Wednesday 27 January 2021
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, and 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 time limit for the following debate is one hour.
Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. The content of this SI is reserved, but a draft version was shared with devolved Administrations for comment; only minor drafting points were raised, which we addressed in full. I make it clear that these regulations do not change our policy or make new policy; instead, they principally amend retained EU legislation to ensure that the relevant regulations operate in Great Britain.
The amendments made by this instrument primarily concern geographical indications, or GIs. They also include transitioning obligations in EU wines and spirits agreements and extend to trade between the UK and the EU in wine and organic products. GIs are a form of intellectual property protection for the names of food, drink and agricultural products with qualities attributable to the place where they are produced or to the traditional methods by which they are made.
Until the end of the transition period, we operated under the EU’s GI schemes. The EU and the UK have not included a section on GIs in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. This means that UK GIs which were on the EU register at the end of the transition period remain protected in the EU and vice versa, but there is no automatic protection for names registered after the end of the transition period. We have instead included a review clause which allows us to agree rules on the protection of GIs in future, should we so wish. The UK retains full autonomy over its own GI regimes.
As of 1 January, the UK has had an independent, fully functioning GI regime. As the competent authority, Defra manages the schemes with the devolved Administrations and handles domestic and international applications. Guidance on the application process is online. The schemes cover spirits, wines, aromatised wines, and food and agricultural products. Examples range from Wensleydale cheese to products such as native Shetland wool. There are many more; I am sure that many noble Lords have GIs of their own that are special to them.
This instrument amends existing GI regulations to ensure that they are fit for purpose and work as intended. It also allows the UK to use bridging arrangements to continue to protect GIs from countries where a trade deal was agreed but is not yet ratified, at the end of the transition period. This will ensure that GIs already protected in the UK do not lose their protection due to a long ratification process.
This instrument also adds an additional category of GI to ensure that the Japanese GI Kumamoto rush remains protected in the UK. This is a long-stemmed grass that is traditionally dried and woven into mats in the Kumamoto region of Japan. It can be grown only in that region. This was previously protected in the EU under the EU-Japan trade agreement, but it did not fit within any of the GI product categories which the UK inherited from the EU. The addition of this category provides a clear basis on which to continue to protect the GI under the UK-Japan agreement. This does not change our policy; we are simply correcting a deficiency in EU legislation.
On spirit drinks, this instrument provides for the ongoing protection of US product names, and Mexican names once transitioned in the UK, to reflect the transitional EU agreements. It also enables the retained EU spirit drinks regulations for GIs to function correctly in relation to protection and enforcement. For wines, this instrument amends retained EU regulations that provide a basis for protecting US wine names of origin in the UK to make them operable. In doing that, it also creates the necessary basis for enforcement in the UK.
This instrument also includes several non-GI provisions. It introduces a six-month easement on the new requirement for EU wines imported to the UK to be accompanied by a VI-1 certificate. This certificate provides information on the type and analytical composition of a wine. We worked with the wine trade to assess the impacts of this certification requirement on the industry. As a result, we have introduced this easement to minimise the potential for disruption to the UK market by allowing EU imports to arrive under the same commercial documents used while the UK was a member state. New and simplified certification arrangements are set out in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement to cover movements of EU and UK origin wines.
On organics, we have extended our recognition of the EU and EEA states as equivalent and updated their list of control bodies. We have also ensured that organic products from the EU, EEA and Switzerland are able to continue to flow smoothly into Great Britain by providing a six-month easement on the requirement for certificates of inspection for such products.
The amendments made by this instrument are essential for a smooth transition. Without them, international obligations would not be met, retained EU legislation would not be operable and vital transitional provisions would not be in place. For those reasons, I commend the instrument to your Lordships. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his patience and consideration in introducing this SI to us today. It is very much appreciated. Once again, we are essentially considering a piece of legislation which aims to protect the British public and producers in light of our having left the European Union. This is an incredibly difficult but necessary task if we are to retain the benefits of trade with the European Union and attempt to increase our trade with the rest of the world.
I appreciate that this is more or less a technical SI that does not introduce any new policy. It appears particularly comprehensive, with so much emphasis on GIs, as well as relating to wines and spirits. Geographical indications are very important for Britain as we go forward and extend our trade into the wider world; they are already very extensive, with the UK list covering over 104 pages. As the Minister says, it offers protection to food and drink manufacturers in particular locations and their means of production in the UK, the European Union and the wider world. These stretch from Arbroath smokies through to Cornish pasties, Cumberland sausages and even Yorkshire forced rhubarb. I am glad that the Government are committed to this. Can he confirm that the Government are committed to the GI system of protection and have already signed a number of trade agreements with the European Union and other countries which encompass it? Am I right in thinking also that this SI provides a bridging route for such agreements which are still in the process of transition?
My Lords, I wish to clarify the parts of these regulations relating to the movement of wine into this country from the EU. I also have a question relating to the shipment of wine from Great Britain to the EU. This industry is important. The UK is a major global hub for wine. In the UK we consume 12 million bottles of wine a day, and about half of those come from the EU. In the first two weeks of this year, businesses were able to import only 144,000 bottles from the EU, meaning stocks were depleted by some 11.7 million bottles a day during this period. Can the Minister provide the latest information on amounts imported? The obvious outcome of stock depletion at this rate is scarcity and an increase in prices, as has been pointed out by south Wales wine importer Daniel Lambert in many media outlets.
As for trade in the other direction, wine is the sixth most important food and drink export from Great Britain—more valuable than beer and beef. The main question I wish to pose about these regulations is on the nature of this six-month easement. Is it an opportunity to get a new smoother procedure in place, or is it simply to provide a period for the wine trade to get used to handling the proposed new system? Will policy change? Will there be further negotiation to remove the non-tariff barriers that trade is now facing?
The VI-1 form, which was used to protect EU wine from cheap imports, is proposed to be largely replicated save for the lab test requirement for alcohol content. This is a cumbersome approach. The clunky government CHIEF system operated by HMRC is already proving very difficult for the wine trade. Parts of it are impenetrable or not functioning adequately, and this will have contributed to the drastic reduction in the number of bottles imported into Great Britain. Is there now a telephone hotline for advice in place, or must the trade rely on an email system which returns queries within five days? Article 3 of annexe TBT-5 to the TCA refers to a preference for an electronic system for documentation. That would be a major improvement. Paperwork is a major non-tariff barrier, and I would be grateful for an explanation of whether the Government intend to achieve that electronic process within the six-month period.
The Minister will be aware that wines from countries such as Chile are imported tariff-free into the UK in bulk, bottled at a UK bottling plant and then re-exported to the EU. There are great fears that the additional costs of re-exporting will endanger this trade and bottling plants in Great Britain. Can he provide any reassurance to this part of the industry?
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association is finding it very difficult to be able to express its concerns to Ministers. Would the Minister be prepared to meet me and its representatives to discuss their concerns? This would be a really important indication that the Government wished to allay the fears of the sector.
I realise I have asked a lot of questions of the Minister and I hope that, if he cannot reply today, he can do so in writing.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his presentation. Many of us in different capacities, as elected as well as unelected representatives, have fought for recognition of various UK products under GI and the protection it affords them. Some examples are Melton Mowbray pork pies, Cornish pasties and, of most interest to me, Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese—not to forget as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, mentioned, Yorkshire rhubarb.
In the EU, four separate schemes protect particular European brands and products. I am therefore pleased that the Government, with EU assistance, seem determined to maintain a scheme that carries over this mutual protection, thus saving us from Wensleydale cheese from Normandy or Melton Mowbray pies from Bavaria.
I think that this SI sets down only the instruments for final agreement to be reached on this arrangement. It certainly introduces a new domestic registration process, accessible by home and overseas providers, which is very important bearing in mind that geographically protected goods are no less than 25% of our food and drink exports each year, worth several billion pounds. However, the infrastructure to carry out the registration of current and new GI products may not be fully in place yet. Can my noble friend clarify this?
Can my noble friend also confirm how current EU GI products are to be reregistered in the UK? Are these changes, which the Government seem to be suggesting will make the process quicker and easier than under EU control, likely to be more expensive for applicants? In the event of an appeal process being utilised, what extra costs are envisaged? Will such a process be as equally streamlined as the basic application process? How will the implementation of these new arrangements be monitored, so that they are seen to work as fairly and as well as those that preceded them? In view of the need to alter promotional material, including with a new logo, what assistance and resources might the Government offer to assist business, especially the smaller and more specialist businesses, which are often the GI stars?
As a result of European law there was always a built-in equity, where GIs were granted to avoid unfair competition. Are the Government happy that this will be the case in future? This is so that European products such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Polish vodka, Bavarian beer and champagne, which are no doubt enjoyed by many UK citizens—though in the latter case, I think not by Members of your Lordships’ House—will continue to be properly protected and not suffer any discrimination or lack of supply. Of course, we all wish to encourage the consumption of our own food and wine, but as a global nation now we should also facilitate the cosmopolitan tastes of our citizens as far as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the statutory instrument so expertly. I will leave the organic question to when we discuss the next statutory instrument. I declare my interest as I chair the board of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme, a member of which is the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
Like others, I have been involved as a former MEP with trying to protect geographic indicators. I pay tribute to the imagination of some producers such as Shepherds Purse Cheeses, which was unable to retain the denomination of Yorkshire feta, as obviously it is produced in North Yorkshire near Thirsk and not in Greece. It changed the name to Yorkshire Fettle. We have yet to successfully obtain the badge for Yorkshire pudding.
