Tuesday 23 November 2021
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others and to wear a face covering when not speaking. If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
Conformity Assessment (Mutual Recognition Agreements) (Construction Products) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations were laid before both Houses on 16 September 2021. They are part of the Government’s programme to implement the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement, specifically in the context of construction products.
These regulations are made using powers in the Trade Act 2021 to amend the Conformity Assessment (Mutual Recognition Agreements) and Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, known as the 2021 regulations. They make a simple amendment in order to cite the construction products regulations as specified regulations within that legislation.
This brings me to the detail of our statutory instrument. Using powers from the Trade Act 2021, these regulations make an amendment to the 2021 regulations to include the UK CPR as a specified regulation. They do no more than is necessary to implement the mutual recognition agreement on conformity assessment under the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement. They do not change the key CPR requirements for placing construction products on the market in Great Britain. For those reasons, they are very simple to understand.
The effect of making this amendment can be considered in two parts. First, these regulations ensure that, pursuant to the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement, the UK recognises and accepts a conformity assessment procedure or result issued by a Canadian conformity assessment body that has carried out the assessment of a construction product against UK CPR requirements. The effect of this is that a conformity assessment procedure undertaken by a Canadian conformity assessment body against UK designated standards will be treated as if it were performed by a UK approved body, enabling Canadian-assessed UK conformity assessment marked products to be placed on the market in Great Britain.
Secondly, and finally, these regulations enable the Secretary of State to assign an identification number to, and include in any register, a Canadian conformity assessment body carrying out an assessment in relation to the UK CPR and include a Canadian accreditation body in a register of those bodies. As a result, manufacturers can easily find and use a Canadian-based conformity assessment body that is accredited to undertake conformity assessment procedures against UK designated standards prior to export to Great Britain.
In summary, our overall approach to these amendments is entirely consistent with both the policy and legal intent of the Trade Act 2021 and enacts the policy that the Government have an obligation to execute as part of their international agreements. Equally, these regulations, and the 2021 regulations they amend, are entirely concurrent with the Northern Ireland protocol, which applies in Northern Ireland. These regulations serve a very specific purpose: to amend the 2021 regulations to ensure that the UK CPR is a specified regulation. This is necessary to enact the provisions of the UK-Canada Trade Agreement protocol on conformity assessment that came into force on 1 April 2021.
This instrument is necessary to ensure that we remove a technical barrier to trade between the UK and Canada and meet our obligations within the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement, which has already come into force. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these regulations. Time is of the essence and I propose to be brief. In paragraph 4 of the helpful Explanatory Memorandum, reference is made to the territorial applications. So far as Wales is concerned, I refer to paragraph 10 on consultation and ask by what means were the consultations carried out? Were they carried out by officials—probably—or by Ministers? Was business done simply by letter? How did the department and the Senedd relate on this technical matter, which one supports? On this issue, how does a great department of state deal with a Parliament in faraway Wales? The Minister may have an observation to make.
Paragraph 12 deals with impact. Can the Minister furnish an example of how these regulations affect a specific business? Perhaps he can give one example, large or small. Paragraph 13 deals with small businesses, which are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy. Clearly, Government UK are the agency involved in communications with small businesses. Was the Federation of Small Businesses involved? Were chambers of trade and the CBI involved? What were the channels of communication used by Government UK where Wales is concerned? Is there an existing estimate of the envisaged effects? Also, is there a word missing from the first line of paragraph 13?
If the answers are not available now, might the Minister write? He might know that with regard to the European Union, Wales very heavily decided that it wanted to come out.
My Lords, the Minister read out the technical details with gusto. He obviously enjoyed doing it. In a nutshell, what we are being asked to accept today is the transfer of a protocol attached to the EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada into UK law.
This simple transfer has involved a Command Paper—351—followed by the process in both Houses and presumably a time since January 2020 when Canadian building products were not able to be certified in Canada and the certification accepted by UK authorities. Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain whether that is the case and whether building products from Canada have had to be certified here in the UK as well as in Canada during this period.
Then there is Regulation 6, which appears to relate to the assessment of the Canadian assessment bodies and whether these comply with UK standards. Can the Minister explain how the assessment body in Regulation 6 is held accountable for its determinations?
At the heart of all this are the UK construction products regulations. These regulations may well be comprehensive and require construction products to comply with basic safety standards. However, regulations are only ever as good as the processes for ensuring full compliance. The Grenfell Tower tragedy has exposed the awful failings in this regard. The question, therefore, to the Minister is a very important one: how will the Government ensure complete compliance with the assessments of complex construction materials and, as importantly, ensure that the products are used as per the regulations? Those are the lessons from Grenfell.
In conclusion, this SI is a straightforward transfer of mutual recognition agreements from EU law to the UK in relation to construction materials from Canada. The wider issue is this: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [Interruption.] Well, our beloved Prime Minister uses Latin all the time, so I thought I would add some in.
Res ipsa loquitur.
I only went to a technical school.
My Lords, it is good to be back in the Moses Room with the Minister. As other Members have said, the regulations before us are technical. I can say at the outset that I am happy to support them.
My noble friend Lord Jones asked about consultation. I am sure that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, will come back on that point, particularly in regard to consultation with the devolved Administrations. My noble friend mentioned the Senedd, but it would be interesting to hear what consultations have taken place with the other Administrations. I also noted from the Dispatch Box that there was no consultation with the public because it was not deemed necessary.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an important issue in respect of Regulation 6. It is absolutely fine to agree the regulations as they are here now; there is no problem with them whatever. But the question is always, is it not, what happens when things go wrong. I think that was the noble Baroness’s point. It is a fair point. We are authorising a body in another country to certify that products are correct and stuff, but further down the track, if things go wrong, what processes are there? How do we deal with that? This is the nub of the question that the noble Baroness and I want answered.
I will leave it there. I accept that, if the Minister does not have an answer now, he will write to colleagues and place a copy in the Library. As I said, I am content with the regulations as they stand.
My Lords, I particularly appreciated the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who I gather has had more than half a century of parliamentary service. That is quite incredible; I am almost the same age as the number of years he has served in both Houses. The noble Lord is obviously very passionate about Wales. He wanted to know about the consultation. No public consultation was carried out, because it was not considered necessary.
I understand a bit about the principles of this. It is all about opening up markets. We know that there is a shortage of construction products; that was the nature of the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Although it is good in principle, how do we ensure in practice that the construction products that are recognised by a conformity assessment body that is not our own do not result in any dumbing down in standards? Obviously, as the Minister for Building Safety, that has been the key question on which I have wanted reassurance. We are absolutely committed to maintaining high standards for construction products. We know what we saw in the tragedy of Grenfell; indeed, I referenced Lakanal House in Southwark and Garnock Court in 1999. Every decade, we have had a tragedy.
I assure noble Lords that this legislation does not amend the standard of construction products being placed on the market. That is the critical thing for everybody to recognise. However, there is a shortage of construction materials, so we will get high-quality products, increase availability and encourage the flow between the UK and Canada. That can only be a good thing, but I take the point. I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and answered the specific point on consultation.
If there is anything else, I will be happy to pick it up and write to noble Lords, for example on some of the technical points.
Thank you. To conclude, we think that these regulations are vital, as is getting these construction products assessed against UK CPR requirements. If those assessments are to be carried out by Canadian conformity assessment bodies, we need to ensure that they are assessed against our own regulatory requirements.
I have done my best to answer the questions I can answer. I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Jones. I take it that noble Lords support the regulations, and I thank them for that.
Local Audit (Appointing Person) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the regulations we are considering today were laid in draft before the House on 21 October 2021. If approved and made, they will provide for the appointing person to set fee scales for local audit later in the financial year, apply standardised fee variations in specific circumstances and appoint auditors for shorter contract periods where appropriate.
These regulations are designed to provide the appointing person with greater flexibility to ensure that the costs to audit firms of additional work are met, and to reduce the need for time-consuming case-by-case consideration of fee variation requests, in order to support the timely completion of local audits.
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 enables the Secretary of State, through secondary legislation, to make regulations. This statutory instrument was laid before Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure. The 2014 Act placed responsibility on local bodies to appoint their own auditors. However, the Act also provided for an “appointing person”, specified by the Secretary of State, to appoint auditors on behalf of local bodies that choose to opt in to such arrangements. Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd, a subsidiary of the Local Government Association, is the body currently appointed to perform this role.
In September 2020, Sir Tony Redmond published his independent review into the effectiveness of external audit and transparency of financial reporting in local authorities. The Redmond review found that there was an increasing disparity between the fee scales set by Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd and the amount of work being carried out by auditors. This had led in turn to a large increase in the amount of fee variation requests. These are requests from auditors to charge additional fees beyond those provided for in the fee scales set by Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd for each audit year.
The Local Audit (Appointing Person) Regulations 2015 provide for fee variations relating to the audit of a particular authority to be considered by Public Sector Audit Appointments. In practice, this means that Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd can consider and approve fee variations on a case-by-case basis only.
In its response to the Redmond review, the Government committed to review regulations to provide Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd with greater flexibility to ensure that the costs to audit firms of additional work were met more easily. To provide this flexibility, earlier this year the Government consulted on potential amendments to the 2015 regulations. The overwhelming majority of respondents to the consultation agreed with the Government’s proposals, which we now propose as the following amendments to the 2015 regulations.
First, this statutory instrument will amend the regulatory deadline for Public Sector Audit Appointments to set fee scales from before the start of the financial year to 30 November of the financial year to which the fee scales relate. This will enable Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd to take into account more up-to-date information when setting fee scales, including results from previous audits. More accurate fee scales should help to reduce the number of instances where fee variations are required.
Secondly, this instrument will enable Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd to set standardised fee variations to be applied to all local bodies or groups of local bodies. This change is designed to streamline the fee variation process where a particular issue has had a similar impact on the audit of large numbers of local bodies. Circumstances in which these may apply could include a regulatory or policy change, such as a change to accounting or auditing codes, or even one-off events that have a national or far-reaching impact, as we have experienced with the pandemic. In these circumstances, Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd will be able to apply a standardised fee to all affected bodies, preventing the auditor from having to submit a fee variation request for each individual body. Public Sector Audit Appointments will be required to consult both opted-in local bodies and local auditors before setting standardised fee variations.
Thirdly, this instrument will give Public Sector Audit Appointments the flexibility to appoint auditors for one or more financial years at time, up to a maximum of five consecutive years. This could include years which precede the date on which the local authority opts in, if those years still have an audit outstanding. Under existing regulations, Public Sector Audit Appointments is required to appoint an auditor to that authority for the remainder of the compulsory appointing period, which could be up to five years, depending at what point in the appointing period the authority elects to opt in.
In conclusion, these changes will help to support the stability of the local audit market by making it easier for firms to claim for the costs of work completed—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, in conclusion, these changes will help to support the stability of the local audit market by making it easier for firms to claim for the costs of work completed. Alongside this, we are continuing to implement all the recommendations that we committed to in our response to the Redmond review.
I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Grand Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and the details he has to hand. Can he give instances of the likely typical fees that will be set by the appointing person? Fees are public money. How will the appointing person be selected or chosen? Will it be a ministerial appointment, or will it be left to local government itself via its own representative bodies? What will be the likely salary of the appointing person, or is that settled already? I ask questions the answers to which may not be to the Minister’s conscientious hand. If that is the case, might he please write?
My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, a member of Kirklees Council and a member of that council’s audit and governance committee.
The Redmond review into local authority financial reporting and audit is far-reaching in its recommendations and broadly welcomed by those in local government, who want greater simplicity and transparency in financial reporting and auditing. One challenge facing local government audit requirements is the narrowing number of private audit firms willing to take on such audits. Yet sound auditing is an essential prerequisite for value-for-money judgments and financial transparency, as local government financing becomes ever more complex.
