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INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Volume 805: debated on Wednesday 9 September 2020

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that the INSPIRE Regulations 2009 established a UK spatial data infrastructure by requiring common standards for spatial data held by public bodies as part of their public task and for the spatial data services used to make that data available for use and reuse. The origin of the UK INSPIRE regulations is an EU framework directive. The regulations have been in effect in the UK since 2009. The INSPIRE regulations established a UK spatial data using common standards for spatial data and spatial data services.

Spatial data, also and often referred to as geospatial data, is data that identifies the geographic location of features, boundaries and events. Spatial data means data about natural features such as rivers, elevation and marine, and constructed features such as roads, buildings and wind turbines, and events such as noise levels, air quality and industrial emissions. The use of common standards means that spatial data is interoperable and can be easily found and used and combined with other data. The rationale for the INSPIRE regulations is to improve environmental policy-making at all levels of government. The amendments to the INSPIRE regulations before your Lordships today are introduced purely to update two pieces of earlier EU exit regulations relating to the operation of INSPIRE. The update is to ensure that the UK spatial data infrastructure continues to be effective and operable after leaving the EU.

The first legislative update is to the INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 which were laid in this House on 12 December 2018. These brought the majority of the INSPIRE directive and its directly applicable implementing rules into legislation covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own INSPIRE regulations and made its own amending legislation in 2018. The second legislative update is to the Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Those brought the remainder of the INSPIRE directive into UK legislation. They were debated in this House on 17 July 2019 and made on 15 October 2019. The regulations concerning legislative functions transferred to the appropriate authority the functions of the European Commission in the EU INSPIRE directive and other directives. The functions transferred by those regulations in respect of INSPIRE are for the appropriate authority to make new sets of implementing rules and to revoke implementing rules that are no longer needed.

The SI debated today makes an amendment to the Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This amendment means that the SI must be debated under the affirmative procedure. The amendment made to the Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 is to correct a reference to an EU implementing rule which was directly applicable and is no longer needed. The reference is replaced with a reference to a new implementing rule, Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/1372, which was made in August 2019.

At the request of the Scottish Government, similar amendments are made to the INSPIRE (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. The amendments in the SI debated today are to incorporate into UK law new arrangements for monitoring and reporting on the use and implementation of the spatial data infrastructure established by the INSPIRE Regulations. There are no policy changes in these new arrangements, which are made to simplify monitoring and reporting of the use and implementation of the spatial data infrastructure and bring the UK legislation in line with that in the EU.

It was officials from my department who persuaded the Commission to introduce these new, simpler arrangements. During our membership, the UK was considered the leading member state on INSPIRE. The previous arrangements for reporting on implementation and use of the INSPIRE spatial data infrastructure had many faults. The report format was long and required an unnecessary level of detail which cost time and resources. Completed, the reports did not allow easy comparisons between member states’ efforts on INSPIRE, to ensure a level playing field.

The new system for reporting requires the Commission to compile and publish a “country fiche” assessment on how INSPIRE is being implemented and used in each member state. The “country fiche” highlights the progress on the various areas of INSPIRE implementation and presents an outlook of planned actions for INSPIRE implementation. It is a short, high-level assessment. Member states are then required to check their report at least once a year and update it where necessary.

Using the same system as our European neighbours to report on INSPIRE implementation after the UK has left the EU will mean that the UK can consider our efforts on our national spatial data infrastructure against those of our European neighbours. Environmental matters do not respect borders. By continuing to use the common standards of the INSPIRE spatial data infrastructure it will be easy for the UK to track and compare data from our neighbouring countries on, for example, marine matters and air quality.

This instrument makes a number of adjustments. Regulation 1 is the commencement and citation. Regulation 2 amends the new Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/1372 on monitoring and reporting to incorporate it into UK law. Regulation 3 amends the INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 to update the reference to the new commission implementing decision. Regulation 4 amends the INSPIRE (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. Regulation 5 amends the Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to update the reference to the new commission implementing decision. That legislation was debated in this House on 17 July and made on 15 October. The amendment made in Regulation 5 is to legislation that provides a function to legislate and means that the SI must be debated under the made-affirmative procedure. It has followed that process from the outset.

The SI was sent to the JCSI for pre-scrutiny and returned without comment. This SI does not change policy, so there was no statutory duty to consult on it. Defra officials have worked closely with colleagues in the devolved Administrations and have received their consent. In line with published guidance, there is no need to conduct an impact assessment for this instrument. This is also because there is no policy change. The territorial application of the SI is the UK, apart from Regulation 3, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Regulation 4, which applies to Scotland. There is only a positive impact on resources. Officials in Defra, the lead department for INSPIRE, are responsible for reporting on the use and implementation of the SDI, which is simplified. This instrument is purely to ensure that the UK INSPIRE regulations provide an operable legal framework going forward. There are no policy changes.