I would like to put two small requests to the Minister regarding the wine trade here. The first relates to the removal of the form VI-1 for non-EU wines. Now we have left the European Union and reached the end of the transition period, why are we seeking to automatically roll over EU regulations—especially when they work to the disadvantage of British importers and consumers? I understand that 99% of the wine consumed in the UK is imported and that half that wine is from the European Union. It would make sense not just to keep this under review, but to remove the requirement set out in form VI-1. When this was discussed in the House of Commons, my honourable friend the Minister, Victoria Prentis, said in reply:
“we will consider in due course whether there is a case for revisiting the requirements of the VI-1 certification.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 25/1/21; col. 8.]
I put it to the Minister today that there is no time like the present. Can we review it and scrap the requirements of VI-1?
My second request is to look at what was set out by the noble Lord, Lord German, so I will not repeat the technical details. But on annexe TBT-5 and the requirements for an electronic system, can my noble friend put a date on when that will come into effect? If it is within the next six months or slightly beyond that, can we again look at dispensing with the paper form requirements, which we have seen cause such difficulties since 1 January and leapfrog over to introduce the electronic system as soon as possible? Let us hope that it will not have the same teething problems as we have experienced with other customs requirements since 1 January.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his by now traditional and felicitous introduction of these regulations, which one supports. When I was in another place for 31 years, the NFU would take me each year to four or five farms, both estuarine and hill. Thus one knows enough of farming to know that one does not know.
The persuasive Ms Minette Batters, the NFU president, tells us that food and drink is Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, raising £120 billion annually and employing nearly 4 million fellow citizens. These are massive figures and thus the regulations are urgent. The Economist magazine of 28 November 2020 states that Britain grows or produces some two-thirds of its own food and drink. Surely, we should not let that share fall further. The Royal Agricultural Society would confirm that, in 1984, Britain could have survived for 306 days solely on British produce—its own food and drink. Today, that figure is 233 days, so the respected RAS says. These figures say it all. So much now depends on the recent radical ground-breaking Agriculture Act. Britain’s food and drink security is vital.
To conclude, I make the strongest plea—not for the first time—for the upland farmers and especially their product: sheep meat? They are superb food producers and very much part of British agriculture. The hill farms of the Peak, the Lakes, the moors of the Dart and Ex, and my own homeland—the lovely land of Wales; geographic indeed—are always up against it. Heavy rainfall, ferocious gales, cruel frosts, and snowstorms for ever challenge this most heroic segment of the industry. Yet they deliver—they always deliver. These shepherds at altitude—she and he—need the best possible deal. They remain the backbone of their communities and sustain an especial culture, one that is distinct and ancient. In my homeland, there is also the language of heaven, which must prosper. Of course, our Welsh lamb is the very best, especially with a good red wine.
In his introduction, the Minister referred to the GI regime. As I understand it, we have effectively acknowledged each other’s position as at the end of the transition period. However, he indicated that there will now be a separation, so the obvious question is, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, which regime will it be subjected to? Will it follow what the European Union decides in terms of GIs or will it follow what Great Britain decides?
Part 4 of the instrument has three chapters and—as has been the case with all the SIs in recent months—one of them, chapter 3, makes amendments that extend to Northern Ireland, while chapter 2 makes amendments that extend to Great Britain. We are all Peers of the United Kingdom as opposed to Peers of any particular region, but we have now built up a massive amount of technical instruments where there are differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I would appreciate it if the Minister and his department could prepare, when these SIs are concluded, a compendium of differences between the areas, because it is extremely difficult to follow.
As time goes by, each day brings a new challenge. Today’s comes from Amazon, which—as one of the most sophisticated retailers in the world—says that it will have to withdraw a number of products. It has already stopped selling alcohol because it would be subject to two amounts of excise duty. We will not even be able to have our busy Lizzies and begonias introduced from Great Britain because British soil is no longer allowed. This is happening every day and, naturally enough, people are asking us where all this is going and what it means. Can the Minister prevail upon his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to desist from maintaining that there is no border in the Irish Sea? It is becoming increasingly a source of anger and dismay among our business community and the general public that we are trying to pretend—like King Canute—that the tide has not come in, when in fact it is there every day for hauliers and businesspeople to deal with.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing these SIs in his normal clear way. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey, with his insistence that we should acknowledge the obvious: there is now a border in the Irish Sea. Sad though this may be, it is there and it is causing problems every day, as he said.
These are important instruments, because they affect the future of our food and drink exports. GI products represent around a quarter of UK food and drink exports—they certainly did in 2019. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as someone with a great affection for stilton cheese, Welsh lamb and many of the other delicious that we manufacture in this country.
These regulations, however, like everything to do with our future trade with Europe, do not make life easier for our exporters. They may provide a streamlined process for those who want to sell their products only in Great Britain, but very few food producers will not be interested in exporting, and the European Union will be the established market for very many of them.
The withdrawal agreement was reassuring on the future of GI recognition on both sides, but the trade and co-operation agreement is—as in so many aspects—sketchy. It has just four lines dealing with the issue of GIs, which say that the EU and the UK
“may jointly use reasonable endeavours to agree rules for the protection and effective domestic enforcement of their geographical indications.”
The Minister told us that existing GIs recognised in Europe would continue to be recognised in the new regime. I would be grateful if he could tell the House on what grounds he remains to sanguine about the prospects for UK producers in their export to the EU.
The EU is currently proposing to revise its rules on GIs, in part to reflect sustainability. The UK is of course increasingly committed to sustainability, but can the Minister say whether the UK’s new GI recognition rules will incorporate sustainability and whether they will mirror the EU’s proposed rules? If not, can he say what the consequences might be for UK producers?
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his explanation of the regulations. I note from doing some research in advance of the debate that apparently they build on the previous regulations that could not deal specifically with GI matters. In his submission, he referred to this instrument being reserved, there having been discussions with the devolved Administrations and, as a consequence, there being only minor drafting points. Could he outline what those were and say whether Northern Ireland is subject to the rules of the protocol or the exact rules of this statutory instrument? References have already been made to that by the noble Lord, Lord Empey.
I note the reference in the SI to organic food and feed. Is the Minister aware that one of the UK’s biggest health food businesses says that the new post-Brexit system for sending organic food from GB to Northern Ireland is a “nightmare” as a consequence of the Brexit protocol? It requires a certificate of inspection and the UK Government have said that they will talk to the EU about streamlining the process. No doubt it needs to be streamlined and resolved. Does he know or can he find out whether such discussions have taken place, and their outcome?
Organic foods imported into Northern Ireland require a large degree of complexity. The exporter has to make an entry on an EU system known as TRACES NT, and key in details such as weight, origin and whether any goods are high risk. For a consignment going to retailers, that will involve dozens or even hundreds of individual entries. Details then need to be checked and approved by a certification body such as the Soil Association. When the goods arrive in Northern Ireland, a certified importer must confirm that they have been received. At the moment, they are looking at a three-month grace period, but what happens when April arrives and that is over?
Will this piece of technical legislation help to alleviate the problems experienced by those involved in the organic farming and food industry?
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. Oh, we have a difficulty with that, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening remarks and for arranging with his officials a debrief on the SIs in advance of today. That was extremely helpful. I certainly do not oppose this SI. As the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, said, it is a complex task to find a system that protects both consumers and traders as we move post Brexit. However, this is the second such SI in less than two months. I am glad that the Minister has not said what a colleague of his said on the earlier one—that he was confident that these statutory instruments had been drafted to make the new system work. It is clear that this is complex and that we will need more of them. This SI recognises in a welcome way the mutual recognition of organic standards between the EU and the UK until the end of the year. As some noble Lords will know, the TCA recognises those mutual standards until the end of 2023, so we will certainly need another SI in the future, if not the near future, on that.
The bridging arrangements proposed are reasonable, as are the proposals for the new category for the Japanese rush grass. I particularly commend the remarks of my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on the future arrangements for wine. However, as Baroness Parminter, of Godalming, I fear I should declare an interest, given that the Sainsbury’s food survey at the end of 2020 showed that Godalming took the title for having consumed the most wine in the whole year.
One figure that was not referred to by my noble friend Lord German about just how much wine came to the UK from the EU was the number of bottles, which puts into perspective for me the amount we are talking about. Yes, over half our wine comes from the EU, but on an annual basis that is just under a billion bottles, so how these matters are handled is significant. Given that wine importers were not previously required to have certification for coming from the EU, that could well be another cost from Brexit passed on to consumers. I certainly echo my noble friend’s comments and hope that the matter can be pursued speedily with the relevant wine association.