The proposals in this SI tackle some of the issues regarding process. These relate to fee scales, deadlines, standard fee variations and the length of time for which an auditor is appointed. Setting the end of November as the deadline for setting fee scales so that up-to-date information can be included in the calculation seems sensible, as does setting standardised fee variations. However, can the Minister confirm that such fee variations will be in proportion to the local authority accounts being audited?
I have some concerns about the potential for an auditor to be appointed for as long a period as five years. As external auditors rely heavily on a good working relationship with the local authority finance team and its internal auditors, there is always a risk that a cosy relationship develops. Can the Minister explain the thinking behind the ability for the same auditor, rather than the same audit company, to continue for five years? An explanation of the criteria that will be used by the appointing person to appoint for shorter periods “where desirable” would be helpful, as would an outline of the circumstances for audit firm rotation partway through an audit period, to understand the thinking behind that. If the Minister does not have all that in front of him, it would be good if he could write me a note.
There is a far deeper concern with local authority audits than will be dealt with by this SI. The Financial Reporting Council, which regulates the accounting industry, said this year that 60% of the English local authority audits it had reviewed did not meet its required standards. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee detailed the problems this July. I will quote from the summary of its report, as we need to think about it:
“Without urgent action from government, the audit system for local authorities in England may soon reach breaking point. With approximately £100 billion of local government spending requiring audit each year”,
the Ministry of whatever it is called now—levelling-down, communities and whatever—
“has become increasingly complacent in its oversight of a local audit market now entirely reliant upon only eight firms, two of which are responsible for up to 70% of local authority audits. This has not been helped by the growing complexity of local authority accounts … If local authorities are to effectively recover from the pandemic, it is critical that citizens have the necessary assurances that their finances are in order and being managed in the correct manner.”
Both the FRC and the Public Accounts Committee report raise fundamental issues about local authority auditing which are not addressed by this SI, but which I hope the Minister can respond to either now or in writing. Having said that, with the exception of the questions I raised earlier, I concur with the changes that have been proposed.
My Lords, I, too, declare my interest to the Grand Committee as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
Audit is about ensuring the proper inspection of a body’s financial affairs, ensuring that the financial dealings of the organisation, and the information that residents get, is correct and proper. It gives confidence to local people and, of course, to the Government and everybody else that an organisation is acting properly—or it identifies irregularities.
I was first elected a councillor in 1986—I am showing my age now. I remember the old district auditor, who used to look after the accounts. Of course, that is now all gone; we have local audits run through the Local Government Association.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an important point on fee scales, what those fees are, when they can be varied and changed, and why. There is also the risk around the relationship: if the same person does the work every year, there may be an issue with things becoming too cosy. For me, there is the whole question of value for money. This is council tax payers’ money that we are spending here—so what are we doing to ensure that, when any fees are varied, we are getting value for money? The noble Baroness made the point that fewer and fewer firms are willing and able to do this work, which is also an issue for the Government to look at.
For me, it is about ensuring that public money is spent wisely, properly and legally. If fees are going to be varied, how do we ensure value for money? Then there is the issue of the reduced number of firms doing this work. How do we ensure that the relationship is not too cosy and is always properly professional? Having said that, I have no issue with the regulations, and I shall leave it there. I hope that the Minister can respond to the issues raised. I know that, if he cannot, he will come back to noble Lords with a letter and place it in the Library of the House.
My Lords, we have had an interesting short debate on these regulations, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. The problem around audit is long-standing. I remember when I first became a councillor, which was a little later than the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, back in January 1996 —a very cold month, if I remember—there were real difficulties with filing accounts on time, even then. This has been a long-standing problem and is not a recent one. Those who have read the Redmond review will recognise that the best way to deal with it is by investing and providing additional funding to support local bodies to improve standards. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, is important. There is a contribution of some £15 million to support local bodies with rising audit fees, making sure that there is the competence required to file accounts in a timely way.
Often, there will be an issue around reconciliation of accounts, which is quite shocking. If you cannot reconcile your accounts—the fundamental accounts in control—money can be lost. There have been examples of councils losing money. So, having high-quality audit is extremely important, as is the completion of audits, which is vital in maintaining transparency and assurance of local authority accounts. Late delivery of local assurance can have a significant impact, not just on local authority financial planning but on the timely completion of whole government accounts. That is why the Government are continuing to implement all recommendations of the Redmond review, including the regulations before us today.
I will do my best to answer some of the questions and I will follow up in writing if I am not able to. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Jones, the appointing person is specified by the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It is not a salaried position; they are paid by the local authorities. Importantly, we are keen on the use of the scheme through the Local Government Association and Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd, which has the specific technical expertise. Of course, local authorities can choose who they like. We recognise that this is a good scheme, which happens to be over a five-year period.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I will write on her specific points about shorter appointments, but all appointments require local authorities to voluntarily opt in. We recently consulted on proposals to establish the audit, reporting and governance authority, which is due to replace the Financial Reporting Council as the new systems leader for local audit. We will publish our consultation response in due course.
This is a largely technical provision, which I think has the support of noble Lords.
Antique Firearms (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the draft regulations were laid before the House on 14 September. The Committee will recall that it debated the Antique Firearms Regulations on 6 January this year. The regulations introduced a statutory definition of antique firearms to prevent criminals from exploiting a lack of legal clarity to obtain old but functioning firearms for use in crime. The regulations came into effect on 22 March this year and were based closely on long-standing Home Office guidance. They now define in law which firearms can safely be regarded as antique and therefore exempt from control, and those that must be subject to licensing.
Here, I have to issue an apology. Following concerns raised by law enforcement, the new definition does not include seven types of cartridge, which, together with their associated firearms, have featured most often in crimes involving antique firearms. This means that these particular firearms can no longer be regarded as antique. However, owners were able to retain them on a firearms certificate and a six-month transition period was included in the relevant commencement regulations to allow owners to license, sell or otherwise lawfully dispose of their firearms. That transition period ended on 22 September this year.
During the transition period, it was brought to the Government’s attention that a category of cartridges that had previously been included in the Home Office guidance had been inadvertently omitted from the regulations. These cartridges are for vintage rifles, punt guns and shotguns with bores greater than 10. The regulations, which this Committee may recall are unusually technical and lengthy, listing over 450 old cartridge types, went through checks prior to being laid. Regrettably, however, this omission was not picked up. Unless we correct the error, owners of the omitted firearms would have to license them, incurring unnecessary inconvenience and expense, with no benefit to public safety.
Since antique firearms are not licensed, I cannot say exactly how many firearms might be affected by this omission, but I understand that there could be 200 to 300 owned by around 100 collectors. They are also the sort of old firearm that can be found displayed on the walls of pubs. The Antique Firearms (Amendment) Regulations 2021 will correct this omission by adding this category of cartridges to the list in the schedule to the 2021 regulations, as was always intended.
In the meantime, the Government have made the Policing and Crime Act 2017 (Commencement No. 11 and Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which extended the transition period in respect of the omitted firearms until 22 January next year. That will ensure that owners remain in lawful possession while the amendment regulations before us today can be considered by Parliament and, I hope, approved and brought into effect.
Although the owners of these firearms will not require a firearms certificate to possess them once the omission has been corrected, the way in which the transitional provisions were drafted in the commencement regulations means that owners could still lodge an application for a certificate with their local police force before the end of the extended transition period. Otherwise, they could technically commit a historic offence of unlawful possession. This is because owners who choose to retain their firearms can only benefit from the transitional provisions, including the temporary disapplication of unlawful possession offences, if they have applied for a certificate before the end of the transition period.
The Home Office has issued advice on the government website to make owners aware of this omission and the need to apply for a firearm certificate before 22 January next year. The NPCC lead for firearms licensing has suggested to police forces that they simply hold on to any applications that they receive and then cancel them once the amendment regulations come into effect. This will avoid owners having to pay unnecessary fees and will avoid nugatory work for police forces.
I again apologise to the Committee for having to take up more of its time to correct this omission. The 2021 regulations have been checked by officials and external stakeholders for any further omissions or errors. As a result, the amendment regulations will also make a number of minor and typographical corrections to the descriptions of other cartridges specified in the 2021 regulations. Although none of these corrections represents any significant flaw, it is worth making them now to ensure that the 2021 regulations are accurate. I commend these regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for explaining the reasons behind this amendment, which follows rather rapidly on the original document. I declare an interest as an owner of a 200 year-old gun, which is a muzzleloader, but I think it was excused in the earlier legislation.
The Minister mentioned various classes of gun that would be excepted. I guess that her list was the existing one, because I cannot see that this amendment includes any new classes; it merely corrects the spelling of “ammunition”. Was this corrected along with the external advice of people who own these guns? I would be grateful to hear from her.
My Lords, when the Government recognise their mistake, cock-up, call it what you like, and put their hand up quickly, one should applaud, because that way we end up with fewer mistakes down the road, so I thank the Government for addressing this.
I remember doing the other regulations. There was a long and complicated list, as the noble Baroness said. One point I tried to make at that time but could not was why World War I guns of exactly the calibre as World War II guns were not included in the list, but that has gone.
Exactly what criteria are being used to determine what makes a firearm antique? There have been comments about black powder. It is technically possible to reproduce everything, so what are the criteria for how difficult it has to be? Hearing them again might help to clarify why we are doing this, so that anybody who is listening in—I am sure there is rapt attention outside—will know exactly why we are categorising certain weapons as antique.
My Lords, the Labour Party supports these regulations. They are largely technical in nature. This instrument corrects an error in the Antique Firearms Regulations 2021. In his summing-up of the brief debate in the other place on 8 November, the Minister, Kit Malthouse, described the whole experience of correcting this error as a “chastening experience” for him and the firearms team at the Home Office, and he expressed the hope that there would not be a recurrence of a similar error in future. I thank him for that candour, and I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the apology.
In 2017, the Government legislated through the Police and Crime Act to provide a statutory definition of an antique firearm. The Home Office consulted on what the cut-off date for manufacture should be, the propulsion systems and the cartridges. This information informed the 2021 regulations. It is these regulations that are being updated. The instrument corrects an omission from the regulations. It amends the schedule to the 2021 regulations by adding cartridges for vintage rifles, punt guns and shotguns with bores greater than 10. It also makes minor corrections to the descriptions of some other types of cartridges in the schedule.
From reading the short debate in the other place and the Library note, I have a few questions for the Minister. First, the territorial extent of this instrument is England, Wales and Scotland. What is the position in Northern Ireland on similar issues with antique firearms? I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on that. Secondly, the Library note explains that the ongoing approach to monitoring and reviewing this legislation is twofold. The first is to establish a non-statutory group of experts who will meet annually to consider the latest developments in the criminal use of antique firearms. Secondly, the Home Office is to carry out a three-year review of the 2021 regulations. Can the Minister say whether these groups have been established and when they are next due to meet?
In his response to the debate on 8 November in the other place, the Minister spoke of the prevalence of the use of antique firearms in criminal activity. He said that the National Ballistics Intelligence Service
“saw a rise in the use of antique firearms between 2008 and 2016, with 95 uses in 2016, and recoveries have decreased slightly.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 8/11/21; col. 7.]
He also said that there had been six fatalities since 2006 from the use of these weapons. This data seems very out of date. When would the Minister reasonably expect to have a more up-to-date analysis of the extent of the problem of the use of antique weapons in criminal activity?
Finally, in the other place, my honourable friend Conor McGinn asked the Minister about the new statutory guidance to chief police officers on firearms licensing coming into force. He asked about the information to be provided about any medical conditions, particularly mental health conditions, of people applying for licences. I understand that this is outside the scope of this statutory instrument, but can the Minister say whether the twofold monitoring approach, which I mentioned earlier, will cover developments in mental capacity assessments of those who currently hold firearm licences?