I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive introduction. I will start with the Explanatory Memorandum; I then have some general questions. My noble friend said that Scotland has its own regulations. Paragraph 4(1) states that the only differences are in Regulations 3 and 4. So is there any other dimension where Scotland is different to England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

To move on, Regulation 6(1) on legislative content states that it also confers temporary powers to make secondary legislation. Is there any definition of “temporary”? That seems to me to be quite important. What is the procedure if the UK, outside the EU but operating obviously within the total context, wishes to propose future changes? Are there any difficulties in that format or not?

Paragraph 10 talks about the consultation, which the Minister touched on. The phrase used is “informally engaged stakeholders”. Can we have an assurance that this informal consultation did actually contact all the normal stakeholders that we know about?

Paragraph 13 refers to regulating small businesses. As there is no definition within the context of this SI of what a small business is or is not, when does a small business become, in effect, a partner in this SI itself?

Finally, Part 2 of the SI says:

“In my view, INSPIRE … do no more than is appropriate”.

Who made the judgment on what is or is not appropriate?

Those are all my questions on the printed SI. I have a couple of questions arising from the briefings that we have received, principally from the Library. One of them says:

“In 2019, the European Commission published and implemented a decision intended to simplify the way in which INSPIRE operated.”

Although the Minister mentioned that, nothing was said about the way in which it has been simplified. Is it a matter of quantum, or some other aspect that is not self-evident to those of us who come to this only warm?

My final question is quite important. How much is it costing the UK to remain within INSPIRE? If the Minister does not know now, I rather hope he might have asked the question himself. Does it cost us anything as UK Ltd or does it not? If it does cost us something, is it on a fixed-term basis or reviewed periodically every three years, five years or whatever? That is an important element that I wanted to raise.

I have a couple of other questions. On the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, is anybody excluded? It talks about “most” UK partner bodies, but that means that somebody has been excluded. Does the Minister have anything on that? The regulations refer to working with all central government departments and all local authorities. As far as I can see, “local authorities” are not defined here. Obviously, we have counties, unitary authorities and district councils, but if we are dealing with environmental matters, they ought to cover town councils. I declare an interest, because I live in Sandy in Bedfordshire, which has a very active county council Local authorities need to make good use of the Local Government Association. That needs to be re-emphasised to those involved, because it is absolutely key to it.

I have two more questions. The regulations say that publishing INSPIRE location data requires “most” geospatial data to be published. Which bit is not published? That seems to be of some relevance. Finally, I am sorry to come back to coronavirus. Has it affected record-taking at all? Has it changed it at all? Has it slowed it down or has it in effect had no impact?

My Lords, I agree with what the Minister has said. The INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations laid on 15 October 2019 were considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. [Inaudible.]

Lord Bhatia, I am afraid we have a problem with the quality of your connection. May I suggest that we try to sort that out and, in the meantime, we will move on to the next speaker and come back to you once it is sorted? I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

I welcome this opportunity and congratulate my noble friend the Minister on introducing the changes today. As these are technical changes, I hope I am permitted to ask some general questions about how the INSPIRE regulations have been working to date and what changes might flow from the end of the transition period. My question is not dissimilar to that of my noble friend Lord Naseby. Does the Minister know the costs for district councils, county authorities and unitary authorities, for example, to provide this information? It may seem an odd question, but who looks at this data? It seems an extraordinary amount of data is being collected and for anyone interested in the environment, as I am, it is immensely interesting, but do we know how widespread its use is? Is it mostly used by other public bodies, universities and official bodies such as the Commission itself? What is the purpose of collating all this data?

I notice that it says that charging arrangements are in place. Does my noble friend know roughly the average charge for accessing this data? If there is no right to appeal, how does my noble friend know that the charge that is being levied is fair? I would be particularly interested to know whether the charge relates, for example, to the mapping that is being done for flooding. I congratulate successive Governments and the Minister’s department on the mapping that has been done. Ideally, if one looks at the mapping that is available to a district council, this is much more detailed and it would be of enormous benefit to the householder to know to whether and to what extent, particularly in terms of surface water flooding, which is a relatively recent phenomenon—we have only really recognised it since 2007—they are likely to be specifically at risk of such flooding. The reason I ask this is that I understand that district councils are reluctant—this may have changed—to provide this level of detail, because it could have adverse implications for the householder’s insurance. Presumably the whole point of accessing this information is that the Environment Agency is giving more global mapping, but it would be extremely interesting to get hold of what the district and county councils are setting out. It would be helpful to know that.

