of Ireland on fish health and aquaculture. For example, the all-island Bottom Grown Mussel Consultative Forum facilitates the management of the seed mussel fishery on an all-island basis. It consists of officials from government departments, scientists, enforcers, the Irish fisheries board and the aquaculture industry. The group has been instrumental in securing Marine Stewardship Council certification for Irish bottom-grown mussels. That prestigious status ensures premium market access for Ireland’s top-quality mussels, demonstrating that the sector is vigilant in disease prevention and control, maintains high biosecurity standards and is environmentally aware. MSC certification underpins industry and consumer confidence and is a lucrative marketing tool.
The intention of the instrument is to maintain the status quo and keep the aquatic animal health and alien species in aquaculture regimes functioning as now. It does not create new policy or change existing policy. As a result, there are not expected to be any significant impacts arising from it. In bringing forward this legislation, a workable legal framework underpinning business as usual will be preserved after exit for aquatic animal health and alien and locally absent species in aquaculture. As I said, the instrument will assist Northern Ireland with its very high aquatic health status, which it shares with the other part of the island of Ireland. I beg to move.
My Lords, we are expected to consider these statutory instruments in Grand Committee this afternoon about no deal, but imminently the Chamber will consider another string of statutory instruments regarding no deal at the same time. Incapable as I am of being in two places at once, I want to put on record that I think that situation is totally unacceptable. The more important business is of course in the Chamber, because it can actually approve the regulations rather than simply debating them. I think this is now the fourth time that this has happened. Last time, I made representations to the Government Chief Whip and the Opposition Chief Whip, but clearly those representations have not been effective—otherwise we would not be in this situation again today.
I do not intend to take any further part in the Grand Committee this afternoon, because I need to be in the Chamber, but I intend to speak on these regulations when they come to the Chamber, not least because there is very sparse attendance in the Grand Committee this afternoon, and I think other noble Lords would have wished to be here if they did not have to attend to their duties in the Chamber. I regard this debate as essentially unreasonable, in that it has been scheduled alongside the debates taking place in the Chamber. I do not think they will be able to substitute for the debate in the Chamber because they are happening at the same time.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this statutory instrument forward. He will be pleased to know that I do not oppose it; I just have a couple of questions. I remind the Committee that I chaired the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee next door for one term of five years.
My noble friend set out very clearly the importance of aquatic health to the whole of the island of Ireland. My question goes to the heart of this. I presume this is a no-deal statutory instrument; is that correct, or is it something that will continue in the event of a deal? I read with great interest of the trade deal that has been made with the Faroe Islands. I have visited those islands. I am very proud of my Danish heritage and that the Faroe Islands used to be a part of Denmark. I was intrigued to see that the United Kingdom is selling £6 million-worth of goods to the Faroe Islands, but importing £200 million of goods from them, most of which is fish, particularly shellfish. I understand that a lot of this is crabs. Will this pose a problem for Northern Ireland? Specifically, is the MSC the body that will continue to check all imports from what will effectively be third countries, including other European Union countries—the remaining 27 members of the European Union—at the point of entry? I should know the answer to this, but making the analogy with the Food Standards Agency in England, I want to ask what the relevant body will be and whether my noble friend shares my concern about ensuring that we maintain the excellent aquatic health that Northern Ireland currently has.
In paragraph 7.5 on page 5 of the Explanatory Memorandum—I think this is repeated in the next statutory instrument as well—I was delighted to see that the Government have very wisely chosen to maintain the equivalent or higher standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health; I will not say it in French, even though I am quite proud of my French accent. I hope that is something that the Government intend to do going forward; I am sure we will discuss this. I am sure my noble friend agrees that it is absolutely vital that we maintain regulations regarding aquatic health in the EU. This is relevant because these will be third-country imports from the date of our leaving, if we leave with no deal.
My Lords, it is always with some sadness that we deal with a Northern Ireland issue, a part of this country that voted remain quite decisively yet is completely unrepresented in the other place. In fact, it is represented by a very extreme party of Brexit. However, we are where we are.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that in my Select Committee this morning we looked at the Faroe Isles FTA and have brought it to the special attention of the House. It would be quite useful to debate it on the Floor of the House, even though it is only our 144th trading partner worldwide.
I thank the Minister for his excellent exposition of the SI. My first question is whether the island of Ireland will remain the single epidemiological—I always have difficulty in pronouncing that but I am sure Hansard will get it right—unit that it is at the moment, particularly given that the excellent state of disease over there, which the Minister stressed, is much better in many ways than it is in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. It is very important—clearly organisms do not understand land borders—that that unit remains the same whatever the circumstances of Brexit or otherwise.
Some of these aquaculture plants are owned by foreign investors, some in France, and I will be interested to hear from the Minister what phytosanitary controls he expects the EU, France or wherever products are exported to will start on day one of Brexit, particularly if there is a no-deal Brexit, which is really what these SIs are about. It is particularly important that the systems are in place. I know we have discussed this before, but where are we on the UK replacement for TRACES and its interaction with EU systems? It will have a major effect on friction in trade and on exports of these products from the Province.
One of the reasons that there has been Norwegian investment in salmon farms in the UK is to avoid the EU external tariff on a number of aquaculture products. I will be interested to understand whether the Government have made any calculation of the tariffs that will be applied to these markets post Brexit, if we leave on so-called WTO terms, and the effect that will have on this industry.
Lastly, I was interested to see that the Secretary of State gave an effective undertaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham that tariffs will not be completely removed for the agricultural industry. Will aquaculture be included in that pledge?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear introduction and for the courtesy of meeting us beforehand. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I remind the Minister and other noble Lords who have been with us on the journey of these SIs that we remain concerned about the whole process for dealing with them. My noble friend Lord Adonis raised one of the issues, but there are a number of other process issues. I do not intend to repeat them today, but the Minister will be well aware of our concerns. For example, we do not have the aquatic animal health and alien species in aquaculture regulations here today, although the Explanatory Memorandum says they should be linked to this SI. That is just one of the issues about the rather haphazard way in which these SIs are being tabled for consideration.
However, we are broadly in agreement with these regulations. They seem to do their best to maintain the status quo in aquaculture in Northern Ireland. It is clearly important to have a strong biosecurity framework which protects animal health and gives maximum protection from imported and exported disease, so it is important that these regulations are in place from day one.
I reiterate that it is a great regret to us that we do not have a functioning Northern Ireland Executive, so that we have to make decisions in their absence. Perhaps if we were not taking up all government time on the distraction of Brexit the Government would have more time to resolve the huge political challenges that face the UK, but perhaps that is an issue for another day.
On the specifics of this SI, the Minister referred to the close co-operation of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to their shared interests, which are inevitable because they share inland waterways and a coastal aquaculture. Obviously there is a particular danger of cross-contamination within those waterways. But have the Government of the Republic of Ireland been consulted on the content of this SI, and have they registered that they are content with our proposals, given that they have such a lot in common with us?
Also, can the Minister explain in more detail how the buffer zones are intended to work? When I read the SI and the Explanatory Memorandum, I was unclear whether this was a new legislative function, and whether this is imposed around each separate aquatic business or on a larger geographical basis. Does this help protect the waterways between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
Finally, I pick up the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Macintosh. The Explanatory Memorandum explains in paragraph 7.5 that EU aquatic animal health standards, as we have them at the moment, are higher than international standards, and that if we do not adhere to EU standards in the future, that could result in the UK being unable to trade products with the EU and third countries. It goes on to say that the Government have, therefore,
“decided to maintain regulations regarding aquatic animal health at or above EU standards”.
We very much welcome this approach. It is an approach that we believe should be applied more widely across other food and animal trade issues which will be dealt with in other SIs scheduled for consideration. It could have been applied in our debate last week on pesticides, for example, but the Government took a different approach on that issue and set up a separate UK regulatory regime, which was not linked to the existing EU one.
Can the Minister clarify the actual clause in the SI that gives effect to this policy? Can he also explain the circumstances in which the principle of applying standards at least as good as those of the EU will apply in future SIs, as we all have an interest in this being rolled out more widely? I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I am most grateful for a very thought-provoking debate on these matters. I emphasise that the amendments in this instrument are purely about technical changes to ensure that all the arrangements that are being brought over into our statute book are operable and so forth. A number of points were made; if I could run through them and then, if there are any others, I might receive some assistance.
Both my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to equivalent or higher standards. The Explanatory Memorandum states that:
“EU law regarding aquatic animal health set standards equivalent or higher than the international standards set by the … OIE”.
We want to ensure that we are able to trade with our European partners and others post Brexit. Therefore it is vital that our aquatic animal health status is at least of equivalent or a higher standard, to ensure that there are no barriers from a disease perspective. As I have explained, particularly in Northern Ireland, the health status is very high, and there are far fewer aquatic diseases in the island of Ireland. The UK, and Northern Ireland in particular, might want to diverge precisely to set higher standards. We will be able to do so, so that we remain focused on biosecurity and proactive in preventing disease. As I said in my opening remarks, with the far fewer fish diseases that there are on the island of Ireland, that is an absolute imperative.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned the single epidemiological unit. It will of course remain. It actually does not relate to Europe; this is an arrangement agreed by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly. As I hope I have outlined, it is absolutely essential if the two Administrations are to deal effectively with ensuring that there is a healthy status.
As I said, there is excellent co-operation and collaboration between DAERA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in aquatic animal health and aquaculture. That collaboration is regular and extensive. Both departments work closely with research institutes, such as the Marine Institute in Galway and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast on a range of fish health issues. Also, the north/south fisheries liaison group involves co-operation on operational issues relating to inland fisheries management. It was established by Inland Fisheries Ireland and its parent department, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the Republic of Ireland, DAERA in Northern Ireland and the Loughs Agency. That is important because, if I remember rightly, the five sea loughs are cross-border. The Loughs Agency is a cross-border implementation body, established under the Belfast Good Friday agreement. In addition, there is a north/south standing scientific committee for inland fisheries. I have many other examples of the intrinsic way both parts of the island of Ireland work on these matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked specifically what consultation there had been with the Irish Government. Of course, as a matter of courtesy, DAERA will inform them of these technical changes at the next bilateral, but there was no formal discussion because, with the continuum of all the fora I have described, this is how it will be operable in Northern Ireland. As a matter of courtesy, DAERA of course has extensive and regular dialogue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about buffer zones. The wording on buffer zones in this instrument is consistent across England, Wales and Scotland. There is no conferral of a legislative power. DAERA is not transposing article 49(2) of the 2006 directive, but merely ensuring that references to it in the principal regulations, or to provisions that cross-refer to it, operate properly by referring to “the competent authority” rather than “the member state”. The power for DAERA, as the competent authority, to establish buffer zones is precisely to prevent or to limit the spread of disease. The key point is that that is already conferred by Regulation 27 of the Aquatic Animal Health Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009, which transposes article 49 of Directive 2006/88/EC. I am sorry for what seems rather a considerable number of words, but they are to show that it is within DAERA as the competent authority to establish those buffer zones.