We support these regulations. Our priority, like the Government’s, is to protect the public, and we agree that a systematic, ongoing review of regulations is the best way to achieve this.
I thank the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked whether there is a new type of gun. The answer is no. The classes of vintage rifles, punts and shotguns with bores greater than 10, which were omitted, are now being inserted. Nothing new is being inserted—these should have been inserted in the first place, hence my apology.
As to the definition of antique firearms, that is specified in the Antique Firearms Regulations 2021. They must have been manufactured before 1 September 1939.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the territorial extent. It is a devolved approach. They have a similar approach to Great Britain. Shooting in Scotland is covered by the same legislation as England and Wales, apart from air rifles.
I will consult the department on the data when I go back. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, thinks that this data seems to be a bit out of date. The data I have is that the antiques firearms recovered per year in criminal circumstances increased from eight in 2008 to 95 in 2016. The number of recoveries has decreased slightly since 2016, down to 80 in 2020. I will see if I have any more up-to-date information for him. I will also find out for him when the non-statutory groups of experts in the three-year review are due to meet, because I am not sure at this stage.
I hope I have answered all the questions.
I raised the point that the rifles used by the British Army in 1917 are effectively the same as the rifles used in 1940. The same is true of the German and American armies. Why is there this artificial cut-off? The rifles fire the same bullets. They are using the same calibre of bullets, the same propulsion, the same white powder for the same lethal intent. Some clarification of that would help. If it is about killing capacity, it is there in these slightly older weapons.
Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this draft order was laid before the House on 18 October 2021. It will support the Scottish Government’s decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12 by making cross-border provisions necessary for the implementation of this change.
This order, known as a Scotland Act order, is made in consequence of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019, which I shall now refer to as the 2019 Act. Scotland Act orders are a type of secondary legislation made under the Scotland Act 1998, which has formed the foundation of the devolution settlement with Scotland for over 20 years.
The 2019 Act raised the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12. The Act also established the role of the independent reviewer. This is a position that oversees the disclosure of convictions, and other relevant information, related to when a person was under the age of 12. The 2019 Act provides specific powers for the police to investigate instances of serious harmful behaviour by children under the age of 12.
To support this change, amendments are required to UK legislation to ensure that the 2019 Act can be implemented fully. The order is designed to protect and support children. With this in mind, I first want to explain the disclosure provisions set out in Part 2 of the legislation.
While the 2019 Act made it possible for Scottish Ministers to request certain information from chief police officers in Scotland relating to the behaviour of children, the Act also created the position of the independent reviewer. In their post, the independent reviewer will be responsible for determining whether this information ought to be released if it relates to a time when the person in question was under the age of 12.
This Scotland Act Order will ensure that the powers of the independent reviewer apply across the UK, so that information provided by chief police officers from other forces will be reviewed by the independent reviewer before it is released to Scottish Ministers.
The order also extends provisions of the 2019 Act, which currently apply to Police Scotland, to constables of non-territorial forces operating in Scotland. This will ensure that consistency in policing is achieved across Scotland, with equality of treatment for any child in that jurisdiction regardless of the situation. That said, it is not expected that these non-territorial forces will use these provisions often, if at all.
Police across the UK are also supported by this order. Section 75 of the 2019 Act has made it an offence in Scotland for a person to obstruct investigations into behaviour of a child under the age of 12 who is believed to have caused serious harm to another person. The order will extend this offence to include obstructions that occur elsewhere in the UK. Similarly, the order facilitates the cross-border enforcement of court orders made under the 2019 Act for the collection of information from a child under the age of 12 in other parts of the UK. This may be necessary if a child has returned home to another part of the UK following a serious incident in Scotland.
Let me offer a real-world example of the changes that the order seeks to make. Let us consider what might happen if a child who lives in England is involved in a serious incident while on holiday in Scotland. The order provides that a Scottish court order authorising collection of information from that child can be enforced in England. This will enable the incident to be effectively investigated so that the right support can be put in place for the child and any person involved in the incident. Through the changes made by this order, children in Scotland will be better supported.
This order will also enable appropriate bodies such as Police Scotland and local authorities to engage with their counterparts across the UK to ensure that harmful behaviour is addressed proportionately and accurately. Court orders sought and granted in Scotland will be enforceable by police forces across the UK in relation to a child whose behaviour causes harm and who then leaves Scotland before Scottish police were able to enforce the order.
It is important to point out here that the number of children affected is very small. In Scotland, data provided by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration shows that, in 2016-17—those are the most recent figures—only 16 serious cases involving children under 12 resulted in an interview. Police Scotland also advised that only 10 children under 12 were searched during that same period.
In summary, this instrument will ensure that the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 can be fully implemented, with necessary cross-border provisions put in place. We believe that this order is a sensible and pragmatic step to assist the Scottish Government. I commend it to the Committee and beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the circumstances; indeed, I thank him for the Explanatory Notes, which make this clear. However, they raise some interesting questions.
First, it is perhaps worth recording that, prior to the 2019 Act, the situation in Scotland was anomalous in quite remarkable ways. The age of criminal responsibility was eight, yet we had a well-developed set of children’s panels and children’s hearings which were designed to ensure that children were not treated as criminals and not subject to the criminal process. The surprise is how long it took to address the age of criminal responsibility.
Secondly, the rest of the UK is now out of step with Scotland: the age of criminal responsibility is 10 in the rest of the UK and 12 in Scotland. This raises the question not of the enforceability of this order but of whether the relevant authorities will understand, engage with and be fully conversant with the differences. I think we all recognise that, sadly, children, including very young children, are capable of quite wicked acts, acts that are by definition and in their characteristic criminal. However, if they are under the age of criminal responsibility, they will not be subjected to the criminal process.
So, when there is an issue of questioning, following up on or investigating children, will the authorities in other parts of the United Kingdom approach it in the same way as the authorities in Scotland, given the different background? Will this lead to children who have crossed the border being treated differently and adversely through a lack of appreciation and understanding of the differences between the two regimes? Although we do not expect many cases like this, that issue could raise an anomaly.
On a broader issue that is perhaps a matter for the United Kingdom Government, at 12, the age of criminal responsibility is still considered by many authorities to be too low. I think the Council of Europe suggested that it should be at least 14, while the United Nations thinks that it should be 16. Is any consideration being given to the rest of the United Kingdom raising the age of criminal responsibility? Also, because the final stages of the Act will not come into force until next month, are any issues likely to arise from the transitional arrangements—that is, will children under the age of 12 who committed a crime or were engaged in the system before the Act came into force still be subjected to the old regimes both north and south of the border? How might that play out? Of course we understand the need for the order—that is not in question—but I hope the Minister recognises that some issues could arise out of the differences in both the age of criminal responsibility and the procedures applied in Scotland compared with England.
As a final footnote, the children’s panel and children’s hearings have generally been recognised as a highly progressive mechanism for dealing with young offenders below the age of criminal responsibility, yet they have not been replicated. With the wonders of our United Kingdom, I wonder why we do not pursue best practice. This is one area where Scotland, having lagged behind, certainly on the age of criminal responsibility, has now overtaken England and has a much more constructive, progressive system for handling young people who get into trouble. Having read the guidelines for the child interview rights practitioners, which are quite thorough, I wonder whether there will be people in other parts of the United Kingdom who have conformed to the same sort of guidelines that have been established for the Scottish process.
I hope the Minister understands what we are talking about. I accept that it is very few cases, but despite the law trying to ensure that there is a common practice across the United Kingdom, the differences might lead to a situation where the law and the practice do not coincide.
I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this instrument so clearly. We support it in the context of increasing the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12. It is appropriate that measures be taken to give effect to that, particularly in relation to the cross-border element. I am interested in how it works in practice. I might not have understood it, but I would be grateful if the Minister would help me on this.
As I understand it, in Part 2 of the order we are dealing with a situation where, typically, a chief constable of an area in England has information about what somebody did between the ages of eight and 12. We are talking about something that either is or would have been a criminal offence in England when the person committed it. If the position is that the chief constable of the English area has that information, is the effect of this provision that, before the chief constable provides that information to Scottish Ministers, the independent reviewer must consider whether the chief constable of the English area should make that information available to the Scottish Ministers?
If that is the position, before the chief constable refers the matter to the independent reviewer, does he or she have a discretion as to whether they submit that information to the independent reviewer? If the chief constable has such a discretion, could the Minister—I gave no warning of this, so I would quite understand if he needs to write to me—give some indication of the basis on which the chief constable should determine whether to submit that information to the independent reviewer? Separately, could he indicate what approach the independent reviewer will take as to whether such information should be made available from the chief constable of the English area to the Scottish Ministers?
What I am trying to get at is some assistance for the English police forces. Understandably, the order gives no indication of the right approach in relation to this. Given what the Scottish Government are asking the UK Government to do, do the Scottish Government want the norm to be that the English police forces do not disclose the information about what the person did between eight and 12, save in exceptional circumstances? If that is the policy intention, what other sorts of things would be exceptional circumstances?
I would have thought that the policy might be that, if there was a conviction or something similar to it for somebody between eight and 12, it would be extremely likely to be only for something incredibly serious, because it is very unlikely that anybody would be prosecuted in England—and never between eight and 10, because the age of responsibility is 10 in Scotland. The numbers of prosecutions of people between 10 and 12 are minute, and will only occur in very serious cases.
Is the practicality, therefore, that it will always be so serious that you would always expect the chief constable to report to the Scottish Ministers on any such prosecution? Separately from all those questions, but connected with the same approach, would matters other than prosecutions be covered—for example, investigations, cautions, referral to local authority care proceedings, or something like that?
I am sorry to have given no warning about these questions. As I say, we support the order. We are just very keen to see how it works in practice.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for their general support for this order. As I alluded to earlier, the instrument before us today will support the Scottish Government in the implementation of the 2019 Act and ensure that effective and proper cross-border co-operation is undertaken. I re-emphasise that the order will ensure that disclosure of information relating to when a person under the age of 12 is properly managed—I shall come back to this point—that police forces operating in Scotland are all working under the same regulations, and that it will provide support for Police Scotland in its work across the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked a number of questions, which I hope I can answer. The first is very simple: why has it taken so long, going back to 2010, for us to get to this point today? He might not expect any other answer than the one that I am about to give: that this is certainly a matter for the Scottish Government. In some defence of the Scottish Government, I would say that it is important to recognise the complexity and sheer volume of work required to ensure that we get to this point and that the work of this important side is successful. It is fair to say that the Scottish Government have taken a phased approach to implementation, prioritising changes that have the most material positive effects for children and young people. But it is for the Scottish Government to say why it has taken so long.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked about the age of criminal responsibility and how it compares with arrangements in other parts of the UK. He will know that the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales was set at age 10 by the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 and has been maintained by subsequent Governments. Most children aged 10 to 14 are diverted from the formal criminal justice system or receive an out-of-court disposal. Younger children should not be prosecuted for offences unnecessarily when a better alternative may be available. A child’s needs, maturity and chronological age are always considered in determining the most appropriate response to offending. As the noble Lord will know—he is right to ask the question—this is a complex issue, and the needs of each child need to be taken into account.
The noble Lord also asked about cross-border co-operation work, and I think that the noble and learned Lord also alluded to this. Co-operation could be in the form of enforcement of a Scottish court order by an English or Welsh police force or the Police Service of Northern Ireland on behalf of Police Scotland. Information-sharing between Scottish, Welsh and English local authorities will also allow for the child’s resident authority to take appropriate actions to address serious harmful behaviour that took place in Scotland. The Scottish Government have agreed to pay individual local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland any additional costs each time the independent reviewer makes a request for information.