The issue that I want to raise that has not been touched on by noble Lords is the fact that the SI amends the regulations concerning geographic indications. Indeed, the Explanatory Memorandum specifically refers—I apologise in advance to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick—to Lough Neagh eels. I learned today that, due to Brexit and the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland fishermen will not be able to sell one-fifth of their catch in Britain. In the past, it has gone to Billingsgate for sale as jellied eels, and there are issues about restocking the lough with juvenile fish, which previously came from other parts of the UK. On the SI on 30 November we discussed this, the issue of GI logos post Brexit—including four Northern Ireland products, one of which being Lough Neagh eels—the requirement to carry on using the EU logo and being under EU regulations for any implementation of the GI scheme, and the possibility of joining the UK GI scheme as well if that were wished.
The Explanatory Memorandum of the 30 November SI also mentioned Lough Neagh eels, yet there was no mention then or today of this problem being a result of Brexit and the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Given that the ban of sales with any country outside the EU has been as part of the wider conservation measures in EU legislation since 2010, I must ask the Minister why the issue was not mentioned in the debate on the previous SI or today. Given that those specific GI eels cannot be sold now in the UK, does Brexit mean that jellied eels are off the menu in Britain, or is he confident that there are adequate supplies in the rest of the UK so that the British appetite for those jellied eels can be satisfied?
We had technical difficulties of various kinds earlier with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Bhatia and Lord Naseby, so I will see whether we can deal with that now. I call the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. No? We do not seem to be having much luck there, so let us move on to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
My Lords, I will focus only on the wine aspect. I declare an interest as a member of WineGB and as a small grower myself. However, I am particularly interested in two aspects: French wines—I am an active member of the Champagne group, Bordeaux and Tastevin, which is of course Burgundy—and Chile. The noble Lord, Lord German, quite rightly made the point about Chile. I run an organisation called the Cofradia del Vino Chileno, which is a wine-drinking operation. Chile is a vital friend of this country, and a significant amount of gallonage is bottled here in the UK and exported to France. That trade is vital for Chile and for us. I ask noble Lords to read and listen to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord German.
On the wider aspect of the other dimensions of wine, we are talking about the bridging arrangements, which are very important. Nevertheless, it is the judgment of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association—which, as we know, states that 99% of all wine consumed in the UK is imported—that it makes little sense to roll over EU-based legislation. It asserts and hopes that the Government agree that the so-called new simplified approach to wine import documentation in the trade and co-operation—[Inaudible.]
Lord Naseby, we seem to have lost your sound.
I was talking about the trade and co-operation agreement and that continuing requirement, which is burdensome. Wine importers have to fill out costly VI-1 forms. The trade association therefore suggests that the requirement should be removed completely, and recommends that the wine import documentation from the EU should be held over until the electronic systems foreseen for trade in wine can be introduced. I hope that the Minister will answer that important point in writing if he cannot answer it today.
I thank your Lordships and apologise for the challenge this afternoon.
I will try the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, again. He has had some technical problems but we will have one more go. Lord Bhatia. No? I fear we will have to move on. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for his helpful briefing with officials beforehand.
This SI was approved using the procedure in place for reasons of urgency but it is nevertheless important that we give its content due scrutiny. As noble Lords have said, it covers a range of trade issues, focusing on their designation of origin or geographical indications. These can be hugely important in adding value to agricultural products, so it is important that we do all we can to protect the trading opportunities of UK producers. That point was very well made by a number of noble Lords in the debate, and we all have our own local produce that we hold dear.
The point on the particular problems across the Northern Ireland border, which was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, seems to be a running theme in some of the debates we are having around Defra SIs. I hope that the Minister in his response will be able to provide reassurance that what I hope are teething problems across the border in the Irish Sea can be addressed in short order.
In the meantime, I have some specific questions. First, the Minister made reference to the trade and co-operation agreement. It is a lengthy document but can he clarify how we will implement its contents? Will there be a succession of SIs to deliver all the references to food and agriculture trade in the agreement and how do the Government intend to roll that agreement out?
Secondly, as has been said, the SI sets out the interim bridging arrangements to protect third-country GIs where a trade continuity agreement has been made but not ratified. There is no date for the end of the bridging arrangements, so can the Minister clarify when he anticipates that these interim arrangements will cease?
Thirdly, the Minister explained the actions necessary to protect Kumamoto rush as part of the UK-Japan trade deal. This involved having to create a separate GI project category. Given that that seems a rather bureaucratic way to approach this issue, has the department given any thought to rationalising and simplifying the GI product categories for the future so that we do not have to have a lot of separate categories for specialist products?
Fourthly, I was interested to read that a UK-USA wine agreement will into force on 1 February 2021—I had not been aware of that up until that point. I am sure that that is very welcome, but can the Minister explain how it feeds into the overall UK-USA trade negotiations? As we know, they have been subject to much press attention and remain unresolved. Is the plan that there will continue to be separate individual product agreements outside the main negotiations, along the lines of the one that clearly has been made on wine?
Fifthly, with regard to the trade and co-operation agreement, it seems that the proposal that EU wine will need to have a VI-1 certificate to be imported here is overly bureaucratic and not in the UK’s interests. Indeed, as a number of noble Lords said, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association has been in touch, saying much the same thing. In its briefing, it says that while it understood the need to have an import certificate from third countries while we were part of the EU, now that we have left it makes no sense for the EU legislation to be automatically rolled over, particularly when it disadvantages British importers and consumers. It goes on to say that annexe TBT-5 of the TCA says that either party “may” introduce wine certification but not that it is necessary. Can the Minister explain why it was felt necessary to introduce these measures at this time, and can he explain the timetable for renewing that decision given that there is so much disquiet about it?
Also, there are proposals in annexe TBT-5 for a self-certification system to be put in place. Can the Minister clarify when those arrangements will come into effect and whether he feels that this will indeed address some of the concerns that have been raised today? The annexe also states that no later than three years from the agreement, the parties will consider further steps to facilitate trade in wine between the parties. Does the Minister accept that, given the strength of feeling on this issue that has been raised in the debate today, that review should happen sooner rather than later?
We will return to the issue of organics in the debate later, when I will make my comments on that. I am pleased, however, that separate arrangements have been put in place to protect the EU market for UK organic exports. Part of this will need to be developing an identifiable UK organic logo in the longer term. In the meantime, I want to ask the Minister about the views of the UK Organic Certifiers Group. The EM says that it has been consulted on the proposals, but it does not say that it has approved them. Can the Minister clarify its views on the proposals before us today? I look forward to his response.
Yet again, we have had a thought-provoking debate. In the time I have, I am not going to be able to address some of the more detailed and technical questions, but I shall write very fully on all outstanding points.
I thought the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, at the very beginning about the importance of the protection of the public and, indeed, producers, was very important. I can certainly give the Government’s commitment to the GI system. It is a very important feature, and an indicator. All noble Lords have raised so many products, and I have no time to talk about them or many more, but the GI system plays an important role as an exemplar of our quality produce.
The noble Lord, Lord Jones, mentioned farmers who, in difficult weather are, thank goodness, producing food for the nation. All I would say is that our diet has become much more varied. Noble Lords have expressed the need for imports, and I agree with that, but may I plug the importance of eating seasonally as well? There are some very good UK products that I think are very satisfactory. We might think about that in terms of the point made by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft about sustainability, which is about many of these things and how we work sustainably.
The other point raised by many noble Lords was about border issues. I am very conscious of that, which is why not a single day goes by, probably not a single hour, when officials at Defra and Ministers are not engaged with individual businesses. Rightly, people want to import and export between parts of the United Kingdom. No one could be more fervent in their view on that than me, and I say that particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I will take back again the points that have been raised, as well as the points raised about the Lough Neagh eels and, obviously, jellied eels. I do not want to fall out with jellied eel consumers. I have a feeling that they have a very strong feeling about products such as Lough Neagh eels, so I take that very seriously indeed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about time limits on bridging arrangements. There is no time limit on how long bridging arrangements last, but it would not be in the interests of either party to extend the bridging arrangements longer than necessary.
On the point of Kumamoto rush and the category, the reason why we came forward with the category was that it was very loose ended and we wanted to signify the importance of that rush in terms of the UK-Japan agreement, so I will take that back.
I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that I would be the first to say that we should keep the number of SIs to a direct purpose and try to co-ordinate them. Some of the provisions, including those on bridging arrangements, amending previous GI SIs, and others, were subject to negotiations concluding, so could not be raised earlier. I think that is a legitimate point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about implementation of the trade and co-operation agreement on a piecemeal basis and whether the agreement needs to be phased in over separate pieces of legislation. Our view is that, when an agreement requires changes to legislation in a number of sectors, it is normal for these changes to be made within the relevant sectoral legislation. This ensures that those affected by them know where to find the rules, but it does not mean that implementation is unco-ordinated. That is very important.
One point that I made a note of was when my noble friend Lord Empey asked what the differences were in the compendium. All we are seeking to do is to make all parts of the United Kingdom trade freely, well and prosperously.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the UK Organic Certifiers Group. We in Defra meet it fortnightly and, obviously, this instrument was discussed with the group. I can confirm that it agreed to the instrument.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about consultations with the devolved Administrations, which have been and continue to be very dynamic. They attend the UK Organic Certifiers Group, and we regularly discuss in that forum ways in which to take the UK’s world-class standards to a further level. I will take back and write about the minor drafting points; I do not have them to hand.
I had a number of points about Northern Ireland. GB applications can now be made to the EU scheme, so long as they are first protected in GB, while Northern Ireland applications can be made directly to the EU schemes as well as to the GB schemes.
