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House of Lords Hansard
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Pesticides (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
16 October 2019
Volume 800

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Pesticides (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

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My Lords, these regulations correct deficiencies in the EU’s regulatory regime for plant protection products and maximum residue levels, including making some amendments to previous EU exit SIs, namely the Plant Protection Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which I will refer to throughout the debate as “the PPP EU exit SI”—I do not think that that makes it any easier, but still—and the Pesticides (Maximum Residue Levels) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, otherwise known as “the MRL EU exit SI”. These instruments were put in place ahead of the original exit day in March. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations to develop the further instrument and they have consented to it being made on a UK-wide basis.

Plant protection products, or “pesticides” as they are commonly called, are currently regulated by means of two EU regulations: Regulation (EC) 1107/2009, concerning the authorisation of active substances and placing of plant protection products on the market, and Regulation (EC) 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides that are permitted in or on food and feed. As mentioned, we have already put in place the main EU exit SIs to convert these regulations into operable national law, ensuring continued levels of protection for human health and the environment. The instrument that we are considering makes a number of additional, minor amendments to retained direct EU legislation. This instrument will ensure that the PPP and MRL regimes can continue to operate effectively after leaving the EU. They have no, or no significant, impact on business.

Amendments are required to be made to the EU exit SIs for three reasons. First, certain dates in the retained law were based on the original exit day of 29 March. These dates require extending so that they can work as originally intended. Secondly, new EU legislation on active substance and MRL decisions has since come into force during the extension period. This needs to be converted into national law in the same way as in the earlier EU exit SIs. Finally, this instrument fixes a number of errors within those earlier EU exit SIs, most importantly in relation to provisions on endocrine disrupting chemicals—EDCs. I will explain each of these in more detail.

With regard to amendments required following the change in exit day, the PPP EU exit SI contains some transitional measures which apply until specified dates to allow business time to adjust. These dates were calculated based on exit day being 29 March. These transitional provisions now require updating so that they can allow the amount of time originally intended. This instrument also deals with new EU legislation that has come into force since the original EU exit SIs were produced. The EU exit SIs converted active substance and MRL regulations into a new national register, which gives effect to the provisions in a national context. The EU regulations themselves were therefore no longer required and were revoked.

This instrument takes exactly the same approach to new regulations that have come into force since by revoking the EU legislation listed in the schedule. Their provisions are given effect through the new national statutory register and so it is superfluous. Some older redundant EU regulations can also be revoked. This instrument also contains transitional provisions relating to grace periods for the withdrawal of active substances under such EU regulations, ensuring that they are carried across correctly and apply unchanged in national law.

I draw the Committee’s attention to, and apologise for, a number of technical errors in the earlier EU exit instruments. They were noticed after they were made. We have used this opportunity to fix those errors that we were unable to amend via a correction slip, the vast majority of which are typographical and very minor in stature. The most significant issue is that the earlier PPP EU exit SI erroneously removed links to provisions relating to endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs for short. This omission was purely unintentional. As a responsible Government, we have therefore taken the earliest opportunity to correct that error through this instrument, so that the provisions are carried over correctly into national law and there are no implications.

The House of Commons sifting committee recommended that this instrument be upgraded to the affirmative procedure, which my department accepted. The recommendation was on the basis that it includes a provision relating to charging fees. Specifically, it revokes Article 13a of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 844/2012, which clarifies that EU member states can require the payment of fees and charges to cover costs in relation to renewals of active substances. In practice, this simply removes a redundant provision. This instrument does not change the existing fees and charges, nor does it have any effect whatever on the UK’s future ability to charge or make changes to current fees. After leaving the EU, the UK will no longer need permission to make provision for charging fees and charges. The necessary national fees and charges powers are provided by domestic legislation in the Plant Protection Products (Fees and Charges) Regulations 2011, which will continue to operate without any practical impact.

