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Agriculture (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 16 October 2019

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I speak to the instruments together, given the close connection between them.

These statutory instruments primarily amend retained EU law relating to the common organisation of markets in agricultural products. They also make minor amendments to cross-cutting common agricultural policy legislation and legislation governing rural development programmes and maritime and fisheries funds. The CMO sits in Pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy and was set up as a means to meet the objectives of the CAP. Over time, it has broadened to provide a mechanism that enables the EU to incentivise collaboration between, and improve the competitiveness of, agricultural producers and to facilitate trade.

The framework legislation of the CMO, which contains the basic rules for the schemes therein, was debated in this House earlier this year. The legislation considered today is technical in nature and limited in scope, as it primarily amends legislation setting up the finer details of the CMO to ensure that its provisions can continue to work after we leave.

Bearing in mind previous discussion, I assure your Lordships that we are adamant in upholding standards and maintaining process and are keeping as close to the current system as possible. The legislation makes appropriate corrections to ensure that the current system and its processes are operable after exit.

The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 primarily make operable functions contained in EU legislation relating to the CAP and the CMO currently carried out by the European Commission or member states in the reserved areas of import and export controls, international trade and regulation of anti-competitive practices and agreements. Under the amendments, those reserved functions will instead be carried out by the Secretary of State or, in one instance, in relation to contractual negotiations in the dairy sector, by the Competition and Markets Authority. Some of these functions are administrative; for instance, to recognise hop producer groups. Others are powers to make regulations to amend rules relating to particular schemes; for example, conditions for recognition. The powers conferred are limited to those of reserved competence. They include powers such as setting conditions for when an export licence may or may not be required, fixing amounts payable on exports where they are subject to an international agreement, updating standard terms for sugar sector contracts and making additional requirements with respect to customs procedures where it is necessary to do so for the purposes of CAP checks. The instrument also makes operable retained EU law concerning producer organisations, import of eggs and contractual negotiations in the dairy sector.

Examples of the amendments made are: omitting obligations to report information on producer organisations to the Commission; conferring on the Secretary of State the power to recognise producer organisations, which currently lies with member states; a requirement that the Secretary of State must make a determination of equivalence in relation to the marketing standards of eggs from a third country before eggs from that country may be imported; and providing for notifications on volumes of milk covered by contractual negotiations, which are currently provided to member states, to be provided to the Secretary of State.

The second of the instruments, the Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products and Common Agricultural Policy (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) (No.2) Regulations 2019, makes appropriate corrections to retained EU legislation relating to the CMO to ensure operability. This instrument mainly concerns areas falling within devolved competence. As such, powers and responsibilities have been conferred on the devolved Ministers and the Secretary of State in appropriate ways that respect the devolution settlements. The main CMO policy areas covered by this instrument can be broadly categorised as: aid schemes for fruit and vegetables, milk in schools and apiculture; marketing standards for olive oil, eggs, poultry, meat and wine; import and export licensing; and provision of information and notifications.

The changes made in this instrument will ensure continued operability, for example by conferring functions currently exercisable by the Commission or member states on the applicable authorities in the UK; for instance, administrative functions relating to aid schemes and powers to make regulations on wine labelling. The changes also include removing redundant provisions that will not apply to the UK after exit, for example on support schemes for the olive oil and table olives sectors. Another change is replacing EU-centric terms with the appropriate UK equivalents, such as replacing “Union” with “UK”. The approach when amending retained EU law has been to keep the effect of retained legislation close to the current system where possible.

The instrument omits two deficient references to “member states” and amends a reference to “Union legislation”. It also omits two powers that the Commission has to make secondary legislation, which are redundant after our exit, and confers on the appropriate authorities in the UK a power—currently conferred on the Commission—to make regulations altering the format of the financial instrument report to be submitted to the monitoring committee responsible for the programme in question. These are technical amendments to make operable the existing retained EU law.

