Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I shall speak also to the instrument grouped with these regulations—the Import of and Trade in Animals and Animal Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019—as I think it will be helpful to noble Lords, given the close connection between the two.
The Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 amend provisions related to imports, and transit through the EU, of: live animals, including horses; animal products, including meat; reproductive material used for animal breeding, such as semen, ova and embryos; and the non-commercial movement of pet animals.
This instrument importantly ensures operability of our main English animal trade instrument, the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011. This is key legislation for the import of these commodities into England that establishes a system for trade in live animals and genetic material with other EU member states and imports of animals and animal products from outside the European Union.
This instrument also ensures the operability of two related instruments that regulate the non-commercial movement of pet animals into Great Britain and ensure protection against the introduction of rabies: the Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order 2011 and the Rabies (Importation of Dogs, Cats and Other Mammals) Order 1974. The Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order 2011 enforces in Great Britain the EU pet travel scheme, which sets out rules for identification, vaccination and documentary requirements for pets entering member states from other member states or third countries, and the rabies order sets out requirements for quarantine when a pet is not compliant with these rules, in order to protect our biosecurity and prevent the introduction of rabies.
I emphasise that this instrument makes purely technical changes to EU-derived domestic legislation about animal trade to ensure that it continues to operate effectively. It does not introduce new policy and preserves the current regime for protecting the UK’s biosecurity. This instrument applies only to imports and does not legislate for export of animals and animal products from the United Kingdom to the EU. The amendments in this instrument will allow all these laws to continue to work after exit, by, for instance, removing redundant references to EU bodies, functions or legislation and replacing them with domestic equivalents. It will also amend phrases that would no longer be correct, such as changing “legislation of the European Union” to “retained EU law”.
Different parts of this instrument have different territorial extent and application, and the devolved Administrations were closely engaged in its development. Part 2 applies to Great Britain, whereas Part 3 applies to England only. The devolved Administrations are tabling their own versions of the amendments in Part 3, which will generally reflect the approach taken in England.
Without this legislation, there would be considerable disruption to the UK’s import system and a lack of clarity for industry and non-commercial pet travel.
The Import of and Trade in Animals and Animal Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 again amend provisions related to imports, and transit through the EU, of: live animals; animal products, including meat; genetic material used for animal breeding, such as semen, ova and embryos; and the non-commercial movement of pet animals. The instrument makes purely technical changes to directly applicable EU regulations and decisions. It does not introduce new policy and preserves the current regime for protecting the UK’s biosecurity.
This instrument makes technical amendments to ensure continued operability of: 14 EU instruments concerning imports of live animals and reproductive products; 17 concerning imports of animal products intended for human consumption; four that lay down protective measures against the introduction of particular diseases; four that cover the EU pet travel scheme; and seven that relate more generally to the import regime for animals and animal products. This instrument also contains similar technical amendments to references to powers to charge fees found in two domestic instruments.
The amendments ensure the continuation of veterinary controls and other import conditions which safeguard animal and public health. They allow for authorisation of businesses to continue, and for the maintenance of health certification and transport requirements, and allow appropriate actions to be taken in case of reported non-compliance or disease outbreaks in other countries. Furthermore, they provide for the continuation of the existing health and documentary requirements for the non-commercial movement of pets into the UK under the EU pet travel scheme.
In addition, the amendments transfer certain powers and functions from the European Commission to the respective Ministers in the UK. The amendments give Ministers the power, formerly reserved by the Commission, to take appropriate action in relation to trade restrictions resulting from disease outbreaks abroad. Regulation 3 and Schedule 1 lay the foundations for the appropriate Minister and the Northern Ireland Office to amend lists of third countries approved as having equivalent official disease controls for continuing trade with the UK in live animals and animal products, and thus to refuse trade or impose more stringent conditions on countries that pose a biosecurity risk.
Regarding the EU pet travel scheme, the amendments are required in order to ensure that safe pet travel without quarantine can continue into the UK. If these amendments were not made, EU pet passports for pet animals travelling from the EU would no longer be valid in the UK, which would clearly cause disruption. The UK’s ongoing application to become a listed third country for the purposes of pet travel between the UK and EU member states is also dependent on maintaining EU minimum health standards.
This instrument applies to the whole of the UK; the devolved Administrations were closely engaged in its development and have given their consent.
Defra has carried out extensive engagement with stakeholders on animal trade and pet travel more generally. Concerning importers of animals and animal products, the department has engaged with over 300 stakeholders to date, covering 50 events. All border inspection posts and all known impacted trade associations have been consulted. Defra will continue this engagement with importers over the coming weeks to ensure they understand the changes that will come into effect.
In relation to the equine sector, Defra has engaged with key stakeholders, including the British Horseracing Authority, World Horse Welfare, the British Equine Veterinary Association and Weatherbys, throughout work on EU exit. The equine sector is content with the proposed approach for imports.
