Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 5 September be approved.
Relevant documents: 56th and 61st Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, both statutory instruments before your Lordships serve three purposes. They make a number of technical operability changes to existing instruments to ensure that retained EU law continues to operate effectively after the UK leaves; they ensure that our statute book is closely aligned with the EU to support our application for third-country listing for live animals and animal products; and they make minor corrections to earlier EU exit SIs. These technical amendments will have no effect on existing policy, and bring over only those powers that already reside with the European Commission.
Both SIs were made under the urgent, made-affirmative procedure. This is because both instruments support the UK’s application to the EU Commission for third-country listed status for animal and public health purposes for consideration at a meeting due to take place this Friday, 11 October. While we are working hard to secure a deal with the EU, we should prepare for all scenarios—including, for instance, that the EU will not accept a request for an extension.
The European Commission considered the UK’s third-country listing application at a meeting of the relevant committee, SCoPAFF, on 9 April, based on the relevant animal health legislation in place on that date. The United Kingdom was able to assure the Commission that all relevant legislation had been made, and member states voted unanimously to list the UK as a third country. Following the Article 50 extension, another vote is due to be held this Friday. To ensure that we are fully prepared for this listing, both these SIs must already be on the statute book to provide the necessary reassurances of our readiness. These instruments support that requirement, and the Government’s commitment to ensuring that we have a fully operable statute book for day one, whatever.
The Trade in Animals and Animal Products (Legislative Functions) and Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 serve three broad purposes. First, they make technical changes to existing instruments to ensure that retained EU law continues to operate effectively after the UK leaves the EU. This includes, for example, changing “Community” to “United Kingdom” or “an official language of a Member State” to “English”.
Secondly, they transfer legislative powers that give the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Ministers from the devolved Administrations, power to amend, vary or add to the list of third countries that can export animals and animal products into the United Kingdom. This will ensure that we can act swiftly to prevent any imports from a certain country should the biosecurity risk change. This will support our existing ability to apply import controls and add to our robust armoury of biosecurity measures.
In practice, the Secretary of State would look to the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officers, supported by expert advice from the Animal and Plant Health Agency, to make any recommendations for changing the lists. These decisions would be based on the most expert scientific and veterinary advice, in the same way as they are currently with the Commission. Similarly, they amend previously made EU-exit SIs regarding animal and animal product imports. This allows the Secretary of State, with the consent of appropriate devolved authorities, to publish lists of animals and products that require border veterinary checks. Both these measures are intended to support the UK’s biosecurity. These powers currently reside with the Commission and we are simply making them operable in the UK context. They will further support our application for third-country listing by aligning our statute book with the EU.
Thirdly, the SI changes the previously laid Veterinary Surgeons and Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, by correcting a reference to the Recognition of Professional Qualifications (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to enable certain EU, EEA and Swiss veterinary surgeons to register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. A paragraph had been wrongly labelled “43” when it should have been “44”. It is very important to get these things right. I assure your Lordships that being a person of detail is irritating, but it is important that we get these things right.
The other statutory instrument, the Animal Health and Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, makes technical operability changes to existing instruments. These ensure that regulations for animal by-products, ABPs, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, TSEs, and genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are operable. These amendments are of a purely technical nature and make no changes to existing policy. They include recent changes to ABP and TSE legislation that were published in the EU’s Official Journal too late to be included in earlier EU-exit SIs. As with the other instrument, this will enable our statute book to be up to date and accurate, which is a requirement of our third-country listing by the EU.
These changes include, for example, substituting “appropriate authority” for “Commission”. Similarly, they amend references to the EU’s import and export system, TRACES, by adding the wording “or any replacement system in operation in the United Kingdom”. The UK is launching a new system called the import of products, animals, food and feed system, IPAFFS, to ensure that imports of live animals, products of animal origin, animal by-products, germplasm, and high-risk food and feed not of animal origin can continue should there be a no-deal exit. This became available to the public at a beta stage of development only on 30 September. It is important to note that this system has proved popular with stakeholders, and we think we would look to it in the long term, regardless of a deal for access to TRACES, as a way forward. This SI also makes minor corrections as recommended by the JCSI. Again, I apologise for these, and will explain their nature in more detail.
There are three highly technical changes to EU law being made operable by this instrument. These include: changing recently introduced law, as mentioned, so that TRACES or any replacement system could alter certain lists; making operable provisions to permit the export of products containing processed animal protein derived from ruminants and non-ruminants; and making operable provisions that add Egypt to the list of third countries from which gelatine, flavouring innards and rendered fats can be imported.
The final purpose of this instrument is to make minor corrections to previous instruments which were, as I said, helpfully picked up by the JCSI. I am most grateful to the committee for drawing our attention to these. For instance, one correction will change the style of the paragraph numbering from (a) to (d) to (1) to (4) which is intended to help the reader to identify changes. I should also say that both instruments apply to the whole of the United Kingdom and that the devolved Administrations were closely engaged in their development and have given their consent for them to be laid.