In respect of Northern Ireland, a number of statutory criminal justice agencies, including the Police Service of Northern Ireland, AccessNI and the Youth Justice Agency, have agreed to share information with the independent reviewer, on request, where a child is known to the authorities in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, also asked whether this order will create problems for complicated cases involving young people between Scotland and England. Again, it plays well into some of the questions raised by the noble and learned Lord. The answer is no. The order is designed to protect and support children in the very rare instances where cross-border co-operation is needed. It simply gives the relevant bodies the ability to effectively collaborate on investigating an incident of harmful behaviour so that the right support can be put in place for a child. Again, I make the point that this is child specific.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised the issue of transition. There are no transitional arrangements for police powers. There is nothing retrospective about raising the age, so something effective beforehand that was an offence still will be, but, as there are so few cases, there may well be none in the police system at the point of commencement.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, raised a number of questions and I may well need to read Hansard and produce a letter for him. I appreciate the fact that he acknowledged that he did not give me any advance notice, but that is okay. He asked an important question: how does the cross-border arrangement work in practice? Operational guidance is being developed by Social Work, Police Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Ministerial guidance has already been issued in relation to certain police powers in the Act, but the answer is that it is work in progress. Noble Lords may wonder why that is the case, given that we are 10 years in, but that is the answer.
The noble and learned Lord also asked how Police Scotland and Scottish local authorities work with their counterparts in the rest of the UK. I think that I have answered part of that question in response to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, but I add that the order will enable Scottish bodies to work with their counterparts across the UK to investigate harmful behaviour by a child under the age of 12 in Scotland. This could be through the enforcement of court orders or information sharing between local authorities to help to address the harmful behaviour in the child’s local residential area.
The noble and learned Lord also asked about the independent reviewer and how it works specifically. I hope that I can answer many of his questions in the following way. The independent reviewer can review information concerning the behaviour of persons while under 12 before the information can be disclosed on an enhanced disclosure or protecting vulnerable groups scheme record, as other relevant information. The reviewer has the power to gather additional information necessary to carry out the review and must invite representations from the applicant and take them into account when doing so.
This newly created role introduces a fairer and more proportionate approach to the disclosure of information that occurred while the individual was under the age of 12. The reviewer will take into account the interests of the young person and of community safety when deciding if an individual’s actions during their childhood should be disclosed, to ensure that young people’s life chances are not unnecessarily affected by harmful behaviour in childhood. However, I am aware that the noble and learned Lord asked some precise procedural questions, so I may not have given the full answer. I will need to read Hansard and get back to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked about children’s court hearings and why these have not been implemented. It can be misleading to make simple comparisons between countries, because youth justice and wider social security systems differ considerably, which I suspect he will know. It is the aim of English forces to check information with the independent reviewer before submitting to the Scottish Government. That relates to a question asked, I think, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
I hope that I have covered the majority of questions. There is quite a lot of technical information here and I feel that I probably need to write a full letter just to check that I have everything in order and to ensure that full answers are given. Otherwise, with that, I beg to move.
Eggs (England) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this instrument allows marketing standards checks on class A eggs imported from third countries to continue to be conducted at the locations where they already take place. It is needed because, without amendment, the retained regulation on egg marketing standards will require these checks to be relocated, causing disruption to the current inspection process and requiring considerable additional resources, with no material benefit for consumers. This instrument will have effect only in England. The Scottish Government and the Welsh Government will make the same amendment to their own domestic legislation.
Marketing standards are intended to ensure that the market is supplied with products of a standardised and satisfactory quality to meet consumer expectations. They are in addition to, and separate from, sanitary standards. Sanitary standards will continue to be checked at the border. The amendment made by this instrument is not a change of policy and confirms the existing arrangements for these marketing standards checks.
Through the functioning of the Northern Ireland protocol, Regulation 589/2008 on egg marketing standards, which Great Britain has retained, will continue to apply to Northern Ireland as it has effect in the EU. Therefore, the current checking arrangements for the movement of third-country class A eggs into Northern Ireland will not change. For class A eggs to be imported into Great Britain from a third country, the Secretary of State must determine whether the third country has equivalent egg marketing standards following an assessment of its legislation and checking practices. Only EU member states are currently recognised as producing eggs to this equivalent standard.
In the future, should we wish to import eggs from any third countries other than the EU, the Secretary of State must first make a similar determination of equivalence. Until then, class A eggs may not be imported into Great Britain from non-EU countries. We will continue to uphold the high standards expected by UK consumers and businesses.
Since a grace period has been granted for marketing standards and SPS checks on EU goods until 30 June 2022, checks will need to be conducted on class A eggs from the EU from July 2022. Any third-country imports that might be agreed before July 2022 would also require border checks. Under current legislation, all these checks would need to take place at the border.
If this statutory instrument does not pass, our current operating practices will not be compliant with our retained legislation. The change contained in this statutory instrument has been discussed with British egg industry stakeholders. Defra has held a joint consultation with the Scottish and Welsh Governments on the proposed change and continues to engage closely with the sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the instrument before us this afternoon, on which I have a number of questions. Paragraph 8.1 on page 2 of the Exploratory Memorandum says that:
“This instrument does not relate to withdrawal from the European Union or trigger the statement requirements under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.”
However, it would seem that it relates entirely to our withdrawal from the European Union and the retained legislation that pertains to that. I am therefore not sure why that paragraph is there. Can the Minister clarify that please?
Paragraphs 10.4 and 10.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum refer to the consultation, which was carried out through
“the online survey Citizen Space”.
I do not know about other noble Lords, but online surveys are complete anathema to me. They do not seem a very personalised or direct form of consultation. Can my noble friend please explain to us whether this is now the way forward? Is this the Government’s consultation mode of choice? I want to place on record that I do not approve of that at all. It was also carried out on what is traditionally a holiday period—from 19 July to 16 August. I thought that consultations normally take place over a 12-week or three-month period to enable those who wish to respond in some detail to do so. This also allows the industry to talk among themselves to see whether they want only one person to respond, or everyone.
Paragraph 10.4 goes on to say that:
“The consultation targeted stakeholders from the egg sector, with close engagement with egg enforcement bodies.”
It would be interesting to know whether the six responses received match those that were actually sought. How many targeted invitations were sent out? Of those six, only one agreed to the proposal. The overwhelming majority of respondents disagreed with it,
“preferring checks to take place at the border, due to concerns that these measures should mirror the requirements for import of Class A eggs into the EU.”
I would like to know the basis on which we have moved away from the historic checks that we did at the place of import and why the Government are not carrying the industry with us.
I have to say that I am deeply unhappy that, to mitigate the concerns expressed by the vast majority of those who expressed any concerns at all, all we are going to do is to organise a round table. Clearly, we cannot amend the statutory instrument so I would be very interested to know what form the round table will take. The fact that a round table is going to be convened demonstrates that there are widespread concerns in the industry. I would be very interested to know who from the department will attend the round table. Will it be at ministerial level or official-only level?
I pay tribute to the report produced by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and refer to the committee’s thoughts on page 12 and in Appendix 4 on page 32. It appears that there are going to be two different types of checks in relation to GB to Northern Ireland. There will be checks at the border to ensure that the consignment contains either class A or B eggs, as at present. However, all eggs from Northern Ireland will continue to have unfettered access to the UK market. There is clearly a discrepancy there.
Finally—I had better stop because I could spend the whole of the afternoon on this one little instrument—my noble friend said in his introductory remarks, if I heard him correctly, that sanitary standard checks will continue to be made at the border. If we are doing those checks at the border, why on earth can we not do all the checks at one place on imports into this country?
I did say finally, but I did not mean finally. Will my noble friend commit to bringing forward an instrument on the question of equivalence at such time as he suggests that non-EU countries may come forward with imports? I think he said that there would be an instrument at that time. Can he confirm that that is indeed the case? I think he will understand from my drift that I do not like the instrument before us.
My Lords, the Minister referred to paragraph 10.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which states that consultation
“was undertaken as a joint consultation with the Scottish Government and Welsh Government. Northern Ireland is not involved in these amendments, due to the effects of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”
I declare an interest as a member of the House of Lords sub-committee that is scrutinising the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and I have some questions in this regard. What does that mean in practice? Can eggs from GB be put on the market in Northern Ireland, and vice versa? Do these eggs have to be checked before they can be put on the market in Great Britain or Northern Ireland? That issue was raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Living in Northern Ireland, I am very well aware that Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s sell quite a lot of products that come from GB. What will the nature of these checks be? Where will they be carried out?
I support the protocol and believe in its sustainability, but perhaps the Minister can advise on progress in the ongoing negotiations on the protocol between the UK and the EU, with particular reference to the SPS arrangements. That was one of the “non-papers” from the EU in relation to this issue.
As this is a domestic statutory instrument, it falls to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee rather than our protocol committee to scrutinise it. What is the interaction between this statutory instrument and the protocol? Perhaps the Minister can give us some detail and clarity on that interaction and on the practical impact on the supply of eggs from GB to Northern Ireland and vice versa. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, eggs that travel from Northern Ireland to Britain enjoy unfettered access, so it would be good to get clarity on that.
It is important that the Government make a full analysis of the interaction of domestic primary and secondary legislation with the protocol. A lot of these statutory instruments come to us simply for information purposes, but we also get referred legislation from the EU that will affect and impact Northern Ireland on an ongoing basis. The Government have analysed the interaction of domestic primary and secondary legislation with the protocol. What has been done to ensure that that analysis takes place on an ongoing basis? If it is taking place, is it possible to publish the results and for a copy to be placed in the Library of both Houses?
My Lords, we started out as an egg producer on our farm in Norfolk about 10 years ago. For the first few years, it was a reasonably profitable business, but as more farmers have come into the market that profitability has increasingly been reduced. It is all about supply and demand. As the number of producers has increased, margins have been squeezed. In the past few years, we have been seriously considering whether it is worth our while continuing in the business, but as we employ three local people and it is still just profitable, we have continued in the hope that egg prices will go up.
On the surface, these regulations look innocuous enough. They went out to consultation, and of the six respondents, who all look after the interests of UK food and egg producers, only one was prepared to agree with them. The other five argued that the checks should take place at the border. Many emphasised that this change should be reciprocated by the EU to benefit British egg producers and egg exporters. This has not happened—I do not know whether Defra even tried—so exports from the UK to Europe will be subject to the full range of EU checks and bureaucracy, thus raising the costs and reducing the competitiveness of our exports.
As things stand, these regulations will make things lopsided—or rather, one-sided—with EU imports of eggs into this country being exempt from checks, bureaucracy and costs at the border but our exports being fully subject to all the EU rules and costs. So no level playing field there then. To my mind, Defra has scored an own goal here in not supporting its own UK egg producers, who have the highest welfare standards in the world, while helping with the import of cheap, low-welfare eggs. Thanks a bunch. One has to wonder why.
After the initial consultation, Defra held a virtual meeting in September with the consultees, who were told—I find this unbelievable—that the Government want their support to facilitate importing cheap EU eggs to help feed the nation. You could not make it up. Here we have a Defra official asking the very bodies that look after the interests of UK food and egg producers to support flooding the UK market with cheap, low-standard foreign imports. With margins already tight, we egg producers need that like a hole in the head. No doubt the Government were concerned about the supply chain problems, the lack of HGV drivers and the prospect, circulated in the media, that there would be empty shelves in the supermarkets at Christmas, but here we have Defra saying that it wanted cheap imports of eggs and to hell with its own egg producers.
Defra went on to say that it wanted to ease the process, as border inspections would involve more time and costs for egg importers. As an egg producer, am I bothered? All these regulations will do is flood our market with cheap eggs and increase the pressure to reduce the price that we get, thus further squeezing our margins. I am told that, when the consultees explained to Defra that UK producers could easily produce enough eggs to feed the nation—we already produce 90% of our requirements—but that with these regulations they were going to be undercut by lower-standard, lower-cost imports, Defra responded by saying that the consultees were acting only in the interests of protecting UK producer profit margins. As an egg producer, I say, “What profit margins?” They are tight enough already.
