Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I speak to both instruments, given that both deliver legislation addressing requirements for the movements of UK sanitary and phytosanitary goods.
The first instrument completes the suite of EU exit amendments set out in the Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were debated on 2 December and came into force on 31 December. As with the earlier official controls instrument, this further instrument amends EU retained regulations governing official controls on imports to Great Britain of animals, animal products, plants and plant products, including food and other imports relevant to the agri-food chain.
The EU regulatory structure being retained and made operable by these amendments is complex and extensive. Due to the intricacy of the amendments required and a requirement set by the European Commission—that we should make and publish the first official controls instrument before mid-December, as a condition of it considering listing the United Kingdom as a third country for export to the EU—we took the decision to divide the necessary legislation into two instruments.
The earlier official controls instrument focused on operability amendments to the main body of EU official controls regulations. The instrument before your Lordships today makes similar operability amendments to more than 30 separate tertiary regulations, covering procedural aspects of the official controls regime. For example, Part 3 of the instrument amends the EU tertiary regulation governing the information management system for official controls, known as IMSOC. This amendment removes references to complying with EU-wide standards, which are mandated to enable member states to integrate their IT systems across the EU as a whole. The amendments do not change the policy requirement for the UK to maintain computerised information management systems to the standard necessary to deliver official controls information and processes.
This legislation ensures that we can continue to deliver robust, effective controls and checks on all food, animal and plant imports. As previously announced, we have now started to phase in border controls on imports from the European Economic Area. Our purpose is to ensure that, without compromising our biosecurity, we maintain the flow of import activity at the border and give business and industry longer to prepare for the full controls regime. Phasing is a temporary, pragmatic step to support international trade and mitigate border disruption, made necessary by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19.
From April, pre-notification and health documentation will be introduced for imports of EU products of animal origin and for all regulated plants and plant products. From July 2021, we will have controls in place for all imports of European Union SPS goods.
I turn to the second instrument, the Plant Health (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. Delivering unfettered market access for Northern Irish businesses moving goods into Great Britain is one of the key commitments in the Northern Ireland protocol and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. The measures in this instrument reflect those commitments. They specify the mechanism to allow regulated plants and plant materials to move from Northern Ireland into Great Britain. This instrument does not introduce any policy changes.
The purpose of this instrument is to protect biosecurity and to support trade by ensuring that effective phytosanitary controls continue to operate between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and within Great Britain, in relation to Northern Ireland qualifying goods. The instrument makes amendments to retained EU law to allow movements of qualifying goods into Great Britain under an EU plant passport. This means that for Northern Irish businesses trading with Great Britain nothing will change compared with the situation before 1 January.
Once in Great Britain, an EU plant passport can continue to accompany the qualifying goods, but an authorised operator will also have the option, as for other regulated plants being moved in Great Britain, to replace the plant passport with a UK plant passport where appropriate. An EU plant passport on qualifying goods may be replaced by an authorised operator if they choose to replace the plant passport for business reasons—for example, to include their own business details—or split a consignment where each trade unit, be it a pot, box, trolley or similar, is not already covered by an individual plant passport. In these circumstances, the provisions allow GB operators to replace the original EU plant passport with a UK plant passport if the characteristics of the qualifying goods have not changed, but they also ensure that the traceability requirements in relation to the goods are maintained. Provision is also made for the goods to be assessed against GB plant health standards where these are different from those of the EU, and for the authorised operator to have the option to issue a UK plant passport where the goods are assessed as meeting GB plant health requirements.
Under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland will maintain alignment with the EU plant health regime rather than that of Great Britain. This instrument makes amendments to allow identification of qualifying goods on the GB market to ensure traceability in the event of any biosecurity issues arising which need to be addressed.
The format of UK plant passports is amended to include a country code of GB(NI) for all qualifying goods where replacement UK plant passports are issued once within GB. This will allow the goods concerned to continue to be identified as qualifying goods and will facilitate effective enforcement.
Devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales have formally consented to both instruments and the Northern Ireland devolved Administration have also consented to the plant health instrument.
The basis of these instruments—and my concern—is to protect biosecurity, which is of supreme importance to the Government and to all, as well as to deliver on our commitment to provide unfettered market access for Northern Ireland. I beg to move.
My Lords, that was a commendable introduction from a commendable Minister. I have read Defra’s detailed answers to the memo submitted by Friends of the Earth which appears in the annexe to the recent 41st report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I have no problem with the use of these powers. They may need to be used very quickly, and I see more than one reference to their being used on the strength of appropriate scientific and technical advice. As such, I ask the Minister to say a bit more about the use of reference laboratories and animal feed. Neither of these areas is politically sexy, yet they are vital for public health and animal health. Will the arrangements be dependent on new IT systems? How will we share information with the EU and the EEA? Finally on this one, can the Minister say something about the supply and training of veterinarians?
On the second statutory instrument, relating to plant health, can the Minister say a little more about the work of the UK plant health risk group? I would like confirmation that the new, so-called bonfire of regulations will not be used to keep the public from knowing about the work of the risk group. I know from my own experience at the Food Standards Agency about the balance of competences exercise conducted by the coalition Government. Most regulations are for public protection, which of course is why that exercise was buried after the 36 reports were published. That completes my list of questions for the Minister.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his introduction of these statutory instruments. As he rightly said—I hope I quote him correctly—they are complex and intricate.
Given that quite a lot of diseases have come in from Europe over the past years, can my noble friend confirm that there will not be an increased risk of diseases coming in from Ireland as more trade is done directly between Ireland and the rest of the EU, cutting out Holyhead and the land journey across Europe? Is there not a greater chance of plant diseases coming from Ireland into Northern Ireland and thus into the UK that way? Can my noble friend confirm that he has got his eyes on this potential back-door entry for diseases?
Can my noble friend also confirm, in words of one syllable, that there will be no reduction in standards of biosecurity and no weakening of the regulations? Do the Government have plans indeed to tighten up the regulations? Now that we are a third-party state, surely there is an opportunity for us to make it even more difficult for diseases to come into this country.
Lastly, how will people be notified when the Government take action? Will it be a simple matter for firms to operate? Will my noble friend make certain that the information is transparent and on all government websites? I am afraid that some websites are not kept as up to date as they should be. Perhaps he could ensure that they are in future.
My Lords, outside the trade agreement, the EU granted the UK national listed status on 24 December, which allows the trade of live animals and products of animal origin and plants to continue after the transition period. Sanitary and phytosanitary—SPS—border checks will be required for trade in live animals and products of animal origin, meaning that agri-food traders will meet with extra costs and burden. Does the Minister agree with that?
SPS border controls will include extensive checks and specialised paperwork, and frequent physical inspections will be required. Does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on both sides to minimise disruption and keep goods moving, as businesses continue to get to grips with the changes since 1 January? Does he also agree that authorities could help by relying on pragmatism rather than penalties, and that honest mistakes should be coached and not penalised in the coming weeks and months?
The issues that arise must be resolved quickly. As president of the CBI, I can say that the CBI is on hand to help the Government by getting information and guidance to businesses as quickly as possible. As firms adjust to new processes and procedures, they will be keen to see quick progress on issues outside the deal to support businesses, and greater regulatory co-operation outside the area we are discussing. For example, financial services and the mutual recognition of professional qualifications are other areas that need to be dealt with. Over the coming weeks and months, it is vital that government and business work together closely to shape the new relationship with the EU and ensure that the UK remains a competitive, dynamic and innovative economy.
