Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I will be covering two instruments in this group, both relating to the effective regulation of chemicals, one that relates to pesticides and one that relates to persistent organic pollutants. The first of these, the Pesticides (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, makes further updates to retained EU legislation for plant protection products and maximum residue levels. Plant protection products, or pesticides, as most people refer to them, are regulated within the EU by two main EU regulations. They are Regulation EC 1107/2009 concerning the authorisation of active substances and the placing of pesticides on the market, and Regulation EC 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides permitted on food and feed. They are also regulated by means of EU directive 2009/128/EC which established a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides.
In preparation for leaving the EU, we have already put in place a series of pesticides EU exit SIs to ensure that the regulatory regime can operate sensibly in future and provide continued protection for human health and the environment, primarily through the Plant Protection Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which I will refer to throughout this debate as the PPP EU Exit SI, the Pesticides (Maximum Residue Levels) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, otherwise known as the MRL EU Exit SI, and finally the Pesticides and Fertilisers (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, SI 2019/306, known as the SUD EU Exit SI.
These earlier EU exit statutory instruments were put in place in readiness for the original exit day in March 2019 and have dealt with the majority of changes required. The instrument we are considering today makes a number of additional but relatively minor amendments to deal with developments since the original EU exit SIs were produced. They have no, or no significant, impact on business. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations to develop this further instrument and they have consented to it being made on a UK-wide basis.
Amendments are required for four main reasons. First, new EU legislation has come into force since the earlier EU exit SIs were finalised, either shortly prior to or during the transition period. This needs to be corrected in the same way as in the earlier EU exit SIs so that it works correctly in a national context, including where the new EU legislation interacts with corrections already made in the earlier SIs. Secondly, to make necessary changes as a consequence of the Northern Ireland protocol by amending the earlier UK-wide EU exit SIs so that redundant references related to Northern Ireland are removed and legislative cross-references work correctly. Thirdly, to make updates to some transitional provisions within the earlier EU exit SIs, so that they apply from the end of the transition period when the retained law comes into force, rather than from exit day, and so work as intended. Finally, to make minor technical corrections to secondary domestic legislation as regards the establishment of harmonised risk indicators in order to correct new deficiencies in the retained EU law. In short, without this instrument various highly technical provisions will not be retained in national law in a way that will work correctly.
The second of the two instruments is the Persistent Organic Pollutants (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. It makes technical amendments to the POPs regulation to maintain continuity in retained EU law in order to ensure that legislation which manages persistent organic pollutants, which I will hereafter refer to as POPs, is operable following the end of the transition period. In addition, it reflects the requirements of the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU POPs regulation was put in place to fulfil commitments under both the United Nations Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The UK is a party to both these conventions. This new instrument ensures that we preserve the current regime for managing POPs, which are substances that are recognised as being particularly dangerous to humans and the environment, and this instrument is needed for two reasons.
First, EU Regulation 850/2004 was recast in July 2019 as EU Regulation 2019/1021 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Persistent Organic Pollutants. An earlier EU exit instrument that was put in place in readiness for the original exit day in March 2019 now needs to be replaced to reflect the revision to the EU regulation. Many of the amendments to correct deficiencies in that earlier EU exit instrument are replicated in this new instrument. Secondly, this instrument will make the changes required as a consequence of the Northern Ireland protocol. References related to Northern Ireland are removed and legislative cross-references work correctly. This will ensure that the retained EU law on POPs has practical application only in Great Britain, where appropriate. We have worked with the devolved Administrations on this instrument, and where it relates to devolved matters, they have given consent.
The following provisions were included in the 2019 exit SI and are now included in the current SI. The first is the repatriation of all decision-making functions and powers from the EU to the Secretary of State, the Welsh Minister and the Scottish Minister to exercise in their respective areas. The Secretary of State may exercise these functions on behalf of a devolved Administration, with their consent. The Secretary of State will publish reports on the management of POPs, which are currently submitted to the European Commission for publication, and the following provisions relate to the new provisions in the EU recast of the original legislation.