In relation to pet travel, Defra has engaged with key stakeholders, including carrier and industry groups, the British Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Kennel Club, Guide Dogs UK and Dogs for Good. The pet travel sector is also content with the proposed approach.
Additionally, on the subject of this legislation Defra has engaged with various major stakeholders—the Food and Drink Federation, the International Meat Trade Association and the NFU—who raised no concerns with Defra’s approach.
The trade in animals and animal products that do not constitute a risk to human or animal health is clearly of significant importance to the UK’s food security and economy. These technical amendments are essential for the continuation of the UK’s current trade and import regime and for minimum disruption to pet travel. They will also ensure that our strict biosecurity controls with regards to animal trade are maintained at their current levels when we leave. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome these two sets of regulations, one of which is clearly more substantive than the other. I would note that the value of exports of animals and animal products is currently running at £6.7 billion, so this is not an insignificant trade. I have some questions for my noble friend.
Concern has been expressed by the British Veterinary Association and others—this is also mentioned by Sub-Committee B of the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—that there could be a hurdle. My first question is this: if we pass this statutory instrument today, will it take immediate effect, thus ensuring that there will not be any form of hiccup? I have read that it could take six months for Britain to be listed as a third country. Does this statutory instrument prevent any hiatus occurring? I hope that my noble friend can reassure the Committee today that our exports will continue. It has been put in terms that the UK may not be permitted to make the application to become a third country until after 11 pm on 29 March—if that deadline is upheld. The briefing from the BVA goes on to state that the process can take several months, while according to the National Farmers’ Union, Defra itself has indicated that the process could take up to six months. It would be reassuring to know that that is not the case.
My noble friend will be aware of my concern especially about racehorses. He mentioned that the statutory instruments before the Committee relate to imports. That begs the question: what is the position as regards exports? We have the tripartite agreement which relates to racehorses, presumably covering racing, breeding and so on. What is the position as regards exports under this instrument? Are we going to have a separate SI to cover that aspect, or have I missed something here? Can my noble friend assure me that our racehorses will be able to go to Ireland and France to compete in races on 30 March and beyond?
I turn to passports for pets. What reciprocal arrangements are in place? Again, my noble friend has reassured the Committee adequately on the position of dogs and other animals coming into this country, but if someone wishes to take their pet to an EU country on 30 March, will that still be the case? Where are we as regards reciprocal arrangements for pet passports?
I would like to put down a marker. I know that my noble friend and the department are coming under great pressure to ban the trade in live animals. I would like to be first out of the stalls—to use a racing analogy—that we do not want to see an end to the trade in live animals. I presume that these two statutory instruments should put my mind at rest in that regard.
In introducing the two sets of regulations, in particular as regards the plethora of regulations that they are amending, my noble friend has said that we want to ensure the safety of food and animal products coming into this country. What progress has been made on our remaining within the European Food Safety Authority and signing up to the rapid alert system for food and feed scheme? My noble friend will be aware of my interest since I followed the “horsegate” scenario in 2013 very closely. Obviously, we want to make sure that there is no possibility of that arising again after March this year.
With those comments, I thank my noble friend once again for introducing these two important sets of regulations.
My Lords, I had not intended to visit the Grand Committee on these SIs today because, as the Minister said, there are no major policy changes. I declare an interest—it is not an interest, really—because I am a member of sifting committee B, helping the world go by with statutory instruments.
We published a brief note on these two SIs in our 15th report and I wish to raise a couple of points which I did not know about until earlier this morning. It is not without significance that the medicine SI we debated earlier and this SI started life as negative instruments from Defra, which did not want them debated. That was the view and that is what it is all about. These two SIs were upgraded following the sifting process.
Defra has about 10% of the instruments we have seen and recommended for sifting. It has agreed all the recommendations—I am not complaining about that—but I wish to address a point which was raised with me this morning by Friends of the Earth. While I have been sitting in the Room, I have realised that exchanges have taken place between Defra and Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee officials. I want to put on record that Friends of the Earth have sent a note about several matters, including incoherent amendments and drafting errors.
In relation to the Import of and Trade in Animals and Animal Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Friends of the Earth note states:
“Regulation 50 … amends the Commission Regulation 2018/659. Regulation 50(13) of the 2019 Regulations omits Article 12(2) of the 2018 Commission Regulation which requires that when checks on live horses coming into the UK return inconclusive, they should be subject to a definitive testing for African Horse Sickness and a list of other diseases listed in Article 11(1) which is retained”.
To cut a long story short, Article 12(2) is omitted and not replaced and there is no mention of it in the Explanatory Memorandum. Is this the case?
While the lawyers from Defra were not available earlier today, I understand that the policy lead believes it has fully copied across into the SI the provision from the EU regulation that requires that when checks on live horses coming into the UK return inconclusive they need to be retested. That is the point I want the Minister put on the record. There should be no weakening of testing arrangements, but if Defra has not copied across something then it will be somewhere else. I found this enormously complicated instrument as I tried to go through the aspects raised by Friends of the Earth.