To my noble friend Lady McIntosh I say that, yes, this is a matter for a no-deal scenario but, whether the United Kingdom leaves with no deal or not—obviously, the Government are working extremely hard with others to secure a deal—clearly some of these technical operability points would have to be attended to at some point. I do not believe that a lot of our work would have to be attended to to get it into the prism of being UK or Northern Ireland-compliant. As the competent authority, DAERA will also continue to inspect all live fish imports. The FSA in Northern Ireland has a role in relation to products going for human consumption. The MSC is a certification body only—it does not have enforcement powers in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh also raised the question of crabs. Northern Ireland is a strong exporter of crabs landed in the Province, and they are largely sold to the EU, but this should not affect any crabs exported from the Faroe Islands. I was interested in the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the Faroe Islands, which, no doubt, will be a matter for further consideration and discussion.
The issue of tariffs is still under consideration by the Government, and the Secretary of State said yesterday at the NFU conference that it is matter on which there is considerable focus.
On the question of the export health certificates, the UK remains committed to not imposing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic under any circumstances. In a no-deal scenario, it is assumed that the EU will require an export health certificate for all exports of products of animal origin, which includes all fishery and aquaculture products. For live exports of aquatic animals, fish health certification will be required to meet EU standards—I conjecture that that would apply to Northern Ireland produce, for the reasons I have described. Consignments approved for export will have to be inspected by an official inspector before departure; that will be an increased imposition on current trading arrangements and will ultimately fall to DAERA resources.
I wonder whether there are any other points that I need to answer; if there are any, I will look again at Hansard. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that with Defra business I will use every endeavour to inform all interested noble Lords. Those who contacted the official on the telephone number found in the back of the Explanatory Memorandum—including, I think, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter—have said to me, “This is wonderful because it so rarely happens”. That is purpose of Defra being a helping hand and not a heavy one, so I encourage that. I informed a number of Northern Ireland Peers that the debate was happening, to say what it was about. They obviously thought the discussions were technical and on operability, but I am very keen that there is this dialogue in the Moses Room. A lot of detailed discussions can take place in the Moses Room. I am mindful of what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said about further discussions, but the truth is that all the noble Lords I would expect to see on an issue such as this, where there is a specialism and an interest, are here.
I will look at Hansard to see which areas I might not have precisely covered, but on the basis that I think I have covered as many as I can at the moment, I commend the regulations.
Equine (Records, Identification and Movement) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, it is probably appropriate that I declare an interest as a member of the British Horse Society, although, sadly, at the moment I do not own any horses.
The purpose of this statutory instrument is to ensure that EU law regarding equine identification, which will be retained following withdrawal, has the necessary technical amendments made to it so that equine legislation remains operable. This will ensure that the human food chain can continue to be protected and that equines can continue to be traded and moved into and through the EU, while maintaining robust standards of equine health. The current system of equine identification is set out in EU legislation, primarily by Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/262 —the equine passport regulation.
The regulations before us do not make any changes to current policy or enforcement already in force, but I would like to set out the principal changes that they make. Part 2 sets out the technical amendments to the text of the retained EU equine passport regulation to ensure continued operability. Part 3 makes similar technical amendments to certain directly retained Commission decisions relating to equines—namely, on the collection of data for competitions, the recognition of stud books and the co-ordination of information exchange between those stud books. Part 4 makes amendments to the EEA agreement, as retained in UK law under the EU withdrawal Act.
These necessary technical amendments to ensure operability involve changing references to the Union in the current EU regulation to refer, instead, to the UK or, where the admission of equines with appropriate ID documents from the EU is concerned, to equines from both the EU and the UK. References to authorities in member states are amended to refer to the appropriate authorities in the UK, which in relation to England will be the Secretary of State, in relation to Scotland will be Scottish Ministers, in relation to Wales will be Welsh Ministers, and in relation to Northern Ireland will be the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
In Parts 2 and 3 of the regulations, certain articles of the Commission regulation and Commission decisions are omitted by this legislation. For clarification, this is because they contain provisions that will no longer have relevance once Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act is repealed. The omitted articles will therefore become redundant. For example, a requirement to provide for enforcement, or an ability to derogate from the legislation, can no longer be given effect because there will be no legislative power to do so once Section 2(2) is repealed. However, where relevant, necessary provisions have already been given effect by domestic legislation and they will be preserved and continue to have effect by virtue of the EU withdrawal Act.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to one addition that the regulations make, which is the insertion of a new article 15A. This is because, in the event of a no-deal exit, it will be necessary to have the facility to generate a supplementary travel document to accompany some equine movements. Such a document is a standard requirement for certain types of movement originating from a third country. Equine IDs issued by passport-issuing organisations in the UK will not be sufficient for this purpose because the ID must be issued by the competent authority.
This travel document will be necessary only for unregistered equines. These are equines that are not registered on an EU approved stud book or by an international organisation that manages the competition or racing of horses, including ponies. The Animal and Plant Health Agency has drawn up a simple single-page document which will satisfy the requirements of the legislation. It can be printed off and signed by the vet at the same time as other travel documentation is issued. The Animal and Plant Health Agency has taken on additional staff and undertaken training to ensure day-one readiness. In Northern Ireland, the role will be performed by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, which has similarly indicated appropriate readiness.
The House of Lords sifting committee raised the cost of blood tests for equines moving into or through the European Union. To be clear, European rules require that third countries must be assigned a disease risk status. There are seven possible categories which are based on the geographic region of the third country and the level of associated equine health risk. Blood testing is a mandatory requirement for all equines from third countries. The number of tests required reflects the disease risk category assigned to the third country. Given the UK’s high health status and high welfare standards, of which we should be rightly proud, we would expect to be assessed as low risk and therefore subject to the minimum of such tests, which should limit the cost implications on the sector.
The UK has already submitted an application to the EU for the third-country listing of equines as a contingency, as part of a wider application covering other live animals and animal products. The Commission has since indicated its desire to list the UK “swiftly”, if necessary. I should stress that these testing requirements, as with the need for a supplementary travel document, are not in any way due to this legislation. Both requirements are a consequence of the UK becoming a third country; thus we would be subject to existing laws set down for third countries. The equine sector is very familiar with blood tests and it is already the industry norm for current UK to third-country movements.
For the avoidance of doubt, while all equines will require blood tests prior to movement, the supplementary travel document will be necessary, as I have said, only with respect to the movement of “unregistered” equines into the EU. My department has been working closely with key members of the equine industry to ensure that the new processes are as simple as possible. We are communicating the detail of the necessary changes to equine owners and all involved in horse movement. The extent of these regulations is the UK. All the devolved Administrations have been consulted and involved in the preparation of this legislation; indeed, they have consented to it coming into force. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this statutory instrument. I have one or two observations, but I am grateful to him for explaining why the Lords sifting committee has recommended that it should be an affirmative instrument. Clearly, the blood testing will be new for some people who are going to be exporting. I am also glad that the single lifetime document will continue as it is.
I want to ask my noble friend about an aspect that has always worried me and continues to do so: the export of ponies or horses, which on the whole are supposed to be going for riding or other purposes but often go into the human health chain. I am glad that the SI refers to this because it clearly mentions the potential harmful substances which could be in those animals when they are exported. Can he tell me a little more about the Government’s thinking on that aspect rather than the stud, breeding and horseracing side that we automatically think about? However, I think that hundreds of animals are still being shipped abroad for whatever purpose—in the end, we are not quite sure about that.
I turn to the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 13.2 on page 4 refers to “retrospective microchipping” for older horses,
“which will apply from 1 October 2020”.
What will happen between now and then or is something already in place that I have missed? That is quite likely because these statutory instruments are complex.
As far as I am concerned, I welcome the instrument. It is really a matter of transferring EU laws to make it possible for us to continue in the same way. However, we must bear in mind that becoming a third country brings with it additional requirements for those involved in the sector. However, I am much more at ease with those that are registered than perhaps I am with the unregistered. I am not sure how this statutory instrument deals with that aspect of animal welfare and, in fact, in the end of human health welfare too.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his clear exposition. Notwithstanding his assurances, I would like to seek further assurance on two points. First, will this instrument adequately maintain the biosecurity of the UK horse population, particularly regarding African horse sickness and the movement of horses into the UK? My second point was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. In view of the fact that the welfare of horses in the UK might be hindered by the difficulty and costs of enabling humane slaughter of unwanted horses, can the Minister assure us that this SI places no additional impediment on the humane slaughter of horses in approved equine abattoirs, which in some cases might be abroad?
My Lords, I welcome the statutory instrument’s purpose and I thank my noble friend for introducing it. We should not take equine health for granted, given the latest incident of equine flu and the devastating effect it could have on the racing community. I should declare that I am a member of the APPG on racing, and I live on what was a stud farm in North Yorkshire.
What is the relationship between the statutory instrument and the tripartite agreement? When the tripartite agreement was created it was outwith the European Union. It obviously continues to function extremely well and it is slightly confusing that it should have been brought in the EU’s remit when it refers only to horses travelling between the UK, Ireland and France. I know there is great concern that this agreement should continue. I hope the statutory instrument will allow that—it could be one of its benefits—but given that we now have almost less than a month to go, what will the status of the tripartite agreement be and what is the specific relationship between the statutory instrument and that agreement?
Most of the reasons why horses and ponies travel are for racing, breeding and the purposes of riding but, as my noble friend Lady Byford pointed out, there is quite a thriving trade on the continent for edible horsemeat. I confess that I did so once as a student in Denmark, when a trick was played on me and I did not quite realise what I was eating. Having grown up with a little pony, I was absolutely devastated afterwards. There was a sinister development in, I think, 2012 with the horsegate scandal. It showed that there is the potential for, or has been, an animal health issue almost every 10 years: we had BSE in the early 1990s, foot and mouth in the early 2000s, and then what was thankfully only a passing off, not a human or animal health food scandal. But it was totally unacceptable that we never really got to the bottom of the chain. The Select Committee that I chaired tried to invite witnesses who could have proved beyond doubt that there were Irish connections involved, which we were unable to do because we could not subpoena witnesses from outside the United Kingdom.