The Environment Agency will assume the role given to the European Chemicals Agency to provide technical and scientific support. This role will be fulfilled with the consent of the devolved Administrations. Additionally, the EU regulation places a duty on the UK to take necessary measures to trace and control POPs once they enter the waste stream. Ordinarily, these measures would be implemented in the UK under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. However, as work on delivering these measures will continue beyond the end of the transition period, this instrument creates a new power for GB to make regulations to implement that specific duty. The exercise of this new power will be subject to parliamentary approval and is time limited, with a requirement to make any regulations before 31 October 2023.
Finally, the requirement to amend this regulation has also provided an opportunity to include the Northern Ireland protocol provisions applicable to this regulation. Northern Ireland will continue to apply EU regulation 2019/1021 to manage POPs in the environment but, where regulations apply to the UK as a party to the conventions I mentioned earlier, they remain applicable to Northern Ireland. Neither the JCSI nor the SLHC had any comments on these instruments and I can confirm that they will be able to function with or without a deal with the European Union.
As I have previously said, the Government are committed to ensuring continued levels of protection for human health and the environment, as well as providing stability and continuity for business. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out these extremely detailed and complicated regulations. I confess that, despite making an attempt, I do not pretend to understand them all. Still, it is clear that they refer to plant protection products, pesticides and fertilisers, and maximum residue levels of pesticides. They deal with the new situation in Northern Ireland, as did the previous regulations, to take account of the fact that Northern Ireland will still be in line with the EU. What will be the difference, if any, between the regulations in Northern Ireland and those in the UK?
During the debate in your Lordships’ House on the Agriculture Bill, an amendment was passed to strengthen the protection for residents and others in the vicinity of crop spraying using harmful, poisonous substances. The House passed it and the House of Commons sent it back, and it was a sadness to many that the House did not pursue it further in ping-pong. One reason why that was the case is the belief that it can come back in the Agriculture Bill and we can all have another go at it, but it would be very helpful if the Minister could say whether the Government, in a more relaxed way away from legislation, are looking at whether regulations can be introduced to provide greater distancing—social distancing, I suppose—between people spraying pesticides and residents and others.
Clearly this SI does not remedy that position, but there has been concern from the UK Pesticides Campaign at the removal of the ability to challenge a failure to comply with these regulations at a European level, which will clearly be the position after the end of the year. The question for the Minister is: what will be the way in which people in this country can go to the courts to force the Government or other authorities to comply with legislation?
The UK Pesticides Campaign has also raised a question about the collection of information and reporting of suspected poisonings. It says that, as far as it can see, the requirement for that in so far as it exists at the moment—the campaign has suggested that the requirement is not strong enough anyway—will be removed by the regulations. I have seen a response to that from Defra saying that the matter is covered by other regulations. I do not understand that at all, but I shall read out some names: the EU official controls regulation 2017, which came into force on 14 December last and was implemented in the UK by the Official Controls (Plant Protection Products) Regulations 2020. That is what I understand the reply to say. Perhaps the Minister can explain whether this is the case, exactly how it works and whether the collection and reporting of information has in practice not been changed in any way by their removal from the regulations. I do not know whether he can do that today; if not, perhaps he can write and tell us all about it.
There have also been concerns from ClientEarth, most of which again are very technical. I shall pick out two general concerns that it is putting forward that the Minister might like to devote a little attention to when he replies. The first is the suggestion that, because there is no longer a requirement that detailed criteria on the uniform application of conditions on by-products
“shall ensure a high level of protection of the environment and human health and facilitate the prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources”,
that means there is a weakening of environmental protections. If the Minister believes that is not the case, perhaps he can explain how and why.
ClientEarth also suggests that there is a removal from these regulations, or at least a weakening, of the polluter pays principle. It would be helpful if the Minister explained the degree to which the Government believe in the polluter pays principle and the degree to which they intend to strengthen it rather than weaken it, if that is the case. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and to the contributions by other people to this debate.
My Lords, I am very glad to see that we are embracing many of the EU standards, particularly about pollutants, on which I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that we shared prior to departure and which improve environmental standards. I approach this subject as one who would dearly love to see zero use of chemicals; spraying is expensive and not pleasant. However, I must declare that I have a farm. It is one where we are gradually moving to fewer and fewer chemicals, but it is a struggle. I shall point out as examples some of the concerns that have been relayed to me in my many miles of tramping the fields and hills. I hope this view from the ground, as it were, might be helpful to the Minister.