I understand that we will go on to discuss the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, but, to open the debate, I want to say that I understand absolutely the context of what she is about to say. My task is to do everything possible as regards the issue of being ready for Friday. This is why, picking up on a comment made in a previous debate, I do not seek to waste the time of noble Lords; that is not my intention. Rather, it is to try to fit us for whatever scenario arises. For all the certainty we desire, it is important that we in Defra have everything ready for when this comes forward for consideration on Friday. Everything that I can do should be done, and that is the background for my bringing forward these instruments.
I would also say that a lot of what we are seeking to do would apply to whatever scenario should arise. It is also intended to be part of our work to enhance and support our biosecurity, on which I know every noble Lord places enormous importance. Obviously, I recognise that the made-affirmative route is something that we want and should use sparingly. However, given the date of the meeting, which I thought was even further into October but as far as I know will be on Friday, it has become even more imperative that our team should be able to say categorically at that meeting that we have all the legislation on the statute book, which again would be desirable, so that we are aligned in this area. On that basis, I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert, “but that this House regrets that the Trade in Animals and Animal Products (Legislative Functions) and Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 have been laid under the made affirmative resolution procedure to come into effect on 17 October to support the United Kingdom’s application to be listed as a third country by the European Union for the export of live animals and animal products, in preparation for leaving the European Union on 31 October, despite Parliament passing the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 which requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union if he fails to secure a deal by 19 October; expresses concern that Her Majesty’s Government maintains that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 October with or without a deal contrary to the previously expressed view of this House and the provisions of the Act; and notes the grave concern of the food and farming sectors regarding the potential catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing these two SIs. However, as he said, we have tabled a regret amendment and I would like to explain why. The trade in animals and animal products regulations transfer widespread legislative functions from the EU to the Secretary of State, and have been laid under the affirmative procedure to be in place before exit day. Indeed, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee considered that they were sufficiently important that they should be upgraded to the affirmative procedure.
However, the SI and the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum take no account of the subsequent passing of the Benn Act, which was overwhelmingly supported in this House and which, as noble Lords know, requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension of Article 50 if he fails to secure a deal by 19 October. In contradiction to that, paragraph 2.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states explicitly:
“Given the change in exit day to 31st October 2019, we are using this opportunity to ensure we are as prepared as we can be to support all possible requirements of listing”.
Unless the Prime Minister is going to ignore the will of Parliament or somehow seek to subvert it, we are not exiting with no deal on 31 October.
This SI could therefore have been tabled in the normal manner, with proper scrutiny, rather than being rushed through. I say that because this really matters. As the farmers and food manufacturers have all made clear, leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous for their businesses.
The Minister says the urgency is because the EU is considering our request for third-country listing on 11 October, but this meeting was clearly set up to consider the animal trade protections if we were to leave on 31 October, which we are not now going to do. The Minister has said that the EU already approved third-country listing in preparation for the April exit date—a decision that then became obsolete. It seems that this rushed SI is going to suffer a similar fate.
Given that there seems to be a growing political consensus that, if we leave, it should be based on a negotiated settlement, with a transition period, we may find ourselves back here all too soon with another version of this SI, with new terms of trade and a new start date. Can the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to abide by the terms of the Benn Act in letter and spirit, in keeping with the wish of Parliament? Does he accept that the Benn Act, if implemented, would take a no-deal scenario off the table and make this SI obsolete? Can he clarify whether the request for third-country listing being considered by the EU later this week is specifically aimed at a start date of 1 November, or does it have flexibility for an alternative date if the negotiations continue? Does he accept that, even with third-country listing, a no-deal Brexit could have catastrophic impacts on food and farming, as British exports will still face significant barriers and the imposition of high tariffs as outlined in the Government’s own Yellowhammer paper?
As I said, this SI matters because it represents the transfer of wide-ranging legislative functions relating to biosecurity, giving the Secretary of State powers to make substantial changes to policies after exit day. In fact, it deals not just with the basics necessary to achieve EU listing; it goes further. For example, paragraph 2.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum explains that the Secretary of State will have the power to vary our listing of third countries to ensure that,
“we can adapt in the longer-term should we assess that biosecurity risks presented by third countries have fundamentally changed after we leave the EU”.
This would allow us to deviate from the third countries recognised by the EU.
Clearly, the trade in animals and animal products is of significant importance to the UK’s food security and economy, as well as being highly politically controversial. We have seen once again in the papers today details of a leaked Defra briefing detailing the consequences of a rushed trade deal with the US, which Liz Truss is promoting but which could irreparably damage the environment and public health. The leaked paper states that weakening our sanitary and phytosanitary standards to accommodate the US would damage our trade with the EU. Does the Minister accept that if the Secretary of State amends UK standards using the powers set out in this SI, it could jeopardise our third-country listing with the EU? Can he explain the circumstances in which we might deviate from the accepted EU listings in the longer term?