Just whose side is Defra on? Quite clearly, it is not its UK food producers. The Government have a cheap food policy priority and an anti-producer, pro-consumer mentality that seems prevalent in Whitehall. Surely the Government, and a Tory one at that, ought to protect and promote their own food producers, which they expect to operate with ever-higher welfare standards, rather than to protect and promote cheap imports? The problem is that although we have a Defra Secretary of State, George Eustice, an Agriculture Minister, Victoria Prentis, and my noble friend Lord Benyon, who all have farming interests and all support British farming, we have a Government who do not.
My Lords, before I start, I want to register a complaint about this Room. Since 2013, I have sat on this side of the Room, previously being a Minister and chair of the FSA. I am fed up to the back teeth; that light up there has been flashing for over eight years. It does not affect people on the other side. I fully accept that you have to be pretty sensitive to it, but it has been like that for eight years and no one has done anything about it.
Having got that off my chest, I thank the Minister for bringing forward these regulations. I accept, as he said, that they are very narrow, but this is a golden opportunity to raise other issues relating to eggs, as has been the case. I agree entirely with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Some time, I would like the Minister to answer the point just made by the noble Lord: what is our latest self-sufficiency figure? I found a figure of 89% of imports, or £1.7 billion, and exports of only £315 million. It is not a big issue. I just wondered what it was.
People joked about egg fraud when I raised it as a Minister, but it is big business. We must take steps to stamp it out. I will give only a snapshot. In 2010, Mr Owen of Bromsgrove was fined £3 million and did three years inside. That case started while I was at Defra, from 2006 to 2008, because of the way it was tipped off. Some 100 million eggs were mis-sold due to mislabelling. The defence had the brass neck to argue that Owen was not the only person “creating mischief in the egg industry”. That is the kind of class act of barristers. That was the defence argument—a bit of mischief. Some 100 million eggs were mis-sold; basically, low-level stuff sold as free range.
In 2018—it has not gone away—there was payback of £500,000 and 30 months inside for Anthony Clarkson of Preston. Again, it was free-range egg fraud—buying barn eggs and selling them free range. There are plenty available. In February 2019, a Netherlands trader was convicted of selling eggs unfit for human consumption. The other thing is: can we trust the statistics on eggs? We are talking about big figures by definition. I regret to say that I have only just discovered that, from 1996, hopefully not until now, HMRC showed errors in its imports and exports of three times the real figure. For 2008, the claim was that 600,000 cases—a case is a lot of eggs, at least 360—were exported, but it turned out to be less than 200,000.
In February 2013, Defra reported that the UK imported 267,000 cases, but, in reality, it turned out to be 127,000 cases. The exports in the same year were given as 61,000 cases, but, in reality, it was only 16,000 cases. There is a brilliant graph of what HMRC was producing. I take exception to this because, at some point during that period, I would have answered Parliamentary Questions, both in 1997-99 and 2006-08, giving false information. I have never been informed about this; it has come about only because I was searching the web in preparation for this debate. I had no idea about the revised figures of this HMRC miscalculation. Quite a serious issue is: can we trust the figures that we are given?
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, this is all about the EU and Brexit. The EU’s export figures and documentation are brilliantly accessible, unlike ours. I gather that, in 2019, the EU exported to the UK 12,048 tonnes of eggs for consumption—I have dealt only with eggs for consumption; I have not dealt with eggs for food production or day-old chicks. That figure is down in 2021 to 7,358 tonnes. The UK exported almost a similar figure in 2019: we exported to the EU 11,022 tonnes. That is now down to 6,685 tonnes. The EU imports eggs from all over the world. I am not familiar with the sanitary checks at the ports or the others. We are facilitating food imports from the EU without lots of checks because we accept it; we trust it. If anything is going around and being marketed in the EU, then it is okay by us—that is what we said—and it is why we are not employing loads of people to go round the world checking on food production, which is what the EU was doing for us before Brexit. We are relying on the EU to do it for us. If it is okay for the EU, it is okay for the UK.
The EU imports eggs from around the world—and I mean around the world: from Ukraine, USA and Argentina. It also imports from China—I repeat, China: the equivalent of 1,348 tonnes of eggs in 2020. Other countries include North Macedonia, Albania, Norway, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. How do we know that the eggs that we import from the EU are only from the 27 member states? If eggs are being moved around the EU—and let us not forget that many of them will come in unmarked; they will be marked in the EU—how do we know that we are not importing from outside the 27?
I would hate to think, for example, that we were importing eggs from China without any checks. We would not know whether they were produced via slave labour, which, as we know, the cotton pickers are in Xinjiang. Who is checking on this? There are some serious issues. In 2020, the EU exported to the UK 100,160 tonnes equivalent. The UK was the biggest destination of eggs from the EU. The next were Japan, with 68,163 tonnes, Israel, with 14,809 and Russia, with 45,378, so the UK was by far the biggest recipient of exported eggs from the EU, with Japan being the next.
Where are they coming from and how do we know? Those are legitimate questions for me, for regulators, for food producers, for customers and for supermarkets. A lot has been done to improve the standards of egg production in the UK—I fully accept that—but how do we know that eggs are coming only from the 27 EU member states? There are some serious issues here that the Minister will, I hope, be fully briefed to answer.
My final point concerns another aspect of this. The eggs that are coming in will not all be for consumption; some of them will be for food production. I picked up from Food Manufacture magazine concerns about the importing of eggs to the UK for use in “British” products—that is, as ingredients in pre-prepared foods. We use imported eggs. If the fact is that we are only 89% or 90% self-sufficient, that 10% represents a hell of a lot of eggs.
I understand that there is a petition asking UK supermarkets, although this is not their full responsibility, and food producers to stop such imports. There is a complete lack of transparency in the sourcing of egg products in such foods. Customers today are faced with eggs on the shelves in supermarkets with the British Lion brand and the name of the farm on them —great—but nobody knows where the eggs they are consuming in the pre-prepared foods they buy on the shelf next door come from, because there is a lack of transparency. They will certainly not all come from the UK as, by definition, they are imports. British Lion egg producers are quoted as saying:
“In recent years there have been a number of food safety issues associated with egg products produced in Europe and further afield.”
“Further afield” means outside of Europe. They go on:
“Using them also adds unnecessary food miles and does not meet the guaranteed, high standards provided by the Code of Practice for the production of Lion Quality Egg Products.”
What is the Minister’s view of the petition?
I have a soft spot for Defra and MAFF, having spent four years in total in both departments. It is the producers’ ministry; that is what I used to say when we were setting up the FSA. “We want the consumer to be looked at. Carry on being the producers’ ministry”, I used to say—but, listening to what the Minister said, it is no longer the producers’ ministry if its approach is to smash up the UK industry by saying that it wants lots of cheap imports. If that is its attitude on eggs, that will be the policy attitude on other foods and ingredients, which is what some of us said would happen before Brexit. We were constantly told by the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, who was the Minister concerned—I must have a dozen cases of this in my files upstairs—that there would be no diminution in the quality of and food standards for imported food. That was repeated day after day, month after month, with great sincerity. Nobody is questioning the noble Lord’s sincerity but the reality is that the department is seeking to go back on that commitment. That is the only conclusion to draw in talking about cheaper food. Cheaper food comes about only because of less regulation, lower welfare conditions and worse pay and working conditions for workers. That is the only way it happens. It is what happens in this country, which is why we must be careful about the work of the gangmasters organisation.
The reality is that this is a good example. It is an egg. We all know what an egg looks like and what we can do with it. It is not so easy with other products, such as cuts of meat and grains; that is all too technical. The public understand that, if we as the public are being cheated on egg imports, how do we know we are not being cheated on other food imports when the ministry that is supposed to be looking after this and guarding the regulations is now hell-bent on trying to reduce standards? It is no good the Minister shaking his head; he has to give chapter and verse to answer exactly what his current department’s attitude is.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this short statutory instrument. I think it is the shortest statutory instrument I have ever had to speak to, but it has very important issues at its heart.
A small percentage of British eggs are exported, and these are only ever grade A eggs, according to the Explanatory Memorandum. The British egg industry is 89% self-sufficient and produces plenty of eggs for consumer needs. A very small percentage of eggs are imported. During the period when Covid-19 was at its peak, eggs were imported from Spain due to supply chain difficulties. It is essential that only grade A eggs are imported and important that there should be adequate checks on these eggs.
It is, of course, practical for these checks to be done at the packing centres where egg marketing inspectors are already carrying out visits. However, I would like reassurance that it would not be possible for imported eggs to enter the retail market without going through a packing centre. I presume that if eggs were checked at the border on the point of import it would be very difficult for them to go unchecked and enter the retail chain. Can the Minister say whether it would be possible for eggs to leave the point of import and avoid going through a packing centre?
There is also an issue with labelling. Eggs stamped with the Lion symbol are processed through exclusive Lion packaging centres that do not deal with imported eggs, as that is prohibited under the Lion scheme rules. The BEIC, which runs the Lion Quality scheme for egg production, owns the Lion Quality trademark and is obviously keen to protect its product.
Eggs entering the GB market and coming from countries that have equivalent standards to home-produced eggs are not labelled. However, eggs coming from countries that do not have equivalent standards are labelled “non-UK standard” or “non-EC standard” and with the country of origin. How confident can consumers be that this labelling is accurate?
I understand that these eggs are likely to be used for mass catering and retail. Given the small percentage of imported eggs—10%—it is likely that these eggs will end up being used for catering purposes—
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. She will be aware that a Division has been called in the Chamber. The Committee will adjourn—I am hesitating to say for 10 minutes, because I am not quite sure whether that is what has been agreed—for certainly no more than 10 minutes to allow noble Lords to register their votes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, as I said, given the small percentage of imported eggs—10%—it is likely that they will end up being used for catering purposes. However, the consumer will not be informed that they are consuming products made with imported eggs. Given the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on the fraudulent labelling of eggs, is this a concern for the Minister?
The consultation carried out online received six responses, with one agreeing to the proposal and the other five expressing a preference for checks at the border. Could this poor response be due to the online nature of the consultation? Although it is practical for the checks to take place at packing centres, it is important to keep the industry on board. With only one in six producers content with the proposals, it seems as though the Government are riding roughshod over the egg-producing industry. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to this, although she did not use those words.
The Explanatory Memorandum indicates that:
“a round table will be scheduled with industry”
to mitigate any concerns. Can the Minister say whether this round table has taken place yet and, if so, what the outcome of the discussion was? If it has not yet taken place, has a date been fixed in the future? Can he provide reassurance that the cost of checks will not fall on the egg industry? The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, referred to the costs involved. I am concerned to hear again from him that Defra is actively encouraging the import of cheap eggs. Why, given that GB is virtually self-sufficient in egg production?
Lastly, given that the Lion Quality assurance scheme accounts for 90% of GB egg production, can the Minister say how many packing centres are therefore likely to be dealing with imported eggs? The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked some very searching questions, and I look forward to the Minister’s response, but I am generally content with this SI.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this SI, and for the helpful briefing that he organised with officials beforehand. However, he will know that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has drawn this SI to our attention. Like other noble Lords, partly arising from that, I have a number of questions.