I suppose that, as with everything with life, we have to try to find a degree of balance between conservation and feeding ourselves, and indeed those in the rest of the world who are less fortunate than us. The banning of neonicotinoids is an interesting example that has garnered a lot of press. From my research and that of the Rothamsted Research centre, I would say that the science is still incomplete, in that there are so many variations of chemical compounds needing further research.
One concern here is that farmers—by the way, I am not one who has oil-seed rape—have no other way for dealing with cabbage stem flea beetle, and that they might therefore now spray non-systemic chemicals that are even more injurious to insects and wildlife. The other alternative is, of course, not to grow oil-seed rape at all; indeed, as the Minister will know, there has been a widespread reduction by hundreds and thousands of acres, leading, ironically, to some beekeepers now lamenting the loss of pollen and pollination. It is enormously hard to get this right.
Ideally, we should be able to financially encourage farmers to transition gradually to organic farming, because for those with limited acres it is just not possible to compete with smaller yields; large farms are rather more able to spread their cropping. Stewardship schemes are a great help. I would like to see these grow still further in the light of these EU exit amendment regulations so that we need fewer and fewer chemicals, but can still continue to grow the food that we and the rest of the world need.
My Lords, I take the issue of pesticides and their potential harm to both wildlife and, importantly, human life very seriously. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned, in the recent Agriculture Bill debates in your Lordships’ House we debated and voted on some important amendments that unfortunately were rejected in the other place. I know the noble Lord meant to say that we may return to those matters in the Environment Bill rather than the Agriculture Bill, and I certainly hope we will.
I will make a few comments about these two instruments. In the Pesticides (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 there are many references to the “competent authority” and/or the “agency”. I think the former is the Secretary of State for Defra—although in reality the Secretary of State will of course base his decision on the advice and recommendations provided by the Government’s regulatory body for pesticides, the Chemicals Regulation Division, which itself is part of the Health and Safety Executive—while the agency will most certainly be the CRD.
I will raise some concerns that I have been made aware of, and I would like some reassurance from my noble friend. Considering that sales of pesticides in the UK alone each year are around £627 million, and that reports have put the value of the world pesticides industry at a staggering $58.46 billion and seemingly increasing by the year, this is obviously a very big business with powerful vested and self-serving interests. Understandably, the primary concern of pesticide manufacturers is obviously to protect the sales of their products and related profits, and to keep such pesticides being used.
As I understand it, the CRD receives approximately 60% of its funding from the agrochemical industry, which is broken down into the fees charged to companies for applications and a charge on the UK turnover of pesticide companies. I have some nagging concerns about this. During the debates on the Agriculture Bill in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke of his own concerns over UK pesticides policy from his experience when he was a Minister at Defra, including the closeness between the government regulators for pesticides and the pesticide companies that they are supposed to regulate.
Having said that, I will return to one specific question regarding the Pesticides (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. I am grateful to the Green Alliance for bringing various matters to my attention; anyone who knows me well will recognise that fine legal scrutiny is not my forte. Regulation 2(2) provides that the requirement to submit supplementary dossiers for the renewal procedure of an active substance no later than 30 months before the expiry of the approval applies only to substances approved for use where the approval expires on or after 12 May 2026. It is not clear why that change has been made. Perhaps my noble friend can elucidate on that question.
My Lords, I must begin by thanking the Minister for his generous response to my contribution in the previous debate. I look forward to future exchanges on the subject.
On the subject of this debate, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who is a great champion of nature, and indeed the two previous noble Lords, who said many things with which I can agree. The noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Greaves, in particular reflected on the widespread disappointment that the amendments to the Agriculture Bill that would have protected people who live in close proximity to agricultural land ultimately did not make it through the system. As both noble Lords said, we can but try again in the Environment Bill.