How will any complaint be made about the way in which the data is accessed or how the cost of accessing such data is levied? It would also be helpful to know that. Also, is the Minister confident that public bodies have the resources, particularly looking at the fact that resources available to councils—to local authorities—is extremely tight? We have seen this in things such as environmental health and trading standards being potentially compromised. Is the Minister confident going forward that these public bodies have the resources available to fulfil their obligations under the regulations?

Finally—I am sorry not to use up all my time but my noble friend might well be relieved about that—can my noble friend confirm that this information is also provided to the European authorities, such as the European Commission, the European Environment Agency and others? Will that continue to be the case? Obviously, in terms of the European environmental directives such as the water framework directive and the waste water directive, this type of information is extremely useful for seeing whether patterns are emerging, particularly in terms of climate change.

Sorry, I did say “finally” but it was very inadvertent. Does my noble friend have plans to look, for example, at data that is currently being collected by water companies through their normal daily work? That could show at a very early stage that Covid may be present in a particular community—perhaps not narrowing it down to a household but to a community. Do the Government have access to that information, which will be extremely important in preventing and controlling community outbreaks?

I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing these regulations before us in the form of a statutory instrument.

Lord Bhatia, I am afraid that we still have major problems understanding you. The problem has not been resolved. We will try to come back to you; the staff will try to do that. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his introduction to this statutory instrument. On first reading it, I fear I did not understand what it was all about. I am grateful to the Library for the briefing it provided, which greatly assisted my understanding.

Like the majority of statutory instruments, this is a transference from EU law into UK law and makes little difference to how the country will operate post Brexit. In this case, data sharing is key to environmental planning. As this data is already collected, it may not add an additional burden to those who collect the data.

INSPIRE—the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community—is basically a data collection methodology. Regulation 2 provides for the common provision of monitoring and reporting. Proposed new article 2.2, to be introduced by Regulation 2(2), states:

“The appropriate authority shall make all results of monitoring in accordance with regulation 14(3)(b) of the INSPIRE Regulations … accessible to the public on the internet or using other appropriate means of telecommunication.”

That is to be welcomed, but just how easy is it for the public to access this information? Do they know that the information is there?

As the Minister said, INSPIRE was established in 2007 and requires public bodies in EU member states to produce certain datasets. The publication of this data is intended to improve environmental decision-making by government. Proposed new article 9, to be introduced by Regulation 2(9), covers the publication and updating of summary reports. Proposed new article 9.1 states:

“By no later than 31 March 2021, the appropriate authority shall publish a report containing summary descriptions of … how public sector providers and users of spatial data sets and services and intermediary bodies are coordinated, the relationship with third parties and the organisation of quality assurance … how the infrastructure for spatial information is used … how public authorities share data … the costs and benefits”,

et cetera.

All this is extremely interesting and important. Can the Minister say who these public bodies and public authorities are? Who is likely to want to access this information? Is it local authorities, the police, the fire service or the NHS? Who are the appropriate authorities collecting the information—and for whom, if not for their own purposes—in terms of environmental planning? The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked a similar question. Accident statistics for highway improvements and data on river catchment areas to assist with flood alleviation are obvious targets. There is reference to charities. Can the Minister say which charities are required to collect this type of data?

The Explanatory Memorandum tells us:

“This instrument corrects deficiencies that arise in the INSPIRE Regulations 2009 … This instrument also amends The Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 [1350/2019] to address deficiencies that arise from the amendments to the INSPIRE Directive.”

The Minister referred to that. However, neither he nor the Explanatory Memorandum says what those deficiencies are. Can he tell us what the deficiencies were and how this SI will improve the outcomes?

The Government have not produced an impact assessment for these regulations. However, they have said that they would not have a

“significant impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies”

or the public sector

“as existing regulatory standards have not changed.”

Can the Minister reassure us that the changes will result in fewer rather than more bureaucratic burdens?

I note that both the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee looked at this SI and have no concerns. I therefore feel I should be content to agree to its passage, but I would be grateful if the Minister could answer some of my queries.

I thank the Minister for his explanation of this SI. He provided some welcome context for its stop/start history and updates. However, we remain concerned about its drafting given that, in addition to the version that expired when the election was called, another version of this instrument was laid in May and then withdrawn in June. Was that as a result of errors? If so, presumably those errors existed in the made SI agreed last year?