My noble friend Lord Kirkhope asked about EU GIs. The UK schemes welcome new applications from around the world as long as they are first protected as a GI in their own country of origin—there is more on that, which I shall write about to my noble friend.
The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about wine and the VI-1. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association welcomed our plans to issue an easement on the need for VI-1 certificates to accompany imports of wines from the EU, as set out in agreements. Similarly, it also welcomed the introduction of simplified VI-1 certification arrangements for the EU and UK.
There was a question on electronics. I absolutely agree that we need to find ways in which to ensure that anything that we can do digitally, we do in that way.
I should say, on eels, that nothing in this instrument prevents the sale of eels in the UK. As I have said, I shall look into that.
The USA wine trade agreement has been carried over and is in force to cover trade between the US and the UK. Again on the question of VI-1 requirement, which my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord German, raised, we will be able to look critically at the laws that we have inherited through retained regulations to ensure that they remain fit for purpose. In due course, we will consider whether there is a case to revisit the requirement for VI-1 certification. The requirement was retained as indications were that the EU would require VI-1 forms to accompany UK exports. Furthermore, VI-1s are already established for imports of wines for other non-EU sources. We will look at that, and I shall come back to noble Lords with further details.
On the Northern Ireland protocol, NI producers will continue to apply to the EU schemes to have new products protected in Northern Ireland across the UK. To protect their new product names in GB, Northern Ireland producers will need to apply separately under the UK GI schemes, and I would of course encourage that.
I have to conclude soon. However, while on the subject of Northern Ireland, I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, that we have introduced an easement, as she knows. We are monitoring the situation and investigating all options to ensure smooth movements from GB to Northern Ireland.
I can take away many points from today’s debate. Frankly, in the time I have, I have not dealt with some of the technical points, but it may be better if I answer them in long form in letters. I am very conscious of some of the key points that have been made on some of the technical points on wines and other matters. However, I hope that this instrument commands support.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, and 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 time limit for the following debate is one hour.
Organic Production (Organic Indications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this instrument ensured that current organic standards were in force for the end of the transition period. I should make it clear that the instrument does not make any changes to our policies; it is purely technical in nature. The Government strongly support organic standards, many of which were developed in the UK and adopted by the EU. The UK has world-recognised standards of food production and labelling, which we wish to see maintained.
There are 6,000 predominantly small and medium-sized UK organic businesses, which in 2019 contributed over £2.5 billion to the UK economy, including exports worth £250 million. These businesses are flourishing. Over the past year, as healthy and nutritious food has risen up the menu, organic sales have grown by 12.9%. This reflects a global trend for sustainable food, with countries such as the United States of America and Germany also seeing significant growth in organics.
The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which includes an annexe on the organics trade, provides a platform to build on this strong growth. British businesses will be able to continue to export organic products—whether organic Welsh lamb or key ingredients for organic food processing that happens in the EU such as milk for baby food destined for China—until 31 December 2023, while EU organic products, also including ingredients for the supply chain, will be able to continue to flow into GB.
We have removed the requirements for a certificate of inspection for organic products coming from the EU, EEA and Switzerland for six months until 1 July 2021. This means that ports and local authorities will have time to become familiar with the new manual importing system when checking organic products from other third countries. Meanwhile, consumers will continue to have access to a wide choice of organic food.
Together with the powers set out in the Agriculture Act, and while working closely with representatives from the sector and the devolved Administrations, we will seek to modernise how we regulate the production of organic food, animals and livestock. Our organic legislation sets out the requirements for organic production, processing, labelling and imports, as well as the control systems that must be in place to ensure that the requirements are met. It stipulates that organic food must be inspected and certified within the scope of a tightly regulated framework, and originate from businesses registered and approved by organic control bodies on the basis of rigorous annual inspections.
The instrument amended this legislation as it applies to the labelling of organic products. How organic products are labelled is an important part of organic certification, giving consumers confidence that they can trust that the organic products they buy in supermarkets and smaller retailers are organic. That is why this is a “made affirmative” instrument. We had to ensure that the UK’s organic labelling regulations were updated for the end of the transition period.
The specific amendments in the instrument removed the mandatory requirement for the EU organic logo to be featured on organic products sold in GB, and provided the legal framework for a new UK organic logo when it is developed. They amended the requirement to include an EU statement of agricultural origin, so that such statements reference the UK rather than the EU. For example, where the organic product has been farmed in the UK, organic operators should now use “UK agriculture” on the product’s packaging; or, where it has been partly farmed in a third country, including countries in the EU, and partly farmed in the UK, organic operators should use “UK/non-UK agriculture”.
The trade and co-operation agreement means that organic businesses now have the option to use the EU organic logo. If the EU logo is used, the relevant EU statement of agricultural origin must also be included, as required by the relevant EU rules. This logo is well recognised and will help grow UK organic exports to the EU.
The instrument contains devolved matters, so the devolved Administrations were closely engaged in its development and gave their consent for it to be made.
Although the instrument is relatively straightforward, the amendments were vital for the UK’s organic legislation and for what we all desire: for the organic sector to prosper under our future arrangements, at home and in this important export market. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is vital that we support the organic industry, given that it is critical to meeting our climate and ecological challenges while producing the food we need. It is to be applauded for using fewer pesticides, reducing soil erosion, and helping us to tackle biodiversity loss. I do not oppose—in many regards, I welcome—this statutory instrument, but I query why it has been tabled with urgency and therefore without a draft instrument being laid in advance.
I query that because the SI removes the mandatory EU logo being placed on UK organic produce, yet we have agreed an equivalence of standards with the rest of Europe until the end of 2023—which I am pleased about. I understand why we might wish to remove the mandatory element, but I am not sure why it has to be so urgent. Similarly, I cannot understand why it is urgent to make this SI, given that, when we had a meeting with the Minister and his team in advance of another SI, he kindly informed us that Defra had “no plans, at present” to bring forward a logo.
It is puzzling, because the Explanatory Memorandum itself sets out no rationale for the UK to introduce its own organic logo. When the EU introduced its logo, 10 years ago, it was absolutely clear. It had a strategy to increase the percentage of organic farming in the European Union and, given that there was a plethora of organic labels, it decided to create one EU logo and promote it vociferously to consumers. Indeed, this year, I understand that the EU is hoping to introduce a new organic farm action plan with a target of 25% of agricultural land in the EU being put into organic farming by 2030. It has set aside €40 million for the promotion of organic farming. On the last day before I stopped coming into the Lords because of the lockdown, I remember standing on Godalming station facing a massive poster for the promotion of EU organic apples. Yet here in the UK, we have no strategy to increase organic farming and there is no mention in the Explanatory Memorandum of any guaranteed funding for any logo that might result from it.
Equally, we have no design, yet we know that designing logos is controversial, given that it will relate to issues of land and identity and will require the consent of the devolved Administrations. Nor is there any mention of any commitment to consult the public, yet the public are the people who must understand any resulting logo. When we had an SI recently on the three new logos for geographical indications and foods that the Government produced, they had already consulted on the logos, including with the public, and the designs are available for all of us to see on the government website. Yet in this instance, it is somehow urgent to make a requirement that people in future use a logo, but we as parliamentarians have had no guarantees on who will be consulted on a controversial issue and no sight of said logos, when we had that for the three GI protected logos which were produced recently.
Similarly, I should like the Minister to reassure me that this is not a case of putting the cart before the horse, given the Government’s welcome commitment to introduce mandatory “method of production” labelling in future. They said that proposals for consultation would come forward fairly shortly, so why insist on doing this organic logo in advance? We could well end up with logo proliferation such as we see on a young person’s Scout sleeve.
In conclusion, as I said, I do not oppose this SI, but I very much hope that the Minister will be able to commit in his remarks that no logo will be produced in the absence of a strategy to increase organic farming or without a commitment to full public consultation and guaranteed funding to promote the logo and, through it, the valuable organic farm businesses that we need to support. Without those three things, this SI will not achieve what I hope all of us in the Grand Committee want, which is an increase in the percentage of farmed land in the UK given up to organic farming.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who speaks with such knowledge on these issues. I pay tribute to my noble friend and his department for what they have achieved for the free movement of organics. My understanding is that, at one stage, it looked as though there would not be uninterrupted, unfettered access to the UK market from the EU, and for our organic products over there. The fact that that has been recognised and redeemed is worthy of congratulation, because I am sure it would have taken some time to achieve.
For the most part, I support the contents of the limited instrument before us today, but I take note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said about the degree of urgency. It would be helpful to know about that. I am slightly concerned that there will be two dates that organic producers have to be aware of. My noble friend said—and I am sure this is welcome—that there is a deferral until 1 July, which I presume extends to organic products from the EU, the EEA and Switzerland for the certification set out. Yet I understand that the trade and co-operation agreement has extended the mutual recognition of organic standards until the end of 2023. Does that mean that those organic products will have to be subject to these new import processes from 1 July 2021, and will the certification be in paper format? We have already encountered a number of difficulties at ports, in particular, and I fear that we will experience the same difficulties again. I do not know whether my understanding is correct there, but it would be very helpful to know whether that is the case.
