Wednesday 2 December 2020
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I must ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe their desk, chair and other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded, or other safety precautions are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for the following debate is one hour.
Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the matters in the four instruments are closely related, and I hope that it will help your Lordships if I speak to them all together. These instruments list the EU to enable imports from EU and EEA member states to continue. We have taken the decision to list the EU to import live animals and animal products because, following an assessment of the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary regime, we do not believe that its risk status will change on 1 January.
The instruments will allow for decisions to be made about a country’s certification processes for plant reproductive material and whether they are equivalent to our own. We have amended our legislation so that, by the end of the transition period, the EU will become Part 1 listed for the non-commercial movement of pets into Great Britain. Practically, this means no change for EU travellers. We are maintaining the current health requirements on pet movements from the EU based on the unchanging disease risk from 1 January, and to ensure that there is minimal impact on pet owners and users of assistance dogs travelling with their pets into Great Britain under the EU pet travel scheme. I emphasise that these instruments are minor and technical in nature. They do not make new policy or change existing policy; instead, they will make existing policy and legislation operable at the end of the transition period.
The Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 amend retained EU regulations governing official controls on imports to Great Britain of animals and animal products, and plants and plant products, including food and other imports relevant to the agri-food chain—collectively known as sanitary and phytosanitary checks. The amendments make these regulations operable in UK legislation after 1 January—for example, by replacing references to powers exercised by the Commission with the same powers exercised by the Secretary of State or other appropriate authority. The intention is to continue to ensure delivery of a robust import controls mechanism for all sanitary and phytosanitary imports to the UK, while maintaining or improving biosecurity and welfare standards.
The Import of, and Trade in, Animals and Animal Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 make amendments to ensure the continuing operability of provisions related to the import of live animals, including horses, animal products and reproductive material used for animal breeding, and the non-commercial movement of pets. They confer functions previously exercised by EU institutions on to the appropriate domestic authorities and treat EU member states as a third country.
This instrument also amends references to EU laws and systems to ensure that law continues to function after the transition period. It introduces transitional arrangements for imports from the EU and EEA states, maintaining an effective sanitary and phytosanitary regime, while allowing businesses time to prepare for our new import requirements.
The Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture, Animals, and Marketing of Seed, Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 cover seven policy areas: aquatic animal health, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and animal by-products, livestock, zoonotic diseases, pet travel, alien and locally absent species in aquaculture, and seed, plants and propagating material.
These regulations make provision for legislative functions that are currently carried out by the EU to be made instead by appropriate authorities in Great Britain after the transition period. They also amend previously made EU exit statutory instruments to reflect the changes needed to implement the Northern Ireland protocol, specifically replacing “United Kingdom” with “Great Britain”. Furthermore, they make amendments to EU exit statutory instruments to reflect changes made to EU regulations. They also make minor corrections to previously made EU exit statutory instruments.
The regulations will also allow for the continued movement of pet animals into Great Britain from all third countries, including EU member states. They guarantee the minimum amount of disruption possible to enable these movements to continue in a manner that protects our biosecurity, as well as the health and welfare of the animals being moved.
I turn finally to the Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. The existing UK Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 set out requirements for the manufacture, authorisation, supply, possession and administration of veterinary medicines in the UK. The regulations before your Lordships address technical deficiencies in our legislation to ensure that it continues to operate effectively after the transition period. For example, minor corrections have been made to the text to address references concerning EU membership that are no longer accurate.
They also make changes that are necessary to reflect the Northern Ireland protocol, as well as implementing the Government’s commitment to ensuring unfettered market access for Northern Ireland businesses in relation to veterinary medicines. This will mean that the current legislative basis for approving veterinary medicines will be split into separate Great Britain and Northern Ireland regulations. Northern Ireland will continue to follow the EU acquis. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate will continue to operate on behalf of the United Kingdom, and pharmaceutical companies will continue to be able to market veterinary medicines across the whole of the United Kingdom.
These instruments introduce parts of the previously announced phasing-in of border controls on imports from the EU, beginning in January. This will prioritise flow at the border and give both businesses and industry longer to prepare for the introduction of full controls. I beg to move.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for bringing these four instruments before us today and for his very comprehensive introduction. I have a few comments and questions that I know my noble friend will answer as fully as he can.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 helpfully sets out the purpose of this instrument:
“These controls are integral to the protection of human health and biosecurity in the UK, as they deliver a risk-based and closely defined regime for checking the provenance, health and lack of contamination of SPS goods before they are allowed to pass beyond the control points at the UK border.”
If my reading is correct, some of these may take place internally as well. So I ask my noble friend the fairly obvious question: will we have enough agents? Will customs officers or Food Standards Agency agents perform this? I know that Defra has had an enormous campaign to put enough in place, so I would be interested to hear. Will the controls be actually at the UK border or will some of them be done internally? Will it create a lot of extra work, because we will effectively be a third country, so an import from an EU country will be considered as if from a third country, and we will therefore be asking them to do the checks that would otherwise have been done in other EU countries and that we would have accepted. Will this increase the workload in any way, and do we have the resources, agents, or FSA or customs officers to cover it?
On the second instrument, the Import of, and Trade in, Animals and Animal Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, I am most grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its work. I understand that the new arrangements are being phased in, in time to come into place and allow businesses to adjust by 1 January 2021. Do we think we have given them enough time?
I accept that the new IPAFFS—import of products, animals, food and feed system—will replace TRACES, but is there any benefit to our remaining part of TRACES or will we drop that completely? There are also issues of resources. Do we have enough staff involved? Will a new computer system be involved and is it already up and running? Is my noble friend convinced that that will suffice?
I think it is this instrument that relates to the trade in horses. I was very keen, as I know were a number of noble Lords and honourable and right honourable Members next door, to continue the agreement that relates to the movement of horses—I have forgotten what it is called—that France, Britain and Ireland were members of. Have we managed to read that across and will it remain in place, at least with those countries, or have we lost it completely?
The third instrument relates to aquatic animal health and alien species. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised a number of interesting questions. As its 34th report was published in mid-November, the situation may have changed. Paragraph 56 states:
“We note that it is not clear at this stage what the process and requirements will be for moving pets from GB to Ireland via NI after the end of the TP.”
Has that now been resolved?
It was good to know that there are no additional processes, paperwork or restrictions in Northern Ireland, as noted in paragraph 57, but that there will be a requirement for export health certification. My noble friend will be aware that a number of us have concerns. I declare that I am an associate fellow of the British Veterinary Association—the BVA. There is concern about whether there will be a sufficient number of qualified vets in place to consider all these issues at the point of entry, presumably, with products moving across to Great Britain, delivering unfettered access. Does my noble friend share my concern or is he able to put my mind at rest in that regard? I welcome the fact that, I think, 600 new places have been found at veterinary schools this year—that is good news indeed—but, if we are losing the expertise of the European Union vets, many of whom have voted with their feet to leave the United Kingdom, will that be a problem as of 1 January?
Paragraph 57, quoting the department, states:
“A new Trader Support Service, available to all traders at no cost, will be established”.
We took evidence on this in the EU Environment Sub-Committee, and it is a source of concern. My question is simple: when does my noble friend expect that the trader support service will be open for business and to give advice as required?
On the last instrument, on veterinary medicines and residues, the 34th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee helpfully looked at this. In paragraph 60, Defra confirms that if the conditions set out are met and an application has been made to a,
“dedicated place of establishment … and has provided the same application dossier and supporting information to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate as they would have provided to the European Medicines Agency or the relevant authority in an EU Member State”—
there are no safety concerns and a certificate will be issued to allow the products to be marketed in Great Britain. Again, my question is simple: does my noble friend expect any initial delays in coming to terms with the possible volume of applications or the setting up of the new system? Does he expect any costs to apply?
I understand that Friends of the Earth raised a number of concerns, in particular about one requirement from EU law which does not come into effect until November 2022, after we have left and after the end of the transition period. Are there any possible measures that may have been agreed to by the United Kingdom, relating to draft veterinary medicines and residues or the other instruments before us this afternoon, that will not have been implemented before 31 December? If that were to be case, what would be the legal position? My noble friend may not have that information at his fingertips, and I would be grateful if he could write to me.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to consider the instruments before us today and I thank my noble friend and his department for all their work in putting these in place and making us ready for 1 January.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his outline of this very complex and rather packed schedule for the hour, and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I will do my best not to repeat any of her questions, because I will cover some similar ground.
I will start where she left off, with the Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. The Minister in his introduction—and the Government right through this whole process—stressed that this is a straight transfer over. But, like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I have relied heavily on the work of Friends of the Earth, which retains significant concerns, having looked at this in great detail.
One specific question that it has raised concerns Regulation 5 of this SI, which deletes Regulation 18 of the Animals and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) (England and Scotland) Regulations 2015, which set out the EU-authorised methods of analysis. Defra has said that this is covered under article 7 of the EU regulation 2019, but that refers to a different EU regulation, so a significant part of Regulation 18 has been omitted. This suggests that there is a disapplication of the requirements within the context, despite claims to the contrary. I appreciate that this is very complex, and if the Minister is unable to respond now, perhaps he might write on this. I would be happy to put it in writing if that would be easier.
Also, Regulation 7(8) omits an update to reference points for action that are set out in retained EU law, in Article 8 of regulation 2019/1871. That refers to things such as chloramphenicol, malachite green and nitro- furans. This appears to be a weakening of the previous intent, so do the Government plan to put in place RPAs on or before 28 November 2022 that are as strong as or stronger than those that will exist up until 31 December?
Finally in this section, I come to Regulation 8(3), which removes references to MRL levels, as previously agreed at EU level and set out in regulation 37/2010, and replaces them with references to regulation 470/2009. It has been suggested that administrative processes will be the way this will be achieved, but it has not been clarified when this will happen, and whether the EU levels will be used as a baseline. Can the Minister set out what the Government’s immediate plans are for setting out relevant MRLs and other restrictions relating to the use of veterinary medicines in food-producing animals, and say whether this process will be complete before the end of the transition period?
I will move on to something that is perhaps a little simpler. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to the issue of pet passports. We know that, certainly before Covid, around 300,000 pets were moving into the UK every year through the pet travel scheme. The report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted that much will depend on the category of third country that Great Britain falls in after the transition period—which in turn, of course, will depend on what happens in the talks that are still going on, with less than a month to go. On the practicalities, and putting this in everyday language, it may be that, despite Covid, some people are thinking of travelling with their pets over the Christmas period. What advice would the Minister give—what security and certainty can he provide—to people travelling with their pets on the circumstances that will prevail when they return to the UK after 1 January?