I shall not go through the details of what Friends of the Earth has said—I am quite happy—and I presume it has sent a copy of the note to the Minister. However, there are references to changes in regulations which do not exist. Regulations 7, 26 and 32 all refer to amendments and points which do not exist; they modify something which does not exist. I am quite happy to leave the note for the Minister and his officials. I do not want to go over issues that would not be suitable here.
The central issue is that some people have looked at this and thought, “Hang on a minute, we have not fully copied across but policy lead thinks we have”. I thought it worth while to raise the point because, if it gets out there, you cannot pull it back if it is wrong. If it can be satisfactorily dealt with here, it would be for everyone’s convenience.
My Lords, I apologise for my bungle on the previous regulations. These SIs merge into each other well.
An issue of particular concern which has been referred to—I am going to speak to it again—relates to the deletion of the requirement to retest horses entering the UK for disease when initial test results are inconclusive. Omitting this requirement suggests that diseased horses could potentially be allowed to enter the UK without adequate care or protection. This could apply to other animals and humans after the UK leaves the EU. I declare an interest: I have a pony stud, have exported ponies and am waiting for some to be imported.
There are many different infections. Does this mean that we are downgrading standards? This is one of the fears that many people have about leaving the EU. I hope that the Minister will look at this and do something to make it safer for horses entering the UK.
As the Minister said, this is a very large instrument, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, particularly complex and pretty hard reading. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. I did not have that briefing. The matter is quite significant and I hope it might be addressed.
I will say a few words about the pet travel scheme and one or two other things. I understand that additional rabies controls will be required for the movement of domestic pets, particularly dogs. There will not only be vaccination but post-vaccination blood testing for dogs leaving this country to confirm satisfactory antibody responses. Can the Minister confirm that this will apply to all imported dogs coming to Britain, including those originating in the EU 27 and coming to the UK for the first time, as well as travelling dogs leaving here and going to continental Europe for short periods? In other words, is there reciprocity in that respect?
Also, can the Minister confirm that travelling dogs will require a veterinary health check and an export health certificate before travel? That would impose cost burdens on the owners and substantial workforce burdens. If travelling dogs require export health certificates, are Her Majesty’s Government satisfied that there are sufficient designated official veterinarians based in small animal practices to carry this out with hundreds of thousands of dogs potentially moving out of and back to Britain? There are currently a number of countries outwith the EU included in the pet travel scheme. What rabies measures will we require from those countries post-Brexit? Will dogs imported to the UK from those countries require vaccination and testing as required for movement between the UK and continental Europe?
There is one matter not included here—it is not fair to include it—but there are concerns about the importation of ticks and tick-borne disease. I urge that we take every opportunity to impose controls to minimise the risk of ticks being imported when dogs come back to Britain. I hope that Defra will consider and legislate for this at some stage in the future.
This SI refers to the non-commercial movement of dogs. What plans are there, if any, to transfer the regulations on commercial movement of dogs covered by the Balai directive? Will that be dealt with in a different SI?
I have a couple of small final points. Commission Decision 2001/812/EC refers to the expertise of personnel required at border inspection ports. Can the Minister assure us that there will be no change at all in the level of expertise—the numbers as well as the quality—of personnel required at border inspection posts?
Lastly, there are several references in the SI to the “EU Exit Day 1” project, which will affect movements of dogs, which is being worked on by Defra. Can the Minister outline what that project will address?
My Lords, given the plethora of issues raised by colleagues around the Committee, I am just going to focus on one additional matter that has not been raised either here or in the Commons. It relates to the welcome introduction from the Minister, who made it clear that this is a technical statutory instrument; my disappointment is that it is not more substantial. My question, which I will expand on a bit, is: if the Government are really serious about banning circuses with wild animals, why did they not take the opportunity in this statutory instrument to ban the importation of circuses that do just that?
The Minister made it clear—and the EM made it absolutely clear—that we are not under any legal obligation to adhere to the EU rules for trade following exit. This is a unilateral decision. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee also made it clear that it hoped that this Committee would scrutinise the department’s choice of unilateral recognition of current import arrangements. As other Members have made clear, our own animals may not be able to be exported if we are not accepted as a third country, and even if we are accepted as a third country, it may take some time. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has heard six months; newspapers at the weekend suggested nine months. There could be a considerable time lag and administrative burden on pet owners and commercial exporters of equines and dogs, and yet we are unilaterally saying that anybody who has a circus with wild animals can happily bring them in.
The Minister made clear in his opening remarks that this is all about making it easy for business to trade with the UK post Brexit. However, we know that circuses with wild animals are cruel. The majority of the population oppose them; in Defra’s own recent consultation on the matter, 95% of the consultees said they wanted them banned; and Scotland and Wales have banned such circuses. I appreciate that this statutory instrument is only about circuses with wild animals coming into the country, and to be fair, none has done so in the past few years. However, acts and trainers may move around, and resident UK circuses can bring them in. The somewhat inappropriately named Great British Circus brought in some elephants just a few years back. That is elephants, lions, tigers and bears cooped up in small mobile cages, travelling around Europe, coming with the consent of this SI to the UK.