I am slightly surprised that the Explanatory Memorandum says that no consultation has been undertaken—other than, I presume, the usual engagement that my noble friend and the department have with organic producers. It will be interesting to know how often they meet and what their reaction has been to the contents of the instrument.
This is undoubtedly a very important sector, for the reasons my noble friend gave, in terms of worth to the UK economy and the value of UK exports alone, so it would be helpful to know that access since 1 January from the UK to our export market in the EU has been smooth.
Finally, I note something raised by our honourable friend the Minister in the Commons who replied to the little debate on this instrument there. She alluded to what the Government hope to do through the Agriculture Act 2020:
“We will use the Agriculture Act 2020 to set an ambitious new course for the organic sector. We are working to ensure that organic goods can continue to move freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In terms of movement into Northern Ireland, through the Joint Committee agreement and the UK-EU TCA, we have secured easements to allow time for adjustments to take place.”—[Official Report, Commons, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 25/1/21; col. 8.]
To press my noble friend on that, is he expecting more regulations to flow under the Agriculture Act’s provisions? Presumably there will have to be regulations before the end of June, or will this automatically fall into place so that we do not need to revise any current regulation in place? I would be very interested to know the extent.
I entirely support an ambitious new course for the organic sector; it has done quite well and is a jewel in the crown. I am sure any support the department can give will be very welcome—personally, I think it has always been considered fairly niche. When might we expect thinking to become more concrete and see the regulations give effect to what the Government have in mind?
I thank my noble friend for introducing the regulations and for giving us the chance to scrutinise them.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering; I agree with a large proportion of what she said. I thank the Minister for his extensive introduction to this SI and for his time and that of his officials in providing a briefing on it.
Organic food production is at last increasing in the UK. At the start of the process of the Agriculture Act we were informed that the UK had the lowest rate of organic production of any of the EU countries engaged in organic farming. I am delighted that more producers are engaging with organics—there has been a 12% increase in the last year. There is, of course, great demand for organically produced Welsh lamb, although currently getting it through the customs regulations is a bit of a sticking point.
My noble friend Lady Parminter queried why the SI is being introduced so urgently. I share her concern.
When I read the SI, I was prematurely delighted that all organic produce was to be labelled as such, along with a UK organic logo, and that the place where the agricultural raw materials had been farmed would appear on the packaging. This would ensure that some of our iconic UK produce would be safeguarded and its authenticity proved. However, this was short lived; although the SI refers to a UK organic logo, this logo has not yet been produced but is being “developed”. The most obvious question, which I am sure the Minister is prepared for, is: how long will it take to get agreement from the organic producers on this logo? It is vital that the increasing sector has reassurance that its produce will be recognised. Even if the instrument provided for UK organic products to be so labelled, this is undermined by there being no specific, easily recognisable logo, as my noble friend Lady Parminter flagged.
The instrument states that the organic sector is worth £2.3 billion per annum to the UK economy and represents over 6,000 operators. The SI protects them to some extent, but it could go much further, including on consulting the public and the devolved Administrations.
Paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“Organic food and feed must be inspected and certified within the scope of a regulated framework.”
The Minister has referred to this already, but can he say whether this will mean more or less paperwork for the producers? We have all seen the problems occurring at border points, with the correct paperwork not being readily available. It is important that these “teething problems”, as the Government put it, are sorted out quickly to the benefit of our producers trying to supply the markets they set up prior to Brexit.
I understand there has been consultation with the United Kingdom organic certifiers group. However, its response is not recorded. Can the Minister give an update on the view of the UKOCG?
The SI states that the impact has no changes on direct costs. I presume this relates only to labelling and that there are no changes to other paperwork. Can the Minister confirm this is the case?
I welcome the change the SI makes to ensure that UK organic produce properly labels its origin and that it is organically sourced, but I remain very concerned that the agreement on a certified organic logo is still under review. I would like the Minister to give a definitive date when this will be agreed and begin to be widely used. I fully support my noble friend Lady Parminter’s comments. This is an important issue, which should be progressed urgently.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for the helpful briefing with officials beforehand. As he said, this is an important issue for the thriving organics sector in the UK and it is important that we do everything we can to support and grow the market, particularly in the EU. As the SI makes clear, this sector is worth £2.3 billion per annum to the UK economy, with exports worth £250 million a year. The UK undoubtedly has a respected reputation globally for the quality of its organic produce; it is vital that this is maintained.
As has been said, this SI was signed off on 31 December and appears before us on the “made affirmative” basis, as there was an immediate need at the end of the transition for continuity. We understand that argument, but I have a number of questions about the post-implementation of the SI.
On dates, we have seen several times in previous SIs a provision for a six-month transition before new customs and border control certifications come into effect, but this SI, at the end of paragraph 2.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum, refers to the UK recognising the EU and EEA as equivalent for the purposes of trade until 31 December 2021. Can the Minister explain why those dates differ from other applicable dates?
Also, in annexe 4 of the trade and co-operation agreement there are specific and separate arrangements for fostering trade in organic produce. It refers to the provision for labelling and equivalence being reassessed by each party by 31 December 2023. Could the Minister explain what is due to happen between 2021 and 2023? Is it intended that we would need a separate SI to provide that continuity for organic trade until December 2023?
Organic Farmers & Growers has signalled that, although the continuity until 2023 is welcome, it is only 36 months away and will leave many UK organic businesses unable to secure long-term supply contracts. Can the Minister say when the work to secure a long-term agreement will begin and when he thinks he will be able to give the growers the long-term certainty they need to access the markets?
Organic Farmers & Growers also raised concerns about the end of the UK trader scheme on 31 March, which facilitates the movement of goods from GB to Northern Ireland. It argues that it is not practical to produce daily certificates of inspection for every shipment. Can the Minister say whether it is intended that this scheme should be extended? Otherwise, many retailers will simply stop transporting organic goods to Northern Ireland.
As a number of noble Lords have said, it seems a missed opportunity that we do not yet have a UK organic logo agreed. While we understand the complexity of reaching agreement, it is hoped that this work can proceed at pace. However, we welcome the fact that the trade and co-operation agreement undertakes to protect the use of the EU’s organic logo and any UK logo when it is finally agreed. Indeed, continued use of the EU logo would enable UK producers to continue to use the well-recognised routes to market.
Meanwhile, could the Minister update us on any discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on this issue? Have we had an indications as to whether they would be content to have one UK logo, or do they envisage having separate ones for each nation?
Whatever the outcome, I hope the Minister agrees that any solution should optimise our marketing and trade opportunities, and should therefore have widespread recognition and impact. This is particularly important in the context of the EU’s new €182 million fund to promote agri-foods outside the EU, much of which will focus on its Green Deal ambitions and the farm to fork initiative. Can the Minister say whether a similar UK fund is being considered to capitalise on our reputation for high standards and integrity, which are integral to our good farming practice? This should particularly benefit the organics sector. As other noble Lords said, if we do not move fast, we will get left behind in this area.
I do not have anything further to say. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. If I do not fully pick up any matters of detail, I will, of course, write. I am grateful for the general welcome of the instrument. I should say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who raised this first, that the SI was made under the emergency procedure to correct operability issues and to ensure that the current organic standards were in force at the end of the transition period. The emergency procedure allowed us to ensure that the legislation was in force on 1 January. We believe it is important to make sure that the amendments, which are, I agree, uncontroversial corrections to efficiencies, take effect promptly.
On that, the whole point of the instrument was to make the retained EU organic regime operable. It ensured that strict regulations for organics were maintained at the end of the transition period.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised dates. I will spend a little time on this because it is important. There are two key dates in the instrument. The first, 1 July 2021, relates to the six-month easement that we have introduced on the requirement for certificates of inspection for organic products coming into Great Britain from the EU, EEA and Switzerland. Imports from other third countries require a GB COI from 1 January 2021, which is a manual process until an electronic system is available. I will mention that in a moment. This six-month waiver was a pragmatic decision, which allowed EU businesses time to adjust to the new system and therefore reduced the risk of congestion at ports.
The second date, 31 December 2021, relates to the one-year extension to the UK’s recognition of the EU as equivalent for organics that we unilaterally provided. This was to ensure that organic products could continue to be imported into GB after 1 January this year without a trade deal in place. It has been included in this instrument and not in any previous instruments due to the sensitivities around the negotiations with the EU leading up to the end of the transition period.
The big “however” is that, of course, on 24 December we signed the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU. We agreed mutual recognition for organics as an annexe in the “technical barriers to trade” section. This means that we can continue to trade organic food and feed with the EU as equivalent until 31 December 2023. Later this year we will bring in a new piece of legislation to update this recognition date. There was insufficient time to amend the instrument after the trade and co-operation agreement was signed.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised the UK organic certifiers group. We meet this group fortnightly and we previously discussed the instrument. It was very supportive of this legislative change. We regularly engage with key stakeholders because we want to make the organics legislation work for the UK organics sector.