We have heard that some hauliers have been reluctant to carry multiple firms’ loads together in one shipment, particularly for food, given the added challenges posed by collating paperwork and clearing customs. A handful of major logistics firms have also stopped deliveries to and from the UK, given a high number of consignments reportedly not meeting new requirements. Of course, the pandemic has not helped the situation, but does the Minister agree that there is a shortage of customs agents? It is estimated that about 50,000 would be required, but that there are possibly only 11,000 to 12,000 now. When does he see this situation being resolved?
Finally, we have heard that, in Dublin, the volumes are down 50% on normal levels—this was reported yesterday. That might of course be due to stockpiling before Christmas and Covid. However, can the Minister comment on the veterinary health certificates required under the EU’s SPS rules, which are also causing considerable problems for UK food companies?
My Lords, I have always felt that one of the great contributions we made to the European Union was by insisting upon the environmental and animal welfare standards. Having read these memorandums—the documents on official controls—I found there was so much in them, so I think the Government are committed to us maintaining at least those standards that we had when leaving.
I want to follow a point raised by my noble friend Lord Rooker, who related human health to animal welfare and animal health. I want to ask about a specific aspect of that. We all know that, on the human side, antibiotics are a major contributor when we look at fighting illness and keeping fit. We also know—the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, will know this in particular, in his profession as a farmer—about farmers making great use of antibiotics and that, as a society, we benefit enormously from that contribution to farming. But although most farmers go to great lengths to minimise the amount of antibiotics they use in farming, there is some passing-over to human health. Of course, the more antibiotics we have in our fight against illness, from whichever source, the greater the resistance we will have in getting the benefit from antibiotics.
I was interested to discover that there is a move to develop a particular type of antibiotics in agriculture, which would be unique to agriculture and would not transfer across to impact human health. Am I right in assuming, when I read these documents, that this sort of activity in Britain is using our science—just as we used it in developing the vaccine to fight Covid—to try to develop that in the fight to improve human health?
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.
My Lords, I have to confess that I find reading statutory instruments very hard going—certainly not bedside reading. I sometimes have difficulty with the Explanatory Notes, so I hope that what I am going to say accurately reflects the situation, and that where it does not, I can be put right.
My understanding is that, since 1 January, we have been operating our own passports for plant health, whereas Northern Ireland remains part of the EU for this purpose. People there will therefore continue to operate using the EU passports for health, in which I am greatly interested. When proper goods come over from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, if I may put it that way, I gather that we are going to accept the EU conditions. What worries me is this: supposing they differ over the course of time? I recall that, before we left the EU, there were sometimes mutterings that it was not being strict enough about plant health regulations. So supposing our regulations get stiffer and its remain the same or are different, what then would be the position for the import of these plant products?
I also understand that it is possible to convert EU passports into UK passports, if I understood the Minister correctly. Again, I am not sure whether I understand what the procedures or the conditions are. If my noble friend could tell me briefly, either at the end of the debate or subsequently, I should be very grateful.
On the other hand, when the plants go from the UK— or Great Britain, as I should call it, to be absolutely accurate—to Northern Ireland, I gather that it will not accept our UK passports. We shall therefore have to comply with whatever regulations the EU sets forth, as a third country, so to speak. What is the position right now? Am I to understand that there is a period of grace between now and 1 April, where it would be much easier to send them in, and what happens after 1 April? Will it be very tricky or expensive and administratively time-consuming to do all this? Again, I should be grateful for some answer on this from my noble friend.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who has reflected some of our shared interests as a fellow member of the APPG on horticulture. I thank the Minister for his detailed introduction to these statutory instruments. He made clear the complexity of what we are dealing with. It is clear that we are far from the frictionless trade that we were sometimes implausibly promised by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to some of the difficulties being encountered now on the border.
I would like to begin with this question to the Minister. The Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations were made on 21 December and laid on 22 December. Can he make it clear how well they have been communicated to small businesses and to academics—the people who have a real interest in this area? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that people understand what is actually going on, if they do not have time to spend their entire day focusing on the fine details of statutory instruments?