I am going to pick up something that the Minister said in his introduction when he referred to continued high levels of protection. The practical reality, whether we are talking about pesticides or persistent organic pollutants, is that we have a poisoned country, a poisoned landscape and, indeed, a poisoned planet. To start any debate on this topic, it is important to acknowledge that we have utterly failed in the past and that, while today we are bringing forward regulations that are much better than those in the United States and other regimes, even the EU regulations that we are transferring across are not nearly strong enough.
I have a couple of specific detailed questions. Like others, I rely rather heavily on the work of ClientEarth. Regulation 3(8) removes the wording that would permit the appropriate authority to make regulations in respect of the official controls, first, relating to production, packaging, labelling, storage, transport, marketing, formulation, parallel trade and the use of plant protection products, and, secondly and particularly, regarding the collection of information on the reporting of suspected poisonings. This is a direct question for the Minister, either for now or in future: that apparent loss of collection reporting on suspected poisonings is obviously a deeply worrying one, and it would be interesting to hear why that has happened and how it might be fixed. I also refer to wording relating to health and the hazards and risk of pesticides in Article 24 of new EU regulation 625/2017 regarding protection from pesticides and the risk of poisoning.
I also want to refer to chronic poisoning. Often, we hope or expect that, where there is an acute case, there will be reporting; it is the kind of thing that we might expect our media to pick up on. But with chronic poisoning developing over a number of years, such as in operators, agricultural workers or people living close to pesticide application areas—the amendment to the Agriculture Bill tried to address this issue—we have seen reports going back to 1987 of inadequate monitoring in the UK, yet we have not seen any change in policy or any real move to deal with that chronic situation.
Finally, I want to move on to some broader points that build on what the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said. The sale of pesticides in the UK each year is worth £627 million and, around the world, it is nearly $60 billion. Obviously, this is a big, powerful vested interest. As the noble Lord said, that vested interest wants to protect its sales, but I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said earlier: we want and need to move toward a world that uses no pesticides.
My response to the noble Lord’s concerns about neonicotinoids and the impact of their withdrawal on growing rapeseed in the UK is that we must grow a diverse range of crops that are suited to our conditions. I have stood in a field in Lincolnshire with a star rapeseed grower and discussed the difficulties of growing rapeseed in the UK. It has always been clear that rapeseed is not particularly suited to UK conditions, so we need to move to a different approach. It is one that the Government have focused on, at least in terms of talking about it, including to some degree in the Agriculture Bill—agroecology. If we are going to move in the direction of working with nature to use the power, force and richness of healthy soils and the richness of the interactions of integrated pest management, that is the way we need to go. Indeed, I note that both the EU directives that we are transferring across here focus on the need to move to pest management systems that do not rely on pesticides. What are the Government doing to take further steps in that direction?
We have been through so many cycles, from DDT onwards, of a pesticide being discovered and promoted as the new wonder chemical—a perfectly safe, perfectly wonderful solution to all our problems. Usually, a couple of decades later, we ban it because it has been a disaster. That is a cycle that we desperately need to stop.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing the regulations and welcome the Government’s commitment to protecting the environment. I hope that my noble friend and the Government will be mindful of the impact that these regulations will have on industry. I want to bring to his attention two specific ways in which that might happen.
I want to make a general point at the outset. My noble friend considers that nature lovers are something of a new craze. I remind him of the contribution of perhaps one of the first eco-warriors. When I was a little girl, Professor David Bellamy, who I think was at Durham University at the time, tried to protect the blue gentians that grew in the northern Pennines— particularly in Teesdale, where I grew up—from flooding by a reservoir that was being built to take water to Middlesbrough. In the event, the reservoir was built and the blue gentians were flooded; they were one of the few alpine plants to grow in Teesdale, outside an alpine region. I regret that, at the time, David Bellamy’s campaign was unsuccessful, but I recognise the contribution that he made.
The two specific issues that I want to raise come from work that we have been doing on the EU Environment Sub-Committee. First, on persistent organic pollutants —or POPs, as my noble friend calls them—paragraph 2.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the relevant regulations refers to the fact that the repatriation of powers, in particular the work currently undertaken by the European Chemicals Agency, will now be “exercised at national level”. Is my noble friend aware of what will happen because of that? My noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge referred to the contribution that the chemicals industry makes to this country; after the food sector, it is one of the largest manufacturing sectors here.