This is an extremely important instrument for biosecurity, animal health and potentially passing off. I hope my noble friend will put my mind at rest that that is its basis. I have a Question coming up next month, so I will have the opportunity to pursue that further.
My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned the Explanatory Memorandum, in which paragraph 3.2 on page 2 refers to the Lords sifting committee recommendation that this instrument should use the affirmative procedure. It also mentions the “potential costs”. In the disclaimer—for want of a better word—at the end, it is recorded as saying that,
“the total cost … falls below the £5 million”,
but the committee must have been concerned. Will the Minister repeat the actual cost for the benefit of the Committee this afternoon? It is obviously below £5 million, but I will be interested to know what the actual cost will be. I welcome that the department, through this instrument, will continue to allow free movement with a minimum of disruption. That begs the question of potential checks in the event of no deal at ports of entry to the continent. I hope that can be resolved by carrying over the tripartite agreement. If it was initially outwith the European Union, I see no reason why we cannot reach an agreement between the UK, Ireland and France that it should continue.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister and his officials for the helpful way in which they have outlined the impact of this statutory instrument and answered questions from those of us who brought them to their attention. I am particularly glad that we can reassure the general public. I feel that very few of them will read the statutory instrument, but it makes it clear that the status quo will be maintained with regard to equine passports. We do not want horse owners thinking that there will be changes in when they need to get their horses identified or in the status for selling feral ponies because although the SI removes those requirements, they are found elsewhere in domestic legislation. If you read the SI, you would not know that, but it was very reassuring to hear from the Minister that the status quo is maintained with regard to equine passports.
I add my voice to the voices of those who raised the issue of horsemeat entering the food chain. I understand from officials that the regulations with regard to the waiting time before that meat can enter the food chain are carried over in their entirety. Going on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, it is not just horses going abroad. Horses are slaughtered in the UK. We have four registered slaughterhouses in the UK. I was amazed to find out that 2,800 animals a year are slaughtered in the UK for the food chain.
I do not oppose this statutory instrument but it highlights a number of concerns about what will happen to the trade in and moving of horses if there is no deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, this mainly concerns racing, competition and breeding, but individual horse owners take their horses to the continent, including younger people who might go to train to be great jockeys in the future, which would be fantastic. It is estimated that 42,000 such journeys are made every year, so if there is no deal, the impact will be great.
I have one question for the Minister. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has noted, the Government’s technical note makes clear that the UK will need to be listed as a third country by 29 March. If we are not listed, we cannot move horses to Europe. Can the Minister confirm whether I am correct that if we are not listed by the EU as a third-party country, no horses will be able to move? That would have an incredibly big impact. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that the impact assessment, such as it is, refers only to the impact of this tiny SI, which is less than £5 million, but if there is no deal and horses cannot move, that will have a massive impact on the industry and on individual horse owners. Have the Government made any estimation of the cost of that devastating outcome?
The second area I want to touch on is that if there is no deal but we are listed, there will be a need for the new ID document, as the Minister rightly identified. As he said, this should be for non-industry equines only. However, having listened to the debate in the Commons, it seems that there is the possibility that the Commission may not recognise our stud books; that is my understanding of the Commons debate. I would be interested to know whether there is a possibility of the Commission not recognising our stud books. In that case, all equines, including industry equines, would be required to have ID documentation. I know that the Minister has made it clear that the documentation, both the export certificate and the ID documentation, would be available at a minimal cost, but they will require extra blood tests which cost hundreds of pounds. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned in the debate on an earlier SI, this will require vets. However, if we do not get a deal, we will not have the 50% of our vets who come from other parts of Europe. We could be under real pressure in terms of the number of vets we have. Again, that would put an extra burden on horse owners and it is possible that the industry might have to wait longer to enable the veterinary profession to undertake these extra requirements. All of that comes on top of the extra border inspections which may be required at ports. I believe that most horse owners are very caring and considerate; they do not want to see their horses stuck at borders, which would be the result of no deal.
This SI points to the fact that, at the very minimum, there will be extra costs, extra administrative requirements and undoubtedly extra time for horse owners if we have no deal. If we have no deal and we do not get listed as a third party, there will be no movement at all, which will have a massive impact. This is another statutory instrument which demonstrates the huge loss that this country will bear if we leave the European Union on 29 March.
I add my name to other noble Lords who have spoken today and thank the Minister for his explanation of the regulations. I declare my interests as set out in the register, but hasten to add that I have no connections with anything to do with horses. The Minister is correct to make clear that these regulations are being made in the event of a no deal outcome to the UK leaving the EU and it would be redundant should the UK leave with a deal. I thank the Minister once again for facilitating discussions earlier in the week on the SI.
While EU law is supported by UK domestic enforcement legislation after exit day with a deal, as EU legislation will then be retained under the withdrawal Act, the UK must still have an effective, operable statute book should the UK leave the EU without an agreement, as the Minister has explained. Labour recognises that the regulations largely make no changes to the current policy or enforcement, although there are one or two points I shall come to, and therefore does not oppose them. That is not to say that there are no significant concerns about the considerable impact that a no deal outcome will have on the equine industry as well as nearly every other industry. For this reason, the sifting committee of your Lordships’ House has recommended that the regulations be made under the affirmative procedure.
EU law requires equines to be identified by way of a passport. In most cases, equines born after 2009 must also be uniquely identifiable with a microchip. It is recognised and emphasised that this passport will contain important identity information and pertinent details of veterinary medicines administered to the animal and will define the animal’s current food chain status eligibility. The identification regulations have also been recently updated. The UK’s database was launched on 8 March 2018 and contains data about virtually every equine in the UK except those registered and listed as belonging to semi-wild and wild populations. It is to these populations that my attention has been drawn by World Horse Welfare and I thank that organisation for raising these issues. In his opening remarks, the Minister explained that the technicalities under the legislation withdrawing the UK from the EU might explain some of the anomalies the charity has raised. I thank him for that and I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who underlined this point. Some of the points that I am about to raise might be redundant, although, as World Horse Welfare has specifically asked these questions and I have given the Minister notice of them, perhaps I may outline them so that he can deal with them appropriately.
The first concerns the amendment to article 12. Regulation 15(c) on page 5 omits paragraph 2. World Horse Welfare does not agree that that paragraph should be omitted. According to the organisation’s understanding, to do so would be to make a change to current practice in an already complex system where member states may decide to limit the maximum permitted period for identifying the animal to six months or to the calendar year of birth. England and the devolved Administrations are already using slightly different language in their implementing regulations and it is unclear whether they are using this derogation. Am I correct that removal of this derogation, if not covered under domestic legislation, would add to the confusion regarding the relevant deadline to get an ID document for a horse and cause further confusion for the 70-odd passport issuing organisations across the UK—already a confusing enough situation? Does the Minister agree that the industry might be encouraged to undertake a rationalisation of the number of passport issuing organisations, especially if that were to result in cost savings?
World Horse Welfare also raises a concern about the omission of article 13 in Regulation 16 on page 6 regarding wild and semi-wild horses. In England there are horses living under wild or semi-wild conditions; namely, on Dartmoor, Exmoor, Wicken Fen and the New Forest, and on some commons in Wales. It is impractical and indeed a risk to their welfare to require them to be passported unless being moved, sold or brought into domestic use. Once again, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify the situation regarding this article, as it has been used to great effect for many years.
Returning to more general matters regarding the no deal scenario and how its worst features can be mitigated, what discussions have the Government had with the EU and the European Commission about allowing the UK to become a listed third country on the day the UK leaves the EU? Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who raised this issue.
As with other farm animals, these passports are mostly necessary in relation to non-pedigree, unregistered equines. Have the Government undertaken any discussions within the EU to recognise UK stud books and pedigree records? The Minister made reference to stud books in his opening remarks. Will it be possible to assimilate all farm animals under a scheme drawn up by the APHA with a simple, single-page document that will meet the requirements of the legislation and which can be downloaded and signed off by the relevant vet at the same time as other travel documents and health certificates?
Although the Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that additional costs will not result from the regulations, the Minister will be aware that your Lordships’ sifting committee specifically raised the cost of blood tests for equines moving into or through the EU following UK withdrawal and recommended that the regulations be upgraded in this respect. I understand that the number of tests and procedures varies depending on the risk-assessed disease risk category assigned to the third country. What discussions have the UK Government had with the EU regarding the UK’s disease risk status as a listed third party? How many tests would this involve and what would be the likely additional costs for those moving horses from this country to the rest of the EU, given that blood testing is a mandatory requirement for all equines from third countries?
Lastly—or nearly lastly—there also remain concerns about the welfare implications of long queues at the borders, should they happen in the event of no deal. Clearly, hours spent in a queuing lorry in high temperatures pose significant welfare problems for live animals. Can the Minister outline whether any contingency planning has been undertaken regarding live animals, including equines, in the event of a backlog of lorries at the border? Would it be possible for priority to be given to live animals in any queue? EU veterinarians have to sign off on various responsibilities during movement, which means that some of the checks will occur outside the UK. After Brexit, most of these responsibilities will fall to UK vets, which may increase the work required and the associated costs, assuming movements continue to occur at the current rate. I am grateful to the Minister for his follow-up letter regarding the recognition of standards in veterinary surgeons following the SI that we discussed last week.
Finally, I understand that the recent Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018 will become subject to review by no later than October 2023. This is some considerable time ahead, and no doubt is the normal due process procedure in normal times. Would the Minister consider whether this process should be reviewed and reconsidered, given the various regimes, should no deal indeed turn out to be what happens?
My Lords, I am most grateful again for this very constructive debate. Some of the issues have gone beyond the instrument itself, but I am delighted to answer as many of them as I can. If there are points of detail to follow up, I will ensure that we do so.