I pay tribute Friends of the Earth, which prepared two excellent briefings on these statutory instruments that I relied on quite heavily. I have a question about the use of the negative statutory instrument process. Regulation 2 of the official controls regulations allows regulations to be made on special import conditions on animal and related products, and Regulation 13 gives the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers special powers to make regulations concerning meat and bivalve production by negative statutory instrument. It appears that similar procedures in the European Commission operate in a much more democratic way, so could the Minister comment on how this squares with the taking back control agenda if Parliament has less oversight than we see in Europe?
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to the European Union Reference Laboratory for Animal Proteins in Feedingstuffs. I would like some reassurance from the Minister that there will be continual ongoing skills and knowledge sharing, and that we have a real sense that we are still right up at and contributing to the cutting edge, co-operation obviously being much more useful than competition.
Finally, I come to the plant health amendment regulations 2020. Again, my question relates to transparency and openness. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, both referred to the question of openness in the reporting of the UK plant health risk group’s proceedings—both minutes and agendas, one would hope. The comparable EU body, the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, does this with commendable regularity and openness. Given that all these meetings are, I am sure, now conducted by teleconferencing, as most of us in your Lordships’ House now operate, I see no reason why they should not be broadcast for anyone with an interest. There is, of course, a great deal of interest in issues around plant diseases, invasive species, diseases like Xylella, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, referred to, antibiotic resistance, and the risk of importing it and antibiotic-tainted meat. Has the Minister considered whether the plant health risk group’s meetings could be fully conducted in public by means of Zoom or similar so that they are available to everyone?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the two noble Baronesses and I thank my noble friend for his typically clear explanation of what are very complicated regulations. My starting point is that importers and exporters are simply not used to form filling and customs declarations, which have not been a requirement since we joined the single market in 1992. So, while I welcome the phasing in of the first regulation on animal feeds, food and plant health, as he outlined, could my noble friend be clear what the requirements will be in the new model certificates, and the timescale within which they will be available? Could this be done as soon as possible? Could he also update us on the development of the
“appropriate computerised information management system”
referred to in the first instrument before us?
On plant health, could my noble friend confirm that we will still have access to the EU risk assessment, such as TRACES? In the case of ash dieback, we exported ash seeds and reimported them as saplings. We happened to import ash dieback, which of course was not intentional. When my noble friend refers to checks being proportionate, depending on the specific factor, commodity and continuity of exports, will he ensure that sufficient training will be given under both regulations to ensure that importers and exporters are familiarised at the earliest possible stage with the requirements they will be asked to meet?
On the concerns raised by Friends of the Earth to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee regarding imports into GB, I am sure my noble friend will confirm that this will be available at the earliest opportunity on the government website. Will he again ensure that sufficient time is available to exporters and importers to prepare? I understand that the forms were only prepared in November. I hope that their coming live dates of 1 April and 1 July will give sufficient time for this purpose.
Like my noble friend Lady Fookes, I find it very confusing that there will be two systems in operation, one for those exporting from Northern Ireland to GB and another for those exporting from GB to Northern Ireland—but I am sure my noble friend will confirm that under the protocol there is no alternative. I welcome the opportunity to put these questions and to give the regulations some scrutiny this afternoon.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his introduction. I will begin with the official controls regulations on animals, feed and food, and plant health. As has been said, we debated regulations with the same title on 2 December, and here we are again going over the same ground. The first SI had to be passed by December to comply with our third-country status. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to safety in our sanitary and phytosanitary systems—SPS—and possible costs to businesses. I know that everyone was working flat out before Christmas and that some legislation had to be left until after 1 January, but I hope we will not come back yet again to debate the same issues but with minor amendments throughout 2021.