The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has said that he will ban circuses with wild animals:
“as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
My question, therefore, is: why was this SI not looked at as a possible vehicle? On page 19, Regulation 18 sets out quite clearly the conditions that have to be met by circuses bringing animals into the United Kingdom. Paragraph 3(b), which Regulation 18 inserts into Article 4 of the EU regulation, requires:
“a register of animals in the circus in accordance with the model laid down in Annex I”.
I have looked at Annex I, which is a one-page document, and in box 2.4 you have to identify the “Species” that you are bringing in. I am no lawyer, but a little asterisk about not allowing wild animals might have been something that the Government could at least have thought about.
The Minister will say, I suspect, that any such amendment goes beyond what is required to maintain the operation of the law after EU exit. However, the Government have made changes in other statutory instruments. The Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 proposed removing,
“unnecessary legal burdens on industry”.
So, we can take out burdens on industry but we cannot protect animal welfare. Will the Minister tell us whether Defra discussed the potential for using this statutory instrument to halt the importation of circuses with wild animals? Specifically, did it take any legal advice before it laid the instrument to achieve just that?
Unless there are overwhelming legal reasons why this has not happened, we will be forced to believe that, when the Government have to choose between supporting trade and supporting animal welfare, we know where they will go. It gives us little confidence that, in future deals, animal welfare, which we all hold so dear, will be upheld.
My Lords, in harmony with our commitment on the Labour Front Bench to recycling, I am speaking for my party in a guest slot. These regulations are complex and somewhat impenetrable—I think I drew the short straw—so I am afraid they raise many questions, some of which may be related to, but not directly affected by, these regulations. I hope the Minister will forgive me for that. Personally, I very much support the points just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on circus animals.
According to figures that I have seen, products of animal origin and live animals imported to the UK are valued at over £19.3 billion each year. Of this, 80%—about £15 billion, which is twice the amount suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—comes from trade with the EU. This covers an area of huge significance to our agricultural economy and the economy as a whole; given its effects, it also risks a further nudge for the nation in the direction of veganism should the trade be too much disrupted.
As we have heard, the UK will be treated by the EU as a third country if we leave without a deal. The SLSC recommended that the SIs be subject to the affirmative procedure, and I welcome the Government’s decision to accept this recommendation.
Without listed status, no exports to the EU can take place. Defra’s no-deal technical notice confirmed that,
“The EU would require the UK to be a listed third country”,
and it could not,
“be certain of the EU response or its timing”,
for an application. Without this,
“no exports … could take place”.
Can the Minister tell us what the usual timeframes are for dealing with third country applications? As we have heard, there are concerns that this could take up to nine months.
In order to be prepared for all possible outcomes, we understand that the UK submitted its application for listing as a third country in November. Can the Minister assure the Committee that the UK’s application will be granted? Have the Government formally requested that the UK’s application be expedited? Is the Minister 100% confident that, in the event that we leave the EU on 29 March with no deal, the approval for the export of live animals and animal products will have been granted in time for day one? If not 100% confident, what level of confidence does he have, and how will that change if there is a delay—to, say, June—for a no-deal exit?
The NFU says it has been told informally that, although Britain is in complete regulatory alignment with the EU, if there is no deal the same health checks that countries such as China and the US undergo will apply to UK suppliers. This would mean that 6,000 meat processing plants that export to the EU would have to undergo individual audits by British authorities. These would be checked by EU officials and then put to a standing veterinary committee for approval, a process that the NFU has calculated will take six months, “at a conservative reading”. These checks will also be conducted on any other companies supplying food and drink to the EU, including those exporting bottled water, honey, jam, dairy and other fresh foods. Does the Minister agree with this projection by the National Farmers’ Union? What is his assessment of the impact on the viability of food and drink businesses in the UK in the short and long term if that is the case?
I turn now to model certificates. Paragraph 7.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that the instrument,
“has provision to allow existing forms of model certificates to continue to be used for transitional purposes for such period as is published by the appropriate authority”.
I would love it if the Minister could expand a little on this. Is it dependent on the transition period following a deal, or can this also apply in the event of no deal? The use of the word “transitional” is quite confusing in that respect.
Then there are border checks. Under EU law, all animal and agri-food, including animal feed and plant produce, has to go through health checks. However, the necessary border inspection posts do not exist at, for example, Calais. This is because those checks have not been needed for anyone trading within the single market. The nearest border inspection posts are in Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, which have historically acted as the gateway for non-EU traffic, or Liverpool on the route to Ireland. Does the Minister envisage placing UK officers in Rotterdam, or will we reply on post-import checks within the UK?