The third, reserved, instrument, the Import and Export Licences (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, makes changes to EU regulations governing the agricultural import and export licensing regime to ensure operability. Those EU regulations set out a licence system for the import and export of certain agricultural products such as rice, hemp seed and ethyl alcohol. They also set out specific provisions for the import of hemp. This instrument makes amendments to allow the Rural Payments Agency to continue to manage the import and export licences as it does currently once we have left. Other amendments include updating EU regulatory cross-references to equivalent provisions in domestic legislation, replacing references to “the Union” with “the United Kingdom”, and converting licence securities from euro values into sterling using the average annual exchange rate for 2018. The instrument also revokes some obsolete and redundant regulations in relation to the payment of export refunds in the dairy sector and on administration of EU third-country export quotas for cheese and skimmed milk powder. The instrument will ensure that the policies outlined above will continue to operate effectively, as now, after exit.

The aim of the fourth statutory instrument, the Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Transitional Arrangements etc) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, is to make simple amendments to existing EU exit SIs to ensure that where provisions refer to a transitional period this can be realised as intended, notwithstanding the delay of exit to 31 October. The transitional periods in this SI concern the reserved area of import and export controls, specifically: import documentation for hops; certificates of conformity for fruit and vegetables issued by other countries; and imports of veal from the EU. These transitional periods were set out in an existing EU exit SI approved earlier this year. In that legislation, the end dates of these transitional periods are explicitly stated as 29 March 2021 for hops, and for fruit and vegetables, and 30 June 2019 for veal. However, the extension of Article 50 to 31 October makes these transitional periods significantly shorter. Of course, in the case of imports of veal, it has effectively removed it.

The instrument makes simple amendments to that existing EU exit SI so that, rather than using specific dates, the transitional periods are expressed as applying for a specific period from exit day. This ensures that transitional periods are drafted consistently in our EU exit SIs, helping us to convey a clear and consistent message to stakeholders on the duration of those transitional periods.

The instrument also makes some amendments to that existing EU exit SI in the reserved area of regulation of anti-competitive practices and agreements to correct inconsistencies in the drafting and minor inoperabilities. These include: clarifying and improving the text, for example changing “them” to “Secretary of State”; omitting obligations to recognise producer and inter-branch organisations in respect of products not produced in the UK on a significant commercial scale, such as olives and olive oil, silkworms and tobacco; and clarifying that the power to recognise inter-branch organisations in the milk and milk products sector will lie with the Secretary of State after exit, in line with other EU exit SIs.

I turn finally to the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This instrument makes similar amendments to transitional periods, but in areas of devolved competence. These include: special provisions on imports of wine; labelling of wine; labelling of beef and beef products; labelling of packages of fruit and vegetables; and import documentation for hops.

As before, these transitional periods were set out in existing EU exit SIs approved earlier this year, with the end dates of the transitional periods explicitly stated as a specific date. The instrument makes simple amendments to express them instead as applying for a specific period from exit day. It also makes minor amendments to a series of domestic EU exit SIs concerning marketing standards, the horizontal CAP legislation and the rural development programmes to remove ambiguity and inconsistencies, correct typographical errors and ensure operability.

As I have referred to reserved and devolved competence, I should say that we have consulted extensively with the devolved Administrations on all the statutory instruments in this group, regardless of their reserved or devolved status. Similarly, Defra has informed and discussed with stakeholders the plans to make both retained EU CAP legislation and existing domestic CAP regulations fully operable at the point of exit.

The whole purpose of these instruments is to provide continuity. I beg to move.

I thank my noble friend for so eloquently and comprehensively speaking to this group of statutory instruments, which appear technical in nature, as he said. I have a couple of questions rather than comments.

My noble friend mentioned the exchange rate that was used. Is it set in stone or kept under review? Have his department or the Treasury taken a view about the impact on the farming community of the difference between the exchange rate used for these purposes and the general exchange rate, which we know has fluctuated wildly since the date of the EU referendum? Will it be kept under review going forward?

My second question was raised in the House of Commons in relation to one of this group of SIs. It is generally understood that the department will pursue the principle of recovering costs, which I presume will not be that great. Does my noble friend have any idea about at which stage they might be recovered?

My final question relates to the Import and Export Licences (Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations. I think there may be a role for export refunds. Have they been frowned upon by the EU Commission and the department, or are they something that may be considered? Or would my noble friend rule them out because he does not imagine that there would be any scope or role for export refunds in relation to this SI?