On this occasion, we are concerned with border control posts. As we have seen on regular news reports, the number of forms required to be completed to comply with EU official controls is very burdensome. SPS checks will, apparently, vary proportionately, depending on risk factors. This includes the import of live animals, products of animal origin or plant materials, depending on whether they are exported from a country with any current known incidence of relevant animal or plant diseases. If animal and plant products are imported from a country that has a known disease, this is a considerable risk to our farming and horticulture sectors. Can the Minister reassure us that he is confident that such imports will be disease free? The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, also referred to this.
I am pleased that the devolved Administrations have been consulted, with the Scottish and Welsh DAs having given consent. I understand that the SI does not apply to Northern Ireland. Like many others, I am extremely concerned about what I am seeing happening in Northern Ireland, with food shortages and some empty supermarket shelves. I am being somewhat opportunistic in mentioning the crisis in Northern Ireland; although it is not part of this SI, a situation has developed that needs urgent attention. Public confidence in the Government’s legislation post Brexit will be severely dented by what people see happening in Northern Ireland due to border controls.
Annexe 2 lists 30 operable amendments made by this instrument to EU exit legislation. I can see many old friends in that list. Many relate to products for human consumption. In the past, lax regulation of animal feedstuffs has led to some catastrophic disease outbreaks—I refer, of course, to BSE. We have learned many lessons along the way, but it is easy to relax rules, thinking we are safe, only to find that some unknown variant has crept back in through the back door. I ask the Minister: are there similar restrictions on the import of foodstuffs destined for animal consumption to those that there are for food destined for human consumption?
I turn to the plant health amendment regulations, which also deal with import controls from third countries. New plant health passports needed for qualifying Northern Ireland goods sent to the UK will apply only one way. Can the Minister say why plant passports are not needed for goods going in the opposite direction? The noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady McIntosh, touched on this.
Now that we are in a different regulatory and legislative regime, there is much that concerns us about how rules we have been used to relying on are being somewhat arbitrarily changed. The lifting of the ban on neonicotinoids to assist the sugar beet growers is one such example.
I know the Minister has long been an advocate of bees, and he will have his own personal views. It must therefore be difficult for him to feel any great enthusiasm for the change that the Secretary of State has made, and I would be interested to hear how he has managed to reconcile this dichotomy.
Friends of the Earth, which was referred to earlier in the debate, is concerned about the lack of transparency and access to information. The UK Plant Health Information Portal does not offer transparent or up-to-date information on the activities of the UK plant health risk group, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. This is a serious issue for those who wish to have access to this information. Can the Minister say why this is and whether the Government have any plans to rectify this omission?
I look forward to the Minister’s response to all the queries raised this afternoon. These SIs, although apparently minor, are important. On that basis, I am happy to see them approved.
I start by thanking the Minister for introducing the SIs so clearly today and for his very helpful briefing beforehand. First, I will address the animals, feed and food and plant health regulations.
Paragraph 2.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum explains that sanitary and phytosanitary checks are to be carried out at “designated border control points”. The Government committed to building more infra- structure at ports and elsewhere to support the increased number of checks. However, we know that not all of these were ready on 1 January. Will the Minister take this opportunity to update colleagues on the status of these facilities, particularly given the fact that Her Majesty’s Government have acknowledged that there have been problems at the borders?
Part 2 refers to the special import conditions that may be imposed in respect of imports from third countries of products of animal origin intended for human consumption. Can the Minister clarify how special import conditions will be communicated, how long they will apply and the processes proposed to review their cumulative impact?
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the issues that were raised by Friends of the Earth. For example, Regulation 4 amends the previous animal feed regulations to omit Regulation 90. This had previously replaced references to the European Union Reference Laboratory for Animal Proteins in Feedingstuffs with the words “reference laboratory”. This was mentioned by both the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and we would be interested to know why these references have been reinstated. Does this represent a specific, time-limited transitional arrangement or an agreement on continued UK engagement, or is it that no reference laboratory yet exists within the UK to take on this work?
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred to Regulation 17 and model official certificates, so can the Minister clarify the requirements for these certificates and the timescales within which they will be available? The noble Baroness also mentioned that there is an update required on the development of
“the appropriate computerised information management system”
that is referred to in paragraph (6)(b).