The Minister may be aware of our continuing concern about drafting errors and the lack of a robust scrutiny process to weed them out. This discussion has been ongoing during many of the debates on SIs that we have had over the past couple of years. If, as we expect, there is another rush of SIs to clear up before we finally leave the EU at the end of the year, can the Minister clarify what lessons have been learned from the errors that have been dotted through various pieces of secondary legislation to date? What improved processes have been instigated to overcome them? In many ways, we are running out of time. When we leave at the end of the year, that will be D-day. We want to make sure that our legislation at that moment is absolutely accurate and robust.

Having said that, I can confirm that we support the legislation. We welcome the fact that the House has already legislated to stay in line with the INSPIRE regulations, and we share the Government’s desire to continue sharing spatial information in a meaningful way with our EU friends after Brexit. This data sharing is increasingly important in a globalised data world. Whether it is on energy, ground water, air quality, water quality or a whole host of other datasets, we stand to benefit as much as others from accurate and timely environmental information, much of which can be time-critical.

On a more specific point, I echo a couple of the questions from the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Bakewell. Can the Minister say who actually uses this information? Obviously the public have access to it, but is there a wider review of it? The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about universities using it. It feels like we are producing a huge dataset, so it would be good to know that it is being used meaningfully, both locally and nationally. It would be useful if the Minister could reassure us on that.

Bearing in mind the question from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about resources, what sort of quality assurance process takes place for that data? Is it double-checked in any way? Can we be sure that it is accurate, or is it just a tick-box exercise that nobody really follows up?

On a wider point, I will ask the Minister about the future programme of EU exit SIs that will require updating before December. This SI incorporates new arrangements set by the EU for monitoring and reporting. Presumably other SIs need updating because of changes in EU practice. As a result of the election, and then Covid and lockdown, we have not been dealing with the normal flow of secondary legislation for quite a while, and Defra staff will understandably have been called on to deal with more pressing matters—but is there a backlog and can we expect a flurry of other updates in the next couple of months? I look forward to the Minister’s response and I hope he can clarify these issues.

I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Having left the EU, it is essential that we have operable legislation in place to allow UK spatial data infrastructure established by the INSPIRE directive to continue.

My noble friend Lord Naseby asked what difference there was between our approach and that in Scotland. Scotland’s legislation mirrors that for E, W and NI, so there is no other difference. As I mentioned, there are regular meetings between Defra and all stakeholders in the devolved Administrations. He also asked about costs. There is no cost to being in INSPIRE, although Defra has spent £3.5 million on new burdens. He asked whether we have contacted all normal stakeholders. Absolutely—Defra has been engaging widely with all appropriate and obvious stakeholders.

I am afraid I did not catch the question from the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency makes all flooding data available for free. She asked about the purpose of this change. The use case for INSPIRE is principally about environmental reporting. Beyond that, we are aware of some local authorities, particularly Manchester, using INSPIRE data for planning. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked a similar question, so I refer her to that answer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also asked whether the data would be easy to access. All data has metadata on a catalogue published on That will include a link to the data, so it should be very easy to access. She asked about the impact on small business. There should be no impact at all on small business. We know that some small and medium-sized businesses provide some INSPIRE services. To respond to one of her additional questions, charities are not required to collect data. It is important to make the point that INSPIRE provides a framework; it does not require the collection of new data. All data comes from public authorities and relates to public tasks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked why a previous iteration of the SI had been withdrawn in June 2020 and re-laid on 15 June, shortly after. The SI laid in early June 2020 contained two references to 31 March 2020 in new Article 9, inserted by Regulation 2. Having this date in the SI breached the prohibition on retrospectivity, as contained in Section 8 of the EU withdrawal Act. We could not require publication of the report before the commencement date of the regulations. To answer her question, this was a drafting error on our part, which the statutory instrument registrar confirmed we could not correct by way of a correction slip. He advised withdrawing the SI and laying an amended version with the new date of 31 March 2021 instead, which we did. The amended SI was re-laid on 15 June 2020 and it is the one we are debating. There were no policy reasons why the statutory instrument was withdrawn and re-laid. It was purely as a result of that drafting error.

I hope that I have covered most if not all of the questions raised. If there are any that I have left off, I will gladly write to noble Lords with answers. I hope that noble Lords fully understand and accept the need for these regulations. As I outlined, the SI updates earlier amendments made to UK INSPIRE legislation to reflect new arrangements for monitoring and reporting on use and implementation. It does not make any policy changes. The SI ensures that the UK has an operable legal framework for INSPIRE.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.