I move now to the detail of these two SIs. As I said, the trade in animals and animal products and veterinary surgeons SI gives the Secretary of State far-reaching powers to amend the list of third countries with which we will trade in future, but the only consultation that seems to be necessary is with the devolved Ministers in relation to trade in their own countries. Unlike many other Brexit SIs we have considered over the last 18 months, there is no requirement written into the SI to consult expert bodies or seek scientific advice, so there is real concern that the pressure to secure new trade deals will lead the Secretary of State to water down their assessment of third-country animal welfare and public health protections. For example, Chapter 5, which deals with future poultry imports, refers in paragraph (2) to,
“taking into account … the assurances which the third country can give with regard to compliance with poultry health requirements”.
It is vital that we rely not simply on the assurances from would-be trading partners but on the facts.
The Minister said that advice would be taken from independent and scientific bodies. That guarantee is not spelled out in this SI in the way that has been done in many SIs before us. There is therefore a question mark about whether the UK public can be properly assured that our future imports will be safe and continue to meet our high welfare standards.
These regulations also include a sub-delegated power that enables the Secretary of State to publish and amend lists of animals and products that require or are exempt from border veterinary checks. Can the Minister clarify the circumstances in which the lists of animals requiring veterinary checks might be amended? There does not seem to be any need for it, but will he commit to a prior consultation with the industry, particularly veterinary professionals, before this step is taken?
The Animal Health and Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations update the rules regarding TRACES, the EU’s TRAde Control and Expert System, which notifies member states of the movements of animals and animal products through their territories to ensure compliance with animal health and public health obligations, as the Minister described. Last month, Defra requested that the EU give limited continued access to TRACES for imports. Can he advise whether this request was granted?
Meanwhile, as the Minister said, the Government have been trialling the alternative system, the Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System. He advised that this went live on 30 September. Is he confident that this system is robust and fully operable? How can it be fully tested when not all businesses have yet signed up? How many businesses have signed up? Are they currently expected to use both TRACES and IPAFFS? At what date will businesses be expected to transfer completely to IPAFFS? How will this be communicated to them?
Notwithstanding the detailed concerns that I have just outlined with these proposals, we believe that businesses are overwhelmingly against a no-deal exit—with all the chaos that will ensue. The Benn Act gives the Government a route out of no deal and will provide the continuity that food and farming businesses crave.
I hope that the Minister will heed this message and concede that these SIs should not have been laid in this manner and within this timescale in contravention of the Benn Act. I therefore beg to move.
My Lords, I associate myself with the comprehensive remarks of my colleague on the Labour Front Bench and support the intention behind the amendment. It is absolutely clear that businesses in the farming and agribusiness community are extremely concerned about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on their businesses. Bringing these SIs forward under the affirmative procedure seems to fly in the face of the proposals agreed in the other place and supported broadly here—the Benn proposals—which would not enable Brexit to take place on 31 October.
I do not want to reiterate the detailed points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. However, I want to add a couple of extra detailed points about the Animal Health and Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which pointed out that we have these regulations because of defective drafting. Clearly, with the number of SIs that Defra has had, those things are bound to happen. I was grateful to hear the Minister’s apology—in a sense—for having to bring this forward, but I query whether this SI is just about defective drafting. If we look at one of the paragraphs that is changing, it removes an existing requirement in EU legislation for companies that deliberately release GMOs into the environment.
At the moment, EU law says quite clearly:
“The competent authority shall encourage notifiers to provide the report in an electronic form”.
This SI deletes that. That is not just technical; it changes the operability of the present the European Union regulation. Why are the Government seeking to remove the requirement so that companies deliberately discharging GMOs into the environment no longer have to produce that information in an electronic form? Given that this area is seen as controversial by a number of members of the general public and, indeed, by a number of stakeholder environmental groups, it seems to me that such information should be in an electronic form so that, from a freedom of information and transparency point of view, people can be aware of where these GMOs are being released. That would be particularly important if you are an organic farmer concerned about any releases in your locale. Why have the Government chosen to remove this requirement on businesses? To me, this is not an issue of defective drafting; it is a decision taken by the department to lighten the burden on companies that release GMOs.
The reason I might sound a little suspicious is that paragraph 10.02 Explanatory Memorandum states not that Defra had undertaken a consultation but that it,
“has engaged with the Devolved Administrations and … with the main industry representative organisations”.
Again, this is a controversial area. I accept that, in the scheme of things, a major consultation was perhaps outwith scope, but if the department has met the main industry representative organisations, I must ask whether they are lobbying for this change to lighten their burden in relation to information they need to provide to broader society about where these GMOs are being released. So who were these “main industry representative organisations” that Defra met, and was it as a result of their lobbying that this change was made to the SI?