We were concerned as to why the regulations in this SI were not included in the previous SI, debated at the beginning of December; this was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. The Explanatory Memorandum appears to blame the European Commission, and I am aware that the Minister explained in his introduction why the regulations were not dealt with previously. But we agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and her frustrations in having to, once again, go over ground we have already covered.
I turn to the draft plant health amendment regulations. As we have heard from the Minister, this instrument aims to protect biosecurity and support trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by ensuring that plant health controls for qualifying goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain can function after the end of the transition period.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised the question of documentation for products heading in the opposite direction—Great Britain to Northern Ireland—and although I am aware that this is not technically within the scope of this SI, I hope that, given the problems currently being experienced by supermarkets, the Minister will not object to us asking for clarification on whether or how supermarkets have to notify Her Majesty’s Government that the procedures have actually been updated, and for an update on the situation regarding the flow of goods.
Regulation 3 allows the Government to move products that pose a pest risk. This has also been discussed by other Members, including the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, so I will not go into any further detail on that. But it would be helpful for the Minister to clarify who determines what constitutes an “acceptable level” of risk, and which body would determine whether the decision of measures to adopt was suitable to reduce risk to an acceptable level.
Paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum notes that, in some circumstances, British operators can replace an existing EU plant passport with a UK equivalent; the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, referenced this. Can we find out exactly what this process entails in practice? Will there be any time delays? What kinds of costs could there be? How has this been communicated to industry in advance? The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, raised questions about support for business, and I do not feel that the Explanatory Memorandum is clear on these points, other than saying that it did not believe that consultation was necessary.
The Explanatory Memorandum also repeatedly states that the instrument
“facilitates the government’s policy of unfettered market access”.
While it may do that on paper, there have been initial teething problems which have amounted to anything but unfettered access. I ask the Minister to encourage the Government to apologise to businesses which have been affected by the lack of lead-in time for these new procedures. I await his response with interest.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords. Inevitably, with the time factor, there is much that I would like to say. I am going to send a substantial letter, and I will include the Government’s response to the points made by Friends of the Earth, because then one can see some of that in context. But I will run through some of the points made by noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked about reference laboratories. Defra’s global animal health team has worked closely with the UK CVO, the devolved Administrations, the Pirbright Institute, Cefas, the APHA and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute—AFBI—in Northern Ireland to ensure that the UK’s animal health national reference laboratories are prepared for withdrawal from the EURL. The noble Lord also asked about vet training. Defra is working with port health authorities, the APHA and the Food Standards Agency to ensure that recruitment and training of the additional staff required is completed for each stage of the new import regime.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about communications on the work of the plant health risk group. This group publishes all pest risk assessments on the UK Plant Health Information Portal. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about, on plants, the definition of “acceptable level”, and I should say, because these are matters of great importance, that the UK intends to ensure that its SPS regime remains appropriate to address the risk it faces. Defra has a dedicated team of specialists, plant health risk analysts and managers working with the devolved Administrations.
I should also say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Bennett, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that the UK plant health risk group identifies, assesses and manages plant health threats. As part of the process of withdrawing from the EU, we have bolstered this group. The plant health risk group includes key experts from Defra and the devolved Administrations, and its outputs are published for scrutiny and comment and to help information making. I shall take back some of the points that have been made about how best to communicate that.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—affirmative and negative—and we now and again have discussions about this in the House and with legislation. We believe that many of these issues are technical and many of the needs we have to face are where speed is of the essence, but that is why we said to Friends of the Earth, and I will say now, that we thought it was appropriate to have that measure. But I will send all the details of Friends of the Earth’s comments to noble Lords.
I should also say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that, on the issue of the Northern Ireland back door, everything from the rest of the world coming through either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland must complete border checks in the first place they enter—either the EU or Northern Ireland. We therefore believe that there is no increased risk compared with the position before the end of the transition period.