Finally, I will move on to the Import of, and Trade in, Animals and Animal Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations. Here I am again relying heavily on Friends of the Earth, to whom I pay tribute for the huge amount of work it has done on this. Again, we have had reassurances that things are not changing, but there appear to be some very clear changes. For example, Regulation 16 omits Regulation 21 of the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011, covering in particular where a consignment is regarded as a serious threat to animal or human health and the official veterinary surgeon or fish inspector must immediately place the consignment under official detention and order that the person responsible for it should destroy it or arrange for the appropriate treatment. This has now been deleted, which could result in consignments being released from border control posts without detention. Can the Minister clarify whether this change illustrates a difference in government intent regarding the way in which goods that may endanger human or animal health are dealt with at border posts? If not, what future legislative or regulatory changes are planned to deal with this apparent gap?
I will refer also to Regulation 17, which amends Regulation 22 of the TARP regulation, covering situations where products entering the UK have been the subject of serious contraventions of an import requirement, or contraventions that form part of a series, or where checks reveal that maximum residue levels have been exceeded. That regulation states that a person
“must carry out a physical check”—
but it seems that this is now being removed. Perhaps the Minister could clarify in what circumstances it would be acceptable for the appropriate person to refrain from carrying out a physical check on goods suspected of being non-compliant with UK import standards. How do the Government envisage that physical checks will be guaranteed in the light of this legislative change?
I move on to Regulation 29(a) to (d), which deletes references to a number of offences. Will the Minister clarify whether it is the intention that activities such as consigning an animal without a health certificate will no longer be considered offences under the TARP regulation? If so, why is enforcement effectively being abandoned? If this provision is seen to be duplicative of provisions elsewhere in legislation or regulations, can the Minister clarify where they are?
I had a question about equine health certificates, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, covered, so I will skip that. I now come to Regulation 40(4), which amends Commission decision 2000/572. I will boil this down, as I am aware of the time. This is all about EU forms. Do the Government intend to replicate EU forms, are they in the process of developing new forms, and how will they ensure ongoing consistency in this area?
I have two final points. The first is on official controls on composite products at the border. This refers to Regulation 49, which adds a new article 3. Will the Minister clarify whether future UK controls on composite products at the border will cover these products, as set out in the annexes of Commission decision 2007/275? Will a complete list be published by the end of the transition period? If not, do the Government expect to be able to clarify which composite products will be subject to controls at the border?
Finally—noble Lords will probably be pleased to hear—I come to Regulation 53(26)(a)(i)(bb), which amends annexe 8 of the Commission’s regulation that refers to poultry and eggs sourced from establishments with conditions
“as strict as those laid down”
in the EU. This appears to be an opportunity for equivalence to be applied in ways that will allow imports that do not meet standards as strict as those laid down in EU legislation. Will the Minister clarify whether there is any significance in the change from reference to standards “laid down” to those described in the regulation? What processes or criteria do the Government plan to use to determine equivalence of standards in future, and how will the Government ensure that, where direct references to standards are replaced with references to equivalence, this does not lead to a weakening of standards in practice?
I can only say at this point that I thank the Committee for its patience.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his extensive introduction and for his time and that of his officials in a briefing on these four statutory instruments—quite a number to be taking in a one-hour debate.
The Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations deal with the operability of import controls, border controls and checking, with easements between January and July. The instrument is Great Britain-wide and consistent with EU regulations. It deals with a range of important changes to the agri-food chain, known as “sanitary and phytosanitary”—SPS—products. The SI does not change SPS import control policy but ensures that a robust import control mechanism is in place for imports into the UK, maintaining and improving biosecurity and welfare standards.
In annexe 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum, under paragraph 3, “Regulations revoked in this instrument”, at bullet point 4 the heading is “Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/530 designating European Reference laboratories for pests of plants on insects and mites, nematodes, bacteria, fungi and oomycetes, viruses, viroids and phytoplasmas”. Can the Minister say, as this regulation is revoked, where, if anywhere, the insects and plant life will be listed and covered? Is there another SI that covers this area? I am particularly interested in nematodes. Perhaps the Minister can provide clarification.
Turning to the second instrument, the draft Import of, and Trade in, Animals and Animal Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, consent has been received from Scotland and Wales to implement an identical SI. The SI was previously used for third countries. Products of animal origin—POAO—can pose a risk, including African swine fever. However, outside the transition period the country can have better control, including over importation of olive trees and preventing the importation of Xylella, which we debated last year.
From January 2021, importers of animal by-products and live animals will be required to pre-notify via GB’s new system for notification of imports: IPAFFS. From April 2021, importers of POAO will also be required to pre-notify via IPAFFS. This is likely to add to staffing costs in 21,600 firms. Can the Minister say whether there is an estimate of what those staffing costs are likely to be?
The Secondary Legislation and Scrutiny Committee noted:
“While the instrument proposes extensive amendments in this policy area over more than 18 pages … the Explanatory Memorandum provides limited explanation of the proposed changes”.
The SI itself is extremely complex and refers to numerous other statutory instruments which are being amended or deleted, as we have heard from other speakers. The Explanatory Memorandum really does not make any detailed comment about those. As I am not an expert in these matters, I feel somewhat at a disadvantage on this instrument, which does not provide legal clarity. The Government’s legislation website does not yet reflect all changes made. It is unclear in many cases if any errors or weakening have been introduced through combined changes. Can the Minister say at what point the Government expect the GOV.UK website to be bought up to date to reflect changes made by Brexit statutory instruments?
The third statutory instrument, the Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture, Animals, and Marketing of Seed, Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 sounds very much like a catch-all statutory instrument. This SI takes account of the Northern Ireland protocol and the movement of animals into Great Britain. This is an important SI as it covers several policy areas: seed, plant and plant propagating materials; aquatic animal health; transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and animal by-products; livestock zoonotic diseases; pet travel; and the use of alien and locally absent species in aquaculture, as the Minister already listed. From my previous contributions in Defra SI debates over the last 18 months, I understand something of most items on that list. I understand the use of alien species in aquaculture, which will include American crayfish. But I am afraid I do not understand what is covered by “locally absent species”. Are these species which are not alien to Great Britain but which may be alien to a particular area of Great Britain, as they usually live in a specific region? Can the Minister give an example of what this might mean?
I have questions on several paragraphs in the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 2.7 talks about the transfer of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans. Presumably, this also works the other way around. Mink in Denmark spring to mind as an example of Covid moving from humans to animals. Paragraph 7.8 refers to pet passports, which allow UK-based owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to travel between EU member states and certain listed third countries. Given the similarity between mink and ferrets, does the Minister think it is currently safe for ferrets to travel out of the UK into an EU country and then return to the UK? Is there a restriction for those travelling with ferrets on visiting certain areas of Denmark?
The last SI, the draft Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, includes provision for the Northern Ireland protocol. The instrument protects animals, people handling the medicines, consumers of produce from treated animals, and the environment. It is essential that animal welfare is high on the agenda, and the treatment of animals with veterinary medicines to relieve suffering and discomfort is important. However, this must be balanced with the impact and effect on the public consuming animal products.
During the pandemic we have become especially conscious of the effect of antibiotics. For some time, we have been aware that that overconsumption of antibiotics for minor ailments which easily heal themselves in a short time should be avoided. Overuse of antibiotics for minor conditions can harm our chances of relying on these drugs when we are seriously ill and desperately need their intervention.
Ensuring that antibiotics are not overpresent in animal products for human consumption is all part of essential management of veterinary medicines. Can the Minister give reassurance that this SI will indeed ensure that the maximum residue limits are not reached in foodstuffs? Can he also give reassurance that non-allowed pharmacologically active substances will not be found in foodstuffs? Can he clarify whether future UK rules on MRL levels will be as strong as or stronger than the current EU baseline as set out in the annexes of regulation 37/2010? Can he provide an update on the process of setting out relevant MRLs and other restrictions relating to the use of veterinary medicines in food-producing animals, and say whether this process will be complete before the end of the transition period?
These are varied and complex statutory instruments, but I am happy for them to be approved so that Great Britain and Northern Ireland can continue to operate effectively at the end of the transition period. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the questions raised and points made in this debate.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these SIs and for the helpful briefing he organised beforehand. I accept that a number of technical and operational updates have been included, which makes sense. It is of course important that we have a functioning import system once the transition is over. However, I have a few questions that it would be helpful if the Minister could address.
First, as a minor point, I note that paragraph 7.1 of the EM for the first SI states that the intention is to continue delivery of robust import controls for all sanitary and phytosanitary imports while
“maintaining or improving biosecurity and welfare standards.”
Perhaps the Minister could explain what these improvements might be, as I could find no clear explanation of the Government’s intention in this regard.
The second SI has been substantially rewritten, based on the earlier SIs, as a result of the substantial amendments needed, and I agree that that approach makes sense and allows for easier scrutiny of the proposed text. There are obvious sanitary and phytosanitary risks from animal and animal product imports. Paragraph 2.2 of the EM refers to the need for
“appropriate safeguard actions to be taken in case of a reported non-compliance with official controls or disease outbreak in exporting countries.”
What do these actions include? Do they include banning imports from specific individual countries? Would we be able to target individual countries, or would there need to be an EU-wide ban for certain products if a particular section within the EU was involved?
Paragraph 7.2 explains that a new approach to managing biosecurity risk will be introduced from 1 April 2021. What arrangements are in place between 1 January and 1 April, and can we be confident that the new arrangements will be in place from 1 April? Paragraph 12.3 refers to importers of animals and animal products having to pre-notify the Government of imports from 1 January using the new technical system, IPAFFS, which replaces TRACES. Can the Minister confirm that IPAFFS has been fully tested, is a secure and reliable system and is able to deal with the volume of import trade which will come its way? Can he also clarify whether the devolved nations will be using IPAFFS as a pre-notification system so that all that information can be shared?
Turning to the third SI, on aquatic animal health et cetera, there are a number of technical changes to maintain control of aquatic animal diseases and to continue biosecurity standards which seem to make sense. However, all noble Baronesses have raised the issue, covered in the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, of pet passports for the 300,000 pets moving across the border annually. As it points out, the SI allows pets travelling from the EU to the UK to continue to use the EU-issued pet passport. However, that does not yet mean that pets travelling the other way, from the UK to the EU, will have equivalent rights. When will we hear whether the EU has granted us part 1 listed status, which would allow this mutual benefit of travel both ways to continue? Is that part of the current Brexit negotiations, or a completely separate process? If part 1 listed status is denied by the EU, will we also review our attitude to the status of pets coming the other way, into the UK?
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee also asked about the impact of separate zoonotic and biosecurity disease requirements for GB and Northern Ireland. It was told that goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland would need export health certification and that a trader support service will be available to support businesses. This issue was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who asked whether the trader support scheme was already up and functioning and, if not, when it will be. The EM goes on to say that there will be no significant impact on businesses. May I ask the Minister to reflect on that statement, given the cost and potential complexities of providing export health certification to businesses that will be exporting to both Northern Ireland and the EU?