A no-deal Brexit will require more work from vets to meet increased demands for the certification needed for the export of animals and animal products and for pet travel. In addition, exiting from EU surveillance systems and uncertainty around access to medicines could have negative impacts on animal health and welfare further down the line, requiring yet more veterinary capacity. The Public Accounts Committee has warned:
“In a no-deal scenario there is a risk of UK exports of animals and animal products being delayed at borders because of a shortage of vets”.
That committee also found that the department is cavalier about there being enough suitably qualified staff to take on this work. What help are the Government providing vets—this echoes the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trees—in the event of a no-deal scenario to prepare for increased demand for export health certificates for animals and animal products? Does the Minister share my concern that a no-deal Brexit will exacerbate the current shortages in the veterinary profession and create significant risks for trade, animal health and welfare, and food safety?
Further, in the event of a no-deal scenario, what help is going to be provided to prepare for increased demand for export health certificates? What will be done to safeguard animal welfare in the scenario of live animals being stuck in trucks for long periods as they wait to go through ports and border inspection posts? Do we have to depend on the failing Secretary of State for Transport’s use of disused airfields for queuing freight including, for example, provision for livestock grazing?
The department has created a new role, that of the certification support officer, to provide administrative support for official vets so that they can more easily process the new export health certificates. The main concern of the British Veterinary Association is about who will do some of the checking and that they have the required level of skills. Can the Minister assure the Committee that the veterinary professional will remain as the provider of oversight and reassurance for the whole process of this trade?
I turn to the question of border inspection posts. From my research, it appears that there are none in Wales and the only facilities in Northern Ireland are in Belfast. Is my understanding correct that, if I am a farmer on the Northern Ireland border who wants to take livestock across the border to the Republic, once I have the export certification, and assuming my hauliers have successfully applied for and received their international driving licence, I then have to take my animals to Belfast airport for inspection before driving them back to cross into the Republic of Ireland. Is that right? How much cost will that add? Will the border inspection posts have the capacity for this? Is the Minister making any efforts to expand the number of border inspection posts to ease this burden on farmers?
In respect of hygiene and health, I too have seen the Friends of the Earth briefing. The only point that I will pick up on is one that has not been mentioned already. Regulation 26 provides that, in Part 2 of Annexe I,
“in the section headed ‘Notes’, omit the general notes and additional notes for day old chicks”.
One of the notes under this heading requires that chicks not destined for the EU or with lower quality health should not be transported together. This is not replaced, which will allow for chicks of a lesser quality of health and thus more susceptible to disease and infection to be transported alongside those that meet the health standards of the UK and, as such, possibly subjecting healthy chicks to disease. Why is this change being made? I also share the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Rooker and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, in respect of Regulation 50.
I turn now to trade deals. Although the UK is under no legal obligation to adhere to EU rules for trade following EU exit, failure to do so could result in the UK being unable to trade in animals and their products with EU member states and third countries. We therefore welcome these regulations which seek to maintain current standards, legislation and arrangements relating to such trade on the day the UK leaves the EU. Food safety and harmonisation will also have a lot to do with who we sign free trade deals with. There is significant public concern about the implications of a US trade deal for the quality and standard of British food, given the routine use of chemicals and antibiotics used in food production to promote faster growth. Washing chicken in chlorine and feeding growth hormones to beef are both legal in the US but currently banned in the EU. Will maintaining the existing important regime prevent chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef from being imported to the UK? The World Health Organization is concerned that overuse of antibiotics in farming is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance worldwide. Can the Minister advise whether the regulations will prevent antibiotic-farmed produce, banned in the EU, from being imported? If so, will the Minister commit to preserving these standards when making future trade deals?
There is also the matter of cost. Leaving the EU without a deal would cause considerable disruption to the UK’s import system, which would be likely to lead to additional costs for importers and stakeholders. Furthermore, the Minister has advised that these instruments make technical amendments to maintain the existing standards and no impact is anticipated. However, paragraph 6.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum says that these regulations include,
“amendments to the domestic powers to recover fees in relation to activity relating to imports of animals and animal products from the EU”.
Does the Minister accept that there may well be additional requirements and costs to stakeholders, and will he commit to a public consultation on any fee increases allowed by these regulations?
I have a few concerns around science, innovation and research. The main concern around the impact of Brexit on science and innovation is about the supply of essential resources to conduct biomedical research and development here in the UK. Animals are used in biomedical and veterinary research to advance scientific understanding, to develop solutions to medical problems to protect the safety of people, animals and the environment and as models to study disease. Critical to the continuing success of our highly significant life sciences centre will be the timely and efficient transport, import to and export from the UK of purpose-bred research animals; biological samples—such as blood, tissues, organs, embryos—from these; medical and pharmaceutical supplies; and supplies of specialised animal feed and research diets for that sector.
In a no-deal scenario, exports of biological samples would require compliance with customs formalities and export health certificates for each individual shipment and for all animal species. As a third party to the EU, the UK will need to negotiate each certificate’s content separately with each member state. When the UK leaves the EU, the efficient supply of animals and animal-derived products should be maintained without delays to ensure continued support of the sector, to protect the welfare of animals and to retain the integrity of any consignment being transported.