On diseases, whether they are in Ireland or here—or, indeed, in separate parts of Great Britain, where we have pests and diseases—we have our own systems, which ensure that we bear down so that we do not allow the spread of pests and diseases. I place great importance on that.
Another point was made about communications. Again, there were issues here. I understand why, in a period of change, it is essential for all businesses that communication is speedy and any necessary updates are made speedily. We have maintained regular engagement with industry on post-transition planning, both with individual operators and through key stakeholder groups. We have undertaken a series of feasibility sessions with more than 300 participants, and equivalent export sessions. Communications, especially regarding Northern Ireland-GB trade, have been shared with the Plant Health Advisory Forum as well as with key stakeholders such as the Horticultural Trades Association, the National Farmers’ Union and the Fresh Produce Consortium.
That work must continue. I am absolutely aware that there will be issues that continue and need to be resolved for people. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that we need to resolve these matters pragmatically and quickly. Speed is of the essence at both ministerial and official level. I know from talking to the Secretary of State and the farming and fisheries Minister only yesterday that all these matters are being addressed daily. Whether it is discussions with the French, the Dutch or the Irish—as noble Lords may have heard about during the exchange on fish—we need dialogue to raise all these points.
On antibiotics, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. Resistance to antibiotics is of huge imperative for human and animal health, which is why I am proud that we have seen in this country significant reductions in the use of antibiotics in the animal world. That particularly goes for farmed animals; we must continue that through improved husbandry, vaccines and research. On that point— I picked this up only in the paper, so I caveat it—I noticed that, only today, the University of Oxford has made a significant investment in antibiotics. This is where that science hub, of which we should be proud and where we need to invest, will be an important part of our global approach.
I understand what my noble friend Lady Fookes said about the technicalities of changes to passports. I will write to her so that, in some detail, my noble friend and I can work together on why these changes are happening and why we need, again, to work pragmatically on these matters.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell: yes, by definition, these regulations apply to both food for humans and feed for animals. Again, that is really important. There is specific reference to animal feed in these regulations.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the infrastructure of border control posts, that as of 13 January, Defra has approved expressions of interest for 29 new capacity BCP applications from providers in England and Wales. These have been passed to APHA to progress. We are currently aware of expressions of interest from 14 Scottish BCPs.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned recruitment, which is also very important. We are working with port health authorities, the APHA and the Food Standards Agency to ensure that the recruitment and training of the additional staff required is completed for each stage of the new import regime.
On computers, I should tell my noble friend Lady McIntosh that I am not very good with IT. As a general rule, we never use traces for parts. We will therefore continue to use the existing national IT systems of eDomero and PEACH. Indeed, new systems—IPAFFS and ECHO—will replace eDomero later in the year. Again, I agree that it will be imperative that the changes we bring forward are communicated early and that businesses are comfortable with them because—again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, here—we want to minimise burdens in the changes that will take place.
There were expressions of concern about Northern Ireland. I agree that we always want to take any concerns about that part of the United Kingdom very seriously. My understanding as of today is that the flow of goods between GB and Northern Ireland has been smooth—and remains so—and supermarkets are reporting healthy supplies into their Northern Ireland stores. Supermarkets and other authorised traders are exempt from certification requirements for three months. The Movement Assistance Scheme provides detailed online guidance for traders, a helpline for practical advice and reimbursements to cover the costs of certification. We will work with businesses because they need to be aware and need to do a lot themselves, and we want to be a helping hand rather than a heavy hand in all these matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made points about communication and the timescale of performance. I will send a note about all that because those things are very important.
On the derogation of neonicotinoids, it was an emerging authorisation with very considerable requirements for not using other crops thereafter, so it was a very distinct emergency derogation.
I much regret that my time is up, unfortunately, when there is so much more to say. I will therefore write fully to noble Lords.