To all intents and purposes, if chemicals manufacturers want to continue to export and import, they will now have to register twice. They will have to register on the United Kingdom register, which is currently being set up at some expense, and they will have to continue to re-register with the European Chemicals Agency. Has my noble friend considered what the cost will be? Have the Government done an impact assessment in this regard? It would be helpful to know that. There is one little reference to this issue, but it will have a huge impact and obviously will cause significant costs—as we learned in the evidence given to the sub-committee, which is on our website. I would welcome my noble friend’s acknowledgement of the fact that there will a double registration requirement.
My second concern is identified in the paragraph of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report on where Defra responded to its queries, published at length on page 18 of that report and relating to the draft pesticides amendment regulation before us. I quote:
“HSE will continue to undertake regulatory functions on behalf of all administrations and to operate on a four countries basis, assessing product applications through a single process, wherever possible.”
The EU Environment Sub-Committee took evidence in this regard from the chemicals industry, HSE and Defra. Our concern was that the staff are not yet in place in HSE and do not have the requisite training to do the work that we expect them to do. Will my noble friend take this issue back to Defra and follow it up with the Secretary of State? Time is short and it is extremely important that we give HSE the tools, in terms of staff and training, to do the work that we require it to do.
With those two concerns, I welcome the opportunity to consider the draft regulations, but I hope that my noble friend will address the very real issues that I have brought to his attention.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these statutory instruments, which will tidy up existing legislation and ensure that there are no gaps once we come to the end of the Brexit transition period in December.
The first SI moves rules on plant protection products and maximum residue levels from EU law into UK law, with the exception of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland protocol means that Northern Ireland remains part of the EU and therefore has no need to transfer legislation. I congratulate noble Lords on their contributions and concur with their comments.
Paragraph 6.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“Defra has complied with the requirements stated in paragraph 4.7.6 of Statutory Instrument Practice to consult with the SI registrar. Defra thinks it would be disproportionate to apply the free issue procedure to this SI.”
Can the Minister give some clarification on what that means? Paragraph 6.4 states:
“A further instrument will be required in 2021 to incorporate further EU regulations and decisions that come into force between 1 May 2020 and 31 December 2020”.
Since we know when these will come into force—and, presumably, know what they will cover—why were they not included in this SI with an implementation date of 31 December?
The EU has a multi-annual control programme, which is updated every year and outlines sampling strategies for a three-year period. This SI will ensure that the same standards of protection are maintained at the end of the implementation period. Can the Minister confirm that the same sampling strategies will also be maintained every three years?
Pymetrozine is an insecticide suitable for use, in integrated crop management, to control aphids and other plant-sucking insects. It is essential that it is applied carefully and with regard to other creatures, including humans, and to ensure that pollinators that are essential for biodiversity are not also destroyed alongside pests. I note that the UK Pymetrozine regulation status is approved but the EU regulatory status is not approved. I find this strange, since 24 of the 27 EU states have approved the substance for use. Can the Minister give some clarity on just what is likely to be approved under this SI and what is not?
Under these proposals, and those passed in the Internal Market Bill in the other place, can the Minister confirm that certain grains which have been grown with the use of fertilisers and pesticides in England, would not be able to be supplied in Scotland, if the devolved Administration has banned their use for grains in Scotland under the new powers they are getting and the exemptions of the market access principles in the Internal Market Bill? I am happy to have a written response on this.
I turn now to the Persistent Organic Pollutants. The first pollutant in the list of the SI was a pollutant by-product of Agent Orange. It has no known commercial applications but is used as a research chemical. It was tested, but never used commercially, as a flame-proofing agent and as a pesticide against insects and wood-destroying fungi. There are other toxins registered, including polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are stable man-made organic compounds, used from the 1920s as cooling and insulating fluids as they did not burn easily. Although most were banned in 1986, they linger on in detectable levels in animals, fish and humans. When they are incinerated, they can produce dioxins, which are some of the most toxic substances known to science.