My Lords, these regulations are surely needed. I thank the Minister for his introduction. As ever, he was very cogent and persuasive and spoke from experience. However, to me and to others these regulations appear very complex. From the Explanatory Memoranda, it is clear that the officials of his department have helpfully gone to great trouble, but the regulations are still very complex. The Minister will not mind me asking a few questions and making a few observations.

I note that there has been considerable consultation, not least with tenant farmers, the Country Land and Business Association, the Farming Community Network and the ubiquitous and influential National Farmers’ Union. That is to the credit of the Minister and the department. These five sets of regulations cover agriculture, markets, import and export licences and the organisation of markets. They necessarily go on. The Minister mentioned the devolved Parliaments across Britain. When he replies, will he say which Ministers in each of the devolved Parliaments he or his colleagues have consulted? Notwithstanding that the devolved Parliaments have primacy, it appears that the Minister and his department have brought things together, particularly at a time such as this when Brexit is an overarching issue.

My particular concern is Brexit’s impact on upland communities. Many are in our national parks or in the borders, the Cheviots, Cumbria and most of Wales. Your Lordships’ Committee may well have its own insights about them; but these upland communities are far-flung, all across Great Britain. The industry in those uplands is essentially sheepmeat. The upland farmer, with her or his flocks, faces challenges of a very serious nature—an immediate challenge, if other things come forward. Their futures, in that sense, are questionable.

I am glad that the Minister mentioned dairying; he will not mind my mentioning this industry. Perhaps he can give assurances, and some hope, to those distinct communities and these most resilient and hard-pressed farmers.

If I might briefly instance Wales, at one time the Welsh flock exceeded 10 million, alongside considerable overgrazing, it must be said. It is still many millions strong, particularly in cefn gwlad—that is, the hinterland and heart of central Wales. I instance the beautiful county of Powys, wild Snowdonia, and the iconic Beacons. All run sizeable flocks and all, and others, have far-flung communities. At this moment, this very week—in fact, this very day—their future is being decided, one way or the other. I say to the Minister that, notwithstanding the running of the sheep flocks, there is also a considerable tourist industry, which is becoming more and more successful, despite the consequences of those places being of some elevation and in western parts of Great Britain.

These uplands have their distinctive culture. The language of heaven is rooted in these communities. Arguably, the language is a factor in Northern Ireland, perhaps in the southern and western part, and certainly in Scotland. I will not say any more about language, because it can be controversial, but it is important. I am not talking here about postcard Wales, but of the hard graft of the upland farmer, who keeps the land in fine shape and needs to be there in the decades ahead.

If I raise any matter to which the Minister and his officials cannot immediately respond, perhaps he might write to me. I thank him for his skilled exposition.

My Lords, may I add a couple of comments? I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jones, for his comments. My understanding of these statutory instruments is that they make no basic change to what there already is. Again, this relates EU law to UK law, so a lot of the language—which, to be honest, is tedious to work through—is very simple in what it is trying to do. I follow the noble Lord’s passion; some of our upland farmers, and other farmers elsewhere, will be challenged, particularly when we look at tariffs and trade. However, that is not to do with the SI that we are dealing with today.

I would love to think that the noble Lord was going to speak in tomorrow’s debate, which gives us all the wonderful opportunity to talk about things that we think are hugely important. I agree with much of what he said.

I would like to support these statutory instruments, so in some ways it is a shame that we are doing some of them twice. We dealt with some of this earlier, but are having to deal with it again, as changes take place. The instruments will probably give greater flexibility, which will give much help to the Government and the Ministers. I have nothing else to add on that, but I have one query. In introducing the instruments, the Minister referred to the import of eggs, but the one topic that always gets dodged is that of dried eggs and powdered milk—probably because it is a difficult one to deal with. The buying and selling of fresh eggs is very clear and easy, but a lot of the eggs and egg content that go into manufacturing come through on the dried side. I do not know whether that applies to this SI but, in the meantime, I support the instruments.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for so clearly setting out the issues in these five statutory instruments, which make minor adjustments and corrections to previous SIs that we debated earlier in the year, as most noble Lords have said. I am delighted that we are debating all five together and not separately. I thank the Minister for his time and that of his officials in providing a briefing for these SIs.