I shall add a small point following that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about the IPAFFS system. The Minister used the phrase that we are now at the “beta stage of development”. That means nothing to me. Can he say few more words about exactly what stage we are at with the IPAFFS system? I was pleased to hear him say that stakeholders like the new system, which replaces the perfectly serviceable system that we have had from the European Union for many years. Can he say how many stakeholders are using it presently so that we can get a sense of how many are liking it?
Finally, does the Minister have a cost for the IPAFFS system, which is replacing the TRACES system, the European Union’s tool for managing the safety of trade, which has served this country well for so long?
My Lords, I do not wish to speak directly to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but it provides a context for a point that I would like to raise for the consideration of the Minister about the trade in animals and animal products regulations. I do so against the background of what is said in paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Explanatory Memorandum. We are told that the amendments in this measure are “technical in nature” with “no policy changes”, so no public consultation has been undertaken. According to paragraph 11.1:
“As no policy changes are included in the instrument no guidance specifically related to this instrument is required”.
The point I want to raise arises under Regulation 19(3)(d). It deals with an amendment introduced in light of Council Decision 2011/408/EC, which lays down simplified rules and procedures on sanitary controls for certain fishery products. The regulation states that the following new paragraph is to be substituted for paragraph (2) of the legislation:
“Products listed in paragraph 1 that originate from Greenland and enter the United Kingdom are not subject to veterinary checks that would otherwise apply to products originating from countries that are not EEA States, provided that the following conditions are satisfied”.
Noble Lords can see what these conditions are in new paragraph (2)(a), (b) and (c). I am particularly concerned about who is to be satisfied that these conditions are indeed satisfied, because there is no explanation of who will consider whether these various tests are met.
The point arises particularly in relation to new paragraph (2)(c), which refers to,
“consignments of such products dispatched to the United Kingdom from Greenland”.
“conform with the requirements of EU legislation concerning animal health and food safety relating to the products”.
This is a context in which there are to be no veterinary checks, so in the interests of biosecurity and eliminating biosecurity risks, it is very important to know who, other than a veterinary expert, is going to be satisfied that these consignments conform to the requirements of the EU legislation. I know I am putting a question to the Minister which is very difficult to answer now, but the point really arises in relation to paragraph 11.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum. This is perhaps something about which guidance could be given so that everybody knows who will undertake the responsibility of checking that these consignments conform to the regulations. At first sight, without broader context to put it into perspective, it seems very strange that products from Greenland—much though one respects their quality—should be exempt from these veterinary checks by some other means when there is no clarification about exactly how anybody will be satisfied that these other means are actually being met. Had there been more consultation, somebody else might have raised this point and it would have been more thoroughly investigated. At the moment, it looks as though there is a gap that needs to be addressed. If the Minister cannot do so now, it could be done through guidance at some later stage. It would be very helpful if he would undertake that the matter will be examined and addressed in guidance if it is thought appropriate.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer. As somebody who has lived a long time in the farming industry and who was a spokesman for the sheep industry, I am glad that the two opposition spokespeople raised the question of this great uncertainty and the agricultural industry’s reliance on imports and exports. We want to have everything right.
I think most of us find it very difficult to follow exactly what is likely to go on in the weeks ahead. Focusing on the Benn Act is not the full story, because presumably there could be a settlement before we get to the end, or the EU might offer some changes, and we would like to be sure that our legislation is fully up to date. So the farming industry will be extremely grateful to the Government for taking all precautions. Churning out this legislation in the event that something might happen is becoming a bit of a habit. At the same time, the farming industry would be very unhappy if a loophole were left that might surprise us.
I am very interested that we have up-to-date legislation on spongiform encephalopathies, because we are very much bound by what the EU has said on that. At the same time, the sheep industry is being rather hamstrung, in that it has its own encephalopathy, which has caused the fact that all sheep exported have to be split down the middle and the spinal cord removed. This is putting quite a lot of extra cost on to exports at the moment. The EU is moving towards removing this requirement and we would like to be kept fully up to date on that element. So I support the Government in their efforts on this matter.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and the department for bringing forward these statutory instruments. I also thank the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its work in preparing for today’s debate. As regards the amendment, I think the whole House will accept that it is not the wish of the farming industry, any rural business, or any business or individual or family, that we crash out of the European Union without a deal. However, I do not think this is the occasion when we should be pressing this forward, and I hope it will not come to that.
I have three or four specific questions. A number of noble Lords have spoken today about the ban on free movement and alternative arrangements to TRACES. When this was raised in the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the department said that,
“a pre-final version of the UK’s new ‘Import of products, animals, food and feed system’ went live on 30 September”.
When will the final version be introduced and when will it be operational and trialled to make sure that it works seamlessly on 1 November, if required?