The noble Baronesses raised the UK organics logo, with slightly different emphasis. Our consideration was that organic operators and consumers face a number of substantial changes, so we felt that it was not the right time to bring forward an early introduction of a new organic logo. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, rightly asked about consultation, which feeds into this point. In my view and that of the Government, it would be a mistake to introduce a UK organic logo just like that. It needs to have full and proper consultation across a very wide range of interested parties. In an earlier debate, we mentioned 6,000 SMEs. We need to do this properly for it to stand the test of time, and obviously we need to work with the devolved Administrations in the widest sense. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, we are very proud of our organic food, so when we come forward with a UK organic logo we need to make sure we have worked on this basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also asked about paperwork. My heart sinks on paperwork, of course. We are in very strong dialogue with all interested parties as we seek to ensure that the changing arrangements work successfully for businesses. This instrument will not lead to a significant impact on organic businesses as it merely updates existing rules on labelling to reference the UK rather than the EU. Labelling is a crucial part of the certification and gives consumers confidence. Again, we will work with businesses, because it is very important that that is practical.
In terms of the inspections, again, this does not introduce any new policy, but we have put in place, and are extending to the end of 2021, temporary easements to the process of verifying organic products to support the organic sector. This is pragmatic during this terrible pandemic.
On the importance of trade between the UK and EU, like in many parts of the economy, the UK and the EU share a close trading partnership and relationship in organic products. EU organic ingredients are incredibly important for GB organic producers, such as those making organic yoghurt, so this is a key interest. UK organic produce is also hugely important for EU organic producers, which is why we need to work closely on this.
In terms of work on the Agriculture Act 2020, which the Minister, Victoria Prentis, and I both raised, and which my noble friend Lady McIntosh and others have mentioned, this Act sets out how farmers and land managers will be paid for public goods through the environmental land management scheme. Organic farmers will be well placed to benefit from the new system and the provision of environmental benefits and services, such as biodiversity and habitats. The ELMS will have a strong connection with organic production and we will be engaged in tests and trials as we bring forward its full rollout in 2024.
We are working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations on this instrument. Indeed, they attend the United Kingdom Organic Certifiers Group where we work very closely. We are meeting fortnightly with the devolved Administrations to ensure that all issues and development in this sector are well understood.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, raised a point about agricultural land, extending organic farming and the EU’s own ambition. We believe that this is a new chapter for UK agriculture and the Agriculture Act 2020 provides a strong reason for that. We currently support organic production through the Countryside Stewardship scheme.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about Northern Ireland. Where organic products are from GB, or originate in the EU but have been cleared for use in GB, an EU certificate of inspection is required to move the products to Northern Ireland. However, we have introduced an easement so that some organic products, including those moving to Northern Ireland retailers and their trusted suppliers, will not require a certificate of inspection until 1 April 2021. We are working closely with all interested parties to make sure that Northern Ireland traffic is smooth.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the impact on businesses. This instrument maintains existing regulatory standards, so there is no direct financial impact on businesses from these instruments. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised the issue of what happens after 31 December 2023. We remain committed to securing a more permanent arrangement in the interim and will start discussions with the EU in due course. This is obviously a matter that is in progress and I am well seized of the points made by the noble Baronesses.
Regarding enforcement across all parts of the UK, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, supervision in GB is performed by organic control bodies appointed by Defra acting as the GB competent authority. There are currently six control bodies operating in GB. They are approved to certify GB organic operators. It is the same in Northern Ireland, with Defra acting as the NI competent authority and appointing organic control bodies to operate in the territory. This includes two from the Republic of Ireland.
I will look at Hansard to see if there are any other points that I may not have covered sufficiently because of technical detail. In the meantime, I beg to move.
Government of Wales Act 2006 (Amendment) Order 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the draft order makes changes to the Welsh devolution settlement by amending Schedules 7A and 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006 in light of the EU exit. This includes removing references that are no longer relevant now that the UK has left the EU, and modifying consenting arrangements in relation to concurrent powers and in relation to the controller of plant variety rights. The order also corrects some minor errors in both schedules. I shall take each element in turn.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the need, in light of our exit from the EU, to amend references to the EU and its institutions as they appear throughout the statute book. A number of such references appear in the list of reservations in Schedule 7A to the Government of Wales Act 2006. For example, at paragraph 20, the schedule reserves powers to the UK Parliament to legislate over elections to the European Parliament; clearly such a reference is no longer necessary. While the majority of the EU references in the Government of Wales Act 2006 were corrected through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, it amended only the list of reservations where there was a direct read-across to the devolution settlement for Northern Ireland. The Government committed to correcting the remaining references in Schedule 7A through this order to enable the Senedd to have a direct say over the amendments. I make it clear that our approach to these changes is that they are devolution-neutral. Removing these references will not result in the Senedd gaining any additional competence, nor take away any powers that it currently has.
As well as making corrections to the schedule that are necessary as a result of EU exit, we are also taking the opportunity presented by this order to rectify a small number of minor errors in Schedules 7A and 7B which have come to light since the Wales Act 2017 gained Royal Assent. These errors have not affected the competence of the Senedd and their correction will similarly be devolution-neutral.
I now turn to matters related to the consent requirements in Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006. Paragraph 11 of the schedule prevents the Senedd from modifying or removing functions of a Minister of the Crown that relate to a qualified devolved function without the UK Government’s consent. A qualified devolved function is defined as one conferred on the First Minister, Welsh Ministers or the Counsel General and is to any extent exercisable concurrently or jointly with the Minister of the Crown or only with the consent of, or following consultation with, the Minister of the Crown. The need for UK government consent was put in place to protect the concurrent and joint functions set out in Schedule 3A to the Government of Wales Act 2006.
EU exit, however, has resulted in many more concurrent functions being established both through statutory instruments made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and in the UK Government’s programme of primary legislation. This approach was taken to allow for UK-wide approaches to be implemented in a number of areas, principally where powers have returned from the EU. The Welsh Government have raised concerns, however, over the Senedd’s ability to break these concurrent arrangements in future in light of the restrictions that I have already outlined. The UK Government agree that, in these circumstances, the consent requirements are not appropriate.
This order therefore provides that the consent requirements do not apply where the Senedd seeks to remove, or confers a power to remove, a function of a Minister of the Crown that is exercisable concurrently with Welsh Ministers and established through one of the enactments specified in the order. These specified enactments are: statutory instruments made under Sections 8 to 8C of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 or in regulations made under it, the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Fisheries Act 2020, the Agriculture Act 2020, and the Act of Parliament that will result from the Trade Bill, currently in ping-pong. I should make it clear that this carve-out applies only where the Senedd seeks to remove the function of a Minister of the Crown and thereby break the concurrency. It will not apply to any wider modifications that the Senedd may wish to legislate for.
Also, in respect of the Fisheries Act 2020, this carve-out from the consent requirement does not apply to the removal of a Minister of the Crown function to regulate British fishing boats, excluding Welsh fishing boats, in Welsh waters. This is consistent with the protections for the Secretary of State’s wider concurrent functions to regulate fishing boats of a devolved Administration outside that Administration’s waters. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has committed to carry out a review of concurrent fisheries functions to consider whether these arrangements are indeed still appropriate.
Many of the concurrent functions that have been established through the specified enactments provide that the relevant Secretary of State can exercise them only with the consent of the Welsh Ministers. A number also require the Welsh Ministers to consult or to seek consent of a Minister of the Crown before exercising them.
Restrictions in paragraph 8(1)(c) of Schedule 7B provide that the Senedd cannot confer, impose, modify or remove functions specifically exercisable in relation to a reserved authority without the consent of the UK Government. Welsh Ministers’ ability to give consent to the Secretary of State, as well as requirements to consult or seek the consent of a Minister of the Crown, constitutes a function in relation to a reserved authority. As a result, this order also provides that these restrictions do not apply when the Senedd seeks to remove a concurrent function of a Minister of the Crown established through the specified enactments. The Government believe that it is appropriate that the relevant Minister is informed of plans to remove their functions. As such, under the provisions of the order, the Welsh Government must consult the relevant UK Government Minister before a Senedd Bill can remove such a function.
The order also makes changes to the consent arrangements in relation to the Controller of Plant Variety Rights. The Controller of Plant Variety Rights is the UK-wide body responsible for administering UK plant breeders’ rights. Intellectual property as it relates to plant varieties is a devolved matter. However, as the controller operates on a UK-wide basis, and therefore undertakes functions for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland which are outside the Senedd’s competence, it is classified as a reserved authority under the Welsh devolution settlement.
As I have already noted, Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006 places restrictions on the Senedd’s ability to impose, modify or remove functions of reserved authorities without the consent of the UK Government. There are however a small number of reserved authorities that are carved out of these consent requirements because they exercise a mix of devolved and reserved functions. These include the Electoral Commission and the Food Standards Agency. In the light of the devolution boundary in this area, it is appropriate that the Senedd be able to modify the devolved functions of the Controller of Plant Variety Rights without needing the consent of a UK Government Minister. The order therefore adds the controller to the list of mixed function authorities.
The order is the result of significant and very positive engagement between both Governments and has been laid before the Senedd for its approval. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for her succinct and clear explanation, and I hope it will not astonish her or your Lordships if I start by congratulating the Government on bringing forward this order—I am not in the habit of congratulating this Government. The order represents a rare example over recent months of the Government working constructively with the Welsh Government to preserve and protect the rights of the Senedd, the elected Parliament of Wales. It is also a reminder, perhaps, of how Brexit has up-ended much of the conventional wisdom about how our constitution should function.