All the SIs cover small details and technical amendments, but they are quite complicated. The reserved matter in the first SI covers areas concerning trade import of hops and agricultural processed products, and a minor amendment on the import of eggs and the whole list that the Minister gave us. The SI covers anti-competitive practices and helps to protect sugar beet growers, and milk and milk products. Although there are no policy changes and it will remove redundant legislation post Brexit, it is important to get these matters right so that we are not debating the same things fairly regularly.

I was intrigued by the subject of the import of rice. I understand that the issue is how much rice might be contained in a processed product, such as a tin of rice pudding or baby food. Nutritional content on these products is extremely important, especially if they are to be consumed by children.

The second SI concerns CMO operability amendments and, as has been said, transfers functions from the EU to the devolved Administrations. The majority of issues have been carried over from March. The SI again includes eggs, but also poultry meat. Given this, can the Minister say where poultry breeders fit specifically in the list of six consulted stakeholders that the noble Lord, Lord Jones, listed for us, since it is not immediately apparent from the list?

It is interesting that not all matters in the SI apply to Wales, which is doing its own thing, yet marketing standards are the same across all the devolved Administrations. Are the regulations being applied in Wales better than those that will pertain in the rest of the UK, or worse?

The third SI is about import and export licences and is a reserved matter. I note that changes are very minor to ensure operability after EU exit, including changes from the euro to the pound, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and are being set and calculated on 2018 conversion rates. Will this have a negative effect should the exchange rate alter dramatically? The Rural Payments Agency will manage the process, which remains the same. Export repayments will be made only in circumstances of crisis. Can the Minister indicate examples of crisis that might qualify for payment?

The fourth and fifth SIs are similar, except that the first is reserved and the second devolved. They are all about transitional arrangements. Again, they amend existing EU SIs made in March this year but which, since we failed to leave, have to be amended because the transition dates were for a fixed two-year period relating to March. It is a very sensible alteration to move the date to relate to when an actual deal finally transpires, should one ever be negotiated. Hence the words concerning coming into force two years from Brexit date are an excellent catch-all solution.

In the fourth SI there are technical changes on products not produced here—at the moment, that is: olives, olive oil, tobacco and rice. In the last SI there are some alterations related to labelling, which I believe is for 21 months, but the import-export licences are for two years. Again, all this was debated last March and is being amended and tidied up today.

I have no substantive comments to make on any of these SIs, which I support, and I am sure there will be others shortly.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these SIs and for the helpful briefing he organised for us beforehand. As he says, they are largely technical amendments necessary to enable retained EU law relating to the CMO, the CAP and rural affairs to operate effectively after exit day. I agree with the noble Lords who said that the wording of these five SIs is particularly complex, and we were grateful to have a prior opportunity to work through some of those complexities before debating them. Having said that, we do not find them particularly controversial, but I have a few general questions about the approach taken here, on themes that run through these five SIs but also some of those we will debate in the coming weeks.

First, a number of SIs in this group amend existing EU exit SIs that we have previously debated and approved. This includes amendments to transition periods, which are required because the original SIs set out specific dates when arrangements would cease, based on an assumption that we would leave on 29 March 2019, which, as the Minister said, clearly did not happen. These amendments update a series of those transitional arrangements so that they will commence on “exit day”, whenever that might be, and cease after a given period of time. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that this makes very good sense.

In the absence of an acceptable deal, and on the basis on the Benn Act, I am of course grateful for this change in approach so that we will not have to repeat this exercise when Article 50 is inevitably extended once more. But can the Minister explain why the original SIs, which contained specific dates when the transitional arrangements would end, spelled out that they were based on the UK leaving the EU on 29 March? Why did we not foresee that this might be a problem? Why has there not been consistency on this matter? Other EU exit SIs set out the length of the period that would commence on exit day. It is such a common-sense way to approach this that I am curious as to why we have been inconsistent in our approach.