However, many stakeholders remain concerned about the UK’s capacity to cope with the demand for export health certificates and CITES permits. The National Office of Animal Health has specifically raised concern that the replacement for the EU trade control and export system, IPAFFS, referred to in the Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, will not be fully functional on day one of a no-deal scenario, with stakeholders unsure how to use the system. Is the Minister confident that the required IT systems will be up and running? Assuming that this is being developed using modern techniques, is it currently being user tested? How long is the beta phase likely to last? What discussions have taken place with stakeholders to prepare them to use the new system? Has the department prepared and published user guidance? If not, when will it? The no-deal guidance published last week states:
“Businesses importing animals and animal products from within the EU will need to use a separate interim system until the summer”.
Can the Minister elaborate? How many businesses will be affected?
I have a couple more points to make. On the pet travel scheme, the Explanatory Memorandum advises that the amendments are required to ensure that safe pet travel without quarantine can continue in the UK. We have heard how important and significant that is. Can the Minister update the Committee on the UK’s ongoing application to become a listed third country for the purposes of pet travel between the UK and the EU?
Finally, regarding the Friends of the Earth briefing, I also noted the incoherent amendments referred to by my noble friend Lord Rooker. There was also an issue around penalties: Regulation 43 requires Article 42 of the EU regulation to be omitted. This places a duty on the Commission to assign penalties for failure to comply with these regulations. Without an appropriate body to replace the Commission’s role, I fear failure to comply with this regulation could go without penalty.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply on that issue and to my questions, of which there were far too many.
My Lords, I rather feel that we have gone into interesting territory on a number of the subjects that, in the end, go back to the parent regulations when we are dealing with technical amendments. However, I will endeavour to answer as many of the important points made as I can.
I start with an explanation for the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. My understanding—I may need a stewards’ inquiry on this—is that Article 12(2) was omitted because it refers to samples being sent to the relevant European Union reference laboratory but after exit day, in a no-deal scenario, the UK would have no formal access to check test results at that laboratory. The paragraph is therefore otiose. However, I emphasise that there will be no lowering of standards in checks on horses imported into the UK, so there will be no greater risk of horse disease. I have not seen the Friends of the Earth briefing but all the instruments have been checked by two specialist drafting lawyers in addition to our own. I will take a copy of the briefing, either from the noble Lord or any other noble Lord with a copy, back to the department. In truth, I find the statutory instruments pretty impenetrable without a Keeling schedule, and the Explanatory Memorandum gets me out of trouble. I will look into this issue. I want to take this opportunity to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that we have absolutely no intention of allowing a diminution in standards. The omission is because we would not be in a position to refer to an EU reference laboratory in that instance.
A number of noble Lords mentioned listing. I discussed these matters with the Chief Veterinary Officer only two days ago. The Commission’s recent contingency action plan states:
“On the basis of the EU veterinary legislation, the Commission will—if justified—swiftly ‘listʼ the United Kingdom, if all applicable conditions are fulfilled, so as to allow the entry of live animals and animal products from the United Kingdom into the European Union”.
Following the UK’s application, there have been technical discussions. We are working with the Commission to process our application quickly. Obviously, I cannot give any assurances on that point. I am not in charge of the Commission on this matter—I wish I were—but I raised it with the Chief Veterinary Officer, who has been in communication and is working on it.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned pet listing. If she will forgive me, I will write to her on exports, given the huge number of replies I must give on instruments relating to imports. I understand the import/export point, but a lot of the detail on exports is not in the department’s gift. It will be a matter for negotiations and arrangements, but I have set out our proportionate views on how we in this country, where we will have responsibility, will deal with animals and imports coming in from the EU.
On pet listing, the department has submitted its application to allow the UK to become a Part 1-listed third country under Annexe II of the EU pet travel regulations and is currently in technical discussions with the European Commission. Obviously, it will be for the Commission to consider our application. Clearly, if we become a Part 1-listed country, there will be very little change to current pet travel arrangements.