Obviously, our main concern is to maintain our high animal welfare and food quality standards. Clearly, we can maintain those standards more easily if the eggs are produced within the UK. I am absolutely with the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, on that issue. Can the Minister remind us what percentage of class A eggs are currently being imported from the EU into the UK? We have heard some statistics today, but it would be helpful to have clarification from the Minister on that. Is it the case, as my noble friend Lord Rooker is saying, that third-country eggs are also coming to us via the EU? Is that standard practice? I think we should know more about this. Given that many of these procedures in the SI are about potential third-country egg producers coming direct to us in future, it would be helpful if the Minister could say whether he is aware that there are, in the sidelines, third-country producers awaiting some sort of green light to be able to sell into the UK market, and what the consequences might be.
That is just a general point. I now want to ask some specific questions—and the first question is about arrangements on the Northern Ireland border. In response to the question from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on this issue, Defra said that all eggs from Northern Ireland to GB would continue to have “unfettered access” to the UK market. Does that mean that there are no checks carried out on these eggs at all either at the border or at the so-called points of destination, or anywhere else?
Meanwhile, as I understand it, class A eggs going the other way—from GB to Northern Ireland—will continue to be checked at the border, as GB will have the status of a third country with regard to Northern Ireland. Those are the issues that my noble friend Lady Ritchie raised, and I agree with her: we need to know more detail on the practical application of how the rules will apply going in both directions. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify those arrangements under the terms of the protocol. Also, can he clarify how the outcome of the current negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol between the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and the EU might impact on the regulation of imports to and from Northern Ireland in future? Will eggs be caught up with this, and is this an issue on its agenda for change?
Secondly, like other noble Lords, we share the concern expressed by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that the majority of respondents to the original Defra consultation were against the proposals in this SI. The Defra letter explains that a subsequent round table was held on 24 September. Stakeholders expressed concerns about whether imported eggs would be subject to the same standard of checks as domestic eggs and produced to the same high health, welfare and food standards. Rightly, my noble friend Lord Rooker raised issues about egg fraud, and he gave some shocking examples of it this afternoon. Clearly, we need to ensure that our consumers are not being mis-sold—and that is a concern that the stakeholders expressed at the meeting on 24 September.
What do the current checks on UK eggs entail? I do not quite see how we can differentiate between the sanitary provisions that the Minister was talking about and how they are marketed. I would have thought that the marketing is about the sanitary provisions, so the two should go hand in hand. Does the Animal and Plant Health Agency regularly and randomly visit UK poultry farms to check on animal welfare issues and on whether the birds are, for example, being reared organically? Does the same provision for checks on animal welfare et cetera also apply to imported eggs? Otherwise, how can we be sure that food standard equivalence is being applied?
The Defra response to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred to the APHA carrying out random checks on domestic and imported eggs at warehouses, distribution centres and packing centres, but this does not seem to include visits to where the birds are being reared, so how can we be assured that the high animal welfare standards included in the marketing of imported eggs can be trusted? This was an issue raised by a number of noble Lords. Obviously, this matters because descriptions such as “free range” or “organic” carry a premium price, so the temptation for some degree of fraud is obvious for all to see.
Once we have finished the 21-month transition period with the EU, what arrangements will be in place to check welfare standards on site for both EU and third-country egg producers? Will we go to see where the chickens are being reared and the eggs are being produced?
Thirdly, are all UK eggs currently produced distributed via warehouses and packing centres or do some go straight to market? This was the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I can imagine that there is a healthy trade in local eggs at farm shops and farmers’ markets or potentially in the restaurant sector, so how is the APHA monitoring the quality of eggs that do not go via those distribution centres? What would stop egg importers avoiding packing and distribution centres and therefore avoiding the checks? Could they also go straight to market or to some locality without going through the distribution centres?
Then there is the question of what happens at the ports. This issue was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Presumably the APHA is already doing other checks at ports and custom points on foodstuffs being imported; it is already there with the resources, so it would not be too much of a stretch to check egg imports as well, particularly as we have heard that the phytosanitary checks will still carry on at the ports. Therefore you could argue that it would be more efficient to inspect all those consignments together, so I wonder why we are not still planning on doing that.
Finally, I am trying to get to the root of this issue. Is it an issue about overall APHA staffing levels? Is this ultimately the issue? Is it about staff shortages? What level of vacancies is being carried by the APHA? What proportion of APHA staff were previously EU staff who have left and cannot be replaced? Is this an issue at the heart of the matter?
The most important aspect of this debate is the need to maintain our high animal welfare and food safety standards. I absolutely share the concern of stakeholders and noble Lords this afternoon that these proposals do not provide sufficient reassurance that we will be maintaining those same high standards. I hope the Minister will be able to provide further reassurance on this issue, and I look forward to his response.
I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I will endeavour to answer all the questions that have been asked.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh referred to the sentence in the Explanatory Memorandum that relates to whether we used the European Union (Withdrawal) Act powers for this statutory instrument. I can confirm that we did not. I think she and others also asked why, given that the egg sector opposes the proposal—or so it was deemed from five out of the six responses—the Government are moving ahead with it.
In response to the consultation, Defra and the Welsh and Scottish Governments held a round table, as has been said, on 24 September to address the concerns raised by the industry. Invited to the meeting were the checking authorities responsible for egg marketing standards checks across Great Britain—the APHA egg marketing inspectors, who operate in England and Wales, and the Scottish Government poultry officers. In response to concerns expressed by the industry that imported eggs should be subject to the same standard of checks as domestic eggs and produced to the same high health, welfare and food standards, Defra explained that the checks will continue to be made on a risk basis, as well as randomly, in line with Article 24.2 of Regulation 589/2008, and that food quality will not be impacted by this SI.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh also asked about the nature of the survey, noting that it was online. All relevant industry representatives responded and were at the round table, so it is fair to say that a pretty full consultation has happened. She asked about UK exports to the EU. I can confirm that UK exports are checked at the border for both hygiene and marketing quality.
A number of noble Lords asked about resources at the APHA. This statutory instrument changes the current legislation, requiring marketing standards checks to take place at the border to allow the continuation of a current practice. We have the resources to do this now. I am quite open that, if we were not to pass this and require those checks to take place at the border, it would put considerable resource demands on the APHA. It would require a border control post to have a very large chilled space, so that every lorry that came in with its 28 pallets of eggs could be safely unpacked and those eggs moved into a chiller space. If they were not, they would risk deteriorating in quality, so that would have to take place. They would then have to be reloaded and taken to a distribution point where we had the resources to check them. I hope noble Lords remember this important point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised a very well-made point about the implications of this SI for Northern Ireland eggs entering the UK and whether they will be treated differently, with Northern Ireland continuing to follow EU rules. Eggs produced in Northern Ireland are not considered to be entering GB from a third country. The statutory instrument does not change the way eggs moved from GB to Northern Ireland will be checked. Northern Ireland eggs will continue to have unfettered access to the GB market, as at present, and will continue to be checked in the same way as domestic eggs from England, Scotland and Wales. In any case, the checks on third-country eggs are identical to those performed on domestic eggs. They will continue to be checked by egg marketing inspectors on a risk-assessed and random basis at the point of destination, at packing centres, at distribution centres and at wholesale premises.
I think she asked whether eggs from GB can be put on the market in Northern Ireland. Class A eggs imported into Northern Ireland from third countries will continue to be checked at the time of customs clearance and prior to their release for free circulation, in accordance with Article 24.3 of Regulation 589/2008, as it has effect in the EU. I think I have said whether eggs have to be checked before they can be put on the market in GB.
My noble friend Lord Cathcart made an impassioned plea on behalf of egg producers. I say to him and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that Defra is absolutely determined and passionate about promoting British food. I know that nobody here would say that we want a ban on imports—I know noble Lords understand that that would cause a very difficult situation in our trade with our closest and most important partners—but we are now at nearly 90% self-sufficiency on eggs and it seems perfectly possible that we can improve on that still further. Nevertheless, there will be a free flow as supply chains dictate, but I can absolutely assure my noble friend that we want to see eggs sold in the country being produced to our high welfare standards. Any eggs that come in must remain produced to our clear, high standards in a state of equivalence. I will come on to talk about that a bit more.
Imported eggs are subject to exactly the same level of checks as domestic eggs. These checks are conducted by APHA egg marketing inspectors on a random and risk basis. They check quality, weight, grading, labelling, marking and packaging, as well as farming methods such as free range, barn and caged. I have been fascinated to learn how they do this: using ultraviolent light, they can detect by looking at an egg how it has been produced. So the eggs that are being checked cannot be ones produced in battery cages that we would not allow here.
Fraud, which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised, is an important point. I cannot stand here and guarantee that every egg coming into—or, indeed, produced in—this country is produced to the standard that it says on the box, but we have a very strict checking system. We currently import class A eggs only from EU member states. We recognise that eggs from the EU are produced to an equivalent standard. The EU has reciprocated on this and recognised the equivalence of our eggs. We have regular contact with our friends in the EU, and we will make sure that we continue to do so, so that the standard and quality of any eggs that come into this country do not put our producers at risk.
As I said, in 2020, the UK was 89% self-sufficient in eggs. A staggering 11.2 billion eggs are eaten in this country; we import 1.7 billion and export 315 million of them. Eggs are imported on commercial documentation, and importers are not currently required to pre-notify the authorities before the import of eggs under marketing standards or SPS rules, but, as I say, the Government will continue to promote British produce. We have not imported non-EU, third-country eggs for many years. At present, we only import equivalent, third-country, class A eggs from the EU. If dodgy eggs coming from appalling producing circumstances—both for the livestock and those operating the production—are coming into this country as class A eggs, they will be found and discovered by our inspectors. In the UK, all imported class A eggs are required to undergo marketing standards checks. I hope I have reassured my noble friend Lord Cathcart. He is obviously on the front line of this issue, but I want to get across to him and to other producers the message that we are on their side.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, talked about the origins of eggs. The regulations require the country of origin to be stamped on the egg itself, not just on the packaging. Eggs will also be accompanied by an export health certificate signed off by a vet—probably a measure introduced by the noble Lord himself when he was at Defra. The APHA will check the stamping on those eggs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, made an important point. A relatively small number of imported class A eggs do not pass via packing and distribution centres. In this case, the eggs go straight to retail, but it is a small percentage. There is a possibility of further checks by trading standards officers from local authorities.
The noble Baroness asked whether eggs which are non-UK standard or non-EC standard can be sold in the UK. Eggs which are not of an equivalent standard to those produced domestically and which are deemed to be produced to non-UK/non-EU standards may still be sold in Great Britain. However, the packaging of such eggs must be marked with the country of origin and the farming method as non-UK standard. No eggs currently imported into the UK require such a label, as we do not receive eggs from countries that do not have equivalent standards. The Explanatory Memorandum to the SI states that if any third country—that is, non-EU country—wanted to export eggs to the UK, the Secretary of State would be required to sign that off to make absolutely sure that those standards were being maintained.
Defra explained in the round table and in the consultation that checks will continue to be made on a risk basis as well as randomly and that food quality will not be impacted by this amendment. I hope that has gone some way to reassure the important people whom we want to continue to support in the production of eggs in this country.
There were broader questions about egg marketing standards. I have to say from the six months that I have been in this role that the APHA is one of the most impressive organisations that I have dealt with. I have full confidence in it. Are there enough people? No, we need more. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made a very important point. It is well known that we are short of vets and other people, but we are able to manage this if this SI passes; if it does not, we would be short of the resources we need.
I think that I have answered all the questions on Northern Ireland.
On Northern Ireland, I mentioned the importance of a full analysis by Her Majesty’s Government of the interaction of domestic primary and secondary legislation with the protocol. I also asked what is being done to ensure that such analysis takes place and that, if it is taking place, a report could be placed in the Library of both Houses.
The noble Baroness is right to raise this point, as others have done, about the ongoing negotiations around the Northern Ireland protocol. I do not feel qualified give an accurate, up-to-date report. After this Committee, I will find out whether there is going to be an immediate communication about the status of the Northern Ireland protocol and an analysis of its functioning, particularly in relation to this matter. If there is not, I will make sure that she receives more information. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised that as well.