Under the new procedures which require the issuing of certificates, as I understand it, I have a particular question in the context of Northern Ireland’s exports to southern Ireland. In the absence of the Stormont Assembly, which bodies have been consulted by the department to make sure that Northern Ireland industry and Northern Ireland-equivalent producers are satisfied that the requirements are in place? According to the Northern Ireland DAERA office, 18,000 certificates a year are issued, which potentially could rise to 1.9 million or more. Can the Minister assure the House today that there will be the capacity to issue the increased number of certificates that will be required in view of the fact that we will be listed as a third country—or will we be covered by any arrangements? Obviously, we do not know what the final arrangements will be.
My particular question to the Minister is whether there will be a sufficient number of vets or alternative qualified officials to process and issue these certificates. Reading the Irish press last Thursday, it appeared to me that there was grave concern that there are not enough vets, not just in the whole of the UK but particularly to address the issue in Northern Ireland.
Will the Minister outline the arrangements that were announced in a consultation for ending the transport of live animals when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union? I accept that the Secretary of State, representing Chipping Barnet, as she does, will not have been exposed to many suckler cows or spring lambs. However, she must be aware, as the department alludes to in these two statutory instruments, that many of these movements of live animals are for purposes other than for slaughter, such as breeding, showing et cetera. Even when spring lambs are exported from the north of England, Scotland, Wales and, I imagine, Northern Ireland as well, for example, to France, this is a very limited trade. For every live animal that is transported, it used to be said that there were seven in carcass form—I have been unable to get the up-to-date figures.
It is also highly regulated, and I understand the wish to keep a high level of regulation, but I simply want to ask what the purpose of such an abrupt end to live transport would be. It was some time ago that I personally witnessed the transport of live animals from the Port of Brightlingsea, when this trade was ended some 20 years ago from Dover. I have to say that the animals are often better looked after than many of us who take cross-channel transport by other means. So I do not think that there could be any concern about their welfare under these very robust regulations. I put on record—it is a matter of note and I am sure that the department is aware of it—that animals such as spring lambs that are sent to France are not immediately sent for slaughter but are further fattened and finished before they are slaughtered in their end destinations. Could the Minister reassure me that the minimum amount of live trade of this nature will be permitted?
Finally, paragraph 2.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum goes to the very essence of what I imagine the position will be post Brexit. The provisions under the regulations will set out those animals or products that will require or will be deemed to be exempt from border veterinary checks. In the context of the current debate about the deal that is being proposed, I have to ask where these checks will take place. Will they be at the border or at some other place? I understood that the essence of the Belfast agreement was that there would be no checks on the island of Ireland, either at the border or anywhere else for that matter.
My Lords, I declare an interest since I have a farm. I am very concerned about the welfare of live animals being transported. What happens if there are hold-ups at ports, which might happen very easily? Is this included in the regulations? I am pleased to see the amendment to the Motion. I want to add to my voice to those saying that it will be a disaster to go out without a deal. I just wish that the whole Brexit saga would go away.
My Lords, I should have declared my farming interests as set out in the register. That was remiss of me.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, took your Lordships to Greenland and asked who is to be satisfied. Unless I get precise detail on that point, I assure the noble and learned Lord that I will write to him with an explanation and place a copy in the Library. We are seeking to bring forward and put on to our statute book that which has gone through the Commission in the agreement. We are not suddenly deciding that we, out of some whim, will add trade with Greenland. We are adopting, refining and getting on to our statute book what has already gone through that rigour.
I will get chapter and verse on who is to be satisfied, but we are not adopting anything new in these instruments. I agree that this is one of the nightmares of having the statutory instrument alongside the Explanatory Memorandum. Statutory instruments sometimes become a source of considerable confusion to me. I am very grateful for a proper Explanatory Memorandum. Of course, what we want to do is to ensure that we have the top biosecurity and that consumers and the people of this country are safe with all products, whether from home or abroad—including, indeed, from Greenland. The whole basis of what we are seeking to do is to ensure that we have those very strong measures in place.
On the points made by the noble Baroness about the recent legislation, the Government will abide by the law. However, our task, and my task, which I alluded to in my opening remarks, is to prepare for any eventualities. We think we might get an extension if one is ever required; I cannot guarantee that today. I am sorry to be so punctilious, but our task—I am looking particularly at the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Parminter, and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—has been to be able to say, in all sorts of scenarios, that we have done everything possible. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose rightly said that if we did not get our listing on Friday, many farmers up and down the land would say, “You mean you didn’t even try? You didn’t even take the precaution of seeking a listing?” We did.
I understand the thrust of what the noble Baronesses have said and the comments made about the amendment to the motion. However, I want to make it clear that this is about ensuring that Defra does everything it can to ensure that the Commission sees our bona fides in adopting all the law which it has adopted since we went through the exercise of seeking a listing earlier in the year.