Turning to the fourth SI, which deals with veterinary medicines and residues, there is clearly concern about the potential risks to human health and the environment, as well as to animal welfare—issues echoed by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Bennett and Lady Bakewell. For example, we have made considerable progress in the UK on cutting back on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry. However, I read recently that over the same period, the US has doubled its use of antibiotics. There are similar concerns about the use of hormone-injected beef in the US, which is currently banned in the UK. So, there is a need to be vigilant about our protections for the future.
In a submission to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Friends of the Earth referred to the forthcoming EU regulation, due to be enacted in November 2022, which will update the reference action points for antibiotics and antimicrobials. There will not be an equivalent update in the UK. May I ask the Minister to assure the House that a regulation at least equivalent to the latest scientific evidence and safeguards in the EU will be introduced in the UK, and can he explain whether that will be on a timely basis?
The EM also refers to the provision of a surveillance programme for residues of veterinary medicines in foodstuffs. What will be the nature of this surveillance? Will it include visiting the country of origin to check on animal welfare and potential contamination of animal products? What measures are contained in the SI for countries and export businesses that do not comply with our high food quality standards? Does the SI also apply to manufacturers of insecticide flea products for pets, which have been shown recently to be contaminating our watercourses?
Finally, these SIs have not been consulted on because the changes they make are relatively minor. What will be the formal consultation process for changes in policy post transition? A number of them have been flagged up in the SIs as coming on stream in the future. Will those future policy consultations meet the Cabinet guidelines for consultation?
I look forward to the Minister’s response to these questions.
My Lords, I hope that all noble Baronesses will appreciate that a very considerable number of detailed questions have been posed, and I think it would be helpful to us all if I write in some detail on some of the more technical matters.
I will open by saying that none of these statutory instruments is about a change in policy. There is absolutely no weakening of the very high bar of security for this country that we all want. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that if there were any potential changes in this area, there would need to be, and we would want, consultations with the devolved Administrations and interested parties as we seek to enhance and strengthen our arrangements.
I turn, in no particular order, to the points that were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the revoking of regulations covered in the official controls instrument. All revocations in this instrument relate to designation of European reference centres. These EU designations will no longer be applicable in Great Britain after 31 December.
The noble Baroness also referred to the African swine fever outbreak in parts of Europe. Obviously, we are keeping these matters under close scrutiny. Pork products, for instance, are products of animal origin that are at high risk of being contaminated with African swine fever. Specific safeguard measures are already in place to prevent the introduction of such diseases. We do not expect the biosecurity risk from EU imports to change after 1 January, but I emphasise again that this a matter on which I have regular discussions with the Chief Veterinary Officer, because we clearly need to watch the profile of this disease and be ready to act.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about checks on products of animal origin coming into force on 1 April, rather than 1 January. We are introducing import controls for EU countries in a phased approach in order to give businesses, many impacted by Covid, time to adjust, while maintaining effective biosecurity controls. As I have said, we do not expect there to be changes in biosecurity risk in that period. From 1 April, there will be new requirements for products of animal origin to be pre-notified, and all goods must be accompanied by a British health certificate and will undergo remote documentary checks. From July, products of animal origin imported from the EU will be subject to risk-based identity and physical checks. Some commodities, such as shellfish, will be subject to higher check levels. This will allow us to maintain the highly effective sanitary and phytosanitary regime, while allowing businesses time to prepare for our new import requirements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about safeguard measures. If there is a disease outbreak in a country approved to export to Great Britain, the Secretary of State, with agreement from the devolved Administrations, may publish a written declaration banning all restricted imports from the affected area. The legislation allows us to regionalise a country where an outbreak has occurred, so that imports can continue from those parts of the country that are free of disease.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones, asked about IPAFFS. Non-EU countries were able to use IPAFFS for live animals from 23 November and can use it from 7 December for products of animal origin and high-risk food of non-animal origin. EU countries can currently use IPAFFS for live animals and germinal products, and from April 2021 will be able, as I have described, to use it for products of animal origin and high-risk food of non-animal origin. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that, yes, the devolved Administrations will use IPAFFS.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked how it was going. The system is working well and has received positive feedback from border control posts. We have been supporting countdown communications and webinars, and are working very closely on that matter with all concerned. On the creation of additional BCPs, we are working with ports and airports to develop a delivery programme that will be supported by the investment fund of £705 million announced in July of this year.
On pet travel, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that continuous guidance has been put out to pet owners. I understand and appreciate that pet owners want to know about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about Part 1 listed status. We will continue to press the Commission on this as we are confident that the United Kingdom fulfils all the criteria and obligations required of a Part 1 listed third country as a minimum. We operate one of the most rigorous pet-checking regimes in Europe to protect our biosecurity. As I said, we have announced our plans. That is because we have respect for the EU’s checking regimes. I think we deserve Part 1 listed status. I know that many will wish to have further updates on this, and if I have any further information I will of course provide it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about locally absent species and alien species in aquaculture. I have an example: warm-water prawn. An alien and locally absent species is a species or subspecies of an aquatic organism occurring outside its known natural range, or any artificially modified species irrespective of its natural range or dispersal potential. What a form of words, my Lords.
The issue of ferrets is historical: ferrets were included in the non-commercial pet travel scheme following discussions between EU member states when the regulations were made. I reassure all noble Lords that the Chief Veterinary Officer keeps these matters under constant review. We will risk assess individual applications made for imports. We are not banning the importation of ferrets at this time as there is no evidence to suggest that pets can directly transmit the virus to humans. That is a different context from the issue of large mink farms in certain parts of Europe, where there are very large concentrations of numbers. As I said, I would not want anyone to think anything other than that we will keep all these matters under close review.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones, asked about the position on antimicrobial resistance. The UK has always played a key role on this, and indeed in the revision of the EU veterinary medicines legislation. The Government intend, like the EU, to strengthen significantly our national law on the use of antibiotics in animals, including restricting the use of antibiotics for prevention of disease. The UK’s unique model of collaborative working between government, farmers and the veterinary profession has halved antibiotic use in livestock, and we now have one of the lowest usages of veterinary antibiotics in Europe—and this must continue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about surveillance. A new expert body is being developed, co-ordinated with Defra, to assess and inspect trading partners that apply for market access to the UK. We will repatriate audit and inspection functions from the EU to ensure that trading partners continue to meet our very important import conditions.
On flea products, I will just say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate has commissioned the University of Sussex to carry out additional research to determine the extent—if any—to which these treatments have an impact on the aquatic environment. The results as yet are not available, but it is obviously very important.
On unfettered access, my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about certificates. They are intended to be tough. The VMD has considerable expertise on a UK national basis and previously as part of the EU regulatory network.
I should say to the noble Baronesses that all current EU maximum residue levels will continue to apply in the UK from the end of the transition period. In Great Britain, these will be set out in the maximum residue limits register. The amendments do not change the scientific methodology used to establish individual limits. This will remain unchanged.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about resources. We have been working in the department to ensure that there are sufficient resources, in all respects, on the very important issue of vets. We have been working to ensure that there are sufficient numbers. We have also introduced a new certification support officer to help carry out administrative aspects of that process.
I am conscious that I have many more questions to answer, some of which are technical. I hope the noble Baronesses will understand that I have made a very careful note of all the detailed points that have been made and I will ensure that they are attended to in the form of a letter. In the meantime, I beg to move.
Import of, and Trade in, Animals and Animal Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture, Animals, and Marketing of Seed, Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do consider the Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture, Animals, and Marketing of Seed, Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
Relevant document: 34th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I speak to both regulations on the Order Paper, given the close connection between them.
These two instruments cover all four nations of the United Kingdom. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations and they have given their consent to the instruments. This ensures an approach that is consistent with both the devolution settlements and the existing system of fisheries management.
The common fisheries policy imposes a common approach to the sustainable management of fisheries across the European Union and its waters. Under Annexe 2 to the Northern Ireland protocol, several provisions of the CFP will continue to be directly applicable in Northern Ireland from the end of the transition period.
The first instrument is needed to make operability amendments to retained EU law, update changes made by previous fisheries SIs and remove elements of retained EU law that are not relevant to the UK. It makes technical amendments to retained EU law in three policy areas: discards, quota and data collection.
This instrument amends the EU’s 2019-21 discard plans, as amended by the EU in 2020, to take account of the latest scientific advice regulations, which set out scientifically justified exemptions to the landing obligation. The amendments replace references to EU bodies with references to the relevant UK ones and remove the requirement to report data to the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, or STECF. We have removed this requirement because the UK, not the EU, will now take the decision on discards exemption and our future catching policy. This is in line with our approach taken throughout our EU exit SIs.
The UK will still continue to collect and review data, guided by the scientific evidence objective in the Fisheries Act. We have been very clear throughout the parliamentary debates on the new Act that future fisheries decisions will be based on scientifically robust evidence. We are working closely with our world-class scientists in Cefas, our partners around the UK and their scientists, many of whom previously advised STECF.
In the longer term, we expect that the process of reviewing any new exemptions we propose to bring forward will be undertaken by a replacement scientific body, which will provide UK-wide independent reviews. We will continue to ensure that any new exemptions are subject to robust scientific review. We are currently developing options for how to deliver authoritative UK-wide independent advice, with an expectation that it will be in place later in 2021.
This instrument amends the 2020 total allowable catch and quota regulations in retained EU law, amending references to ensure that the rules continue to apply effectively to UK vessels once they cease to be within the scope of the CFP. The instrument also makes amendments to the Data Collection Framework, which requires EU member states’ vessels to conduct certain surveys at sea. The list of surveys is being replaced with a reference to the UK’s national data collection work plan to avoid UK vessels being required to conduct surveys in areas not relevant to the United Kingdom.
Moving on, the second instrument is needed to enable the enforcement of EU law where it is directly applicable in Northern Ireland. This will also help the UK to play its part in ensuring sustainable and traceable fishing practices, and enable the UK to meet its obligations under the withdrawal agreement and accede to the UN’s Agreement on Port State Measures—PSMA—at the end of the transition period.
This regulation also contains provisions implementing our obligations to a number of regional fisheries management organisations—RFMOs—to which the UK is in the process of acceding as an independent contracting party. These international organisations are ones of which we were previously members by virtue of our EU membership.
This instrument makes technical amendments in three policy areas: enforceability; sustainable and traceable fishing; and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
This instrument amends the Fisheries (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 in order to equip the Northern Ireland and UK Governments with powers to enforce EU legislation that will apply in Northern Ireland. It will also amend regulations concerning sustainable and traceable fishing to reflect the direct application of EU law in Northern Ireland and allow the UK to fulfil its obligations under the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas—ICCAT—and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, or CCAMLR. To clarify, these changes do not reflect a change in policy. The UK will continue to submit the same level of information to the ICCAT and CCAMLR secretariats required by these international agreements, to which the UK is an independent contracting party.