In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees—in fact all of your Lordships, because this is something that we all care desperately about—this SI absolutely is about the continuation of the existing high standards of biosecurity and equine health. There is no change to anything at all in these technical and operability amendments. I say again to my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that there are absolutely no changes in the standards required for horses entering the food chain. Articles 34 and 37 of EU regulation 15/262 cover the action that must be taken when an equine dies or is slaughtered to ensure that the animal’s ID and medication record reflect any medical products administered to the animal and its status regarding the food chain.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, the Food Standards Agency enforces checks carried out at slaughterhouses and will take appropriate enforcement should that be required. The combination of the legislation, passports, microchips, the UK’s central equine database and checks by the FSA help to ensure that, with that architecture, the safety of the human food chain is secure.
To confirm, because it is terribly important, particularly to my noble friend Lady Byford, these regulations will not affect government policy on the slaughter of equines for food. The existing equine identification rules do not prevent the slaughter of an equine for human consumption, provided the equine is properly identified in accordance with the legislation and has not been signed out of the food chain.
On the issue of passports, which the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to in one sense, the current rules around applications for and the issuing of an equine passport are set out in our domestic regulations—for example, at Regulation 6 of the Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018. For article 12, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, concerning a derogation allowing for a shortening of the deadline for issuing a passport, domestic secondary legislation already sets out the appropriate and necessary deadlines. Therefore, the article is omitted from the retained primary because it is covered in domestic law. The relevant provision in England can be found in Regulation 6 of the Equine Identification (England) Regulations.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, semi-wild ponies are in so many ways an iconic and cultural part of many of our wonderful landscapes. Article 13, which was omitted from the retained legislation, contains the derogation available on semi-wild ponies. The domestic regulations, which came into force for England on 1 October 2018 and in Wales on 12 February 2019, make use of the derogation for semi-wild ponies. Therefore, the allowance rules pertaining to semi-wild ponies are not changing. For example, this is a provision in Regulations 17 to 23 in Part 3 of the Equine Identification (England) Regulations. An equivalent provision is made in the Welsh regulations.
I am well aware of the long-standing nature of the tripartite agreement, which was raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Government recognise the importance of the tripartite agreement and we have published the implications of a no-deal Brexit on equine movement in the technical notice Taking Horses Abroad if there’s No Brexit Deal. This made clear that we would no longer have access to the tripartite agreement if the UK leaves without an agreement. Of course, we are seeking and want a deal, and I am well aware of all the equine interests. There has been a very strong working relationship with the equine sector for a long period of time. We fully realise that we want to ensure the free movement of equines as part of the tripartite agreement. If we did not have that access all EU member states would be subject to the same rules on equine movements—we are planning for this scenario, although we do not want these circumstances to arise. I think everyone in the equine world—many in Ireland, although not so many in France—is working as hard as they can to get these matters resolved.
My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned retrospective chipping. This is in our domestic regulations. The 2020 deadline for microchipping is to give time to owners of horses that were not previously required to be microchipped to adjust to the new requirement, but these microchipping requirements are so important for identification if horses are stolen or get loose, or if there are strays. There are all sorts of reasons why it was absolutely right that we extended microchipping to all horses and to give that ability for older horses that were not part of the original regime. I suggest that anyone who has not had their horse microchipped and, inevitably, has a routine visit from the vet, gets it done at the same time.
A number of other points were made. As I said in my opening remarks—the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to it—we have been in close communication with the Commission about a listing, not only on this matter but more widely. Clearly, the stud book issue is alongside that. Although obviously I cannot guarantee it, we are very positive about the response and understanding in the reference to “swiftly” because member states are of course keen to continue with the movement of equines, particularly between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, where there is a strong equine connection, and indeed between the UK and France. It is absolutely understood that it will be of mutual benefit to get those listings.
Noble Lords have talked about the costs of the blood tests. They are not directly related to this instrument but blood tests are likely to be required to obtain an export health certificate, which owners will have to pay for. Additional costs related to the need for blood tests are estimated to be between £200 and £500 depending on the third country category placed on the UK. As I have explained, we are expecting, if this were to come about, that we would be placed in a low-risk category and therefore we are not expecting the higher figure. That is not a consequence of the regulation but a result of having to comply with existing third country rules. As I have said, our export of equines to other third countries is already subject to blood testing requirements and, as I know directly, the equine sector is familiar with the process. Indeed, it is the norm for third country movements. But, again, we are looking for a deal. I emphasise that we need and want a deal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked what would happen if the UK does not get a third country listing. Racehorses registered with a national or international organisation or association will still be able to move; it will be other horses that will not. I would also say that we have a lot of communication with the equine sector, not only with the British Horseracing Authority and the racing authorities but more broadly as well. The sector is apprised of the new requirements and it is vital that a clear component of that is that we continue with clear communications. That is why I have looked at many of the technical notices on this matter so that, as a horse enthusiast, I can check how they might be received because they have been written in language that I would understand.
The noble Baroness also raised a point about capacity. The APHA has now planned for this and there is adequate capacity, while DAERA has already indicated that it is ready and able to issue the notices in Northern Ireland. The Government do not plan to charge for ID documents.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about the rationalisation of passport-issuing organisations. The point was eloquently made but it is not a component of this instrument. However, the noble Lord has raised an issue that could clearly be a matter for review. Of course, all passport-issuing organisations must comply with the law.
We have been working with the equine industry on the issue of border delays. In the event of no deal we need to ensure that this is factored in. The key point of any factoring in is that animal welfare must not be compromised. We are working closely with the equine sector because we must not put our animals in any jeopardy.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also said that the review would take too long. The first report must be published by 1 October 2023. It is a deadline and we will look at it; indeed, we will review earlier if there is a clear case to do so. That is very important.
Since the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is here and since two members of my family are in the veterinary profession, as I have disclosed before, I should say that I am very conscious of the vet as a key component in equine life. It is also important that I therefore assure the Committee that Defra provided evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee, strongly supporting the return of veterinary surgeons to the shortage occupation list. A report on that is due this spring. However, we are working with the official veterinarians and other support officers to ensure all that we need to have in place is there in readiness.
Although this slightly goes off the subject of this instrument, I am also very conscious that my noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned equine flu, while the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned African horse sickness. We absolutely must maintain our biosecurity standards and, wherever possible, enhance them. One key area in the work of the Animal Health Trust, the universities and the APHA—all the organisations that we have in the public, private and charitable sectors—is the health status of UK horses, which is hugely important. That is part of our reputation and when we see cases of animals not being cared for, we are all angry and expect matters to be undertaken. I notice that my noble friend Lord De Mauley is here; important work was also done on the legislation to ensure the welfare of horses that were being dumped on other people’s land.
Parliament, and all of us, have been working extremely hard beyond this instrument, but I will look at Hansard because there may be some elements, or twists and turns in some questions that I have not fully covered. In the meantime, this technical operability instrument is important and we have it ready.
Aquatic Animal Health and Plant Health (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I shall speak also to the instrument grouped with these regulations, as they are so interconnected. I should make it clear, first, that neither instrument makes any change to policy. These instruments are technical in nature and are to ensure a smooth transfer of powers from the EU to the UK. Secondly, I make it completely clear that these instruments in no way diminish our controls in the important subject areas covered. There is no proposal to alter or reduce our biosecurity controls for animals or plants, our animal welfare standards or our capacity to protect public health. Thirdly, Ministers will be able to make negative resolution statutory instruments only on specific procedural or technical matters that are laid down in the various legislative functions currently exercisable by the European Commission. The new enabling powers will therefore be confined to those matters that the European Parliament and Council have delegated to the European Commission to implement by way of tertiary legislation with input from relevant experts.
Legislative functions are currently conferred on the Commission by EU legislation. They enable the Commission to set out the technical details of the regimes in what is known as tertiary legislation. The two instruments take those powers currently held by the Commission and transfer them to the appropriate Ministers in the UK. These instruments are therefore correcting measures enabled by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. As I have said, the crucial point is that they do not introduce new policy. They preserve the current animal, fish and plant health regimes and simply ensure that we continue to operate effectively.
The Animals (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 cover the area of animal health and welfare. They provide for legislative functions to be exercisable by UK authorities. The exercise of those functions will principally be by way of domestic secondary legislation by the appropriate authorities, made under the negative resolution procedure as they will involve minor technical amendments to the EU retained law. This instrument transfers existing functions currently conferred on the Commission in the areas of: animal transport—Regulations 2 and 6; livestock identification—Regulations 3 and 5; transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs—Regulation 4; seal products—Regulation 7; animal slaughter—Regulation 9; animal by-products or ABPs—Regulation 8 and 10; and zootechnical conditions— Regulation 11.
These functions include matters such as: amending implementation rules and procedures when amending detailed rules of sampling and laboratory methods; approval of new scientific disease-related tests; revisions to disease monitoring and surveillance; setting down rules for breeding programmes to recognise disease resistance in livestock; determining feed safety practices; amendment of training and educational programmes; and the uniform application of disease contingency plans. They also include the power to amend the welfare requirements for transporting live animals and methods of animal slaughter to take account of scientific and technical progress.
Regulation 12, “Saving and transitional provision” is a cross-cutting regulation applying across this instrument. It contains transitional and saving provisions relating to standard form documents. For example, although new forms will be introduced for the UK, under these regulations, it will also be permissible to use the current EU forms for several months after exit day.
Turning to the Aquatic Animal Health and Plant Health (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, there is one matter which I wish to draw to your Lordships’ attention. This relates to the Explanatory Memorandum, which has been amended. The amended version, which was published on Monday, merely deletes incorrect references to powers not included in the SI, and therefore does not affect the content of the SI. The first was about editing the criteria for listing diseases. This was not included in the SI as the focus of this instrument is to ensure day-one readiness. The power to amend the criteria is not required to be transferred as the current criteria are well-established and effective. The second change involved the power to set out detailed rules for the introduction into the EU of aquaculture animals and related products from third countries. This was moved from this instrument to the Import of and Trade in Animals and Animal Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which contain a number of similar amendments. The detailed rules on imports into the EU are currently set out by the Commission in model health certificates, and the proposed amendments remove these model health certificates from retained EU law and allow the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations to publish new health certificates for imports into the UK. I hope your Lordships will accept my apologies for any inconvenience or confusion. None of this affects this SI, but I wanted to be straightforward and open about the changes.
This instrument also provides for a series of legislative functions currently conferred by European Union legislation upon the European Commission to be exercisable instead by Governments in the United Kingdom. The difference is that this instrument relates to EU directives while the previous instrument covers EU regulations. Directives are transposed into domestic law by regulations or, in some cases, primary legislation, when they come forward, so they are already on the statute book. However, the functions conferred on the Commission in those directives were not transposed as it would not have been appropriate to do so, but they are now being brought in by these regulations to the appropriate Ministers in the UK.
