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Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019.

My Lords, the instrument amends existing domestic legislation to ensure operability following EU exit. The SI relates only to Northern Ireland, concerning devolved areas of policy ranging from animal and plant health, non-native invasive alien species and the wider ecosystem, which would normally be dealt with by a devolved Administration. The regulation relates to protecting biosecurity. The changes do not introduce any new policy but seek to ensure that legislation is fully operable after exit.

The SI will make minor amendments to existing Northern Ireland domestic legislation, namely the Eggs and Chicks Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010. These regulations make provision for the enforcement and execution of EU marketing standards relating to eggs for hatching and farmyard poultry chicks and eggs in shell for consumption. They also make provision for the enforcement of controls for salmonella serotypes with public health significance in relation to the marketing and use of eggs in shell for human consumption. They confer powers of entry and seizure and other enforcement powers, including the power to destroy seized products.

This SI amends the eggs and chicks regulations to ensure operability following exit by omitting EU requirements, namely offences of not marking eggs, or not marking eggs correctly for delivery between member states. The instrument also removes a reference to Article 4 of Council directive 1999/74/EC, replacing it with a reference to the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012. The instrument prohibits the importation of animal pathogens or carriers of such pathogens except under a licence issued by DAERA. This SI makes minor, technical amendments to this instrument in relation to a reference to, and a definition of, “another Member State”.

On the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the original SI made necessary amendments to subordinate legislation in relation to animals, aquaculture, environmental protection, food and horticulture. This SI amends that regulation to insert a corrected reference to the community marketing rules offences in the Marketing of Fresh Horticulture Produce Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010. The amendments in this SI provide transitional arrangements for fresh horticultural products placed on the market after exit. This will ensure that fruit and vegetable marketing labels currently allowed under EU law will continue to be permitted in the UK during a transition period of 21 months after exit day. The EU labelling requirements set out in Article 7 of Commission Implementing Regulation 543/2011 should have referred to regulation 15 rather than regulation 17 and is amended by this instrument.

The Marketing of Vegetable Plant Material Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 implement Council directive 92/33/EEC and Commission directives 93/61/EEC and 93/62/EEC on the marketing of vegetable propagating material other than seeds within the European Union. This instrument amends these regulations by making an operability amendment with the substitution of “European Union” with “United Kingdom”.

The Plant Health (Wood and Bark) Order (Northern Ireland) 2006 makes provision for measures to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful forestry pests and diseases. This instrument amends this order by removing references to the European Union, omitting EU decision references that are not operable outside the EU, and omitting references to EU decisions.

The Plant Health Order (Northern Ireland) 2018 makes provision for transposing the EU directives that protect plant health. This relates in particular to the official control of quarantine organisms affecting plants and plant products. In addition, it relates to official investigations and surveys, official designations of infected areas and demarcation zones for control, and measures to be taken following confirmation of outbreaks. This instrument amends the Plant Health Order (Northern Ireland) 2018 to omit definitions of decision (EU) 2018/1503 relating to the organism Aromia bungii—also known as Faldermann. This EU decision was added to the order after the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 SI was made, and is now included in the UK common list: therefore, this is not required in the order after EU exit.

The Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order (Northern Ireland) 2019 introduced penalties and sanctions to implement the requirements of Regulation (EU) 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. Regulation (EU) 1143/2014 will become retained EU law on exit day. On that day, the list of invasive alien species known as “species of Union concern” will become,

“the list of species of special concern”,

reflecting the UK’s exit from the European Union.

This SI amends that order to ensure parity with retained EU law, omitting the definition of “Union list” throughout the order and, where appropriate, replacing the term with “list of species of special concern”. The list of special concern is defined in the amendment to reflect that the list is derived from the EU’s list of invasive alien species. Similar amendments have been made for the UK statutory instrument, the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019.

This instrument is needed to ensure that operable legislation is in place in Northern Ireland for exit day and to facilitate the flow of goods while preserving the current plant and animal health regime’s overall aim of preventing and managing pest and disease threats. It is basically a wash-up SI and I beg to move.

My Lords, here is yet another SI to tidy up things for Northern Ireland. Most of the items covered have previously been debated at length, some only last week. As the Minister just said, the SI appears to be a sweep-up of things overlooked or already in need of amendment. I have little to add to previous debates.