This statutory instrument applies certain aspects of retained EU law relating to IUU fishing to Northern Ireland, which is necessary to ensure the UK is able to comply with its obligations under the PSMA once it accedes to that agreement after the transition period. The PSMA requires the UK to apply controls to non-UK vessels; this legislation serves to implement that requirement in relation to EU vessels landing in Northern Ireland. The PSMA does not require the UK to apply controls to vessels registered in the UK.
The instruments make amendments that remove previous amendments to the retained EU law versions of regulations implementing the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund—the EMFF. I should say that ClientEarth expressed a concern about a gap in legislative powers. However, I assure your Lordships that this is not the case. The withdrawal agreement contains specific rules that will apply to the EMFF during the period when the fund will be wound up and closed, ensuring that there are consistent rules in place to manage payments to the sector. Furthermore, the Fisheries Act 2020 includes a financial assistance power that will govern any future domestic scheme. A further statutory instrument will be brought forward in spring 2021 to detail any domestic plans.
These instruments also make other minor operability and clarifying amendments to retained EU law, ensuring that the law can function effectively in the United Kingdom after the end of the transition period. These instruments do not make amendments that represent any changes in fisheries management policy. I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I am once again grateful to my noble friend for these important regulations, which, as he will recall, cover a lot of the ground we debated at the time of the Fisheries Act, but put meat on the bones. Taking the fisheries regulations in turn and looking at the first set in the order in which my noble friend took them, it is obviously a matter of note that we will no longer be part of and therefore cannot request or receive advice from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries. Will there be a gap between our receiving that advice and the new regime to which he referred coming into place?
I am sure that my noble friend will expect me to ask the question that I ask on every occasion we discuss fisheries. He has said on many occasions that we will continue to support the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Has the memorandum of understanding with ICES been signed? If so, that is great, but on what date? If not, when does he expect it to be signed? Can he confirm that the resources and budget that the Government will allocate matches what we are already paying? I understand that we are one of the major contributors to ICES: we contribute between 13% and 16% of its total budget. What is more important to me is that my noble friend stated—I welcome this—that, going forward, all our proposals will be based on scientifically robust evidence. I can think of no better body to subscribe to than that one. It would be very helpful if he could confirm that.
I know that ClientEarth and others have expressed concern about the first set of regulations, saying that it might weaken requirements in relation to scientific information and research surveys, sustainability of stocks and reporting. I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to put our minds at rest by saying that that is not the case. He went on to say that there will be a new form of financial assistance coming forward from the Government—I presume in relation to both regulations. Can he say in outline what he thinks that financial assistance will look like and who will pay for it? Are the Government considering moving towards an industry-paying basis? If that is the case, I make a plea that is in the form of a levy into a central fund so that there is some distance between industry paying and the resources being taken out at the other end.
It would also be helpful to know the type of activities and schemes that will be funded and, once again to put my mind at rest, to know that there will not be a gap between the level of funding to date and the new funding schemes coming into place. We reach the end of the transition period at the end of this month and my noble friend said that the plans will not come forward until the first quarter of next year. I would be most grateful for any illumination on that.
If I have understood correctly, the second instrument may remove our requirements under and support for certain international agreements. My noble friend will recall that, on many occasions during the passage of the Fisheries Act, I asked the Government to repeat their commitment to international obligations, most of which seemed to stem from the Johannesburg convention in 2002. It would be helpful to know that that co-operation with other countries on marine and fisheries post Brexit—post the end of the transition period on 31 December—will continue. It is obvious that fish do not respect boundaries; we need a commitment to international co-operation in that regard.
I share the concern expressed by many environmental groups that the instrument removes our membership of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries. To what extent will discards have a role to play? I quite understand that fishermen were keen to be rid of the landing obligation; during the passage of the then Fisheries Bill, my noble friend confirmed that it would be removed. I refer to paragraph 42 of the 33rd report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which has been most helpful in preparing for today’s debate. It states that there will be a requirement for the UK
“to impose controls on all non-UK vessels, including those flying the flag of EU Member States. According to Defra, these controls include requirements to use designated ports, to obtain authorisation prior to using ports and to submit certain documents in advance of using ports as well as a regime of inspection.”
Will discards feature here or have we lost the landing obligation completely? Who will be required to enforce those controls? Concern was expressed during the Bill’s passage that we were losing access. It would be interesting to know how many fisheries vessels and other vessels of marine organisations will be on standby to implement completely the new policy to which the Government have committed.
If the landing obligation has gone, can my noble friend put my mind at rest that the replacement will offer an equivalent level of environmental protection to prevent illegal by-catch and overfishing? Will Regulation 7(7) of the first instrument ensure the sustainable management of fish stocks and that it is not threatened? Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the total allowable catches will be set in line with sustainable levels at the end of the transition period this month? Also, under Regulation 11(5), can he confirm that any future UK financial assistance will be given only to operators that comply with fisheries management rules, including those on sustainability under existing EU law?
On both instruments, we will have the opportunity to ensure that any EU flag state that flies into our ports will meet all the obligations required of them. If we are losing the landing obligation, it is important to know that illegal discharges will be stopped and that by-catch will be monitored in the most efficient way possible. With those remarks, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss the two regulations before us.
My Lords, it is a regular occurrence that I follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Her knowledge of this area is absolutely excellent. I thank the Minister and his officials for having offered to meet before this session; regrettably, I could not do so because of other parliamentary business.
One of the general points to make first, coming back to what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, was saying, is that we are only 29 days away from the common fisheries policy regime and all the regulations around it ending. I realise that most of those will continue, but one of the great occasions of Brussels was the Fisheries Ministers’ bun-fight before Christmas, when they all sorted out TACs and quotas, and did deals around the scientific evidence. We have got better in recent years at recognising the scientific evidence. I do not understand what quotas UK fishers will be operating to from 1 January. The fishing industry does not cease operating for a new year, so I would be interested to hear from the Minister exactly what the rules will be for quotas by species and how they will be distributed. This is an immediate problem.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is not correct about the landing obligation and discards ban. I understand that the Government will keep to their undertaking. The first of these regulations changes the demersal discard plans slightly in terms of some of the exemptions, but I would be very concerned if the discard ban did not continue. The Government have very much promoted it within the European Union and the common fisheries policy, through correct pressure from the public, and I hope that it will continue. I will come back to the discard ban in a while.
The sub-committee that I chair has always been pleased to hear that the Government intend to continue their relationship with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. This is an important body and it would make no sense for us to operate a separate system from those that fish in the same waters and fish the same stocks as we do. I welcome that, but I look forward to the clarifications on detail that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked of the Minister.
I entirely understand why the Government will remove references to the European Union Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries from the legislation, as we are clearly out of the common fisheries policy now. But I would be interested to understand in more detail from the Minister how or if that is likely to be replaced. Does ICES give enough information and scientific advice for decisions to be made? I suspect that it does not. I would be concerned if Cefas, which the Minister mentioned, took on this role because, although I greatly admire the work that Cefas does, it is not an independent body; it is part of the Defra family. Therefore, like all Defra bodies and other public bodies, it is financed directly by a department and is not necessarily completely independent in its views.
Although I understand that the Government must, rightly, come out of that organisation, I would be very concerned if we did not still swap data on a voluntary basis. Not to do so would seem to show a rather dog-in-the-manger attitude. So I ask the Minister whether he and his officials will open a dialogue, so that we can still share that scientific debate and information, as many of the fish discussed by that committee are shared stocks. We would hope to have a reciprocal basis as well. It would be a great shame if that relationship did not continue, at least on an informal and voluntary basis. Needless to say, if you want to solve the data issue, remote electronic monitoring is the way to do it. Data is one of the key pluses of that technology.
I move back now to the landing obligation. There is some change to the demersal regulations or exemptions in terms of the ban. Apart from the Government’s commitment to this, which I hope the Minister will confirm, I ask whether it is working at all. In the two reports that my committee did, we found that it had made very little difference to either the EU 27 members—and certainly those in the littoral states of the North Sea and the Channel—or the United Kingdom. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether the department feels that the landing obligation and discards ban has made any difference yet to the working practices of the industry.
I very much welcome the Government’s call for evidence on remote electronic monitoring. That call ended at the beginning of this month. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how many people or organisations submitted evidence to it and when he anticipates the next consultation on REM will start.
One of the things that will happen with single market rules, with us coming out of the common fisheries policy—although we have built a framework in the Fisheries Act—is that we can have divergence between the nations of the United Kingdom. I would be interested in how quickly the Minister feels there will be divergence and how it will be treated or worked around by the Government and the devolved authorities.
I welcome how the Government have, on a number of occasions, reconfirmed to the committee that they will operate a similar scheme to the EMFF, but when will it start? It is very important to the industry. The EMFF is not a large fund—it is small in comparison with many other EU structural funds—but it is well targeted and focused on making a difference, particularly to smaller fishing communities and fleets. So when will that fund be up and running?
Lastly, I admit that I find Northern Ireland fisheries incredibly difficult to understand, but I would like to understand from the Minister whether, when a Northern Ireland fishing vessel lands in the Republic of Ireland or back in Great Britain, its catch is treated as a UK or an EU catch. What are the implications of that for any future tariffs, quotas or phytosanitary regulations? Those questions take me through everything I need to say.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for his helpful briefing beforehand. It felt very strange reading the first SI, as I felt transported to a bygone age, long before all our efforts to produce the Fisheries Act and before an anticipated announcement with the EU on post-transition trade, which will of course have a major impact on future fisheries provision.
The first SI refers to a targeted consultation with key stakeholders on the Fisheries White Paper that took place in 2018, as though the last couple of years had not happened. I know from our briefing that this SI has been in development for some time and is necessary partly to incorporate changes to EU regulations that have occurred this year. So, given that some of the references in the SI are rather out of date, could the Minister clarify when exactly it was drafted, why it was not introduced before now and why it makes no reference to the impact of the Fisheries Act? We would have thought that would have had at least some impact on the details enclosed in it. It would help—to echo points raised by other noble Lords—if the Minister could clarify when he sees our legislative framework fully transitioning from the common fisheries policy to our ambition as an independent coastal state, as set out in the Fisheries Act. We seem to be treading water rather at the current time.
The Minister referred to ClientEarth’s submission to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee about the potential weakening of requirements in relation to scientific information and research surveys, sustainability of stocks and reporting. Again, his point was echoed by other noble Lords. It suggests that the detailed reporting requirements contained in EU law have not been replicated in this SI. I would be grateful if the Minister could address this.
In the Defra response to ClientEarth, the department says that it
“will comply with all of its reporting and data sharing requirements under the CCAMLR Scheme.”
Are these reporting requirements indeed equivalent to those in the EU? Are the mechanisms to begin that reporting from 1 January in place? Is the information published in a publicly available format? Will the Government continue to exchange information with EU colleagues, at least on an informal basis, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson?
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee talked about a lack of clarity around the direction of future policy. Can the Minister give an indication of when the department intends to make more detailed policy announcements and when we will see the legislation to back that up? The SLSC drew particular attention to the issue of
“financial assistance for rewarding or deterring behaviour related to sustainability.”