To conclude, without this instrument various highly technical provisions will not be transferred across into national law in a way that will work correctly. As I have previously said, this Government are committed to ensuring continued levels of protection for human health and the environment as well as to providing stability and continuity for business. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I am pleased to note that this SI has far more substance than the previous one. I thank the Minister for the briefing she gave to my noble friend Lady Bakewell and others, which cleared many of the points that might otherwise have been made. Her introduction was very clear and thorough. The revised SI covers two circumstances: the errors and omissions—I shall quickly skate over the 50 lines effect—and the passage of time, which is more important and relevant to the point I want to raise. It means that the EU regulations have moved and the MRL regulations from the EU now need to be transposed into the SI. In future, what will be the process for retaining that alignment? There are no doubt multiple reasons why it has changed, but among them is that pesticides, their testing and their application to different crops change constantly and the regulations need to chase that. On the other hand, UK regulations need to be parallel and mirror those of the other 27 countries if there is to be easy trade of UK agricultural products across the channel or the Northern Ireland border without the risk of regulatory trouble.

The system of checks and balances is being taken out of the hands of the European Union regulatory system and moved to a UK supervisory system, but the reality is that that supervisory system will have to have a high level of regard to the EU regulatory environment if we are not over time to diverge and be disconnected in a way that would be a major disbenefit to UK agriculture and horticulture. Will the Minister comment on that? Can she offer us some idea about how the process of reconciliation with constantly moving standards on both sides of the channel will be accommodated in the new situation? It seems likely that that will mean that there will be a succession of additional SIs chasing the facts as quickly as can be achieved. Nevertheless, this is clearly a step that has to be taken, and I am content to see this SI move forward, although I hope we can have some reassurance about the long-term way in which we shall maintain the ability of UK agriculture and horticulture to participate fully in international trade with our European colleagues.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this SI and for the helpful briefing she organised beforehand. I declare an interest as chair of Rothamsted Enterprises, which carries out crop and crop protection research.

The use of pesticides is of huge public interest and has significant environmental and public health challenges. It is therefore important that we take the issue seriously. This SI is a part of a package of SIs that we have dealt with in previous months. They have raised concerns about whether the Secretary of State’s powers are in any way equivalent to the EU’s thorough product evaluation processes. We remain concerned that the application of the best scientific advice and external audit powers are missing from these proposals. While this SI makes relatively minor changes, our overarching concerns remain. What assessment has been made of the national capacity, including specialist scientific expertise, to enable the UK to operate a stand-alone regime that would be truly equivalent to that which exists in the EU at the moment?

Can the Minister also explain why the SI has been drafted to read that the Secretary of State “may” rather than “shall” obtain expert advice? What discussions are taking place to create a shared register of approved pesticides and mutual recognition schemes across the EU and the UK? I absolutely agree with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, about future alignment once we leave the EU. He rightly says that this SI cannot be the end of the road, because, as we speak, other amendments are probably being made to EU pesticides legislation. Almost inevitably, we will be revisiting this. When does the Minister feel that we will be able to draw a line and move from one regime to another? Future close alignment is vital.

Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the replacement for the maximum residue levels system? When will that database go live and how will people be authorised to use it? Can she outline the process by which active substances will be authorised and their acceptable levels determined when we are operating under a UK-only regime? What additional funding has been allocated to the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and Natural England to ensure that they have the capacity to provide the best scientific and policy advice? Time and again we have debated the capacity and funding of those organisations and whether we have sufficient scientists available to provide the necessary expert advice.

Can the Minister advise what the future reporting requirements for the UK Government will be? It is understandable that the UK will no longer report to the European Commission, but what body will replace that reporting requirement? Is it envisaged that the office for environmental protection will have that statutory role? Finally, as we have debated before, we do not accept the proposition in the EM that exit date is to be 31 October. It makes sense to amend the wording in the SI to derive a more prosaic phrase, “the date two years after the date after exit day”. Is that wording now to be used more widely in SIs to avoid the technical nightmare of having constantly to revisit the date in legislation? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for their questions. They both asked what the process will be. Collectively, our EU exit SIs will put in place a stand-alone, independent regulatory regime under which we will make our own decisions. This gives effect to them in our own national register. We will make our own decisions and be able to take account of other regulatory assessments to inform our decision-making.