I have answered quite a few of the questions—probably not every single one.
The Minister has been very helpful; I fully accept that. I do not expect him to know the answer to this, but I hope that he will take my word for it that if any of us in this Room is wearing any cotton fabric or garment, it is possible using element analysis to find out where the cotton was grown. The same technique can be used to decide whether lamb was created in Wales or New Zealand. Does the technique of element analysis figure in any of the checks about where eggs have come from?
That is a very good point, and I will seek further information. I hope to reassure him and my noble friend Lord Cathcart that the idea that we are somehow allowing the import of substandard products that discriminate against our domestic producers is easily detectable through the measure that he mentioned which shows precisely how that egg is produced. I do not know whether it can deal with the point about fraud, or whether it can say, for example, that the egg came from Argentina or China, but this is a fresh food product, so obviously there is an issue about timing. I think that would militate some of the fraudsters who might want to try to enter the supply chain, but I assure the noble Lord that no undercutting of our producers will be facilitated by this measure or by my department in our determination to support the producers of this country. I really want to re-emphasise that point.
I hope that noble Lords fully understand the need for this instrument, which is to ensure that marketing standards checks on class A eggs imported from third countries continue to happen at the locations where they take place today. As I outlined in my opening speech, the instrument will also avoid any disruption to the level of checks that currently take place and will allow egg marketing inspectors to continue to uphold our high standards. I believe I have answered all the questions, but if I have not, I am very happy to provide written answers, I will check Hansard and respond in writing to any questions I may have missed.
Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, obesity is seen as one of the biggest health problems this country faces. The latest national child measurement programme data from 2020-21 showed that around 40% of children leaving primary school were overweight or obese, with one in four living with obesity. Regular overconsumption of food and drink high in calories or the consumption of sugar and fat can lead to weight gain and, over time, obesity, which in turn has a significant impact on health and well-being and increases the risk of certain related diseases.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact that obesity can have on people’s health. Evidence from a University of Liverpool study shows that those who are overweight or living with obesity and who contract Covid-19 are more likely to be admitted to hospital and suffer worse complications. This measure is part of the Government’s healthy weight strategy, which we hope will contribute towards achieving the ambition of halving childhood obesity by 2030.
The instrument we are discussing today concerns the introduction of restrictions on promotions of less healthy products by volume price and location for retailers in England with 50 or more employees. Location restrictions will apply to store entrances, the ends of aisles, checkouts and their online equivalents—for example, home pages and payment pages. Volume price restrictions will prohibit retailers from offering promotions such as buy one, get one free or three-for-two offers on less healthy products.
Less healthy products are defined as those that are of most concern to childhood obesity. It is a two-step process to determine whether a product is considered less healthy, which allows the healthiest products within categories to be excluded. First, products will be subject to the restrictions only if they are in the specified categories listed in Schedule 1 to the regulations.
If a product falls into one of these categories, the second stage is to apply the technical guidance to the 2004-05 nutrient profiling model, or NPM. If a food product scores 4 or above, or a drink product scores 1 or above, it will be considered less healthy and cannot be promoted. Healthier products within categories in scope of the restrictions will be excluded and therefore can be promoted.
The requirement applies to food sold in England only. We have engaged with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland throughout the consultation process. Subject to Parliament’s approval, the regulations will come into force from 1 October 2022.
The aim of this policy is to restrict the promotion of products considered to be less healthy in favour of healthier options. We hope that this will help to improve children’s diets and to reduce the overconsumption of food and drink high in calories, sugar, salt and fat that contributes to children being overweight and obese. We hope that this will shift the balance of promotions towards healthier options and maximise the availability of healthier products on promotion, making it easier for parents to make healthier choices when shopping for their families.
Data from previous Public Health England reports show that we buy almost 20% more as a direct result of promotions, while less than 1% of food and drink products promoted in high-profile locations are fruit or vegetables. Price promotions increase the amount of food and drink that people buy by around one-fifth and account for around 40% of all expenditure on food and drinks consumed at home. The location of products within stores also significantly affects what shoppers buy, with end-of-aisle displays increasing sales of soft drinks by over 50%.
Data from Public Health England’s sugar reduction evidence report suggests that promotions increase consumer spending by encouraging people to buy more than they intended, increasing their consumption of less healthy products. Research from a study conducted by Curtin University in Australia shows that children are uniquely vulnerable to the techniques used to promote sales.
Some supermarkets have already made voluntary commitments to reducing such promotions, which the Government welcome. However, these measures are not always implemented consistently or as recommended, so the Government intend to introduce legislation across the market to create—noble Lords have heard this phrase before—a level playing field within the retail sector.
Obesity has significant costs for society. Public Health England has estimated that the indirect cost to the UK economy from obesity-related conditions to be approximately £27 billion per year. The Government hope that this policy will deliver significant health benefits. The Government’s own impact assessment estimates that the policy will have a net benefit to society of around £7 billion over the next 25 years.
Micro and small businesses will not be impacted by these regulations, since the Government recognise that they are likely to find the restrictions more challenging to implement. The Government will continue to work closely with the food and drink industry and local authorities to provide the support needed before implementation of the regulations in October 2022. Guidance is being developed to support these regulations.
The Government want to make the healthier choice the easier one and to support people to lead healthier lives. Together with food companies, supermarkets and health professionals, the Government hope to create an environment to empower consumers to make better choices and to live longer lives in better health. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will contribute virtually as the Liberal Democrat Front-Bencher at the appropriate point in the debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and the Government for the initiative, which I would describe as making tentative moves to try to reduce the growth of obesity. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity, and I am grateful to the Obesity Health Alliance, which has recently produced a very wide-ranging and thorough examination of the problem. I am grateful to it for the briefing.
It is worth remembering that the last serious attempt to tackle this was after the coalition Government came into power in 2010-11, when an alcohol strategy was drawn up and there was an engagement between government and the private sector, and the many representatives of the health business, if I can describe it like that, who were anxious to see changes effected. We had the creation of the responsibility deal, which ran from 2011 through to 2015, when it collapsed. The health officials were unhappy about the way in which the agenda was being run, and in 2013 many of them withdrew because they felt that the private sector—the manufacturers and retailers—were controlling the agenda and that public health was rather lower down the line than profits. So it went in 2015, and since then we have had very little change, apart from a growth in obesity.
On the alcohol front, on which we have spoken from time to time, apart from with youngsters there continues to be a problem there, with more and more people going into hospital and more and more people dying from liver problems. The real concern here has been with the growth in obesity among youngsters. We have been at this since 2006, when the Labour Government first kicked it off with the national measurement scheme. Initially, the idea was that we would engage over a very wide area, but because of the continuing cuts that have taken place in public expenditure at local level, it has not really made a great deal of headway. We have had a fallow period, with many of us complaining over the years, but it would be churlish not to say that I welcome this move, although that is not to say that I am going overboard over what the Government are proposing.
I have a number of questions. It has taken us six years—seven years, really, since it will be 2022 by the time we finish the consultation with the parties involved and this is put into effect—but the document talks about waiting another five years to do a review. Unless I have misunderstood, it will be five years before it is fully reviewed again. Could you correct me if I am wrong or, if I am right, explain why we have to wait another five years, which means that we will have run from 2010 to 2027 before we really look at some of the serious proposals made by the Government?
Secondly, I would like to know who is covered by the square footage provision. Obviously, hypermarkets and supermarkets are covered, but I would like to know whether convenience stores are also covered. I live in Battersea, near the bridge, and next to us we have a local co-op that does extraordinarily good business. Would it qualify to be covered by the changes that are proposed? I cannot remember the figure, but it may be 1,200 square feet. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether convenience stores fall into it, because they are major retailers in this context as they sell nearly half as much as the supermarkets do. If they are not covered, it will be a major omission and something that we would want to return to.
Thirdly, I listen carefully to everything the Minister says as he finds his way with his new brief. At his first Questions, he talked about unintended consequences and said that it is very important when we are making changes that we try to foresee them. I am particularly interested in seeing how retailers effectively drive a coach and horses through so many areas of legislation with their ability to place their goods in a position which sells them best for them but on the other hand brings them to the attention of children, in particular.
Again, I mention my local Co-op. No longer can people see cigarettes. They are hidden. It took years to get that changed, but it is a worthy development that was put through by the Government. When I go in, I am now surrounded by alcohol. We have all this about advertising, thresholds and the rest of it, yet when children stand in the queue to buy their Mars bars in the Co-op, they are surrounded by alcohol and, on the other side, by doughnuts and a host of sweeties which are attractive to them and which, as we know, are at the heart of the growth of obesity. I wonder whether the Government have thought through what will go in place of the movement of some of these articles which are presently being sold, which have been identified as being very risky from a health point of view. If they do not cover it, I suspect we will find, for example, that alcohol goes there, which is what has happened previously. I know that is not about child obesity, but none the less it relates to obesity, as 10% of all obesity comes from the sugar in alcohol. So we are continuing with the same problem, especially given that we still do not have any indication on alcohol. You queue there, and there is no indication of the sugar content or the calorific effects in the drinks. Perhaps the Minister might say what the Government are intending to do about that. I know it is not in this document, but it is all interrelated with obesity, and we cannot separate it too much.
In another initiative, trying to be as positive as I can be with the Committee, Sir Keith Mills, who was responsible for Air Miles and Nectar points, has been doing a special piece of work for the Prime Minister and has come up with a number of trials. Is there a correlation between the work that will be put in place in this document and what he is endeavouring to do in incentivisation? I may sound negative, but I believe in incentives to encourage people to eat and drink better and I believe in trying to find incentives in which the private sector, particularly retailers, will not to try to take advantage but will work together so that we will see positive incentives offered to them to effect changes in the formulation of food and the way in which they present drink and food in retailing terms. Is there a link between the activities he is undertaking?
Finally, can we see more experimentation? I am very pleased that Sir Keith Mills is doing that. Wherever we can try to engage with those who are interested in the private sector, we should try to get joint working taking place where, if the Government see it works yet the private sector does not want it, they will do what they are doing today. I hope they will stick to their guns, legislate and make the changes stick rather than change their mind and run away under pressure from the industry.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his clear and succinct explanation of these regulations and of the risks of obesity, which we have witnessed a great deal during the Covid crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, then spoke about the APPG’s work on obesity.
I probably should register an interest. Although I no longer have direct food sector interests, I have shares in Tesco. In fact, I recall that it moved early in banning sweets from checkouts, but obviously it will incur costs from these regulations. I also have shares in Amazon, which, I suspect, could benefit from a shift online as a result of the regulations, which probably bear less heavily on online.
Forgive me for a brief diversion, but I was absolutely delighted to see that the regulations were made under the Food Safety Act. The passage of that Act was one of my proudest achievements as a civil servant. In fact, I supported the late Baroness Trumpington, whom I miss so much; she even gave me a toy pig for my baby, which has now been passed on to the next generation.
I have three points to make. First, I am glad that my noble friend the Minister and his department have produced an impact assessment. Such impact assessments are always a concern of mine, as he will discover. They really help one to understand the problem. However, I need some help in understanding the one before us today. Perhaps I should make it clear that it is attached to the back of the SI. The first page seems to say that the cost to business is £53.5 million of the package a year. That seems very low, given all that is happening. The industry estimates that I have seen suggest that the regulations will cost each small shop £13,000 per site and each supermarket between £50,000 and £100,000 per site. I do not know how many stores will be affected because we need an answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about scope. That page also says that there is a net present social value of £2,916 million; that sounds like nearly £3 billion, if I have my commas in the right place. I am interested as to how that relates to the business net present value of minus £148 million in the second column.