I reiterate my earlier point: Ministers will be able to make negative resolution statutory instruments only in specific procedural or technical matters that are laid down in the various legislative functions currently exercisable by the EU Commission. The new enabling powers will therefore be confined to only those matters that the European Parliament and European Council have delegated to the EU Commission to implement by way of tertiary legislation with input from relevant experts. As with the previous instrument, there is no change in policy.
This instrument relates to aquatic and animal health in Part 2, and plant health in part 3. The regulations relating to plant health do not extend to Scotland, as plant health is devolved and the Scottish Ministers have chosen to bring forward their own legislation to deal with deficiencies in their plant health legislation in Scotland.
In Part 2, which covers transferring functions relating to aquatic animal health, this instrument transfers existing European Commission legislative functions to appropriate UK Ministers. It will enable them to amend the list of diseases for disease control purposes, and to draw up and update lists of third countries, or parts of third countries, from which aquaculture animals and related products can be introduced into the UK, post exit.
In Part 3, which covers transferring functions relating to plant health, this instrument transfers the legislative functions to appropriate Ministers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make amendments keeping pace with developments in scientific knowledge or changes in risks to plant health. The appropriate Ministers will also be able to specify import conditions that apply to plants and plant products originating in a third country. This is important in enabling international trade based on assessment of risk. It also enables appropriate Ministers to put in place temporary emergency measures to prevent the introduction or spread of a plant pest.
As I have said, there is no lessening of our biosecurity controls. These measures will enable us to respond to emerging threats. These instruments are to ensure an operable legal framework is in place for exit day and make no policy changes. I beg to move.
My Lords, again I thank the Minister for his very clear and extensive exposition. I have one or two queries regarding the animals legislative functions regulations, particularly concerning regulation EC 999/2001, which concerns the prevention, control and eradication of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies—TSEs. Certain substitutions have been made under article 4—“Safeguard Measures”—on which I seek the Minister’s assurance. Specifically, in article 6, the appropriate authority is given any power to disapply the requirement for the annual monitoring programme under certain circumstances—a monitoring programme is required under current EU regulations—and in article 7, the appropriate authority can prescribe tolerated levels of “insignificant” amounts of animal protein in feeding stuffs.
Without seeing the original material, these sound a little concerning. Can the Minister assure us that they do not represent departures from the original legislation and would not leave us unaligned with current EU 27 regulations? That might create a prejudice against our livestock exports.
My Lords, these regulations are very technical and I congratulate my noble friend on moving them. I have a question that relates solely to the Animals (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, in particular to paragraph 7.9 on page 4 of the Explanatory Memorandum covering Regulation 9. This is the animal slaughter regulation which will transfer, as my noble friend has explained, the legislative functions from regulation EC 1007/ 2009. I notice that we are transferring the power specifically and allowing Defra, presumably, to,
“define the maximum numbers of poultry, hares and rabbits to be processed by low throughput slaughterhouses; and publish guidance”.
What is the average throughput of these animals at the moment? Is my noble friend minded to specify other categories as well?
Perhaps the Committee will permit me to make a general comment. I was in the European Parliament as a directly elected Member when we passed the original abattoir directive, as I think it was known. I argue that it was not the fault of MEPs that we applied that very restrictively in the UK. That led to a number of slaughterhouses closing. A point of principle has been established—I am sure my noble friend is wedded to it, as am I—that animals for human consumption should be slaughtered as close to the point of production as possible, yet we now find ourselves in a situation where we have a greatly reduced number of slaughterhouses. I had the privilege of representing two different areas, but for 18 years I represented next door to the joint largest livestock production area in the north of England. I believe that animals being transported further, because of the reduced number of slaughterhouses, was a factor in the foot and mouth disease epidemic. I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to say that we will draw the line and that we have no intention of reducing the number of slaughterhouses through this or any other regulation.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed exposition of the extent of this legislation. It sounds as though the existing regime will transfer without too much of a hiccup in order to enforce the regulations. However, in declaring my interest as a livestock rearer and a farmer, I cannot resist pointing out that the existing system is not totally foolproof. This is really for another day, but we need to realise that certain diseases seem to slip in not just by midges being blown across from Europe. Two that affect sheep in particular which have come in are maedi visna and ovine pulmonary adenocarcinoma—OPA. These diseases are now hidden in our own flocks and are very difficult to determine.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very helpful introduction, and for his time and that of his officials in producing the very helpful briefings we received prior to debating these statutory instruments. But yet again no impact assessment has been produced for them, as the Government believe there is no significant impact. This is not acceptable, since insufficient time is being allocated to allow proper scrutiny of the raft of Defra SIs in particular that are required to be passed before 29 March. Had the Government started this process earlier there would have been sufficient time for such impact assessments to have taken place, and for the public and politicians to be suitably reassured that no harm would occur. However, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that all our consideration of SIs should take place on the Floor of the House. That would be a very poor use of parliamentary time.
Although the first SI on aquatic animal health and plant health does not make changes to substantive policy content, there is always a risk of new disease and pest risks. The SI gives the Secretary of State powers to manage and prevent diseases and pests in aquatic plants and animals. It also allows the Secretary of State to amend lists of possible diseases and pests on the basis of evidence and bring about restrictions to stop imports if they are believed to be infected with these diseases and pests. However, there is little to say what the evidence base will be for amending lists of diseases and pests, or how this will impact on businesses and the voluntary sector. What type of evidence will be required and where that will come from?
As we are becoming somewhat used to, there are a whole host of delegated powers in this SI that allow the Secretary of State to amend lists of diseases as well as other things listed in Regulation 7 in Part 2. These powers are currently exercised by the Commission as delegated powers. However, the Government do not appear to be drawing back powers that should be held by Parliament. If the Government essentially intend to mirror the EU’s list of diseases and pests, could the Minister say what the point is in claiming back these functions? Surely this is the point of pooled sovereignty.
The list of diseases is transferred, with appropriate modifications, to the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers, Scottish Ministers and Defra in the case of Northern Ireland to exercise in their respective areas. Could the Minister say what these appropriate modifications will be? The Secretary of State may also exercise the functions on behalf of a devolved Administration with their consent. There are several other powers under this directive that are not transferred via this instrument as they are not thought to be critical for day-one readiness and may be transferred in due course. Again, could the Minister say what these functions are and when they might be transferred?
The animals legislative functions SI covers the provision of a lot of animal regulation currently managed by the Commission to be given, again, to the Secretary of State, who may make amendments with the permission of the “appropriate Minister”. New article 2a as inserted by the SI gives a definition of the appropriate Minister, which includes the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers and Defra for Northern Ireland, as I said. However, the appropriate Minister has to give consent to the Secretary of State before changes can be made. Could the Minister say what contingencies are in place should such consent not be forthcoming from the Welsh and Scottish devolved Administrations? I presume is it expected that Defra, on behalf of Northern Ireland, will automatically give consent.
I am concerned that the transfer of these powers to the Secretary of State on animal welfare could lead to a watering down of our animal welfare regulations, which are currently some of the best in the world. They include the transportation requirements of animals, the level of checks carried out on livestock, limiting the amount of seal hunt products arriving on the market, and the maximum number of poultry, hares and rabbits to be processed by low-throughput slaughterhouses. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has said, it is extremely important to maintain the strictest regulations for TSE.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, flagged up, could the Minister say just how many hares and rabbits—particularly hares—are slaughtered through slaughterhouses? I am by no means an expert, but I have never heard of hares or rabbits being killed by slaughterhouses in this country. Our hare population, although recovering in some areas, is seriously under threat. The thought that these wild creatures will somehow be subject to a slaughterhouse production line is extremely concerning.
The Government continue to make encouraging noises about their commitment to animal welfare, but appear not to ensure that our current standards are enshrined in our law; they are subject to alteration by the Secretary of State. While the current incumbent is committed to animal welfare, we all know that Secretaries of State can come and go. It is a dangerous policy to allow these commitments to be the subject of individual personnel, as opposed to committed to law.
Finally, Regulation 13 allows for standard form documents, currently set out in retained EU legislation, to be used after exit day in the form they took before exit, if the appropriate authority or Minister determines that necessary. Can the Minister give an example of when it might not be necessary for this to happen?
Like many of my colleagues, I remain very concerned at the number of powers passed to the Secretary of State, which will not receive scrutiny in your Lordships’ House. I am aware that the deadline is coming towards us at the speed of a runaway train, but more thought to this process, far earlier, could have avoided this situation.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction today, and his courtesy in providing us with a pre-briefing. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion, and I refer to my entry in the register of interests. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, we reiterate our concern about the process for dealing with these SIs. Once again, we register our concern about the reliance on powers being granted to the Secretary of State without external scrutiny and challenge.
It seems a bit of an act of desperation to produce these composite SIs, which have completely different subject matters, particularly when there are other SIs in the pipeline covering more specific regulations relating to these individual topics. In retrospect, it will make it very difficult for people to navigate their way through all these different bits of legislation and the different SIs.
I turn to the aquatic animal health and plant health SI. We accept that, for the most part, the substance of this SI is non-contentious, but I have a few questions. First, this instrument transfers a number of technical legislative functions to the Secretary of State, but it also refers to “appropriate authority” and “other responsible authorities”, suggesting that these powers may be sub-delegated. If that is the case, to which public bodies do the Government propose to sub-delegate these powers? Assuming that these powers will be sub-delegated, will the public bodies have to report on their use of the powers under the relevant provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018?
The second issue is on plant health. The SI transfers responsibility to the Secretary of State for import restrictions and bans on plants and plant produce, as well as emergency measures for restrictions on imports to prevent plant pests being imported. According to the Explanatory Memorandum, this power is conferred,
“in light of developments in scientific or technical knowledge or technically justified and consistent with the risk to plant health”.
So far, so good, but could the Minister clarify how these functions will be carried out by the Secretary of State, which organisations will be authorised to make that scientific or technical assessment, what will the status be of any advice given in these circumstances, and what additional resources will be required to carry out these functions previously carried out by the EU Commission?
Finally, I have a question relating to the controls on disease in aquaculture animals. In Regulation 6, on page 3, reference is made to adding, varying or removing an exotic or non-exotic disease from the proscribed list. Obviously, we want to make sure that diseases harmful to aquatic animals are controlled and are not inadvertently spread from the EU or third countries, but the circumstances in which these controls are put in place in aquaculture seem to concentrate solely on the adverse economic impact and the likely production or export losses. There is no reference to the welfare or suffering of the species involved.