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I understand this that there will be new processes here, but equally, the Minister will recognise that for our agricultural products to be exportable, they will need to comply, or at least be very closely aligned, with the regulations of the receiving country—or, in this case, the European Union. Will she comment on whether we will require ourselves to keep in a parallel regulatory system in some way and to some extent?

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We will have our own regime, obviously. Basically, producers will have to meet the requirements of their market. We will have our national register and make up our own minds about what we want to do. It will go from there. Does that answer the question? Would you like more?

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I would like more. I am sorry to push the Minister. First, what will be the process within the UK before we reach the final decision over approval? What stages will a new product, for example, have to go through? Secondly, something will be happening very much in parallel across the EU, where it will be doing its own assessments. At what point do we share information so that we are not doing our own unique research when that research already exists elsewhere? How much collaboration will there be? I am still not clear from what the Minister is saying what those stages, and the checks and balances, will be. Although the EU’s process sometimes appears long-winded, it gives confidence that thorough checks and balances are in operation. I am not sure that the Minister has expressed that in the new regime being proposed.

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Part of that comes from the fact that the SI is basically talking about a no-deal Brexit. Those other questions and queries will presumably come with there being a deal of some kind, when those issues will be discussed further. This SI is basically dealing, as we know, with a no-deal Brexit. Inspiration has come over my right shoulder, but I do not know whether it will be any help. Industry already produces different standards—for example, the supermarkets and their regulations—but the main answer is that this SI is basically for a no-deal Brexit. Any future conversations will stem from what is decided with the deal, when presumably we will have the transition period and carry on talking about this.

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I thank the Minister for being as helpful as she possibly can. Perhaps she might agree that this is another illustration of why it would be a really good idea if a deal were reached.

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I could not agree more. Let us hope that when we leave this Room we will discover that there are bright lights and that something has occurred.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about capacity and the funding of UK scientists to do necessary work post Brexit. As we know, we already have significant expertise and capacity in our expert national regulator, the HSE, which already does a large proportion of the scientific work with the EU regime, so we are well-placed to run our own regime. We are working closely with the HSE to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Additional capacity will be required in the event of a no-deal exit. That is not required immediately on exit day but will be developed over the next few years.

Extra resources will be required and extra people will need to be hired. The additional cost will broadly be in the region of £5 million per year, and money will be there to help with that. On exit day there will not be an immediate necessity to hire people but there will be as time goes on, and that money will be available.

Increased resources will be put in place for the Expert Committee on Pesticides, reflecting the increase in its responsibilities and need for additional work. We will also explore how we can collaborate internationally on the science, including with the EU, to minimise any burdens.

On the question of whether there will be a shared register with the EU for pesticides, the earlier EU exit SIs, along with this one, will provide us with a fully independent UK regulatory regime in the event that we leave the EU without a deal. Leaving without a deal would be a definition not included in a shared register with the EU. We would have our own statutory register of approved active substances with the MRLs, although at the point of departure the content would be the same as in the EU. Alternatively, if there is a deal, obviously the future arrangement would depend on the nature of that deal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about “shall” or “may”. Scientific assessment will remain the fundamental basis for decision-making, as it is now. These assessments shall be undertaken by our expert national regulator, the HSE, including additional independent expert advice from the Expert Committee on Pesticides, where needed. The FSA’s statutory functions are being retained and repatriated to a national regime, where they remain relevant in a national context. Those will be delegated to the HSE and carried out by them: for example, undertaking public consultations on active substances and producing the conclusion report of the active substance assessment process. There will no longer be a need to separate these functions into a separate EU layer of activity to ensure consistency between the many EU member states’ regulatory bodies. That has been understood by some as weakening the requirement, but it will not. Where appropriate, it is felt that “shall” is the right word, because we will carry on doing everything that is necessary. This is a straightforward conversion of the current statutory requirement into our national law.

Have I covered everything? I thank noble Lords for their queries and hope that I have answered them satisfactorily.

Motion agreed.