Secondly, as the Minister described, these SIs provide for transitional arrangements to give businesses time to adjust before they must adapt to the new regulations and requirements stemming from Brexit. As he said, this includes a 21-month transition period for forms and certificates the UK will accept from third countries attesting that a fruit or vegetable product meets marketing standards requirements, during which both the new UK forms and certificates and their equivalent EU versions would be accepted. It also includes a three-month transition period for veal imports, which would have allowed the EU time to gather and submit the required notification information to the UK. That is all very well, and I understand that we have now changed those transitional arrangements, but can the Minister advise whether these new transitional arrangements have been reciprocated by the EU? If not, can he advise the Committee what impact this will have on UK businesses and how these changes have been communicated to those affected? If a mutual transition period is not agreed, what action is Defra taking to encourage a pragmatic approach to enforcement within the UK?

Thirdly, the SIs in this group amend retained EU law and domestic legislation relating to the CAP and CMO to ensure continuity and facilitate a smooth transition to a domestic regime. As we know, the powers to change and diverge from these retained measures will be set out in the agriculture Bill. The farming sector expressed frustration at the delay to the previous Bill’s progress earlier in 2019. The National Farmers’ Union said in response to the 2017-19 Agriculture Bill failing that the timetable for changing farm payments should be delayed by at least a year, to start from 2022.

The Treasury previously guaranteed to maintain the same level of support under both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the current CAP until the end of this Parliament, whether the UK has a transitional period or not. This was of course understood to be in 2022, when the new provisions under the previous Agriculture Bill were expected to take effect. Can the Minister assure the Committee and the farming sector that if the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition get their wish for an early election, payments would be guaranteed until at least 2022 in the unlikely event that we have a Conservative Government re-elected? Can he advise whether any consideration would be given to further extending transitional arrangements relating to the CMO and CAP payments, owing to the delay in bringing forward another agriculture Bill? I am sure he will understand that this has caused further uncertainty in the farming community. What representation has he received from stakeholders on this issue?

On devolution, as the Minister described, many of the areas covered by the SIs are devolved, with the powers transferred to devolved Ministers but with provision for the Secretary of State to act on behalf of Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers or the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Jones understandably raised the concerns of the upland sheep farmers in Wales, the impact of all this and whether it was necessary to take a different line or strategy in Wales to protect upland farming from a policy that might be pursued elsewhere. The Explanatory Memorandum advises:

“The ability of the Secretary of State to be able to act for one or more of the Devolved Administrations will allow for powers to be exercised uniformly across the UK or across certain constituent nations, where it is convenient to do so”.

It goes on to state:

“The ability of the Secretary of State to act with the consent of Ministers does not apply to Wales in certain cases”.

This is because in some areas relating to enforcement Wales has chosen to introduce its own statutory instruments, including on the administration of apiculture or beekeeping schemes and some of the design elements of school milk schemes. Can the Minister shed some light on why the Welsh Government have taken this approach and what discussions have taken place to try to ensure a uniform approach? I am sure he would agree that that would be preferable for businesses in the sector, which would not necessarily have to make changes as they import and export across the borders.

The Explanatory Memorandum also notes that some of the European Commission functions that have been amended could be exercised in ways that are reserved, such as when they affect trade or are devolved in other ways. In such cases, the power is conferred on the Secretary of State as they need to be exercised uniformly across the whole of the UK. Can the Minister elaborate on this explanation by providing examples of when the Secretary of State might use such powers and insist on that uniformity, rather than allowing for the greater flexibility that devolution brings? In that case, when the Secretary of State exercises those powers what role will the devolved authorities have? To what extent will they be consulted to show that they are content with the proposals before they are implemented?

Finally, as the Minister knows, Scotland chose not to be part of the agriculture Bill, which will lay the foundations for agriculture policy outside the EU. Does that have any implications for powers that have been conferred on the Secretary of State that need to be exercised uniformly across the UK? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Jones, because I always go to the Explanatory Memorandum first. I congratulate colleagues and officials who have given us a comprehensive understanding of the background of these technical changes. In seeking to address these points, it is important to understand the context, which is that we are having to fine-tune systems that we are going to have across the UK in one way or another and it is very important that there is certainty. I understand this involves noble Lords, particularly the noble Baronesses on the Front Bench and some of my noble friends, in considerable scrutiny, but we must get this right. I was struck by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell: “We must get this right”. That means that when we make typographical errors or whatever, they should be attended to as soon as possible.