I realise I am treading on a controversial issue here, but should the Secretary of State not have a wider responsibility to ensure good animal husbandry and a disease-free environment for these fish regardless of the economic consequences? I realise that this SI transfers current EU regulations, but is this something that the Minister will aspire to address when the opportunity arises? I hope that when he replies he will take into account the increasing evidence that fish that are farmed in an aquaculture environment that most closely replicates their natural environment are kept disease free and are less stressed, more productive and more robust in the longer term, so there is a longer-term benefit all round.
Turning to the Animals (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations, again it would be helpful to know the appropriate authority in these regulations and the extent to which its advice is given independently and made public. I also have a few issues of detail to raise with the Minister. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Trees, I am concerned that the regulations on TSEs seem to water down the requirement in the annual monitoring programme to check animals in remote areas with low animal density. They also allow the overall programme to be revised based on a comprehensive risk analysis. Who will carry out this risk analysis and what organisations will be consulted before any changes are made?
The regulations also allow proteins derived from fish to be added to the feed of young ruminants based on a scientific assessment of their dietary needs. Will the Minister clarify who will be responsible for carrying out the scientific assessment? Does he accept that any relaxation of the current rules relating to TSEs should be made with extreme caution?
I refer the Minister to Regulation 7, which relates to the trade in seal products; I gave him notice of this question. As I read this regulation, it seems to water down our current ban on products derived from seal hunts. For,
“Commission shall adopt implementing acts”,
“the Secretary of State may make regulations”.
It goes on:
“The Secretary of State may, by regulations … prohibit the placing on the market of seal products derived from seals killed as a result of a seal hunt conducted primarily for commercial reasons”.
What is intended to be achieved by that change and why do the regulations not spell out clearly a continued requirement to ban such products on the basis currently in operation in the EU? I look forward to his response on these issues.
My Lords, this has again been a very interesting and helpful debate. I understand that this is a subject that excites public concern and interest. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was concerned about future Secretaries of State. This instrument is about a very distinct area of operability. Changes of the sort the noble Baroness was envisaging would come through a completely different route. The work we are doing today is very technical and is about issues that the European Parliament and Council have defined as being for the Commission to manage. These instruments are very tightly drawn. Therefore, any changes of the sort that the noble Baroness might be envisaging are not in them because they are not about changing policies in the areas that have come up in these regulations.
I turn to one issue immediately. I can safely say to your Lordships that I am extremely concerned about TSEs and extremely cautious. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised them. I want to make it absolutely clear that the TSE monitoring programme will not be watered down by the amendments; it will continue unchanged after we leave. Similarly, the Government have no plans to alter feeding stuffs regulations. These regulations exactly reflect the current EU programmes. Our existing monitoring programme for TSEs will remain at the current level, and we have no plans to change it. The Animal and Plant Health Agency is the national reference laboratory for TSEs and has the latest scientific evidence. I say that only to ensure that there is a recognition of the expertise that we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in particular, will know. Obviously one can never bind anyone else, but this is an area where, given what we have seen in a whole range of areas, we should always be extremely cautious.
As to whether there is any intention of loosening restrictions, the Government do not allow the feeding of fish meal to young ruminants and have no plans to alter that position. Again, any future changes would have to be based on a scientific assessment of the dietary needs of young ruminants and of the control aspects for permitting the young of ruminant species to be fed proteins derived from fish. However, as I said, this Government have no plans to alter the current situation.
I should have declared my farming interests and I apologise to your Lordships for not having done so.
Following the outbreaks of BSE and foot and mouth disease, which resulted from animal by-products entering the animal feed chain, in 2003 the EU implemented legislation to ensure the safe handling and disposal of animal by-products. The Government take very seriously the ever-present risk of the entry and spread of serious livestock disease. We all recall the pain and distress of those outbreaks. I can just remember the 1967 outbreak when I was at school. I was quite young, but I remember it very dramatically. There was also the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. I want to be absolutely emphatic on this issue. Although this instrument has nothing to do with these matters in terms of the policy, which is not being changed, we simply must not and will not relax our guard. High standards of biosecurity are essential.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell—I was going to say “my noble friend”—asked about rabbits and hares. Rabbit, and possibly hare, form a normal and much greater part of the diet in parts of the EU. There are currently no FSA-approved establishments for the slaughter of farmed rabbits or indeed hares—I have never even heard of hares being farmed. While the UK has a small rabbit farming industry, we are unaware of any commercial farms producing rabbits or hares for meat. Article 11 of directive 1099/2009 provides a derogation that currently allows farms to slaughter up to 10,000 rabbits, hares and poultry per annum outside an FSA-approved establishment, but there are currently no FSA-approved establishments here. This provision was brought back as part of that regime, but I am not sure it has a UK resonance. We have no plans to change any of the arrangements.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised animal slaughter and the closure of slaughterhouses—an issue that I understand well. We are working closely with the FSA and with industry, because we clearly recognise the desirability of two things: of animals always meeting a respectful end, and for them not to have to travel any further than is necessary. But we must also be mindful that in this country we require high standards of hygiene, cleanliness and safety, which we expect across all slaughterhouses. This is all eminently possible with all sizes of slaughterhouses, but again this is an issue which we will return to as a nation in other times.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to evidence particularly on diseases and pests. Our government agencies and expert committees have recognised expertise in undertaking risk assessments and advising Governments. They have been doing so for many years and will continue to offer this expert advice in collaboration with industry and scientific centres. I am sure the veterinary profession has always been part of this great firmament of experts. The agencies include the APHA—the Animal and Plant Health Agency—which safeguards animal and plant health through research, surveillance and inspection, and CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which does the same for aquatic animal health.
UK laboratories are recognised as the world leader in 21 areas of animal health science—more than any other EU member state. This recognition is effected by the World Organisation for Animal Health—the OIE—which includes our own APHA and CEFAS. The UK Government have their own officers, such as the government and departmental chief scientific advisers, the Chief Veterinary Officer and the Chief Plant Health Officer. Again, there are opportunities to work with world-class universities and other institutions.
We also have several working groups that provide advice in decision-making processes to all UK Governments—jointly as well as singly—including the national experts group, which, in the event of an outbreak of an exotic disease, provides UK policy teams and the CVOs with specific veterinary, technical and scientific advice and recommendations on the disease, its transmission and options for control. There is also the UK Surveillance Forum, which provides a structure and direction to develop a single view of the UK’s animal health status, and evidence to support it. Having worked with a number of these organisations, when I go to Europe there is a recognition of how world-leading we are in some of these areas. Borders and boundaries mean that whatever happens with future arrangements—I hope they are collaborative and strong—this is an area where partnership is clearly essential.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, took up the matter of the devolved Administrations. We are committed to working closely with devolved Administrations on an approach that works for all of the UK and reflects the interests of all four UK nations. We are working with other Administrations to agree the detail of the process for delivering joint decision-making. Where matters are devolved and an Administration decide they would like to take their own statutory instrument forward I personally think that we should respect the devolved arrangements, provided we keep within the same framework. The essential thing is that the experience of all of this is done in a collaborative spirit of wanting to have a common framework, even if an Administration sometimes want to bring in their own SI.
On standard forms, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, the intention is to allow trade to flow and not to interrupt it with unnecessary bureaucratic insistence on specific forms. There are likely to be perfectly understandable cases when the trader has completed the wrong form—the one that applied before we left—and this might be in cases of goods already in transit. In other words, we want pragmatism and common sense to prevail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised good husbandry. I understand why she did, not only because it applies to any animal but because it is the right thing to do. As the noble Baroness outlined, if you look after your stock, they will have a good reputation and will sell well. I have never understood why anyone would think it a good idea to bring indifferent stock to market, with the reputation that provides.
Going back to fish, some areas are already on our statute book. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 protects fish under control of humans from unnecessary suffering and places a duty on the person responsible for them to ensure that the needs of the fish are met. The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 applies specific welfare requirements when fish are being transported for commercial purposes, and EU regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing sets obligations to spare fish any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during killing or related operations. This will become retained EU law in our own arrangements. APHA and local authority inspectors have official responsibility for the enforcement of animal welfare legislation on fish farms.
On the question of which powers in aquatics and plants we have not transferred, no one could want a tidier life on these matters more than me, but there are further powers under the plant health directive and the aquatic animal health directive—for example, the power to amend the criteria for listing diseases. I have no doubt that attention will be paid to those matters. We face the dilemma of wanting to get as many of the things that are ready debated, but I understand that your Lordships are extremely busy and we want to ensure that these instruments are grouped as effectively as we can possibly manage. I know my noble friend Lady Vere and I feel as strongly as your Lordships about that.
On the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on seal products, I want to make it very clear that the regulations make operability changes and do not amend current restrictions or exemptions. The ban on importation of seal products into the EU is maintained in the UK. There is currently a derogation that permits the marketing of seal products from the hunts of Inuits and other indigenous communities when they are conducted for and contribute to the subsistence of those communities. This does not extend to those carried out primarily for commercial reasons. Currently, the European Commission has the power to prohibit or limit seal products placed on the market from Inuit hunts when evidence subsequently comes to light that they were actually from a commercial operation. Regulation 7(2)(b) will amend article 3(5) of the retained EU regulation to transfer this power from the European Commission to the Secretary of State. This will enable the Secretary of State to take appropriate action to restrict the marketing of seal products, should evidence come to light that they do not meet the derogation. Again, this is not, in absolutely any way, a diminution; it is to enable the Secretary of State to do what the Commission could have done, if evidence was to emerge.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made a point on aquaculture and risk of disease. Most aquaculture production in the UK takes place in so-called open systems where fresh water is abstracted from rivers directed through aquaculture sites. In the case of marine aquaculture, aquatic animals are placed in rearing units immersed in seawater. Therefore, there is a potential for pathogens to be passed from wild aquatic animals to farmed aquatic animals, and vice versa. The main way to minimise the risk of pathogen spread is to prevent the introductions of the pathogens in the first place. Indeed, the UK applies strict rules to minimise the risk of pathogen introduction via trade in live aquatic animals. For example, aquatic animals imported into the UK for aquaculture purposes can be imported only if they come from areas that are shown to be free from those pathogens that the UK has declared free from.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose was absolutely right: we are transferring through the withdrawal Act 2018 all the guts of these many regulations, which are the foundation of how we do things with animals, and aquatics and plant health. These two instruments ensure that, where there are distinct issues where the Commission was previously permitted to act, the regulation-making powers are conferred on appropriate authorities—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, mentioned this point. For aquatic animal health, these are the Secretary of State in England, Welsh Ministers in Wales, Scottish Ministers in Scotland, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. In other words, the “appropriate authority” is the appropriate Minister. It may be that, in the varying terms, they are the same thing, but I will look at that.