I echo the specific questions of detail asked by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in this regard. How will the application of financial assistance work in practice? Defra says that this will be included in a separate SI. To clarify: is that the regulation that the Minister referred to in his opening remarks—the one to be published in the spring—or a separate one? He is looking at me quizzically so perhaps it is the latter.
The second SI focuses on the application of the Northern Ireland protocol. Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I have struggled somewhat with some of the fishing implications of the protocol, but we are beginning to work our way through them. The SI explains that the UK intends to accede to the multilateral Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing—the PSMA. Once the UK joins the PSMA, it will be required to impose controls on all non-UK vessels. The Explanatory Note states:
“The controls include: a requirement to use designated ports; a requirement to obtain authorisation prior to using ports; requirements to submit certain documents in advance of using ports; and a regime of inspection.”
What will be the practical difference in the implementation of the PSMA rules on Northern Ireland and GB fishers? How will it differ for each of those groups? Does a list of designated ports already exist? If so, where is it published? Who will be responsible for imposing the regime of inspection and controls? Will it include the British Navy?
The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“There is no, or no significant, impact on business”.
However, the regulations significantly alter the fishing rights of and controls on Northern Ireland and GB fishers. Were they consulted on the new requirements? If so, are they content with them? Do those in the different categories understand the different rights and responsibilities that they will have in future? Would the Minister like to comment on what he sees as being the consequences in real terms? In our earlier briefing, the Minister said, rather colloquially, that he thought that it meant that Northern Ireland fishers will be able to “face both ways”. Can he clarify what he meant by that? This may be a rare occasion when Northern Ireland actually benefits from the Northern Ireland protocol in terms of trade provision.
I do not know whether the Minister saw the recent press report that Scottish fishers on the western coast of Scotland are considering re-registering their boats in Northern Ireland ports. This would enable them to land their shellfish, most of which is destined for European markets, without paying any EU tariffs or taxes. Can the Minister that this would be perfectly legal, provided that it represented a genuine move in the place of operation? Has any further thought been given to the consequences of this? Is there a concern that it might spark a wider practice of companies switching their base of operation to Northern Ireland to avoid tariffs?
I look forward to the Minister’s response to these questions.
My Lords, I am grateful for noble Lords’ comments. A number of key questions were asked.
The first question concerns science. I stress to the noble Lords who spoke—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh—that this is the basis of what we need to do going forward. The UK will continue to ensure that relevant data is collected and reviewed by a replacement scientific body. The replacement UK advisory structure is in development; in the meantime, as I said in my opening remarks, we retain access. Let me also say—although I will embellish this—that our discards policy will continue to be scientifically justified. The UK fisheries administrations will also need to comply with obligations under all other legislation to ensure that our discards policy is scientifically justified, including the Fisheries Act with its scientific evidence objective.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred specifically to ICES. The UK has been an independent member of ICES since it was established in 1902 and will continue to play a strong role in its future. The UK will continue to set the gold standard for sustainable fishing and the protection of the marine environment around the world after the transition period ends. The MoU will be signed, ready for it to come into force on 1 January.
On funding, I repeat that the Government made a manifesto commitment to maintain funding for the sector and will replace the EMFF with new domestic schemes from 2021. The devolved Administrations will lead on their own schemes. In addition to the EMFF, we committed an additional £2 million to support health and safety projects and a further £10 million to establish the Seafood Innovation Fund; that will run until 2022.
The important issues of discard plans and the landing obligation were raised. From next year, we can, for the first time, develop a discards policy that is tailored to our marine environment and industry. In our 2018 fisheries White Paper, we were clear that the UK Government will
“continue to work towards ending the wasteful practice of fish discards”,
but challenges stemming from the EU-implemented landing obligation are widely recognised. In future, we will have the opportunity to be creative and adopt new measures outside of the current CFP toolkit to implement a workable discard ban. Sections in the Fisheries Act set out provisions that will allow us to introduce one such measure: a discard prevention charging scheme. This will provide a mechanism allowing fishers to pay for additional quota to cover any excess catch that would otherwise push them into illegal fishing.
On who is responsible for enforcing discard rules, I can reaffirm for the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that no changes are intended. Enforcement will continue via the MMO and the relevant devolved Administration enforcement authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned quotas. Under Section 24 of the Fisheries Act, the Secretary of State may make a determination of the UK quotas. This would usually occur in accordance with any obligations resulting from negotiations with other coastal states, but the Secretary of State could make a determination that did not flow from negotiations. Such a determination may cover fishing effort as well as quota.
On the Maritime and Fisheries Fund, while the devolved Administrations will lead on their own schemes, as I said, in England, the Government’s objectives include innovation, improving port infrastructure, boosting coastal communities and supporting the sector in adjusting to the new arrangements. As I said, England has also repurposed £5 million from its MFF scheme for Covid support in that regard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised timing and whether we were dealing with an out of date SI. It is a moot point. Changes we are making to the EU regulations that will form part of retained law will come into effect only at the end of the year, when that retained EU law begins to function. We thought that there would be no advantage in fixing these earlier. In fact, we felt that two SIs now would be appropriate, rather than perhaps multiple SIs throughout the year, particularly given the fact that parliamentary time was limited.
We had a good discussion about REM throughout the passage of what was then the Fisheries Bill. We were all on the same page. I will reply in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. There were 45 responses to the consultation. I think we all agree that the basis for REM is that it will provide many advantages, which will help us ensure that we have more sustainability.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the TAC and sustainability. Achieving healthy fish stocks is the first step to vibrant commercial and recreational fishing industries. The Fisheries Act sets out our commitments to sustainable fishing. The joint fisheries statement, which will be drafted and adopted by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, will set out our policies to achieve the fisheries objectives set out in Section 1 of the Act. As an independent coastal state, we are committed to working closely with our partners, including the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands, to manage shared fish stocks sustainably. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in particular raised that. Of course all of us in these waters need to be responsible. The UK will work with others to have vibrant fish stocks in all our waters and shared waters.
On Northern Ireland, yes, this is technical, and it took me a few readings to get what I understand to be correct. The Northern Ireland protocol recognises that a technical exercise is required to ensure that Northern Ireland fishing vessels landing into Northern Ireland are exempt from custom duties. The UK Government fully recognise the importance of the fishing industry to Northern Ireland and are clear that there should be no unacceptable new requirements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about reporting requirements and our international obligations. They will remain the same. We will continue to report, as we have done before, as an independent coastal state, while being mindful that we can make some proper decisions from the data we all supply. PSMA requirements would be enforced by the ports into which foreign vessels land, as they are now.
I should also refer to a point that I think addresses the ClientEarth issue. As explained in the Explanatory Memorandum that accompanies the instrument, Article 138 of the withdrawal agreement provides for EU legislation relating to the 2014-20 EMFF to apply in the UK directly. By virtue of the wording of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, legislation that applies in this way is not replicated in retained EU law. As such, our amendments are simply to remove previous deficiency corrections made before the withdrawal agreement was entered into, in recognition of the fact this legislation will no longer form part of EU law.
A number of points came up on this issue, but I absolutely confirm that we have been working with interested parties and businesses to ensure that arrangements are in place across the nation and in Northern Ireland for 1 January. As I said, we are working to ensure that all is in order for 1 January. There are bound to be some further points that I will relate in more detail in a written reply. The issue of the designation of ports was raised. I am pretty confident that we will set out the list of designated ports vis-à-vis Northern Ireland by 16 December, which is a key part of that preparedness. On that basis, and with the promise of further correspondence, I beg to move.
Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 4.30 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing; others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I must ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.
The microphone system for physical participants has changed. Members’ microphones will no longer be turned on at all times in order to reduce the noise for remote participants. When it is your turn to speak, please press the button on the microphone stand. Once you have done that, wait for the green flashing light to turn red before you begin speaking. The process for unmuting and muting for remote participants remains the same. The time limit is one hour.
Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to open this debate. These regulations, which were laid before the House on 15 October, are necessary to ensure a functioning export control regime at the end of the transition period on 31 December this year. Their aim is to complete the process of transposing the existing system, which is reliant on European Union law, into purely UK law. At the same time, they implement certain EU regulations in Northern Ireland to the extent required by the Northern Ireland protocol. They do not make any change in export control policy.
As noble Lords know, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 enables a functioning statute book at the end of the transition period by providing Ministers with the tools to deal with deficiencies in domestic law arising because of our exit from the European Union. Noble Lords with good memories will remember that this House has already debated and approved legislation to ensure the continued functioning of retained EU law in the UK in respect of export controls. The Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were debated here on 26 March 2019 and the Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 were debated here on 8 May 2019.
These new regulations are necessary because under the Northern Ireland protocol, which forms part of the withdrawal agreement, the EU regulations and directives relating to export control of dual-use items, civilian firearms and goods usable for capital punishment or torture will continue to apply directly to and in Northern Ireland. The provisions of the EU directive on the intra-community transfer of defence-related products will also continue to apply to the movement of military goods between Northern Ireland and the EU. Therefore, these regulations amend provisions of retained EU law to accommodate the Northern Ireland protocol.
Let me explain in more detail how this will work. Beginning at 11 pm on 31 December 2020, the export control rules applying in Great Britain will be derived solely from domestic law, which will include retained EU law. In contrast, the export control rules applying in Northern Ireland will continue to be derived from EU law as required by the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the European Union withdrawal agreement. My department will continue to be the licensing authority for strategic exports from the whole of the United Kingdom, but items exported from Northern Ireland will do so technically under a licence issued under European Union regulations.
To make this work these regulations, the Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, amend existing legislation. First, they amend the Export Control Order 2008, which has been the centrepiece of domestic export control legislation since April 2009. Next, they amend two instruments, the Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Trade etc. in Dual-Use items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were made last year in preparation for EU exit. In addition, they amend the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. These regulations were debated and approved by both Houses but have not yet been made. It is necessary to amend them to remove a dependency on the now non-existent Customs Tariff (Establishment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Let me be clear: these regulations do no more than is necessary to ensure the continued functioning of export control law, and therefore the continued effective operation of our export control system, in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Without them, our ability to control the export of these goods would be undermined. This legislation will enable the Secretary of State to continue to control exports from all parts of the United Kingdom of dual-use items, firearms and goods that could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Government believe that the procedures for assessing licence applications and our decision-making processes are robust, and will remain so following the end of the transition period. The eight criteria used to assess export licence applications, as set out in the consolidated criteria, will remain the same. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence will continue to provide my department with advice and analysis of the relevant foreign, defence and international development policy aspects of each licence application. A licence would not be granted if to do so would be inconsistent with any of the criteria. My department will also continue to provide detailed advice and guidance about export controls and the end of the transition period in order to support legitimate exporters.