I shall run through the commentary. My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to the exchange rate matter. The 2018 exchange rate was used to convert euro amounts in the retained EU regulations into sterling amounts. This is a one-off amendment. In future, we will take licensed securities in sterling. There is therefore no reason to peg these figures to the euro exchange rate. As I say, this is a one-off amendment and the figures will now be dealt with in sterling.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about cost recovery. We take securities in the area of import and export licences. The only payment required to obtain an import or export licence is a security which is taken and held by the RPA. The RPA releases the security when it receives proof that the obligations specified on the licence have been fulfilled. As a result, there is no cost to an operator who uses the licence as intended. I understood that anyway. My noble friend also spoke about export refunds. In line with our WTO obligations, we have committed to the phasing out of export refunds from 2020. The EU has not used export refunds for quite a number of years.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, made a powerful speech. He is a champion of upland farmers across the kingdom, but particularly those in Wales. Having walked parts of Powys—the beacons—and Snowdonia in my time, I recognise the beauty of that landscape. Let us not forget why it is so glorious. It is because of that particular brand of pastoral farming, the custodianship of the upland farming community and the culture that goes with it. We should treasure that. That is why the noble Lord is right to refer to tourism. They are places people want to go to because of the culture that those great families have produced over the generations. I would be failing if I did not also mention the high-quality Welsh lamb and Welsh beef they have produced, as well as Anglesey sea salt. All these are products of which we should be proud.

It is not just the uplands of Wales. There are the lowlands as well, which my noble friend Lady Byford mentioned. Farming communities across this country are essential not only because of their glorious food but because of what they do and will do as we take ourselves through the environmental enhancement. It is essential that we work collaboratively with the farming community. With over 70% of the land in the UK farmed, and the figure is probably much higher in Wales, this is the route by which environmental enhancement—habitat recovery, nature recovery and wildlife recovery—will happen.

On the question of devolution, agriculture is devolved. Yes, there are elements relating to Wales in the agriculture Bill. I am looking forward very much to opportunities for further discussions, perhaps tomorrow but also on agriculture legislation. In championing devolution, I should say—and I am going on to talk about common frameworks, which are hugely important—that the Welsh Government launched their new consultation, Sustainable Farming and our Land, on 9 July, which will be open to responses until 30 October. In England there is the environmental land management proposal as a way of recognising what farmers do by way of public benefits.

I turn to the issue of divergence, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. In respecting the areas of devolved competence, my feeling is that at both official and ministerial level there is a strong recognition of what I would call common sense prevailing. UK government officials have been working closely with officials from all devolved Administrations to design future common frameworks where they are necessary and desirable. The Scottish and Welsh Governments continue to commit not to diverge in ways that would cut across future frameworks where it is agreed that they are necessary, or indeed where discussions continue. And, not forgetting Northern Ireland, the Government remain committed to restoring devolution in Northern Ireland but also acknowledge the engagement that has continued with the Northern Ireland Civil Service on common frameworks.

I have here a note on the discussions. The Secretary of State and the Minister of State, Mr Eustice, meet Lesley Griffiths from Wales, with whom I have a good connection; they meet Fergus Ewing from Scotland, with whom I have worked on a number of issues; and of course they meet DAERA officials, who have been most helpful to all your Lordships on the SIs relating to Northern Ireland. All the Administrations are taking the issue of divergence forward in a very sensible and professional way. We respect the devolution arrangements, but common sense clearly suggests that there are ways in which we can work forward to the common good for businesses, consumers and indeed well-being.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, specifically mentioned Wales and the issue with certain elements of the statutory instruments. There are some circumstances where the mechanism does not apply to Wales. That is because certain provisions are specific to the Welsh devolution settlement. That said, the Welsh Government have carefully considered whether the Secretary of State should be able to act on their behalf in respect of each of the functions concerned, and the drafting reflects that. Again, certain elements of the settlement relating specifically to Wales mean that it will be bringing forward its own statutory instruments, but that is within the mechanism of co-operation and understanding. To conclude on the divergence/common framework position, we are absolutely clear—if I might say this on behalf of all the devolved Administrations—that we are working together, I think successfully, at ministerial and official level because that absolutely makes common sense and is right for the United Kingdom.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to poultry stakeholders. We have engaged with poultry breeders through the UK Livestock Brexit Group, which is made up of representatives from the livestock sector including the British Poultry Council, which itself represents all parts of the poultry sector—breeding, hatching, growing and processing. On amendments made to provisions concerning poultry and poultry meat, we have engaged with the British Poultry Council directly. The noble Baroness also referred to crisis payment examples. I must say that these have never been applied in the EU since the introduction of that provision in January 2014. There are no examples of such crises in EU law. I do not know whether that requires further consideration but my understanding is that there is no reference.