In the event of an unlisting, pets would continue to be able to travel from the UK to the EU, but the requirements for documents and health checks would differ, depending on what category of third country the UK is treated as under the EU pet travel scheme. If we were to leave without a deal and were treated as unlisted, pet owners travelling from the UK to the EU would have to obtain a health certificate for their pet which would need to be issued by an official veterinarian no more than 10 days before travel. Considerable work has been done with the veterinary profession. Some months ago—it was some time last year—a lot of discussion took place with the profession, because there would need to be, for example, appropriate and adequate immune responses to rabies vaccinations. That shows why we are working as strongly as we can to get the listing, but it is not in my gift or the Government’s gift to agree these things. All that I can assure your Lordships on is that the Chief Veterinary Officer, in whom I have the greatest confidence, and her team are working extremely effectively and collaboratively because our working relationship with EU member states and the Commission on disease and such things is very strong.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked why we did not deal with wild animals in circuses at this juncture. I am advised that it is because what we are doing here is through the mechanism of the EU withdrawal Act, which does not give scope for doing what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, would wish. It is not within scope, so I suspect that we would have been ultra vires of the Act. As the noble Baroness said, since the licensing regulations were introduced no travelling circuses based outside the UK have applied for a licence to tour. This is unfinished business. The department very much hopes that the Private Member’s Bill of the Member for Copeland will have a successful passage—it is currently in the other place—as this matter needs to be attended to.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked about dogs coming in from third countries. These instruments make no policy changes, so the requirements for dogs entering the UK from third countries will not change. On ticks, as the Biosecurity Minister I am always thinking about ways to heighten our biosecurity in the future. However, the Government have no immediate plans to change the pet travel requirements in the short term. For entry into the UK, the current pet travel health requirements will continue to apply. Looking to the future, it may be open to us to look at new opportunities to manage pet travel arrangements and to think more strongly about whether, given that we do not have some diseases that occur in other parts of the EU, we should think about more robust controls on disease, which obviously is important for animal welfare.
A point was made about reciprocity. The Government took the decision not to impose any additional import requirements on movements from the EU. That decision was taken because we did not believe that the biosecurity risk to the UK would change in such a way for us to feel that we should change them on day one. We also think it important to ensure that there is a flow of goods at the border. We already have our existing controls in place, so these instruments do nothing more than to maintain the status quo.
I was asked whether the commercial movements of dogs and others under the Balai directive are still covered. Commercial movements are covered by the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011, which are amended by a domestic statutory instrument. I think I had better unclutter that for the noble Lord because it did not flow frightfully will. Regarding disease and import requirements, APHA at Weybridge will undertake the testing on UK exports, and its equivalents in other member states will do the testing before arrival in the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, made a number of points. I start by saying emphatically—I hear this point every time and will say this for as long as I need to—that we will not compromise food safety in pursuit of a trade agreement. Maintaining safety and public confidence in the food we eat is of the highest priority and any future trade deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers. Any new products wishing to enter the UK market must comply with our rigorous legislation and standards. If any food safety rules change after we leave or any new food products come on to the market, we will apply our usual rigorous risk assessment to ensure that consumers remain protected. On chlorine and hormoned beef, we will continue with all the arrangements we have as a member of the EU; they will continue when we leave the EU. I am delighted to put that on record, I think for probably the tenth time—it may be more—but it is important that I should do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, was absolutely right to raise the veterinary profession, as did the noble Lord, Lord Trees. A lot of work has been done with the veterinary profession, and the department has had very strong and collaborative discussions with the BVA and the royal college. Certification support officers were mentioned. Those officers are there to assist with the paperwork for export health certification. They will be fully responsible to the qualified official veterinary surgeon, who will be the only person that can sign off the certificate. This is designed to enable the vet to get on with their job, given their qualifications. It is entirely pragmatic and no noble Lord should see it as a ruse to suggest either that we are lowering standards or that we want to reduce the number of vets—absolutely not. This is about what we think would be a proportionate way of managing. Indeed, there have been very considerable discussions with the veterinary profession about training and the continuing work that needs to be done to keep our country safe.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, also referred to BIPs. Consignments originating in the EU will not initially be required to enter the UK through a border inspection post. For this reason, we do not anticipate a significant increase in demand for BIPs at UK ports receiving ferries coming from the EU. This is based on our assessment that, as there were requirements within the EU for food safety and so forth when we were a member, this is a sensible and pragmatic approach.
On the particular points about exports, my understanding is that, from the point of view of port authorities and others such as port health authorities, the ports feel that they have sufficient resources to handle imports and exports. However, I think it would be helpful, particularly given my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s points about exports and imports, if after this debate I produced one page on imports and one on exports as to how the geography looked.
On the noble Lord’s question about import notification systems, with us no longer being part of EU TRACES, the noble Lord is right that we will introduce our own system for import notifications and controls: the Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System. IPAFFS will allow importers, or agents acting on their behalf, to create an import notification and legal declaration of consignments bound for the UK before arrival. The notifications will be received by the port health authorities, which can then recall checks on the system. IPAFFS is being released in phases, with testing already under way, and will be available for those importing from outside the EU from day one.
However, as the noble Lord has said, UK importers importing from the EU will need to use a separate electronic process until the summer of this year. My note here says, “Why the delay?”, so I should say that the highest-risk goods such as live animals, germplasm and certain animal by-products currently require an ITAHC validated by an official vet in the EU member country on TRACES. The UK is then notified of the movement and required health assurances to follow risk-based post-import checks. To ensure certainty for businesses, and to ensure IPAFFS’ delivery for non-EU imports from day one, Defra has decided to remove EU imports from the system until the full functionality is available in the summer. As a result, UK importers importing from the EU will need to use separate electronic system processes, as I have said.