I take this opportunity to remind the Committee that these regulations are solely about preparing for the end of transition and ensuring that we have a functioning statute book after the end of the year. These amendments must happen, and Parliament needs to ensure that these controls remain in place. Negotiations about the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union or the wider world are of course a separate matter, and I hope I may say to noble Lords that they play no part in this debate today. I hope that the House will work in the interests of the nation to ensure the passage of this legislation, which is essential to ensuring that we are prepared for the end of transition and continue to control the trade in strategic exports.
This legislation is necessary to ensure that we are prepared for the end of transition and continue to have a fully functioning export control regime on 31 December this year. I commend the Motion to the Committee and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for taking us through this statutory instrument this afternoon, and I am delighted to see him back in his place.
Rather than comment on what is set out in the regulations, I will first comment on what is not set out. In preparing for today, I am grateful to the House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the conclusions in its 32nd report, on which I will rely heavily.
In particular, I will quote two paragraphs and how the conclusions were reached. In paragraph 5.4, the committee concludes:
“The Committee accordingly reports regulation 7(9) for defective drafting, acknowledged by the Department.”
This could have been put right. The committee states that
“it would have been open to the Department to withdraw the instrument and re-lay it before Parliament with the defect in article 42N(2) corrected”.
Apparently, the department chose not to do this because it intends to include the correction in amending legislation to be made early in 2021. It considers the likelihood of the defect in the legislation having any practical impact before the correcting legislation in 2021 to be very low.
The Joint Committee in its 32nd report states:
“The Committee is not convinced by this explanation. In the view of the Committee, the Government should not make legislation which it knows will have an effect which is significantly different from what is intended, unless doing so cannot reasonably be avoided. Nothing is said in the Department’s memorandum to indicate that laying a corrected draft would not have been practicable.”
So, with regret, I argue that the statutory instrument before us today will not lead to a fully functioning customs and excise move. Why did the Secretary of State for Trade choose not to submit a corrected statutory instrument for today’s purposes? Why was the procedure open to the department in this regard not used?
I understand that the department entirely acknowledges the error. Paragraph 5.3 of the 32nd report of the Joint Committee states:
“It appeared to the Committee that the exception in article 42N(2) may have been drawn too narrowly in requiring both the conditions in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) to be met. It is inconsistent with the position under article 12 of the 2008 Order as it currently has effect before IP completion day. The current position is that a transfer to a destination within the EU customs territory is allowed if either the final destination for the transfer is within the EU customs territory, or the software or technology will be subject to processing or working within the EU customs territory.”
So we seem to be in the very unhappy situation where there will be a hiatus between what is currently on the statute book and what will be on the statute book early in 2021, which is highly regrettable. Will my noble friend explain why we are in this unhappy position and why the Secretary of State and the department chose to go down this particular path?
Equally, paragraph 5.7 of the 32nd report states:
“The Committee is not convinced by the Department’s explanation. It seems to the Committee that Government should as a matter of general principle avoid making legislation which it knows to be defective. In this case, the Trade in Torture Regulations were approved in draft by both Houses more than 18 months ago. Since that time there has been a significant change in circumstances in that the EU withdrawal agreement has been entered into, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The amendments made by Part 5 include amendments in regulation 15 which are needed to take account of the effect of the Protocol. Accordingly, the Committee reports Part 5 of the Regulations as making an unusual or unexpected use of the enabling powers.”
In a previous paragraph of the report, paragraph 5.5, the Committee states why that is the case:
“Part 5 of the draft Regulations amends the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (‘Trade in Torture Regulations”). The Trade in Torture Regulations have not yet been made and accordingly the Committee asked the Department to explain why Part 5 of these Regulations is being used to amend another statutory instrument which has not yet been made, rather than making that other instrument with the necessary changes incorporated in it.”
So, for the reasons set out in the report, with which I entirely agree, I ask my noble friend to explain why the department has drafted a defective instrument. Why has it opted for an unexpected use of enabling powers which have been overtaken for the reasons I have given, as set out in the 32nd report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, with which I entirely concur. We seem to find ourselves in an extremely unfortunate position. I repeat my question: why have the department and the Secretary of State put us in the position that we find ourselves in today? With those few remarks, I ask him to explain the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.
My Lords, this statutory instrument has been prepared by the Department for International Trade. It will make the necessary changes to maintain the United Kingdom’s robust export control regime at the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.
The export control regulations in Northern Ireland will continue to be EU law; in Great Britain, export control regulations will be domestic law at the end of the transition period. The domestic law needs to be amended before the end of the transition period so that it continues to function effectively in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The SI will also amend the Export Control Order 2020 to correct the existing reference to EU law. It will ensure that EU regulations relating to export control and listed in Annexe 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol will continue to operate effectively in Northern Ireland after 31 December 2020. It will also make major amendments to the Export Control Order 2008 and amend the trade in torture goods regulations.
From 1 January 2021, part of the law controlling strategic exports in Northern Ireland will be EU law, which in accordance with Section 7A of the withdrawal Act is
“without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom”.
From 1 January 2021, the control of strategic exports in Great Britain will be through domestic laws, which include retained EU law at the end of the transition period.
This instrument is being made in part to address deficiencies in retained EU law and to accommodate the NI protocol. It relates to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. In my view, exports from the UK to the world over will be important when we have exited from the EU. I would like to ask the Minister what plans are being made to reach agreement with countries all over the world, including the USA and the those in the EU.
My Lords, this is a short debate on necessary measures, as the Minister indicated, and I am grateful for the clarity with which he outlined them. We cannot have gaps, uncertainties or confusions in the issuing of export licences and in the interaction between UK law and European law. I need not refer to the 32nd report, because the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, outlined the issue so clearly; I look forward to the Minister’s response to her questions.
As the Minister indicated, we have debated dual use and export control in the past—I took part in some of those debates. Given that dual use potentially applies to the civil and military use of goods and intermediary goods, this could be a delicate and controversial area. It is delicate because sometimes it is not easy to draw lines for component goods that can be exported for civil purposes but where the recipient country does not share the same high standards in its approach to human rights as the United Kingdom and can use those goods for different ends. It is not always easy for the Government, when issuing licences, to have a clear understanding of all the potential uses of some of these goods. I sit on the International Relations and Defence Committee, where we have debated areas of controversy around export licences. We know that the Government have changed their position on certain export licences and have paused licences when human rights abuses have been raised. Ensuring that there are no gaps or uncertainties is vital, as the Minister said.
This is even more complex because, for the first time in our country’s history, I think, the licensing system will operate under two systems of law: European Union law and United Kingdom law. That adds a greater burden on those businesses that are seeking a licence for export from the United Kingdom, whether from GB or from Northern Ireland. We know that there is a huge amount of trade between Northern Ireland and GB in intermediary goods, so there is complexity around component parts.
That leads to the wider issue that I wish to raise with the Minister, with which he will be familiar from our discussions on the Trade Bill and other measures. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, and others have also raised this issue. Businesses and people in Northern Ireland will be operating under continuing EU law, without democratic accountability for those who are making the decisions, while the United Kingdom Government will operate for GB, so in this area there will need to be good communication between the European Union and the United Kingdom and clear ways of working between the Minister’s department and the European Commission.
A situation that will almost inevitably arise in the future, although not necessarily under the measures that the Minister has indicated are being reformed, is when there are differences of approach between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Almost by definition that will happen, because one of the motives for leaving the European Union is for the United Kingdom to be able to make its own decisions. I would like the agreement with the European Union, which we hope will be signed this weekend, to ensure close working on how the licensing system will operate and on definitions for goods relating to torture or execution or goods with a civil or military use. I hope that there will be specific ways of working between the European Union and the United Kingdom so that a situation does not arise where the Government are operating a licensing system in which there are two different sets of policy purpose. As the Explanatory Notes indicate, some of these measures fall under UN obligations that we have adopted, so I hope that that will not arise, but I would be grateful if the Minister could offer that reassurance.
My second question is linked to the movement of goods—they could be component parts or intermediary goods under the licensing regime—between Northern Ireland and GB before they are then exported. We do not need in this short debate to rehearse the export procedures from Northern Ireland to GB, but it is likely that some of the goods for which export licences will be sought for export from Northern Ireland and/or Great Britain will contain components manufactured in different parts of the United Kingdom. The original source of a component could be Northern Ireland; when that component is moved to GB, it would be exported from there under UK law—or, vice versa, it would be exported under a licence under EU law. If we are to have unfettered access, which is the Government’s policy, and there are no checks, will the Minister say whether specific mechanisms are in place to ensure that there is no unintended loophole with regard to component parts?
My final question is on a point of clarity. If the Minister cannot answer it today, I would be happy for him to write to me. We still do not know what the border operating model for Northern Ireland will be. We hope that we will get a degree of clarity from the European trade agreement. We know what the border operating model is for Great Britain, but we are still waiting for that information for Northern Ireland. What role will the European Union have in checks on goods leaving exit ports in Northern Ireland? We need clarity so that exporters know with a high degree of certainty what the procedures will be. What has been beneficial in the past is that NGOs, human rights organisations and others have been able to observe and monitor the trade and know that proper rules are being followed and that there is a degree of accountability. I am aware that that is probably broader than what these proposals aim to correct and amend, but if the Minister can reassure me that there will not be loopholes in this area, I would be most grateful.
There may be a period after January next year when we can review the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the interaction of legislation on export licensing. We have raised these questions in the past, so I know that the Government always say that they keep the licensing regime under constant review—that is the terminology the Government always use. I hope that part of that constant review will be an ability to come back to Parliament within a set period to ensure that this is one area where there is no benefit for either the European Union or the UK in not having close working relationships. I do not need to remind colleagues that the licensing of these goods is to protect people from the worst excesses of human rights abuses from Governments in countries that we do not wish to have these products. If the Minister could respond to those points, I would be grateful.
My Lords, I always know I am in good company when I am on the same speakers’ list as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Their eye for detail and content is almost a legend in the House.
These regulations make amendments to legislation relating to the export and transfer—including other trade controls—of military and, more importantly for the purposes of this debate, dual-use goods. The Government have estimated that, on a rolling 10-year basis, the UK is the second-largest global defence exporter and a major exporter of arms, so it is extremely important that the UK must have a robust export control regime now and after the transition period ends. Any steps taken to guarantee its robustness are obviously welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made the point well: we must not have gaps and holes in this regulatory system. That is extremely important.
This instrument will make changes at the end of the transition period, when export control regulations will be domestic law in Britain while export control regulations in Northern Ireland will, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed out, continue to follow EU law. Although the changes are mainly technical, I have some broader questions for the Minister on the specifics of the regulations.
The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“Regulation 7(4) provides for an exception to certain prohibitions to continue in relation to a certified person who is a part of the armed forces, a police force, or a public authority … who is a hunter or sport shooter, or who holds a Manx firearms certificate.”
How many people is this in total? How many people will it affect?
The Explanatory Memorandum also states that Regulation 9 amends the Secretary of State’s
“regulation-making powers in the Export Control Act 2002”.