When what was to become the Wales Act 2017 was introduced in the other place in 2016, the assumption was that concurrent powers between devolved and UK Ministers were a constitutional oddity which were on the wane. However, with the regrettable necessity of ensuring that there would be a functioning statute book after the end of the EU transition period, using concurrent powers was agreed by all four Governments in the UK as a necessary way of amending legislation, much of it from before devolution, which is now within devolved competence.
The Wales Act 2006—for which I was responsible as Secretary of State for Wales and introduced—provided for the full-law making powers Wales now has. It contained a provision which is unparalleled in the settlements in Scotland and Northern Ireland: that if the Senedd, in legislating, wished to remove concurrent powers from UK Ministers, it could do so only with their consent—something which is clearly anomalous when we are talking about issues wholly within devolved competence. That is why this Order in Council is necessary: to amend the legislation so concurrent powers created as a result of Brexit-related legislation can be removed by the Senedd if and when it so chooses.
One might imagine that this Government might have decided that this toe-hold was one which could be used in future as a bargaining chip, so I am pleased that a commitment entered into by, I believe, Theresa May’s Government, to bring forward this order has been honoured. I therefore commend this way of working to the Minister as an example of how to deal with the devolved Administrations in future. I make no personal observation about her, because it is her highers and betters who have been responsible for damaging the relationship with the devolved Governments. I commend it rather than, for example, following the appallingly arrogant precedent set by the UK internal market Act —where, as noble Lords will remember, the Government first undertook a tokenistic public consultation on a set of proposals which the devolved Governments had had no prior sight of; next, failed to publish the responses; then introduced a Bill within days of the consultation closing; went on to ignore the closely argued and rational objections of the devolved Governments to their approach; and only after three rounds of ping-pong produced some limited compromise amendments. Now, I understand that, having exhausted the political process, the Welsh Government are taking the Secretary of State to court on the basis that if he had wanted to diminish the Senedd’s powers, he should have done so overtly, not by legislation which pretends to leave them untouched. I am sure that many in your Lordships’ House will wish—as I do—the Welsh Government well.
I conclude by simply asking the Minister whether she recognises the damage done to the United Kingdom by that legislation and whether she agrees that the consensual way of proceeding which we have reflected in the order is a much better precedent for the Government to follow in future.
My Lords, this is a complex order, and although I have been involved in all the devolution legislation since 1998, it is not easy to follow. This is a problem in Wales, but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, just explained. I entirely concur with his comments on the internal market Act.
To try to define the problem, the consequence of the proposed repatriation of powers from Brussels was a lorry-load of legislation pushed through at breakneck speed in Westminster. We all suffered for it. The Welsh Government co-operated in giving consent in devolved areas where it was necessary, but the result was that the Minister of the Crown in Westminster acquired from Brussels concurrent powers with Welsh Ministers in devolved areas. As a result, Welsh Ministers are restricted in the exercise of their devolved powers, long established by a number of Government of Wales Acts since 1998. In a wide area of policy where there are concurrent powers, the consent of the Minister of the Crown would now be required for Welsh Ministers to exercise their long-established powers, if it were not for this order.
The original purpose of the order was limited. Originally, it was intended to correct a number of deficiencies arising from the UK’s exit from the European Union and to change some drafting errors in the 2006 Act, as amended in 2017. However, the order has been extended to provide a carve-out from the consent requirements, mainly in respect of current and concurrent- plus functions created by the EU exit legislation, but also by the swathes of coronavirus legislation through which we have been wading.
My understanding, therefore, is that the order removes the need for the Minister of the Crown’s consent to the exercise by Welsh Ministers of their powers where concurrency is caused mainly by Brexit. I hope I am right in that.
The illustration of the purpose of the order given in the report of the legislative committee of the Senedd was in relation to fisheries. Power over British fisheries was taken back from Brussels so that British Ministers could exercise full powers over UK fishing—pause for a sea shanty or two, followed by a chorus of “Rule Britannia” by those British fishermen who are now expressing such delight at the predicted failure by the Prime Minister in the negotiations.
In Wales, those ex-Brussels powers run concurrently with the powers of Welsh Ministers—for example, for the regulation of Welsh fishing vessels in the so-called Welsh zone. Will the Minister confirm that, as a result of this order, the British Fisheries Minister will not interfere with Welsh Ministers in regulating Welsh fisheries and that Welsh Ministers will be able to get on with their job without needing Westminster consent? I understood her to say that the Westminster Government will concurrently control British fish in Welsh waters. I do not know what will happen if there is a clash; I am not sure which side the Royal Navy will be on.
This principle of non-interference applies not just to fisheries but to the whole range of Welsh devolved competences. The Senedd report referred in particular to the Trade Bill going through Parliament, but there will be others, as the Minister has pointed out. In giving evidence to that committee, the Welsh Counsel General said there would be a need for a further order after the end of the transition period. Was he right? Is there another order now on the stocks?
Is it the Government’s policy in future to ensure that Welsh Ministers do not require the consent of a Westminster Minister to legislate in any devolved matter? If the answer to that question is yes—and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, seems to think it is—and that such permission is not required, a large number of concerns in Wales will be assuaged. If the answer is no, or is qualified in some way, it will mean that Westminster Ministers have a power of veto over the exercise by Welsh Ministers of their devolved powers. Further, it will mean that central government envisage exercising their newly acquired concurrent powers derived from Brussels in Wales. It is obvious that there is a vital constitutional question wrapped up in this order. It gives meaning to the charge of power grab, which the Government have so hotly resented and denied. I hope to be enlightened.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and am so glad to see that he is in such fine fettle following the ill health that he suffered last year. It is also good to have a Minister in charge of this debate who has a genuine interest in Wales and wants to make the devolved settlement work, in contrast to one of two of her party’s candidates in the Senedd election next May, who seem hell-bent on destroying devolution, and in contrast to our recent experiences with other legislation to which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is right in relation to the veto.
I am particularly glad to acknowledge the significant role played by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in the formulation and passage of the 2006 Act. I was at that time very much involved in the lobbying process agitating for a new enactment following the recommendations of the Richard commission on the need to enable the National Assembly, as it then was, to pass primary legislation in those matters devolved to it. Fortuitously, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was in the right place at the right time to bring forward such a Bill earlier than had been generally expected, and his opportunism was widely saluted in Wales, as the 2006 Act found its way on to the statute book. In many ways, it was only a bridging exercise leading on to more comprehensive legislative powers being devolved following the 2011 referendum, which gave a thumping 2:1 endorsement to change the National Assembly into a legislative Parliament.
It is in that context that we should see the order today. First, I acknowledge that, as the Minister asserted, the Welsh Government broadly support the provisions of the order, so I am in no way challenging the need for such adjustments. However, there are a couple of points on which I would be grateful for clarification.
The wording of the order provides for amending Schedule 7A on reserved matters to omit the words
“and obligations under EU law.”
I accept that regrettably, following Brexit, EU regulations, however sensible they may have been, no longer hold sway, that henceforward legislation formulated and adopted in these islands will deal with matters previously covered by European legislation, and that in non-reserved matters, Wales’s Senedd should draft and enact such legislation. Can the Minister confirm that it will indeed be Senedd Cymru that will take such steps in each and every instance and that, in areas where competence is not reserved, legislation drawn up at Westminster will not be imposed on it?
Secondly, can the Minister confirm that every single EU obligation has been or is being reconstituted into UK law at Westminster for reserved matters and in Senedd Cymru for all other matters, unless a specific decision is taken to amend or annul them—decisions made in Senedd Cymru for all non-reserved matters? If the Minister can give me such undertakings, my reservations are not so much about the mechanics of the order before us today but to ask whether by themselves they cover all the ground that needs to be covered by such orders and that nothing will fall in between the tracks, those between the EU and the UK and those between Westminster and Senedd Cymru. I will be grateful for such assurances.
First, I thank the Minister for her very clear exposition of this somewhat arcane order and for dealing with anything that involves amending the Government of Wales Acts, which are so inherently complex. I thank the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom for bringing this forward, primarily to correct an anomaly that has arisen in the devolution legislation, and for doing so at the behest of the Welsh Government. It is right on this occasion to say thank you. This is a good example of what can be achieved by acting pragmatically, consulting properly and resolving issues consensually. That is the message I wanted to convey—not much more and certainly nothing less. I hope for the future that this is the example of the way the four nations of the United Kingdom can move forward together. Indeed, we must move forward in this way at a time when the union is subject to such great strain.
There will be opportunities to say that such an approach of working together is the way of the future. It will arise very soon—for example, in relation to further steps needed as a result of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, such as the undertakings given in respect of the Act itself, the common frameworks being developed, and the new competition regime. A particularly good example of the need for this new way of working is what is to happen in relation to procurement, where there is a draft common framework in existence but also, as the White Paper explains, the possibility of new legislation. There can be little doubt that there is a real need to simplify the legislative framework which sets out the current devolution settlement. I hope the Minister will appreciate this when she has had to explain this complicated instrument. There may also be a need for new and better structures, but this afternoon is not the time to develop that issue.