The biggest manufacturer of PCBs was Monsanto. They were used in an enormous number of products, from lubricants to pesticides and flame retardants. As a result of high levels of PCBs found in fish, due to man-made chemicals dumped as waste in Lake Michigan, concerns were raised, as PCBs had found their way into the breast milk of nursing mothers who had eaten fish living in the lake. Their children showed higher rates of development and learning disorders compared to those of local women who had not eaten the fish. While they are no longer manufactured, they still leak from old electrical devices and can be released from hazardous waste sites and illegal dumps. Can the Minister give reassurance that this situation is being monitored closely and that action is being taken to deal with the PCB residues?
Lastly, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the pollution in the River Wye that was caused by the sheer volume of chicken farms close to, and along, the banks of the river, with chicken manure getting into the water. While chicken manure is not on the list of toxic substances on page 16 of the SI, it is undoubtedly true that in the Wye it is persistent, it is organic, and it is a pollutant. Can the Minister say what legislation is likely to cover this type of pollutant, if it is not covered in this SI?
My Lords, I will start with the draft pesticides amendment regulations. Section 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum outlines the reasons for these regulations being laid, as the Minister outlined. I find it interesting that in this case the department has chosen not to repeal earlier instruments and consolidate all the changes into a single instrument, as has just been done with the Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations that your Lordships have just debated. Could the Minister say why a consistent approach is not being adopted? Is there a risk that we will have two sorts of environmental regulation, where some are tidied up and accessible and others are a tangled bowl of spaghetti and unintelligible to normal human beings and only able to be understood by specialist lawyers? I think it will be a retrograde step if the general public—and, indeed, members of your Lordships’ House—were unable to really fathom this tangle.
The Explanatory Memorandum, in paragraph 7.9, also outlines how the UK’s national strategy on control programmes and sampling will run alongside the 2020 to 2022 time period that the EU uses. Can the Minister tell us at what point Her Majesty’s Government will begin planning for beyond 2022? What sort of engagement will there be with stakeholders? For me, the most fascinating point about these regulations is whether, on this issue, HMG may choose to continue to align with our EU neighbours, even after the period to 2022 ends.
Turning to a provision that has already been passed that means that GB will be allowing substances to continue to be approved for three years longer than the EU, I would like some reassurance that this provision has been fully appraised. This is part of the whole transition process. Can the Minister tell us what risks there might be of substances continuing to be approved for three years longer than they normally would be? How have the Government assessed these risks?
I would also like to remark on the general issue that many of your Lordships have already raised, about the use and application of pesticides. I look forward very much, from these Benches, to the opportunity to debate this issue again when the Environment Bill comes to your Lordships’ House.
I turn now to the draft persistent organic pollutants—POPs—regulations. This instrument creates a new power to take measures to control and trace waste contaminated by POPs in relation to GB. This is a recent requirement under EU law, and the measures have not yet been developed either here or in Europe. Any legislative changes, we are reassured, will be subject to the affirmative procedure and will have to be made by 31 October 2023. When the department was asked about this deadline by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, it explained its thinking about timescales that are not determined by the EU. Worryingly, it indicated that the powers to create this control and tracing system would be used “only if needed”. Can the Minister indicate the circumstances in which a control and tracing system would not be needed?
Can I also raise with the Minister the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and indeed ClientEarth have already pointed out? This instrument omits a current requirement, under EU law, that when it is decided whether a specific substance is a by-product rather than waste, detailed criteria on the application of conditions on by-products shall
“ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment”.
When asked about this omission, the department indicated to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that further regulations would be needed next year, and that would be the appropriate place to set out any such conditions, and to consider whether to make the exercise of the power subject to the condition identified by ClientEarth. Again, I am worried about the word “whether”, which seems to imply that a provision already existing in the EU safeguards might not continue. Can the Minister assure us that there will be no watering down of this provision in the regulations that come forward next year?
Turning to the issue of regulatory and advisory expertise, in a number of instances, references to the European Chemicals Agency are replaced with references to “relevant authorities”. That means that the Environment Agency primarily will have responsibility for technical and scientific support to the POPs regime for the UK as a whole—supported, of course, by the relevant agencies in the devolved nations.