I want to find out from the Minister whether these regulations are made under the affirmative or negative procedure. Also, who will the Secretary of State consult before using the powers?
The Explanatory Memorandum also states:
“Regulation 15 provides for certain authorisations granted by the Secretary of State under the Torture Regulation that have effect before the end of the transition period to continue to have effect after”
the end of the year. How many authorisations does the Minister expect to be granted between now and 31 December?
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has already gone through the report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and raised serious concerns about the SI. As she said, the committee says in its report that the regulations are defectively drafted. The noble Baroness also pointed to Regulation 7(9), which has the effect of inserting new Part 6A into the Export Control Order 2008. That part includes new Article 42N(2), concerning the transfer by non-electronic means of software or technology intended for weapons of mass destruction purposes, which, the committee says, has been too narrowly drafted. The Government say that they recognise this mistake, so, along with the noble Baroness, I have to ask: why have these draft regulations not be withdrawn and relaid if they are defective? Surely this cannot be right.
The committee also said that the Government must
“not make legislation which it knows will have an effect which is significantly different from what is intended, unless doing so cannot reasonably be avoided.”
I appreciate that we are coming to the end of the transition period, but what is the urgency with these regulations? Why can they not be corrected in time? I must ask when these errors will be put right. When will they be corrected in amending legislation? If we are told “early in 2021”, frankly, that is not good enough as an answer. We must have a more specific date because we need certainty in the process. Certainty and clarity are what people in the export markets want at the forefront.
The committee also highlighted that Part 5 of the draft regulations amends the trade in torture regulations. These regulations have not yet been made, as far as I am aware. Perhaps the Minister can explain why. As I understand it, they are currently approved in draft only and do not yet take account of the Northern Ireland protocol. That seems a significant failing and gap. Again, the committee said this was “defective” and reported that Part 5 of the regulations makes an
“unusual or unexpected use of enabling powers”.
We need an explanation for that. Why are Ministers using powers in this way and when will the trade in torture regulations be published, so that they can be considered by both Houses?
We recognise that we have left the EU and have a domestic export control regime in Great Britain, but these regulations, especially in how they relate to Northern Ireland, are interesting in the context of developments with our European friends. In November, the German presidency of the EU Council and Parliament agreed to new rules for the trade of dual-use items. This could lead to stricter export controls, including in Northern Ireland, on cyber surveillance technology and items, and cryptographic items. Such items could include facial recognition and spyware. This could introduce greater safeguards to minimise the risk of human rights violations. Do the Government want to expand controls to cover new and emerging technologies, as part of the UK’s export control regime? Will they hold a consultation on this?
We also have to put our export control regime in the context of the Government’s actions concerning arms sales to Saudi Arabia, where the true robustness of the UK’s regime has often been called into question. Last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government had acted unlawfully by approving arms sales to Saudi Arabia without any assessment of whether the coalition had breached international law. The ruling was dismissed by the Government in July, when the International Trade Secretary said that more than 500 alleged incidents of war crimes by the coalition in Yemen were “isolated” and showed no pattern or trend.
I know that noble Lords are aware that the UN has described the war in Yemen as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 100,000 people being killed. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade said that
“the government has provided very little information on how it reached the conclusions it did, including how it decided there was no ‘pattern’ of violations.”
Will the Government now provide detailed information relating to their decision-making process? The public need answers on this and we, as Members of the Lords, do too. It was also reported recently that the Government approved a backlog of hundreds of applications to export arms to Saudi Arabia. How many has the DIT approved since July?
As the transition period ends, we need to make sure our export control regime is fit for purpose in recognising human rights violations and new technology. These technical changes do little to reassure on these points. That the Joint Committee has described the SI as “defective” in several regards worries me more. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to these questions.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. It is always a pleasure to respond to these debates when noble Lords speak with the expertise displayed today. I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for drawing our attention particularly to the comments made by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in this regard. I say without reservation that it was regrettable that a situation arose in which this will have to be corrected in due course.
As we have heard, at its meeting on 25 November, the JCSI scrutinised the instrument in accordance with Standing Orders, and it was, rightly and properly, agreed that the special attention of both Houses should be drawn to this instrument on two grounds. These are that the instrument in one respect is defectively drafted and makes unusual or unexpected use of the enabling powers in another. Of course, for the former point, I apologise unreservedly.
Let me go into more detail about the drafting error, its impact and what the Government intend to do about it. It is a drafting error in new Article 42N(2) of the Export Control Order 2008. The purpose of that new article is to re-enact in relation to transfers from Northern Ireland an existing exception that allows the transfer of software or technology for WMD purposes from the United Kingdom by non-electronic means if: the final destination of the software or technology is the customs territory of the European Union; or processing or working is to be performed on the software or technology in the customs territory of the European Union—in which case the law of the destination member state will be responsible for the control of any subsequent transfer.
The problem is that re-enactment is necessary because the existing exception, which applies in relation to the United Kingdom, is to be removed at the end of the transition period. The error was the insertion of the incorrect conjunction in new Article 42N(2)—an “and” was inserted instead of an “or” between sub-paragraphs (a) and (b). This makes the exception less permissive in relation to transfer from Northern Ireland after the transition period than the existing exception. Nothing is weakened by this error; indeed, the situation is strengthened for this particular category of software that might be used for weapons of mass destruction.
The department thought about this carefully—I have discussed it with officials—and does not consider the error to have sufficient impact to warrant the withdrawal, correction, and re-laying of the draft regulations. That is because it could not have been done in time for the regulations to be effective by the end of this year. I think all noble Lords want to avoid a gap between the existing and future systems. The department has assessed very carefully the consequences of that, and I reassure my noble friend that we believe there is a very low likelihood that a person would wish in early 2021 to transfer software or technology from Northern Ireland to the customs territory of the European Union by non-electronic means despite awareness that that software is, or may be intended, in entirety or in part, for WMD purposes.
I hope that if noble Lords take a step back from the regrettableness of the error, they will realise that the chances of that happening early in 2021 are very low. We undertake—I do so unreservedly—to correct this error in early 2021, when we will be making routine amendments to the Export Control Order 2008. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, talked about urgency and the importance of there being no gap. I am sure that noble Lords will monitor this situation very carefully to make sure that we live up to our undertaking to correct it early in 2021. Again, I apologise to noble Lords and the House that the error arose. Regrettably, these things sometimes happen, and we took the view that the lesser of the two evils was to continue in this way with this very small error so as to avoid a gap, and to correct that very small error early in 2021.
The second point raised by my noble friend and drawn attention to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was what was described by the JCSI as the
“unusual or unexpected use of enabling powers.”
Part 5 of the draft regulations contains amendments to an instrument that has not been made: the draft Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations. These regulations have been debated in the House; they were ready to be laid but they have not yet been laid, so they have been through the normal scrutiny processes.
Our intention is for the unmade instrument to be made the same day, so that instrument will be made before this instrument is made, which will mean it will come into effect before these regulations come into effect. The making of the instruments in this sequence will allow the draft regulations to correct the deficient commencement regulation in the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations before it comes into force.
This was not an error; it was done deliberately, but it came about because those regulations were approved by Parliament in April 2019—noble Lords will know how long ago that seems in the history of negotiations with the European Union—before ratification of the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. I assure noble Lords that there are precedents for a draft instrument requiring affirmative approval to correct a deficient commencement clause in an earlier draft instrument that has been approved by Parliament but not made by making both instruments on the same day and in sequence.
I humbly submit that Part 5 of the draft regulations is appropriate considering the precedent and, more importantly, the additional parliamentary time that would be required if the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations had to be relaid following, I stress, technical but not substantive amendment and debated again in their entirety by each House of Parliament. I am the first to admit that this is a messy situation. It would have been far better if it had not arisen, but we believe that the path we are taking is the best way to correct it.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised the important question of dual use. I absolutely agree with him on this. He made the comment that the underlying importance of the regulations is to protect excesses of human rights abuse. I am sure that every noble Lord would agree with his sentiments on that matter.
We are right that, at the moment, on 1 January the same laws will apply in Northern Ireland and GB, but there is of course a theoretical risk that divergence will occur. I stress that this is how it will operate: there will have to be close co-operation between the European Union and the United Kingdom on this matter. It would be far preferable if there was no divergence, but because the matters to which these regulations obtain often come about due to wider considerations in the United Nations context, or others, the risk of divergence is low. However, we will do all we can to ensure that divergence does not occur between these two sets of regulations. The protocol is, of course, subject to the continued consent of the people of Northern Ireland, who must approve its continued application every four years.
I will quickly refer to the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, made. I assure him that promoting trade is an important feature of our new free trade agreements.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked about intercept and cybersurveillance equipment. All cyber, cryptographic and intercept exports are subject to the same thorough risk assessment against the consolidated criteria as other controlled exports.
I appreciate that I have not answered a couple of the detailed points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Purvis. I commit to answering those by letter as soon as I possibly can. On that basis, I hope that these matters find favour with the Committee.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.30 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Conflict Minerals (Compliance) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations, laid on 15 October, are necessary for the application
“to and in the UK in respect of Northern Ireland”
of the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which is listed in Annexe 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. The regulation establishes the due diligence obligations of the largest importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, or “3TG”. Supply chain due diligence here is absolutely crucial. A large proportion of these so-called conflict minerals originate from conflict-affected and high-risk areas. The EU regulation makes voluntary guidance set by the OECD mandatory. It aims to break the link between armed conflict and the exploitation of 3TG and to put an end to abuses of local communities, including mine workers, which are often linked to violations of human rights.
Parts of the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation have applied in the UK since 2017. However, its key operative provisions do not apply until 1 January, after the end of the transition period. These include the relevant obligations on business and member state competent authorities to ensure its effective implementation throughout the EU. Those key provisions will not take effect in Great Britain and will not form part of retained EU law. The regulations we laid before Parliament make that provision for Northern Ireland, as required under the protocol, and establish an enforcement framework for non-compliance.
This means that from the 1 January 2021, the largest importers into Northern Ireland of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold will need to demonstrate due diligence to ensure that their imports have been mined and processed responsibly. They will have to demonstrate that they are managing any risks that their supply chains are linked to human rights violations or to the fuelling of conflict.
To enforce this in Northern Ireland, we are proposing powers for the Secretary of State to require businesses to report on their due diligence systems. The regulations also make provision for inspectors to enter business premises to inspect documents, data and records. These powers are necessary to ensure that the largest importers of “conflict minerals” into Northern Ireland do so in a way that is fair to everyone in the supply chain.
The regime follows a civil sanctions route and provides for a power to issue civil compliance notices and financial penalties where businesses do not comply. The decision to impose a financial penalty may be appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. The regime does not impose penalties for substantive breaches of due diligence obligations, as this is considered outside the scope of the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation. As required by the regulations, we will publish guidance at the earliest opportunity on how the civil sanctions will be used.