I confine my message simply to saying thank you for acting in this way, trusting that the future will therefore be one where the way forward is founded on the UK Government genuinely working together with the Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to deal with issues through consultation and consensual decision-making in a union that properly respects devolution but which also looks to agreed common solutions to UK-wide issues. I very much hope that I will have many more occasions to make a speech of this kind saying thank you rather than having to press for changes to be made to try to hold our union together.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate on the amendments to the Government of Wales Act 2006 and thank the Minister for her detailed introduction to the proposed amendments. I am also delighted to follow all noble Lords who have spoken.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, I was pleased to note that this statutory instrument is the result of officials from the Welsh Government and the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales working in conjunction to develop and negotiate its contents. That the two Governments have worked so co-operatively and have come to an agreed conclusion should provide a blueprint for future negotiations and, as such, we have no objections to the order.
The first group of amendments, those to Schedule 7A to the Act, deal with deficiencies in the Act. The majority of these deficiencies give rise to amendments to remove our obligations under EU law, which even I, as someone who voted to remain in the EU, accept are now obsolete. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I regret their loss but reluctantly accept the inevitability of these changes.
On these Liberal Democrat Benches, we also regret further amendments to Schedule 7A which remove references to the European Parliament, remove the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 from the definition of “existing election Acts” and remove the reservation concerning the free movement of persons within the European Economic Area. The rights we enjoyed as European citizens in Wales under the Act will now be consigned to history and oblivion by the pressing of a delete button on a computer somewhere in Whitehall. For those of us who live in Wales, especially in west Wales and the valleys, there were far more advantages to our membership of the EU than merely citizenship of Europe, and it seems appropriate that I take this opportunity to put on public record my gratitude to the EU for the investment it made in our region.
Nearly 20 years on from the decision that west Wales and the valleys qualified for Objective 1 status, our road infrastructure is in a far more positive place, laying the groundwork for future economic development through improved connectivity. Our rural communities have had life breathed back into them as unused buildings have been repurposed for community use. Enterprise has been encouraged, new businesses have been created and our skills shortages were being tackled. But this was just the start; there is still far more to be done. Twenty years of funding was never going to make up for many years, even centuries, of neglect. That neglect is set to return.
A letter from Jeremy Miles, Wales’s Brexit Minister, published on Monday by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place, says:
“The programmes which are ending are worth £375 million annually to Wales. What is on offer from the UK Government is £220 million across the whole UK to run a pilot SPF scheme in 2021-22.”
That is a far cry from the UK Government’s claims that Wales would receive more money from the UK Government than it did from EU funding.
I am grateful that we in Wales benefited from a true levelling-up agenda. As one of the poorest areas in Europe, we benefited from investment that was awarded based on an ethos of co-operation, consultation and, above all, equality. We experienced working in a system that gave us the dignity of contributing to our own solutions in a partnership of equals—a stark contrast to the future ahead of us, as we face the prospect of schemes and projects being imposed on us. If the UK Government are to take one lesson from Wales’s experience of working with the EU, it is that far more can be achieved by co-operation, joint planning and partnership working than by imposition and diktat.
I turn very briefly to the other two groups of amendments. Those amendments which correct errors in drafting in Schedule 7B of course have our support. The third category removes some of the Minister of the Crown consent requirements and is important to protect the Senedd’s legislative competence. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for his detailed and expert analysis of the amendments, and like him I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I also thank the Minister for introducing the draft Order in Council, which we welcome and are happy to support. It clearly had a long genesis, as evidenced by the reference along the bottom of the Explanatory Memorandum to DExEU, which clearly did the work at that point. I assume this is because the earlier draft was concerned only with some Brexit issues, and that now, as we just heard, the other carve-outs have been added.
Before I ask just a couple of questions, I echo my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, by thanking the Government for the order and the changes in it, which respond to a request from the Welsh Government. As they have said, it seems to reflect a much better dialogue than that witnessed over Brexit and the internal market Bill. I hope it signals a closer working relationship, with regular scheduled meetings at Prime Minister and First Minister level.
This is important, not just for the future of devolution as a living, working, evolving way of our democracy functioning. Especially in these challenging times, it evinces a better way of working together for the future health, welfare and economic recovery of the UK. As we have heard, such working has to be collaborative and reach beyond and above party lines. It means discussing problems facing the UK openly and developing policies together, not just consulting on ones that are already fully formed. If the order is anything to go by, the seeds of that approach appear to have been sown.
The carve-outs in the order for the removal of certain functions from requiring UK ministerial consent, as agreed by the Welsh Parliament, are sensible and welcome. I have therefore only a couple of questions. First, as there remain concerns about the Welsh Government’s reliance on the UK Government to legislate on their behalf, could the Minister confirm that if any further corrections are needed as a consequence of our exit, the Welsh Government will be able to legislate to make such corrections?
Secondly, as the order does not cover concurrent-plus powers over similar functions in the Environment Bill, despite a previous commitment to carve out such powers from Schedule 7B to the 2006 Act, could the Minister undertake that this will be dealt with in the Environment Bill itself, with it being amended along the lines of the order? Given that, as we learned last night, the Government have again delayed the Environment Bill—I think now for the third time—and as it will now not reach your Lordships’ House until just before the summer, there is plenty of time to get it right with regard to the parallel issues to those covered in the order.
Lastly, given that suggestions have been made to the Senedd’s legislation and justice committee that
“the transition period would generate the need for another Order in Council”,
as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mentioned, could the Minister clarify whether a further order is indeed envisaged?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions to the debate this afternoon, particularly for the gracious remarks many have made towards the statutory instrument and the close and collaborative work between the Welsh and UK Governments that has resulted in it. I take the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and yes, it is arcane, but it is also very complex and it has taken me many hours to master. I am hoping, like him, that future legislation reflecting the devolution settlement is a lot less complex.
The order makes a number of amendments to Schedules 7(a) and 7(b) of the Government of Wales Act 2006. It enables the Senedd to remove concurrent powers, established in specified enactments, without needing the agreement of the UK Government. This directly addresses the concerns raised by the Welsh Government. It also clarifies the schedules by removing references that are no longer relevant following the EU exit and provides for a number of corrections where they are necessary.
I will endeavour to answer a number of the questions asked by noble Lords. I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I am particularly grateful for his kind words because I am well aware of his seminal role in the Government of Wales Act 2006. I am also very pleased that we removed the toehold that he feared we might try and retain. I note his comments on future dealings with the Senedd and will continue to pass these up to my “olders and betters” as he termed them.
As to his point about UKIM, the provisions in the Act will help the UK internal market, which will be of benefit to Wales. It should not be views as a threat to devolution. The Act merely seeks to maintain open borders for trade within our United Kingdom and it has the broad support of Welsh business. The Minister’s powers to spend in relation to specific devolved areas enables the Government to spend in Wales on UK-wide priorities and does not impact on the powers of the Senedd or the Welsh Government. The Act confirms the renewed status of subsidy control. State aid was previously, of course, an EU-level competence.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, asked whether I could confirm the point about fisheries. The UK Government will not interfere with fisheries policies. The continued application of the consent requirements in relation to functions to regulate British fishing boats in the Welsh zone is consistent with the position under wider fisheries legislation, in which the Secretary of State retains concurrent powers in certain cases to regulate fishing boats of a devolved Administration fishing outside that Administration’s waters. Defra has committed to carrying out a review of concurrent fisheries functions to consider whether these are appropriate. The order will not affect the ability of Welsh Ministers to regulate Welsh fishing boats in Welsh waters. The noble Lord also asked whether Welsh Ministers and the Senedd can continue to exercise their functions unimpeded by the UK Government, and the answer is absolutely, yes, they can. This order facilitates that by enabling the Senedd to cease certain concurrent functions without requiring the UK Government’s consent.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, did not actually ask me any questions but gave a lot of interesting background. I share his hope that the four nations will now move forward together in a more collaborative way, as we have seen in this statutory instrument. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, asked about the removal of obligations under EU law. I can confirm that it will be the Senedd Cymru that will deal with all such non-reserved matters. In the 66 areas now transferred from Brussels to Cardiff Bay, it will be up to the Senedd to choose how they exercise those powers. I also confirm that all such EU obligations have been reconstituted into UK law, unless specifically amended by Westminster or the Senedd.
I acknowledge the tone of the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and her regrets. I am therefore doubly grateful for the supportive comments on this instrument. I look forward to all the areas she mentioned seeing continuous support as we all work together to strengthen the union and continue to try and level up those areas that have been left behind. The power provided in the UKIM Act makes sure that the UK Government can invest UK taxpayers’ money in Wales. It will support Welsh people and businesses to recover and grow.
There will also be the new shared prosperity fund from 2022 and additional funding for 2021-22 which will total £220 million across the UK, enabling pilot projects to be launched. Wales will not be worse off; EU structural funds have a substantial tail of funding over the next three years. As that funding tails off, the shared prosperity fund will increase.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked whether further corrections are needed as a result of exit and whether the Welsh Government can make those corrections themselves. The answer is yes, if those corrections are in the devolved areas. The Environment Bill will include the equivalent provision to this order; it will be done by amendment. I share her frustration that it has been postponed but, to preserve the Bill, it was deemed appropriate that it be put off until early summer. The absolute goal is that it must obtain Royal Assent before COP 26 in the autumn.
I welcome the productive work that has taken place between the two Governments in the preparation of this order. I commend it to the House.
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 5.26 pm.