I understand that, in terms of eggs and chicks, the instrument changes the law from EU standards to Northern Ireland standards and will help to prevent the spread of salmonella. A limit of nine laying hens per square metre is included in the SI.

It is reassuring that a licence is required before animal pathogens are imported, with exceptions for veterinary and human medicines. I am reassured that these exceptions will continue post Brexit to ensure both animals and humans will have access to the medicines they need; that will be important.

We have had a great many debates about invasive alien species, which are numerous. Lists of the species are held in the EU and will transfer from EU to UK law, including Northern Ireland law, on Brexit. Although this is important, we all know that it is tremendously difficult to limit invasive species, which, as their name suggests, are hardy and difficult to eradicate.

Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I will not go through the whole list of subjects covered by the SI. Despite the many items it covers, I am at something of a loss to understand why this SI in particular should be subject to the urgent “made affirmative” procedure. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the SI and for the helpful briefing that she organised beforehand.

This is one of a number of recent Defra SIs laid using the “made affirmative” procedure, with the justification that changes to the statute book must be implemented by the EU exit date of 31 October. It is now 30 October and it is clear to everyone concerned that we will not leave on 31 October. Nevertheless, we seem still to be correcting errors, some of which might be said to be quite serious. For example, Regulation 4 corrects an error made in a previous Defra SI and was identified in the 69th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments as sufficiently important not to,

“be suitable for correction by correction slip”.

Regulation 8 amends the Marketing of Seeds and Plant Propagating Material (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations to correct a reference to the European Union that was missed in the original instrument.

A number of these amendments change longer standing, devolved Northern Ireland legislation, which one would hope had been cross-checked and updated well before now. If the Minister accepts that we will not leave tomorrow, as is clear, where does this leave the “made affirmative” provisions, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, were only ever intended for use as an emergency measure? I query whether the Government are now broadening them out to deal with all the corrections and updates that really should have been made some time ago. I find this process unsatisfactory. I hope that the Minister can comment on that.

Can she clarify what additional steps have been taken to ensure that these new instruments, and the ones we have been dealing with during the past year, are 100% correct? We seem to be uncovering new mistakes every week. Will the Government use this delay to the exit to hold a thorough review of the state of Defra EU exit legislation so that we are not left making endless corrections? They could cause considerable confusion to businesses and farmers who will be doing their best to abide by our laws in the coming period.

On a separate matter, what organisations in Northern Ireland have been consulted on these proposals? Are they content with them as they stand, even though it appears that we may well be revisiting them in the context of the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly or of a variation of the withdrawal Bill when we come back after the election? A comment on the stakeholders who have been consulted and their views on this would be helpful. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones, for their questions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked why the SI had been upgraded to the “made affirmative” emergency procedure. It was to meet the 31 October deadline but also, if this instrument were not approved by Parliament, there would be significant risk to biosecurity in Northern Ireland and to trade with other countries. The relevant Northern Ireland legislation will not remain operable after the UK withdraws from the European Union. These amendments are being made using the operability powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The drafting simply amends the EU legislation references to post-EU and UK references. The intention is to maintain the status quo and to keep legislation functioning after exit day in the same way as it functions before EU exit. The amendments do not introduce any new policy changes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, wanted assurances that there would be no further corrections. This SI ensures that all these errors are amended. In the course of drafting it, all 25 previous SIs were rescrutinised as part of the process. I hope that means that we are not going to be coming back here again.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also asked about what consultation or stakeholder engagement had been carried out, with whom and when. There was a quite considerable amount of stakeholder contribution, including a consultation with Northern Ireland stake- holders which was very targeted. There was also a special website in which people could be involved. A lot of consultation took place with the Ulster Farmers’ Union. Six workshops were carried out across Northern Ireland in which farmers could take part. A Minister went over to speak to Northern Ireland stakeholders and put them at ease. The Ulster Farmers’ Union is happy with the SI and what it is trying to do.

I hope noble Lords are happy that I have answered all questions. I thank the noble Baronesses for being here. Could this be our last SI? Who knows? One can always hope.

Motion Agreed