I will also look into the sheep matters for my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. Although it is somewhat different from these two particular instruments, it is really important that that is reflected. Some of the issues raised may well have gone beyond the precision of these two instruments, but I will look to see whether there are any particular questions or details, either within this instrument or beyond, that I may not have fully attended to. On this occasion, I beg to move.
Animals (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Considered in Grand Committee
Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, we have already discussed fish, horses, animals and plants, and now for something completely different—fertilisers and ammonium nitrate.
This instrument changes legislation in two areas. First, it amends domestic legislation that is out of date and, secondly, it addresses failures of retained EU law to operate effectively and other deficiencies arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Legislation surrounding fertilisers concerns the manufacturing and marketing of products. It provides for the definition, composition, labelling and packaging requirements for specific categories of fertilisers that are set out in lists. The legislation does not address the application or use of fertilisers and it does not change the definition or compositional requirements of fertilisers.
In 1975 the EU created its first set of legislation relating to fertilisers. The wide disparity in existing fertiliser rules between member states and the bulky nature of these materials restricting cross-border trade meant that it was not suitable to fully harmonise rules on all fertilisers across the EU. Instead, fertiliser rules were partially harmonised to begin removing technical barriers to trade within the EU. This means that the UK has kept its existing domestic framework alongside the EU framework. The EU regulation sets out the requirements for EC fertilisers, previously called EEC fertilisers, that can be freely sold across the EU. Manufacturers can choose which framework to market their products under, and this partial harmonisation is still in place today.
The current domestic framework for any material described as a fertiliser is the Fertilisers Regulations 1991. In the EU, the current framework is EU Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003, and this applies only to fertilisers labelled “EC fertiliser”. It was implemented in UK law by the EC fertilisers regulations 2006. Ammonium nitrate fertilisers are controlled through safety regulations that apply to all ammonium nitrate in Great Britain.
Part 2 of the instrument amends out-of-date references in the domestic legislation—for example, omitting references to EEC fertilisers and EC fertilisers to ensure clarity for users of the legislation. In the case of EU legislation, Part 3 of this instrument amends retained EU law to ensure that it will operate effectively after exit day—for example, references to member states and the Commission are amended to refer instead to UK authorities. A requirement as to the language to be used on labels is also amended. The SI replicates the EU framework in UK law by replacing the “EC fertiliser” label with an equivalent “UK fertiliser” label. The requirements will otherwise remain the same.
Part 4 of the instrument amends domestic legislation as a result of exit. It ensures continuity of supply by recognising EC fertilisers for a two-year transitional period after exit day. This will minimise burdens on businesses and authorities.
The amendments made in this instrument do not change the definition, compositional requirements, labelling or packaging rules of fertilisers, whether marketed under the existing domestic framework or under the EU framework.
Ammonium nitrate fertilisers are additionally covered by domestic safety regulations, as they can be misused as improvised explosives and pose safety risks if mishandled in manufacture, transport or storage. Part 4 of the instrument amends the regulations surrounding ammonium nitrate fertilisers with high nitrogen content in Great Britain in order to treat imports from EU member states in the same way as imports from other third countries, in line with WTO obligations. Northern Ireland has separate restrictions on ammonium nitrate for historical reasons, which this instrument does not amend.
Under the British ammonium nitrate regulations, the rules for imports from the EU are different from those for imports from outside the EU. In light of WTO rules, it would not be possible to retain these differences. Therefore, the instrument amends some aspects of the ammonium nitrate regulations—in particular those relating to detonation resistance tests, or DRTs—to apply the more stringent of the two regimes to all imports, whether from the EU or elsewhere, after the end of the two-year transition period, and to uphold current safety standards.
Currently, the definition of what constitutes a “batch” of ammonium nitrate differs depending on whether the import comes from the EU or elsewhere. The EU definition is based on a production run that lasts no longer than 92 days, whereas the non-EU definition relates to any single imported consignment. Using the non-EU definition in this case would cause increased costs for manufacturers due to additional testing, and provides no additional safety benefits. Therefore the EU definition of “batch” will be applied to all imports from exit day.
Continuity of supply is ensured by a transitional period of two years for imports from the EU, which provides 99% of imported ammonium nitrate to the UK. This allows the continuation of current rules with regards to the time limit for detonation resistance test certificates, and the ability to recognise EU laboratory test certificates. These arrangements give manufacturers time to prepare for compliance with the import rules post exit and, importantly, this reduces any burdens on UK laboratories immediately after exit.
The instrument was presented to the sifting committees on 1 November 2018 as a negative instrument. The House of Lords sifting committee was content with that, but the House of Commons sifting committee did not agree with the Government. It considered that the effect of one regulation was to allow Ministers to charge fees to cover the cost of tests needed for official control measures. In addition, it considered that the instrument conferred powers to legislate. It therefore recommended that the instrument be debated in Parliament. The instrument has been amended since it was presented to the sifting committees to reflect certain recommendations in the report, and the Explanatory Memorandum has been amended.
In general, fertiliser policy, like other agricultural policy, is devolved. The devolved Administrations were closely engaged in developing these regulations, which apply to the same geographical areas as the original legislation that they amend. All the Administrations have agreed to maintain a single common framework for fertilisers labelled as “UK fertilisers”, while continuing their own domestic framework. This will make the marketing of fertilisers much clearer for industry, and is a good example of how well the four Administrations work closely together for a common goal.
The instrument relates to the maintenance of existing regulatory standards with no significant impacts, or new or greater administrative or economic burdens on business or other stakeholders. While there was no statutory requirement to consult on this instrument, officials have held discussions with key stakeholders: the fertiliser manufacturers’ representative body, the Agricultural Industries Confederation, and the farmers’ representative body, the National Farmers’ Union. Their main concerns have been addressed by allowing for a transitional period for existing rules and compliance with the amended rules. The changes to the rules on ammonium nitrate have also been developed in conjunction with the Health and Safety Executive and the Home Office to ensure that safety and security elements are maintained or improved.
These measures are essential to ensure that the retained EU framework will operate in the UK alongside the existing domestic framework and, importantly, allow the continued trade in high-quality, safe fertilisers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this statutory instrument. I shall start where she ended and thank her for the consultation the department has had with the Agricultural Industries Federation and the National Farmers’ Union. It is essential that we take advice from or hold consultations with them. In the same way, I should declare our family’s farming interests because obviously fertilisers are used on the farm.
I have little to question my noble friend on, but I am grateful that the Government have responded to the Commons sifting committee which referred the question of costs to the department. That has been addressed and the Minister has reminded us that 99% of fertilisers are imported from the EU. It would be logical to accept this statutory instrument and I am grateful for the way in which the labelling requirements have been addressed; in other words, we can still use the EU fertiliser labelling scheme until the UK fertiliser labelling scheme is put into place.
The most important thing that I have picked up from this statutory instrument is the need to ensure that fertilisers are bought, sold, stored and then used on farms safely and securely. It is easy for accidents to happen, and we do not wish to see fertilisers fall into the wrong hands. I welcome these regulations and again I thank my noble friend for introducing them.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this statutory instrument on which I have just a couple of questions. Obviously farmers and farming are responsible for a great deal of our ammonia emissions. I want to make a general plea. Someone who is going to take over at the helm of Natural England is not known as being perhaps the best friend to farmers. To which body will farmers be able to turn to advise them on fertiliser use? Also, what is the relationship between this instrument and the ammonia and livestock farming regulations, which have either gone through or are to come through at the same time, that set new rules on housing and better feed and further restrictions on the storage and spreading of slurry? This relates to an earlier debate which I know my noble friend listened to.
It would make more sense if we could have an umbrella statutory instrument which covered every single item relating to the use and control of ammonia. I had farming interests. My brother and I shared the freehold of two fields which I have now offloaded on to him. I therefore have no further interests to declare, although I wish him good luck. It would be helpful if there was a single body that farmers could turn to for advice rather than the various bodies that are policing them. I am afraid that this is a constant theme to which I will return when the Agriculture Bill and the environmental protection Bill reach us. I am sure that my noble friend is a reasonable person, so would it not make more sense if we had one regulation coming through covering the whole issue of ammonia emissions? Good luck with that, but I thought I would mention it. Defra is a busy department with about 100 statutory instruments going through, so perhaps my suggestion would help.
In the guidance is a reference to the fact that:
“The Government will publish a new list of laboratories approved to test to the standards required for the new ‘UK fertiliser’ label”.
It may be that the Government have produced that list and I would be interested to see it as we are now at half past the eleventh hour before leaving. The guidance goes on to say that:
“Any necessary sampling or analysis must be carried out by a competent laboratory included in the Commission’s published list”.
I would expect to see that list and would welcome the news that it has been published.
The notice goes on to say, in the third paragraph from the end:
“The Irish government have indicated they would need to discuss arrangements in the event of no deal with the European Commission and EU Member States”.
Do we know whether we are included in those discussions? It would make sense if we were.
With those questions, and depending on the answers—although I do not intend to stand in the way of the statutory instrument—I look forward to my noble friend’s reply.
My Lords, I again declare an interest as a farmer who has used fertilisers and ammonium nitrate over the years. I am most grateful to my noble friend for laying out the detail of how these regulations came about and the changes that will be required.
I was very interested to hear her say that we will accept the laboratory investigations from Europe, and I wonder whether this is the first sign we have had of how we will deal with imported chemicals. Presumably, those laboratory tests were required in order for products to gain REACH approval in and across Europe. There is a big question over how we will get authority for all chemicals—both those in this country and those imported from Europe—if we cannot use REACH approvals directly. Some will involve the GDPR, and we cannot just accept them immediately because that would infringe the GDPR concerning transfer of knowledge.