I should declare an interest as a former chief executive of the Environment Agency; I know that the agency has considerable expertise in the POPs field and has played a key role at both EU and Stockholm convention level. Cuts to EA resources over the last few years lead me to ask the Minister what additional resources will be provided to the EA to carry out this additional responsibility and ensure that it truly can replace the European Chemicals Agency.
I look forward to the Minister’s responses on these issues.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate today. In order to prepare for the end of the transition period after leaving the EU, it is essential that we have the right legislation in place to continue to regulate both pesticides and persistent organic pollutants effectively so as to protect human health and the environment. A wide range of issues was raised by noble Lords; I will do my best to address them as fully as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked about divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol, the EU pesticides regime will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period in the same way as during it. It is inevitable that divergence in pesticides decisions between the EU and GB regimes will eventually occur, but the Health and Safety Executive will endeavour to assess and determine pesticide authorisations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland through a single process wherever we possibly can.
The noble Lord asked about the application of pesticides near to people’s homes—an issue which came up during debates on the Agriculture Bill. The use of pesticides is allowed only where a scientific assessment shows that it will have no harmful effect on people, including residents and bystanders. The assessment of risk is rigorous and authorisation is frequently refused. Pesticide users are required by law to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment and to apply the product only to the area that they intend to treat. This issue was raised by a number of noble Lords, and the question of how rigorous the protections are is a valid point to make. Clearly, the ambition has to be that we move as far as we can away from the use of pesticides at all. That is reflected in government policy, and I will come to that in slightly more detail as I answer questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Randall.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also asked how decisions can be tested or challenged in court. The answer is that enforcement is a matter for the designated enforcement bodies. Usually, in the case of pesticides and POPs, that is the Health and Safety Executive. He cited the work of the ClientEarth organisation and asked what assurance I can give that our standards of protection will not be weakened in any way. The answer is that the Government will continue to ensure that current standards of environmental and health protection will be maintained after the end of the transition period. We have made that commitment many times, and it has not been diluted in any way. We will be taking our own independent decisions in Great Britain under retained law, but the statutory requirements on standards of protection and the considerable body of EU technical guidance are carried across unchanged.
The noble Lord also asked about principle of the “polluter pays” and whether it is in any sense undermined either through this instrument or generally speaking in our approach to regulating chemicals. It was not exactly clear which he was referring to, but the answer is the same. This statutory instrument has no bearing on the “polluter pays” principle, but that principle is at the heart of our approach in the upcoming Environment Bill, whether we are talking about pollution, waste or any other negative environmental impact, where the onus will be on the polluter or producer of waste.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a powerful case for a shift away from pesticides towards cleaner systems, and he is right. That clearly has to be the ambition of any responsible Government. We want to minimise and eventually phase out the use of pesticides, and that means adopting different forms of food production over time. The only thing I would say to him, because this is not directly relevant to the effects of this SI, is that we are on the cusp of shifting our entire land use subsidy system away from the common agricultural policy—which, as he knows, incentivised landowners to convert whatever land they have, no matter how ecologically valuable, to make it farmable. No single piece of legislation anywhere in Europe has done more harm to our biodiversity and landscape than the common agricultural policy. That system is being changed wholesale and replaced with a system where payments will be conditional on good environmental stewardship. That can mean any number of different things, depending on where the land happens to be and how it is used, but it is inconceivable that the new environmental land management system will not catapult us in the direction in which we need to go of reversing biodiversity loss and promoting the kind of farming to which the noble Lord referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, made the point that the chemicals industry is extraordinarily powerful and has enjoyed the position of being able to lobby very effectively, particularly across the European Union, where a single decision can have an impact on a vast area. That was certainly the case in the creation of the REACH programme. While many noble Lords look to REACH as the gold standard in chemicals regulation, the reality is that early proposals for REACH were much stronger than what eventually emerged. That was a consequence of probably the largest lobbying exercise by any sector at any time on the continent. I remember at the time writing and publishing articles about it in The Ecologist magazine, which I edited.