As I have said, the majority of the Brexit SIs are needed whether we leave with or without a deal. If they are no longer needed on exit day, they will be deferred until the end of a transition period. There have been many hundreds, and a lot of our work has been about getting the statute book to where we need it to be. We do not see the affirmative route as being used anything other than extremely sparingly. It is not a desirable route unless, with the buffer of timing, we think it in the best interests of the United Kingdom. Obviously, it is not something I would ever want to deploy unnecessarily or wantonly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, made a number of points. On the scrutiny of the variation and the Secretary of State’s powers, having met Ministers from the devolved Administrations, it is important to say that the Secretary of State could vary the list of third countries or alter the import requirements only with the consent of all the devolved Administrations, so it would need to be deemed in the interests of all the Administrations. As I explained, those decisions, and the decisions that Ministers would be required to make, which currently reside with the Commission, will be informed by the four UK Chief Veterinary Officers, who are our top veterinary experts on animal health, and the Food Standards Agency, which is our expert on the public health aspects. The Chief Veterinary Officers would, in turn, be supported by the scientific analysis of the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Given the international respect with which both the FSA and the APHA are regarded, I feel confident that these decisions would be in the appropriate hands. Also, Regulation 18.4 makes it clear that to change these lists, the Secretary of State must bring forward a negative SI, which, if anyone is concerned that this is not a step in the right direction, enables us to scrutinise it.
Noble Lords will understand that the line is that we do not comment on leaked documents. However, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—and as I have said very often—that the UK is a world leader on animal welfare and environmental standards. We will not water down our standards as part of trade negotiations. We have a reputation for quality that is built on those standards and on the dedication of farmers and growers to meeting UK consumers’ expectations. With what is already on the statute book, the current UK import requirements—
I have been listening carefully to this debate. Given what the Government have submitted to Brussels at the moment, might the Minister reflect on his terminology? He has referred to the UK on a number of occasions, most recently in his last few comments. The Government’s policy is that it would no longer be the UK, as Northern Ireland would operate under one regulatory regime and Great Britain under another. Can the Minister be clear what the legislative relationship would be with this instrument because, for the first time since the 1920s, one part of the United Kingdom would not have the same approach as the rest of it? Will he reflect that these commitments no longer refer to the UK as a whole?
With regard to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about Northern Ireland, can the Minister explain what might happen if there is a no-deal scenario—which he says he has to prepare for—when it comes to some of the checks that would be required in Northern Ireland, given its relationship to the Republic of Ireland? The temporary measures that the Government published in March indicated checkpoints. These would be off the border, but nevertheless those taking and receiving goods would have to go to designated hard areas. Are those temporary measures still planned by the Government if there is a no-deal Brexit? If we are faced with that on 31 October, are the Government indicating that from 1 November there would be hard areas in the United Kingdom to check goods covered by this statutory instrument?
My Lords, I will return to that because I want to make sure that I have on the record precisely the point that the noble Lord has asked. I will wait for some strong advice to get the form of words right to satisfy your Lordships. The instruments relate to all parts of the United Kingdom. That is precisely why in all cases—particularly the issue I referred to—it would be the chief veterinary officers from all parts of the country who would take a view about the variation of lists.
Quite rightly, there was also some consideration of IPAFFS and TRACES. If there is a deal and an implementation period, we will continue as currently. In the event of no deal, the UK would replace TRACES with IPAFFS, which will be operational for all third-country imports on the day we leave the EU. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about public beta—quite rightly, as I have asked the question myself. IPAFFS is in public beta and users can register for the system and check their log-in details if they have registered previously. As it is in public beta, IPAFFS is monitored to assess performance and to investigate any issues raised by users. There have been no downtime events or high-severity incidents since public beta commenced.
So far, in terms of feedback on IPAFFS and the status, 155 users have participated in business readiness sessions. Importers and their agents, the FSA and the port health authorities are taking part in sessions around the country. Users were asked to express as a mark out of 10 how confident they would be in using IPAFFS from day one. After the readiness session, the average confidence score was nine. Since launching public beta on 30 September, we have seen a further 127 registrations, bringing our total to 1,198 users registered for IPAFFS. We think that engagement so far has gone well, as has the rate at which users have registered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked how confident we were that IPAFFS would be ready. As the system was operationally ready prior to 31 March and work on its development has continued since April, and given the amount of work that has gone on with potential users, we think that IPAFFS is in a good state. That is precisely why, as I said, it appears to be well regarded by those who will use it in the longer term.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about engagement on GMOs. I will want to look into some of this, but we have undertaken industry engagement on multiple EU exit issues, including with interested parties representing companies active in agricultural biotechnology, establishments interested in research in GMOs, non-government organisations and a selection of environmental campaigning communities. A non-extensive list of those contacted includes GM Freeze, GeneWatch and the Agricultural Biotechnology Council. We have also engaged with industry in relation to TSEs and ABPs. These statutory instruments do not introduce policy changes. I will look into the point raised by the noble Baroness, but this is not on the back of some representation on an electronic basis. A note before me states that there is no policy change and that the correction merely effects the deletion intended in statutory instrument 2019/90—but I think that the note suggests that I should come back to the noble Baroness, which would perhaps be a more suitable approach.