My noble friend Lady Byford raised the issue of eggs. With regard to marketing standards, the SIs cover only eggs in the shell, not egg products. The SIs also confer on the Secretary of State the powers that the Commission currently has to make rules on the import of ovalbumin: the protein in the white part of the egg. I did that look up: it was very educational.

I have asked the same question as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, did about transitional periods: would it not have been a good idea if we had done that in the first place? The fact that I asked the same question might be the best way to reply to her: the point is very much taken. I hope that message goes across Whitehall. On her question about transitional periods and communication, importantly, the duration of the transitional periods has been communicated to stakeholders during our discussions and via the GOV.UK website, which is regularly reviewed and updated for obvious reasons. The noble Baroness also raised the issue of reciprocity. As noble Lords may be aware, the European Commission has published a notice in relation to EU food law and rules on quality schemes, stating that, subject to the conditions of a withdrawal agreement, the UK will be classified as a third country once we have left. This means that UK producers wishing to export goods to the EU will need to comply with the relevant EU rules and requirements on third-country imports.

For our part, we have determined that providing appropriate transitional periods will be the best way to ensure that UK businesses and consumers can still access products from the EU so as to maintain free and frictionless trade and to limit disruption to our businesses. I should also say, being the Biosecurity Minister, that we have taken the view that on day one, given the high standards that exist in the EU which we are already adopting, we are confident that that is a proportionate and correct approach to take in the early times after exit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, also asked about farm support. As she said, the Government have pledged the same cash in total in funds for farm support for the whole of the UK until the end of this Parliament. I am afraid that I do not know when the end of this Parliament will be. Perhaps I should bat the ball back to her and ask, “When will the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition take a view on this matter?”, because the real point that she rightly makes is that it is important that we have as much certainty as possible for the farming community.

As I have outlined to your Lordships, the farming community does a lot of things for this country. We will want it to do even more on the custodianship of the land and enhancing the environment, as well as, vitally, producing food for the nation and abroad. That is why we will work to provide that certainty through the agriculture Bill. That is why we have specifically stated the importance of having a transitional arrangement over seven years, with the reduction in direct payments and the trialling of environmental land management schemes, along with an improved Countryside Stewardship Scheme. This is all intended to work with the farming community to make sure that farmers have the right support not only in that regard but to improve productivity and to undertake research, such as that at Rothamsted, with which the noble Baroness is associated. It is essential that we have research and development into the challenges that this sector faces and the opportunities that this country can provide in producing food.

This regular dialogue with farming unions and interests is important because it is essential that they know the position. On continued support for Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, as I have said, no Parliament can bind its successors. I am not writing the noble Baroness’s party’s manifesto—or, indeed, my own party’s—but if there is a general election, my suggestion would clearly be that agriculture, the production of food and environmental enhancement will be extremely important.

I am nearly finished. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to pragmatic enforcement. During the transition period set out, producers will not suffer adverse consequences for their products on the UK market. When exporting products to the EU, businesses will need to abide by the relevant EU rules.

I will look at Hansard because some other points may have been raised. I think I have covered everything, unless the noble Lord wanted me to emphasise something.

The Minister is very persuasive. He persuades me to request that he writes, when he considers the debate, with as many assurances as he dares.

I think I have given the Committee assurances that these statutory instruments are technical and operable. We have gone into a wider debate about the Government’s support for agriculture and agricultural communities. We want agriculture to prosper in all parts of the kingdom. We obviously look to the farmer for many things, and we will continue to do so. This is an opportunity for me, in declaring my farming interests, to say that we must work very productively with farmers across the United Kingdom, for all the reasons I have outlined. I give that assurance to the noble Lord and to the Committee.

Motion agreed.