We saw an extraordinary weakening of rules on, for example, endocrine-disrupting chemicals—a point raised later in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who talked about the effect of polluted water on breast milk and the consequent development of children. I remember that, 15 years ago, a study was conducted into the issue of precocious puberty, or early onset puberty, in the United States. The figures were extraordinary, pointing to 1% of three year-old girls showing some signs of puberty, as compared with 1% of eight year-olds just 20 or 25 years before. There is no doubt that chemical contamination which finds its way into the food supply—into the food chain and through our water—has dramatic impacts on the health of children. It affects their development in all kinds of unpredictable and damaging ways, so I very much agree with her.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, asked specifically why the SI delays introduction of changes to the format of the renewal dossiers until 2026, rather than 2023, as in the EU. This measure is to provide a smooth transition between EU and retained law. It has the effect that the relevant requirements which apply to active substances under retained law will be the same as for those same substances when they are considered under the EU regime. The change in date reflects that active substance approvals which expire in the first three years after the end of the transition period will be extended to allow the necessary time for evaluation under the national regime. This avoids the same substance having different requirements when it is addressed under the Great Britain regime than when it was considered under the EU regime. I hope that addresses his concern.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the same issue of pesticides being applied near homes, and I refer her to the answer I provided earlier. She also talked more broadly about the need to shift our food production away from the use of pesticides. Again, I strongly agree with her and refer her to my answer earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I remind her that the introduction of the ELM system will be the single biggest lever we have at our disposal to change the way land is managed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked more specifically about pesticide reduction policies. A lot of work is under way to research, develop and promote means to move away from chemical pesticides, including plant breeding for pesticide-resistant varieties, the use of natural predators, the development of biopesticides and the use of a variety of cultural methods to reduce pest pressures. The Government are funding much of that work through their support for the research councils.
The noble Baroness also asked a general question about whether our standards will be maintained. The Government have committed to continue to ensure that our existing standards are maintained after the transition period, and that will be true across all our chemical regulations policies.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about staff and training—about capacity. I reassure her that we are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible, and we have been carefully planning the expected programme of work. Without a doubt, some additional capacity will be required, and we will ramp it up as need be and over time. Clearly, we place great importance on protecting human health and the environment, so it will be necessary to resource the regime so that it can operate. We are well aware of that, and we will resolve those issues through the current spending review. However, the commitment is clearly there, as is the shared belief that this is a priority concern and we need to ensure that we have the capacity, the expertise and the resources that we need.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh also asked whether we will duplicate EU decisions. Great Britain authorities will take decisions that are in the best interests of the UK independently of EU decisions; there is no duplication of efforts. It has always been necessary to consider the evidence to inform the UK position on EU decisions, and our GB decision-making will be underpinned by that robust evidence base and impact assessment. The opportunity for UK stakeholders to input will not only remain but be enhanced.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked a number of questions. She asked about the MRL monitoring programme obligations and whether they will be carried forward into the national regime. They will, and they look ahead three years. She asked if we could explain the paragraph in the Explanatory Memorandum about the free issue procedure. This procedure is used to issue SIs where we have to correct mistakes. On PCBs, new legislation was passed this year to remove PCBs from use in electrical equipment by 2025. Legacy land contamination is managed under the contaminated land regime in Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned a number of issues that I hope I have already addressed. She also talked about POPs waste. Measures concerning the traceability control of POPs waste are clearly complex and will take some time to fully implement. However, it would not be appropriate to have that power indefinitely, and it may not be needed if it is dealt with under the Environment Bill. The noble Baroness also asked about control programmes and sampling. We will develop our plans for national maximum residue level monitoring programmes, including stakeholder engagement, in due course, so I will get back to her with information about that.
I hope and believe that I have answered the questions raised—I am looking through my notes to see if there are any that I missed out. My apologies—the noble Baroness, Lady Young, also asked about capacity and resources to deliver the national regime. The competent authorities across the UK will continue to manage and enforce the POPs regime as they do now, and, as I said, the Environment Agency has been working closely with Defra and the HSE to get the right resources in place to deliver its role. It has already increased its resource and it has an additional recruitment plan for early 2021 to ensure that it has the right capability and capacity for anticipated peaks and workload over the coming years.
I hope that I have answered all the questions that have been raised. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and look forward to such debates in the months to come.