I should respond to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose and to an element of what the noble Baroness said in her opening remarks. Any negative impact for farming is why we would consider intervention if necessary. It is important that the arrangements give time for farmers to adjust, but it is why I personally think that a deal is hugely important.
The noble Baroness’s amendment refers to 17 October. For the sake of the record, I should clarify that each SI comes into force either immediately before exit day or on the day itself. It will therefore come into force on 31 October or at the end of an implementation period, and not on 17 October. As a “made affirmative”, each SI was made on the date it was laid.
The noble Baroness asked whether we would inspect third countries for imports. The UK will continue to accept EU approvals for commodities and establishments until such time as the UK Government introduce new import controls for animals, plants and their products. Trading partners will be kept informed of changes that may impact on them. If there was to be a need for co-ordination of audit and inspection, that would be undertaken by Defra. The UK’s CVO will write to third countries to set out arrangements that will apply on exit and provide contact details.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked when, and in what circumstances, we might amend the list of animals. The list could be amended. If there were a disease outbreak or evidence of non-compliance in a third country, I think noble Lords would agree that that would be the moment to remove it. Additionally, if our audit of a third country’s guarantees met full compliance with UK requirements, it could be added. I promise to come back to the noble and learned Lord on public consultation and guidance on who checks that consignments conform to the EU import regulations.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised the issue of sufficient capacity to handle additional inspections of imports. The only additional inspections will apply to products of animal origin that originate from a third country. Port health authorities are able to meet the extra demand with existing food inspectors. We have made a decision that, on the basis that the EU has high standards and that we are adopting those standards, we are not proposing, on day one, to bring forward checks that would be unnecessary at this time. In future years, we will judge what is best based on the scientific and veterinary advice. That is why the port health authorities think that, in the circumstances, the additional inspections relating to third countries are sufficient.
The thrust of the outcry in the Irish press was that, if we have no deal, imports from southern Ireland into Northern Ireland will be deemed to be from a third country. That is why they have evaluated that they will need 1.9 million certificates or, potentially, inspections. That raises the question of where such inspections would take place.
The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU. As I said, we will not be inspecting, because we believe that the EU’s standards are high. We are addressing this matter in these statutory instruments precisely because imports from the EU will not require additional inspection as they are of a suitable standard.
No. I am going to make progress, if the noble Lord will forgive me. I have had a lot of interventions and I will address his point.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh also raised the issue of veterinary surgeons. We are offering free training for official vets to sign EHCs for food products. Some 736 have been registered with the APHA to assess free training, of which 564 enrolled on the course for this qualification; 152 have since qualified. The total number of official veterinarians who can sign EHCs for food products has increased by 200 to 835 since 8 February. We have also created a new certification support officer role to assist official vets and are offering free training. To date, 170 have registered and 47 have qualified. We have published a list of official veterinary services on GOV.UK to help businesses find official veterinarians. I am absolutely clear that vets are vital in this. That is why the statutory instrument tidies up the position in relation to veterinary surgeons, as I have said.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about animal welfare and transport. There is considerable concern about the welfare of animals in transport and we will continue to recognise EU transport welfare authorisations for an interim period, to mitigate the risk of friction at the border from EU consignments arriving. This is an area where the Government will look in future to see how we can enhance animal welfare. We have been clear that we understand the issues about transport and the Scottish islands, but we think that there is considerable room for improvement, and this is a work in progress. I understand the point my noble friend makes about farming interests as well, but we need to be mindful, clearly, that our standards of animal welfare are clearly understood.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, spoke about the legislative relationship if there were different regulatory regimes in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The Prime Minister recently highlighted that there are ongoing negotiations, and it would not be appropriate to pre-empt those at this stage—I suspect that the noble Lord expected me to say that. The statutory instruments deal with third-country listing and, specifically, operability amendments.
To answer the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, we are absolutely clear on this and it is central to our border delivery group work. We absolutely understand it, which is why I mentioned animal welfare to my noble friend Lady McIntosh. We are very conscious of the importance of planning to ensure that we have the facilities in place and do not have animals held up. There must be alternative ways, including by using other ports, because we all understand that the straits between Calais and Dover, in particular, are going to be pressure points. It is important that we work to make sure we have capacity in place at other ports, including rerouting to EU ports and airports that have the appropriate border inspection facilities. We are very mindful of the importance of our animals coming from this country, where we want them to be well looked after, and moving to other parts of Europe. I know that there will be some details that I have not adequately addressed. Some are detailed and I want to make sure that I get the absolute chapter and verse, so that in no way have I verged into my own personal view, but instead given a distinct expression of view.