We accept the comments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments that Regulation 8, which enables the Secretary of State to serve a notice requiring “a person” to produce information, is only enforceable against “Union importers”—importers into Northern Ireland—and that the regulations do not make provision for enforcing a requirement under Regulation 8 that is imposed on a person who is not a “Union importer”. We also accept as a point of principle that the imposition of obligations in statutory instruments should be accompanied by enforcement measures with equivalent scope.
It is necessary for these regulations to be made before the end of the transition period to meet the UK’s obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. We are proceeding with the regulations as currently drafted but will bring forward as soon as possible amending legislation to amend Regulation 8, as I said.
This amendment will make explicit that the power to require the production of information can be exercised only in relation to a “Union importer”—an importer into Northern Ireland. In the meantime, the Secretary of State undertakes not to exercise the power to require production of information under Regulation 8 against persons other than “Union importers”. When the amending regulations are laid, they will also implement some minor administrative and clarifying corrections.
Our intention through these regulations is to allow businesses to operate responsibly in conflict-affected and high-risk areas. 3TG minerals are key components for much of our technology and our view is that, under the right conditions, their mining can build prosperity and security for local communities. Conducting due diligence, in accordance with OECD guidance, is key to managing the risks and to ensuring that businesses along the supply chains behave responsibly.
Our proposed regime for Northern Ireland is in line with the spirit of OECD guidance, incentivising businesses to continually improve their due diligence processes. The approach taken in the regulations, including the financial penalties for failure to co-operate with procedural requirements, corresponds with the European Commission’s stance on the scope of the EU regulation. We consider that this approach to the implementation of the EU conflict minerals regulations in Northern Ireland will meet our obligations under the protocol. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the Minister for his introduction. I do not think we need to detain the Committee long, as I have only two questions, about how these regulations are enforced. First, in his introduction, the Minister referred to inspectors employed by the Secretary of State. Can he be more explicit on who these inspectors are, and whether they are acting in Northern Ireland on behalf of the European Union or the Northern Ireland Executive? Secondly, can he please tell us what parallel arrangements will be in force in the rest of the country when we have left the European Union?
I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Could the noble Baroness please unmute?
My apologies—I was finding it quite difficult to hear the Minister, but I caught most of what he said and I thank him for introducing this SI. I declare my interests as in the register.
The Minister is right that the global attempts to tackle the association of minerals with conflict must be supported. We have long known about the resource curse which has afflicted countries with weak development and poor governance. I saw that clearly in Angola, where oil helped to fuel a 30-year civil war and then untold corruption—a situation which is at last being tackled.
The Kimberley process was brought in to try to ensure that diamonds were sourced in a transparent way, unsullied by conflict. The minerals needed for our mobile phones and electric batteries are sourced from some of the most conflict-affected countries in the world and we cannot turn a blind eye. The whole supply chain is rightly coming under increased spotlight.
The OECD emphasises that companies in the minerals supply chain must be more than simply reactive in this area; they need to be proactive in making sure that they respect human rights and do not contribute to conflict. We have seen many examples of this. We see it still in Latin America, and certainly in Africa. The DRC is blessed with substantial mineral reserves but the people living there are currently condemned to suffer violence from those fighting over extracting them.
The OECD published guidance in 2016 to assist companies in adhering to these guidelines. The EU followed suit in 2017 but strengthened it, so that the guidelines became mandatory. This is therefore yet another change that we need to address because of leaving the EU. The regulations relate to one part of those EU arrangements for certain minerals, which were due to come into force on 1 January, as the Minister has laid out. The regulations ensure that this is in place in Northern Ireland from 1 January.
Northern Ireland has the charmed status, as government Ministers have said, of being in the internal market of the UK and the internal market of the EU— just as we used to be. Therefore, under the Northern Ireland protocol, this needs to go into place. Can the Minister tell me whether the rest of the United Kingdom will also adhere to these rules, as my noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked? The Government are always saying that we will meet the highest of standards, outclassing the EU. Are we doing so here? What will happen to companies in the rest of the UK after the transition period ends?
I note that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments said that these SIs were “defectively drafted” and the Minister’s department acknowledged this. In its report discussing the draft regulations, the committee stated:
“Regulation 8 enables the Secretary of State to serve a notice requiring a person to provide information”
on imports, where necessary, and that this may be imposed on, but is not limited to, EU importers. It goes on:
“Regulations 14 and 15, and the Schedule to the Regulations, contain provision for enforcing obligations imposed by the Regulations. However, this is limited to enforcing obligations imposed on Union importers.”
Therefore, the committee argued,
“the Regulations contain no provision for enforcing a requirement under regulation 8 imposed on a person who is not a Union importer.”
The Minister’s department has acknowledged that Regulation 8 was enforceable against EU importers only. Consequently, it said that it would
“bring forward amending legislation as soon as possible and that … the Secretary of State will not exercise the power to require production of information under regulation 8 against persons other than Union importers.”
Can the Minister tell us when this amending legislation will be brought forward? He does not have much time. Is this not a reflection of the overburdened department, for which he is now the single Minister in the Lords? It is in a state of reorganisation, at the same time as the country battles Covid and the Government have decided to take the United Kingdom out of both the single market and the customs union. My sympathies here are with the civil servants who drew up these regulations.
Can he also say when these regulations will be considered in the House of Commons, given that we have very little time before the transition period ends? There may well be one particularly large piece of business to get through before the Commons rises for Christmas—of course, if there is not, heaven preserve us. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I echo many of the comments that have already been made in this short debate. I, too, welcome the regulations and their need to address some important issues. When one looks at the title of the SI, it seems rather dry, but think about its impact. If, when people used their mobile phones, they realised the impact they have on certain conflict-afflicted countries, they may think twice about the need for such regulations.
I will pick up on a couple of points. The Minister mentioned defects and the report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in relation to Regulation 8. The department has acknowledged this defect and said—the Minister repeated this—that it will
“bring forward amending legislation as soon as possible and that … the Secretary of State will not exercise the power to require production of information under regulation 8”.
What does “as soon as possible” mean? What is the timeframe for that? The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, made the point that this is a time-constrained issue. These regulations should be in force once the transition period ends, so can the noble Lord give us a clear assurance that we will not be in breach of the protocol and that these regulations will be properly enforced, as required by that? I would like that reassurance.
The other thing that was mentioned—the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in particular focused on this—was the question of who is responsible for the people required to enforce. The powers are designated to the Secretary of State rather than to the devolved Administration. Can the Minister confirm whether it is in line with precedent that such issues are reserved competencies and not ordinarily devolved to the Northern Ireland Administration?
The other point raised was on what we are doing. The Minister referred to the fact that parts of the requirement, the guidance and the statutory decision of the EU have applied in the rest of the UK. However, what are we doing to ensure that the spirit and letter of this requirement covers all parts of the United Kingdom? I am sure that all parties across the House would support this, because we know how important it is in terms of addressing conflict, which is often financed by the extraction of these minerals or caused by people wanting to extract them. It is therefore important that we get a clear indication that this policy will not be confined simply to the requirements of implementing the protocol.
My final point—I think that the Minister mentioned this—is that as an independent department DfID was a world leader in many of the developmental projects central to conflict minerals, including through support of the World Bank’s mineral sector reform programme, PROMINES. Can the Minister detail whether UK aid is today supporting similar programmes and whether any will be cut in the coming year? As we mentioned earlier in the House today, not many people realise how important ODA is for securing a safer and more secure world.
According to Global Witness, $3 billion in high-risk gold, including conflict gold from east and central Africa, flows to Dubai annually. Can the Minister confirm whether the UK is making any representations to other Governments regarding responsible importing of conflict materials, in particular those we are seeking agreements with on trade?
My Lords, first, I am grateful to all three noble Lords for their participation; I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, can hear me clearly. As all noble Lords have acknowledged and as I mentioned in my opening remarks, the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation comes into full force on 1 January 2021 and imposes a legal obligation on EU importers over the 3TG. We will also, in accordance with OECD guidance, issue further guidance in this respect in the early part of 2021 to ensure adherence.
Various questions were raised and I will seek to answer them as specifically as I can. First, on the report and the regulations mentioned, in particular the additional amendments we will seek to make in line with the committee’s report on Regulation 8, I do not have a specific date but I will of course endeavour to ensure that noble Lords are updated at the earliest opportunity to ensure that we are fully compliant in this respect. However, to answer the specific questions from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, these regulations will ensure we comply fully with our obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, raised the competent authority that will operate for the Northern Ireland inspectors, who will be appointed on behalf of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to exercise his powers with respect to entry and inspection. For the purposes of the regulations, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Secretary will take the role of the competent authority. This is also part and parcel of our fulfilling our obligations in this respect.
The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also rightly raised the issue of other parts of the UK, since we are taking these regulations forward only in Northern Ireland, in line with the Northern Ireland protocol. They asked specific questions on this. Outside of the EU, the UK is not obliged to enforce the substantive provisions of the EU conflict minerals regulation. However, the UK will continue to be an active member of the OECD and to promote the OECD’s due diligence guidance. In this respect, the UK Government fully expect all UK businesses to adhere to the OECD guidance. Since the EU minerals regulation is listed in Annexe 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement, the UK Government, in introducing the SI, are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the regulation is implemented and enforced in Northern Ireland. We will in due course consider what, if any, further regulatory framework might be appropriate for Great Britain.
In this regard, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also asked about our work elsewhere in the world. We have of course been very effective in bringing regimes across the world to the fore regarding this issue. In particular, the UK is committed to addressing risks around conflict minerals through promoting and encouraging compliance with the OECD’s due diligence guidance, which has been issued for responsible mineral supply chains for conflict-affected and high-risk areas. We will of course continue to be a member of the OECD outside of the EU and we expect all businesses to take appropriate steps.
The UK is also a founding member of the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals. This initiative aims to increase the proportion of responsibly sourced minerals by working across the whole of the supply chain. In this regard, the UK Government funded projects, including in the African Great Lakes region, and supported the development of a due diligence hub to provide information for businesses to progress their supply chain due diligence.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, specifically flagged the importance of the Kimberley process. I have worked directly on this so I can reassure her. The Kimberley process, as noble Lords know, groups 55 like-minded participants, covering 82 states, with framework regulations designed to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds, which is also pertinent to our debate. We have been part of the Kimberley process since 2002. The UK remain committed to the policies and principles of the Kimberley process. We will become an independent participant at the end of the transition period.
I trust that I have answered most if not all of the questions raised. As I said, I will come back to noble Lords on the specific timetabling of the related amendments under Regulation 8. We seek to do that as soon as practicable and possible. I am sure that we will update noble Lords through the usual channels. With that, I once again thank all noble Lords for their participation. This is another important step forward in the passing of these regulations to ensure our compliance with the obligations under the withdrawal agreement as we prepare for the end of the transition period.
That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 5.55 pm.