Detailed guidance is to be published very shortly. This process is expected to involve importers downloading forms from GOV.UK and emailing them to the APHA to process ahead of any import arriving in the UK. The rules on the documentation required for travel are unchanged. The APHA will continue to arrange post-import checks on high-risk consignments and sample checks on low-risk consignments, as it currently does. In other words, the same arrangements on checking would continue. I sense that the noble Lord has another question.
I am terribly grateful. I understand that there is a need for the new system to be fully functional—I guess, to be able to have the right integration with TRACES. The question then is: if it is just an interim system, is it already in existence? Is it being tested? Can we have some assurance that it will work smoothly? The new one is not fully functional yet there is some magical interim solution that is going to work, which seems a little odd to me.
Again, the best thing I can do is to ensure that I get this absolutely right. We are undertaking this in the phase I described to ensure that importers know which system they should use and have a guarantee that the system works. The system we are bringing in—IPAFFS—is being tested and is working. Dialogue and engagement with importers is under way. We thought it pragmatic to ensure a straightforward interim system for importers from the EU, until I can give your Lordships an absolute assurance that IPAFFS will work for the full range of them. Most importantly, this ensures that the level of checks will not change, so high-risk consignments will benefit from the clarity of checks and low-risk consignments will face the same arrangements.
It will be pulled off GOV.UK and sent to the APHA, in the same way as it would be checked in arrangements from the EU where the EU standards will be the same as ours from day one.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned EFSA. Obviously, these decisions will relate to negotiations. The FSA undertakes robust risk assessment and provides evidence-based risk management advice and recommendations for future food and feed safety issues. The FSA has built its capacity for risk assessment and risk management. The independent scientific advisory committees are being strengthened by recruiting new experts to establish three expert groups. The FSA has already expanded its access to scientific experts providing advice and other scientific services to inform our work. However, again, it is not in my gift to talk about EFSA. It is a matter for negotiations at a later stage.
Following what the Minister said in reply to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I suggest that he had better have a better answer when he comes to deal with the food regulations next week. The noble Baroness asked about RASFF, the rapid alert system for food and feed, but the Minister has not addressed it. We understand that there is still no agreement on whether we can participate in it. The only countries allowed to participate are EU members and EEA members. We need an answer on that. Every day, 10 alerts are issued around Europe—3,800 a year—but we will not be part of that system. The Minister will be asked about that when he comes to deal with the food regulations next week, whereas on this instrument he can easily say that it is slightly outside the scope of the regulations.
While I am on my feet, I know that the Minister has not finished but I am waiting for an answer to the question about farmers needing to take their animals to the central Belfast airport before they can reach the border. I have not heard an answer to that yet.
My Lords—[Interruption.] Do I need to look at that? This is very novel for me. The Government continue to negotiate full access to the rapid alert system as it will be mutually beneficial for the EU and the UK. I am rather looking forward to an Oral Question from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the matter too so noble Lords will get all the bites of the cherry.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to Northern Ireland. Although it is desirable for the four nations of the UK to co-operate in respect in powers returning from the EU, the SIs do not extend across the entire UK. The UK Government will co-operate with the devolved Administrations so that, for example, powers can be exercised concurrently and collaboratively where appropriate. Continuing close co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations remains essential to ensuring that an exit works for all parts of the kingdom. These instruments involve joint decision making. We are working with other administrations to agree the detail of the process for delivering joint decision making, as set out in the SI.
I will come back quickly to the tripartite agreement but I have not finished with all the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Knight. There is no current intention to increase fees for import checks. I can assure your Lordships that the normal consultation procedures with affected sectors would apply if they were to be increased.
We still have not got an answer about Northern Ireland. It is a really specific question. The Minister’s point about co-operation with devolved Administrations is fine, but my understanding is that things are not going that well over there at the moment. What is the position with regard to animals? Are they having to go to an airport and back again? Can we have some clarity on that point?
That is an interesting Box note. I think the most important thing is to say that I will write to your Lordships in respect of all those matters. As I have said, this particular SI is absolutely not about exports, but I have ended up answering a lot of questions about them. If I was going to start to get tetchy, I would say, “This instrument is about imports, my Lords”. If one wants to spend five hours talking about the whole architecture, we will lose the thread of having proper briefings and discussions on matters so that I can give your Lordships proper answers. I am not a magician. I do not know all the answers about exports at this stage. Noble Lords will get them when I am in that position, and I will write to them on those matters.
Regarding the tripartite agreement, all these matters are for negotiation. We understand fully that this has worked very well for the UK, Ireland and France, and have issued technical notices on equine movements. It is clear that the UK would no longer have access to the tripartite agreement if we were to leave with no deal. The equine sector, with which we have worked extremely strongly, understands the position. Technical notices have been circulated and are widely put across in the equine sector. I will ensure that that element of the points is put in the note that I will send—as I said, it will include exports, although those are way out of scope with the technical instrument about operability on imports before your Lordships this afternoon.