I understand everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, but I do not believe that, in bringing forward the statutory instruments, I have done anything other than the best I can to ensure, in whatever circumstances we are presented with, that we are in a position to say clearly to the Commission that we have done everything possible to secure its consent for a listing if there were a circumstance in which that was necessary. I entirely back up my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. I think I know farmers quite well, coming from that stock, and if we had not bothered to do this, with its nearly £5 billion consequence, and had not put this forward in the way we have, there would have been very considerable alarm and disquiet that we had not done everything possible, for any scenario. One thing about these times is that nothing is particularly certain, and therefore we have to cover all eventualities. So, I understand the noble Baroness’s amendment, but I hope she will feel able to withdraw it.
My Lords, I think that we would all accept the Minister’s sincerity on this issue and the courtesy he has shown in answering the many questions that we have thrown at him this afternoon. I do not have a problem with the request for listing; if we withdrew it at this stage, it would be misinterpreted. Our concern is what is riding on the back of that, and some of the other detail in the SIs that is being put forward as a package. That is why we have raised these concerns today.
Of course I understand the need to be cautious about the whole biosecurity issue. The noble Lord has done a significant amount of work in championing that cause. He said—and of course he would say that—that the Government never respond to leaked press releases, but he should understand our concern, because this press release and the leak have a ring of truth. We can all see politically what is happening here: on the one hand there is the desire of Liz Truss and the Department for International Trade to get a new trade deal with the United States and, on the other hand, that is in contradiction with a lot of things that the Minister has been saying this afternoon about high welfare and food standards.
The Defra briefing says that the Minister and the department will come under “significant pressure” from the Department for International Trade to weaken the UK’s food and environmental standards to secure a trade deal with the United States. We cannot ignore that, and we look at the SI partly with that in the back of our minds. We could debate how likely that is, but we can see the culture and policy clashes that are going on there. That is all I will say about that.
Our concern, however, is that these SIs go further than simply ensuring compatibility with current EU rules. We have debated this—this is not new in these SIs—but to compare the European Commission, with all the checks and balances that it has before it makes a final decision, with the Secretary of State, who is one person, and, in the words of these SIs, has a great deal of autonomous power, is always a cause for concern. That is why we like to see the checks and balances that go behind that. When we have debated other SIs—and the noble Lord and I have reflected that we have considered at least 100 Defra SIs, and there are many more, so we have been through the mill on all of these—it has been made clear that the Secretary of State will not act alone but will take soundings and advice. Our concern now is that that was not spelled out in that way in these SIs today. The wording is not consistent with wording that we have seen before. But it was helpful that the Minister spelled out the role that the Chief Scientific Officers would play in all of that, and that that is now on the record.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, the concerns about these SIs are not just about defective drafting: there are a number of other issues as well. It is misleading to say that these SIs are just technical: they are more than that. I was interested in the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about who decides whether the conditions are satisfied, because throughout the SIs—perhaps it is too strong to talk about “sloppy wording”—there are words that can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Throughout the SIs, for example, it says that the Secretary of State will “take account of” a number of factors. But that could mean, “I took account of it but I took no notice of it”, to put it bluntly. So it would be helpful for the future, perhaps in guidance, to make it more explicit where the responsibility will stand and who will have the final say on things.
I agree with the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that the amount of uncertainty in the farming community is huge. We do not want to add to that or to inadvertently open the door to cheap imports that would undermine the existing farming community or lose that very precious EU market for our farmers going forward. That is why we are so sensitive about this issue and why it is important to have this debate today.
I am grateful for the answers that the Minister has given on a number of the issues I have raised. It is certainly early days for IPAFFS—if that is how you pronounce it. The number of users that the Minister talked about is not that great in the big scheme of things; we will find out whether it is really robust enough to take the amount of trade that we are going to be dealing with only when people do not have another option. Nevertheless, I am grateful for that information.
I agree with a number of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Again, this is not just a concern about this SI; Northern Ireland trade across the border was an ongoing issue way before this became the new political touchstone of issues. On the one hand, there are the huge political connotations of what should happen in Northern Ireland regarding trade—but there are also the practical issues of all those people who have not had to take their produce to a third place that is not on the border but might be, and then of course you get into the complications of people who are food manufacturers and who constantly cross the border. It feels like nobody is reaching out to those people to say, “We understand, and we will do whatever we can to try to make that easier”. All the political solutions that are being proposed at the moment certainly do not make it sound like trade in Northern Ireland will be anything like as easy as it is today.
I do not think that I have missed any points. We have had a good debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I will not push this to a vote. Although there are issues in the SIs that I still feel need to be addressed, if we do not put in a request for the listing, that would also be misinterpreted. I am grateful for the Minister’s response and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.