Presumably these regulations are largely to do with importing chemicals for use in this country, but there is of course the other big issue about exports. I do not know whether that will have to be dealt with at another point. One thinks of the Republic of Ireland as the sort of area that, presumably, buys a lot of fertiliser from this country. If it is unable to do so that will, first, affect trade and, secondly, affect the Republic quite considerably.
My Lords, I certainly have no intention of opposing this fairly straightforward statutory instrument, particularly since ringing round a couple of the people who were described as the key stakeholders. When I phoned one of them, they sent me a reply and copied it to the department. Clearly there is a healthy, if not cosy, relationship between the industry and the department.
I want to make two points. Paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum talks about what will happen, and has been happening, in terms of a risk assessment for these fertilisers. It refers to certain ways in which a fertiliser can be treated,
“if there are justifiable grounds for believing that it constitutes a risk to safety or health of humans, animals or plants or a risk to the environment”.
That is a really important point, given the impact of fertilisers. We accept that they have an important role to play in farming but they are not without their risks. I would like a little more clarity from the Minister about our process for identifying those risks. The memorandum goes on to talk about the changes in the rules being carried out in conjunction with the HSE. Of course—that is perfectly right and proper because the HSE has a remit with regard to human health. However, I would like some reassurance about what the process is at the moment. I am not saying that there are any changes—I am pretty sure there are not—but I would like some clarity. What engagement is there between the HSE and the Environment Agency to ensure that environmental concerns about fertilisers potentially coming into the UK are assessed appropriately, particularly given that, sadly, we import the majority of our fertilisers at the moment?
My second point is merely one of process—a matter that other noble Lords have mentioned. Paragraph 6.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum talks about the need for some changes to be made. They are changes which pertain to this SI but which will be covered in a further SI—the Pesticides and Fertilisers (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations, which will come before us at some point in the future. That SI is the third of the triumvirate of pesticides SIs, which we discussed at great length in the Committee last week. A government impact assessment said that both business and the Government would be extensively impacted, and it seems wrong that this third pesticide SI was not discussed at the same point. I accept that there is an argument that it should and will be subject to the negative procedure at some point, but with that to one side, if you have an impact assessment which covers three SIs and says that there are major implications, it would be helpful for the House to discuss them concurrently.
My Lords, as I came to the House today, my local farmers were carting megabags of EC fertilisers everywhere I went. I presume they have come to the conclusion that spring is here; it seems that in spring a young farmer’s fancy turns not to love but to fertilisers.
I thank the Minister for her clear exposition of the regulations, and for the briefing meeting that she very kindly convened. I am sure everyone will be delighted, at this point in the evening, to hear that this statutory instrument appears comparatively straightforward. We welcome the changes that have been made as a result of the consultation and the sifting exercise, including the introduction of a two-year transition period for the fertilisers part of the regulation.
I would much prefer that the transition period be overtaken by an outbreak of sanity and us remaining in the EU, rendering the provisions unnecessary. However, it would be good to hear from the Minister what the Government anticipate that the longer term will hold. Currently, fertilisers are partially harmonised in that member states are permitted to have a domestic regime in addition to the EU rules. Do the Government anticipate us trying to keep in harmony with EU fertiliser standards and controls in the longer term, and if not, what impact would that have on both imports and exports?
Of more concern, though admittedly affecting only a small number of UK fertiliser manufacturers, is the position of those manufacturers who export to the EU. They may already have to meet individual member state requirements where a member state has a domestic regime. A technical notice has been issued by the Government on where the parachutes are if we crash out on 29 March. Under that, UK manufacturers who wish to continue trading with the EU will have to send samples to EU labs for testing in order to comply with EU regulations. Any necessary sampling or analysis will be carried out by competent laboratories included in the Commission’s published list. Manufacturers in the UK will be able to label their products “EC fertilisers” only in accordance with the EU framework, and UK companies will only be able to export EC fertilisers to the EU if they comply with the EU regulations, which include a requirement that I did not quite understand, that,
“the manufacturer is established within the EU”.
Therefore, I ask the Minister for clarification on two points. First, in the short term, does the requirement to have the sampling and analysis carried out by an EU lab double up the costs—an EU lab and a UK lab—and is this an additional burden on UK manufacturers? This would be at odds with the Government’s statement in the Explanatory Memorandum that there will be no added cost burdens to manufacturers. Secondly, does the requirement that the manufacturer is established within the EU in reality rule out UK manufacturers being able to market their products under the EC label if we crash out of the EU at the end of March?
All this would be unnecessary if we came to the conclusion that leaving the EU is the arrant folly which it is, but I am sure the Minister is not going to give any key assurances on that tonight.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has thankfully been a short debate; I believe that this is a fairly simple piece of secondary legislation which we should be able to dispatch fairly quickly. However, I appreciate the comments made by many noble Lords, and certainly from my noble friend Lady Byford. The consultation period was very important to us, and it was quite interesting that the agreement was that two years was the best time; this is the period that had been used previously. For example, when the label had to be changed from “EEC fertiliser” to “EC fertiliser”—they had to knock out an “e”—that took two years, which seemed the appropriate amount of time for the bags to be relabelled and for more to be produced with the new label. The transition period is an important issue for the labelling and I am pleased that it seems all parties are happy with where we have got to.
I turn to the comments made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. It is always a pleasure to see her in these debates, but I sometimes fear slightly what she may say—I do not want to say that she may go off-piste, when I am sure many of us are supposed to be skiing. She certainly asked me some questions that I cannot hope to answer within the scope of what the Committee is discussing. For example, I am afraid that ammonia emissions go far beyond what I have and can help noble Lords with, but it is important that many bodies already exist which farmers can go and speak to on the use of fertilisers. When we get to consider the Agriculture Bill in your Lordships’ House, we will be discussing advice to farmers and their relation to the environmental land management schemes which will be put in place. All those things are very important for how we function in harmony with the countryside, so perhaps my noble friend would hold her horses just a little while longer and we will come back to that.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for answering as she did. This goes to the point that a number of your Lordships made during the debate that other regulations have been coming through. It must be just as irritating to the team at the department to have this piecemeal approach. It would help farmers enormously if we had one approach to a substance such as ammonia.
My noble friend is quite right but I see us as doing something specific today, which is to protect our country in the event of a no deal Brexit, which I am sure none of us would want to see. I recognise that we sometimes have to deal with these provisions in a slightly piecemeal fashion but they are designed to be piecemeal—to be nice little nuggets that we can discuss and then hopefully move on, having protected our legislative framework which is clearly so important.
I also put forward a slight word of warning because apart from my Defra job I have another, which is as the Whip for BEIS. I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware that that department has issued an SI which amounts to 330-odd pages. I see my noble friend Lady McIntosh saying that is not a problem but I am afraid that many people have regarded it as a problem. To a certain extent, bite-size pieces can be better. I see the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, rubbing his hands in glee and I hope that I will not be the Minister taking it through—I am sure that my noble friend Lord Henley will be better by then and with us.
To go back to the matters in hand today, my noble friend Lady McIntosh also mentioned the list of laboratories. Yes, that will be republished. At the current time, I believe that three laboratories do fertilisers. It will be republished shortly and I will make sure that that is the case.
I turn to the points raised by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. What we are dealing with today is more about the imports than the exports, as I am sure he will appreciate. It is so important that our farmers have continuity of supply. Obviously, we cannot tell the European Union what to do if we leave with no deal. We will unfortunately be in a situation where there will be no reciprocity. However, it is the case that we import vast quantities of fertilisers, including ammonium nitrate, which is why we are extending a warm hand to those overseas manufacturers and saying: “Look, it’s okay. We will continue to recognise your labelling for the next two years to ensure continuity”.
With regard to chemicals more broadly and the REACH SI, regulations on which will I know be coming to us soon, that is a far more complicated area and we will have to go into it. It was most important for us to make sure that we have the systems and laboratories in place, and that we accept the results from overseas laboratories for that two-year period.
The question of exports was raised, both by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Fertiliser manufacturers based in the UK will, of course, be able to sell products into the EU. If we leave with no deal, they will do so as a third country, but they will have to comply with the EU regulation—they already comply with it at the moment, Regulation (EC) No. 2003/ 2003—and any other relevant legislation.
The noble Baroness raised the point about ensuring establishment—this is a very broad term—within the EU after exit. Sometimes, when exporting to third countries, you have to comply with them as they require. In some cases of larger companies, it would be cost effective to have an office there, but for many it is simply a case of using an import agent in that country. Those requirements would come into being; however, this is for no deal only. If we have an implementation period, none of this will come into play. If we get a free trade agreement thereafter, as we hope, much of this will continue, as we all wish it to, so I am afraid we are dealing solely with a no-deal scenario today.
Will the Minister confirm that that small number of 20 or 30 manufacturers of fertilisers in this country will have to get lab tests in the UK and the EU—potentially in member states that have a national testing regime—and pay for an agent? That seems like quite a major burden on the poor souls.
I cannot really comment on the costs because the testing of fertilisers is not required quite as often as, for example, for other chemicals. I imagine that there will be a small increase in costs for those companies that want to export into the EU, unless of course the EU decides that it wants to mitigate those costs and would like to work with us, either on a bilateral basis or whatever. That is indeed the case: exporters, whether of fertilisers or, quite frankly, of anything else, will find that certain things will be different for them when they export in future if there is no deal. This is why the noble Baroness and I would like a deal.
On that point, highlighted by the noble Baroness, the technical notice says that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, being party to the European Economic Area, will be covered. Will lab costs have to be applied to export to those areas in the event of no deal as well?
We will have to look into that in greater detail. I will write on that. We are possibly slightly off topic, as this is about the cost of exporting, but I will certainly write. I am very happy to do so.
Turning to the pesticides SI, it covers a range of different topics, so it is important that we discuss it today. It updates out-of-date references and provisions in the Ammonium Nitrate Materials (High Nitrogen Content) Safety Regulations 2003 and makes corrections to the EU plant protection product regulatory regime. It is a bit like what my noble friend Lady McIntosh is doing—it covers lots of things, but we are being told that we should not have done that. This instrument was laid on 18 February. We produced an impact assessment, which considered the collective impact of the three statutory instruments, and noble Lords will know that we have already discussed the other two affirmative SIs. This SI was discussed today in relation to the specific provisions about ammonium nitrate.
I believe that I have covered most of the points raised. Like my noble friend Lord Gardiner, I will review Hansard with great interest to check that I have covered all the points. Where I have already promised to write, I will certainly do so.
Committee adjourned at 6.35 pm.