Page 4 summarises option 2, which I think has been the chosen one; that seems to be what the impact assessment is telling us. It seems to say that the benefit will be over 25 years, so we are looking at this quite big figure over 25 years. However, it gives a slightly different total of £2,038 million. So I do not understand how the costs and the benefits stack up. Where are they coming from and what discount rate has been used? That will be key in the final figure you come to. Can my noble friend the Minister enlighten us?
My second question relates to a briefing that I received from the Association of Convenience Stores—it represents smaller stores so it must have some concerns—the British Retail Consortium and the FDF. I forwarded the briefing to the Minister so that he could have a look at it. While reiterating their commitment to tackling obesity, the organisations criticised the drafting of these lengthy regulations, saying that there are many unanswered questions. They attached a list of the 25 most important ones, which include everything from the scope of businesses covered, which we have already identified as an important area, to the products affected, the location of placement restrictions in stores, the way in which online delivery is affected and whether Trading Standards or Environmental Health officers will implement the new regulations. The Minister will not be able to answer these questions today, but I wonder whether he will undertake to answer them and place the reply in the Libraries of both Houses in, say, the next month. Businesses must know what they are being asked to do. I remember that we were very strong on that point in relation to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which I worked on constructively across the party divide when I was the responsible Minister. Chaos ensues if you do not know what the rules will be.
These are not Covid regulations. We must give business proper notice. We are asking for a major shift, especially in store practice and behaviour. I thought the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about substitution effects and incentives were very interesting.
My final, brief third question is this. How will whoever is going to enforce these regulations, whether it is trading standards or environmental health officers, be resourced to enforce these complicated and important new laws?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the Minister for his introduction to these regulations. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, as chair of the APPG on obesity, were particularly helpful.
These regulations sit behind recently revealed alarming figures showing that nearly a quarter of children are overweight or obese when they start primary school. That figure has risen to a third by the time they leave at 11. The Government are right to be concerned about the overconsumption of food and drink high in calories, sugar and fat, which leads to obesity and associated obesity illnesses. I will come on to the regulations shortly, but from these Benches we want to make two other comments.
First, the Conservatives in government have consistently cut public health budgets to local authorities over the last six years. The King’s Fund says that, on a like-for-like basis, the 2019-20 budget is 15% less than that of 2013-14, including a more than 5% cut to obesity services. In addition, the reduction in school nurses as well as health visitors over the last decade has meant that some of the vital early face-to-face advice on nutrition to parents of young children has gone.
Worse, some of the excellent work done by chefs such as Jamie Oliver and by the campaign of Henry Dimbleby—both of whom over the years encouraged much healthier eating in schools—has been reduced if not lost. In fact, recent reports say that high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods such as the dreaded turkey twizzler are re-emerging on to school menus.
The second issue from these Benches is the decline in fitness of our primary school children. This has been a long-standing problem, but the sale of playing fields and focus in the curriculum on core subjects have all led to a reduction of time when children can exercise, take up sports and essentially get the habit early, which will also impact on their weight. This January, Sport England noted that children’s activity levels were down in 2019-20—pre pandemic—with only 44% of children and young people meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines on taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes a day. Now is the perfect time, as restrictions have been relaxed, to increase the time that young children can undertake sports and exercise. Can the Minister say what influence the Department of Health and Social Care has with the Secretary of State for Education in remedying this matter and what plans there are to fund more opportunities for young children to participate in sport and exercise?
Turning to the regulations, I note that this follows a decade of trying to encourage large supermarkets to reduce salt and sugar in their own direct products, as well as encouraging their suppliers to reformulate. However, not all of them have achieved enough, nor have they changed their attitudes towards promotions.
If the Grand Committee will permit me an anecdote, one of my adult children used to work as a buyer for a major supermarket, and its department had been asked to go back to suppliers to ask them to reduce sugar, salt and fat. My son was responsible for, among other things, dairy products. Most products and many suppliers were happy to work with the supermarket to achieve reductions, but both sides were completely stumped by one product: brandy butter. It has not just sugar and fat, but alcohol too. On this occasion, it was agreed there was very little they could achieve, other than to highlight its very red traffic light and recognise that it was a truly seasonal product that was not part of people’s everyday habits. But it is good they were thinking about it.
While the public health responsibility deal has improved matters a little bit, it is not nearly enough. One key area remains obvious. That is the influence of promotions targeted at children and their parents, both in store and on television. Other speakers have referred to multibuys, end-of-carousel promotions and queuing eye-catchers—far too often, junk food and sweets. While the public health responsibility deal has helped a bit in those larger supermarkets, it is certainly not enough, and it is good that healthier choices will be much more visible in shops and that buy one, get one free and three-for-two offers on high fat, sugar and salt products will be restricted.
On food scope, it was worrying to read in the past few days that a high level of juice in baby and toddler food, which has a very high fructose content, is not labelled as high sugar because the juice is natural and not added, processed sugar. Most parents of babies and small children believe that such products are not high in sugar. Surely, this needs to be added to the formulation list for HFSS products. Is the department looking at this?
It is right that environmental health food authorities should be responsible for enforcing this in localities, but I ask, as others have, whether there will be extra funding for environmental health to be able to carry this out. We need to remember that members of environmental health have many other responsibilities too, including the vital role during the pandemic of test and trace, working with local resilience forums. The Government cannot keep loading extra responsibilities on to beleaguered local authorities without funding them properly. Will there be funding for this for the enforcement bodies?
From these Benches, we regret that the food sector has not responded well enough to remove the need for this regulation, but we believe that the long-term health implications for our children are being damaged by current custom and practice. But this cannot be done without other actions too: funding more sport and exercise opportunities and funding enforcement are just two critical elements. The minimum of another five years to implementation, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, is too slow. Can the Minister please ensure that these changes are speeded up?
My Lords, I appreciate the intent behind these regulations and thank the Minister for his introduction to them. I want to comment on the current situation and raise a number of questions following on from those that we have already heard, because I feel that it is the detail of the regulations that is wanting rather than what they are about.
To emphasise the points that have already been made in this debate and have been heard in your Lordships’ House on many occasions, the UK has among the highest childhood obesity rates in western Europe. One in four children is overweight or obese when starting primary school, and the number is one in three by the time a young person gets to secondary school. These children are obviously more likely to become obese adults—let us remind ourselves that, at present, one in four adults is obese—and therefore at greater risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, cancers and mental ill-health. As we know, the situation is worse in poorer communities. Indeed, one in three adults in the most deprived areas is obese, compared with one in five in the least deprived—a clear inequality if ever we saw one. The discrepancy among children is even more alarming: more than twice as many children are obese in the most deprived communities as in the least, and that gap has nearly doubled under this Government.
There is no doubt that in-store promotions are incredibly effective in influencing what we buy. Research shows that we buy 20% more than we intended when faced by promotions. Cancer Research UK has shown that greater volumes of high fat, sugar and salt are likely to be purchased by those who are already overweight or living with obesity, so we see a correlation between promotions and obesity, and it is right that these regulations seek to tackle that. So, yes, it is right to take action to address this situation, not by limiting people’s freedom of choice but instead by supporting them to make healthier choices.
However, these regulations alone will not be enough, and it is this point that I want to emphasise to the Minister. We need a radical obesity strategy that goes much further, ensures that families are able to access healthy food and supported local leisure facilities, and ensures that poverty can be tackled. Without that, there will be no levelling up. All we will see is a continuing widening of the already considerable gap between those who have the means to manage their weight and those who do not.
There are some specific angles that I would like to draw to the attention of the Minister with regard to these regulations. Can he advise why this policy is being introduced by secondary legislation when MPs were given the opportunity to debate and, crucially, to amend related obesity policies on junk food advertising just last night? Why could this not have been done in the Health and Social Care Bill? Does he accept that that would have allowed for rather more scrutiny and would have allowed your Lordships’ House to vote on additional safeguards, rather than the procedure afforded to us here, which could be described as the “take it or leave it” procedure? What is the Minister’s view on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s comment that these regulations should contain a sunset clause to allow the policy to be evaluated effectively after a period of time?
Looking to enforcement, as we know, these regulations will be enforced by local authorities. Their budgets have been systematically cut over the past 11 years. What assessment has been made of the capacity of local authority trading standards to enforce any of this? Will additional funding and resources be provided in respect of this new and more intense role? Otherwise, we are passing regulations with all the right intent but without the means to deliver.
With regard to exemptions on promotions, can the Minister explain why the new rules on promotions apply only to medium and large businesses, and why corner shops are exempt from these regulations? This was raised and illustrated by my noble friend Lord Brooke. We understand the placement exemption because we all understand that it would be impossible for small retailers where every shelf is near an exit, an entrance or a till, but why does it apply to promotions? Why is it more onerous for small businesses than for medium-sized businesses or franchises not to provide a three-for-two or a buy one, get one free? It would be helpful if the Minister could advise us why smaller businesses have not been fully taken into account.
On timing—this was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—businesses have had to grapple with the need to reconfigure space for social distancing to make them Covid-secure for staff and customers. Now, they must undergo a further configuration, still within Covid-secure measures, and perhaps another reconfiguration when Covid-secure policies are no longer needed. Can the Minister say what consideration has been given to this when discussing and deciding the timeline for implementing the placement regulations with the industry? Can he advise the Committee of when the guidance will finally be published?
With regard to the scoring system on high fat, sugar and salt, some experts have raised concerns that the food classification system used is outdated and that foods that are higher in fat get disproportionately penalised compared with those that are packed with sugar, which are less satiating and where evidence suggests the real obesity problem lies. Can the Minister advise what consideration the Government have given to this and what plans there are to review the impact of this policy on obesity, specifically with regard to the classification system for high fat, sugar and salt?
The Minister will be aware of existing concerns that some brands have deliberately marketed products as healthy despite what they really are. Indeed, some refined sugar-free bars contain more sugar than a chocolate bar. Research from Bite Back 2030 found that 57% of “health halo” foods surveyed would receive a colour-coded nutritional information label. Can the Minister confirm whether these will be captured by the regulations? What steps are the Government taking to help consumers to navigate packaging information and to clamp down on deliberate and dishonest marketing tactics used to encourage people to consume faux-healthy junk food products?
I note that the retail food and drink sector has committed to delivering the proposals, but that sector needs to be a partner in tackling obesity. It is disappointing that there are so many questions about the drafting of the regulations, which do not appear to enable this. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that and do what he can to put it right.
I start by thanking noble Lords for their contributions to today’s debate. I shall try to turn to some of the questions from noble Lords and to answer as many as possible in the next three hours, if noble Lords will be patient with me. [Laughter.] Seriously, if I do not touch on a particular question, please write to me to follow up, particularly on some of the more technical questions.
I start with some of the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. He asked about the scope. Stores smaller than 185.8 square metres or 2,000 square feet—if you are wondering why such an unround number was chosen in metric—and specialist retailers that sell one type of food product category, such as chocolatiers or sweet shops, will be exempt from location restrictions but will need to adhere to the volume price restrictions. The policy will come into force in October 2022. The noble Lord referred to issues that I am always interested in, which are the evidence, as well as the impact, and how we look at the unintended consequences of any such moves. There will be a review within three—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
The policy will be reviewed within three to five years of it coming into force. I reassure the noble Lord that the intention is that the policy will come into force in October 2022. However, as the noble Lord and I have discussed in the past, I am always concerned about unintended consequences and evidence to see what has worked and what has not. In many ways, I am a fan of the discovery process. We do not have complete knowledge—in fact we have incomplete knowledge—and all we can do is trial and see what works and use the best evidence that we can to assess.
Part of this review of the regulatory framework provisions of the restrictions will consider whether penalties under the Regulatory and Enforcement Sanctions Act 2008 have been implemented effectively and achieve their ambitions. We will continue to keep the policy under review to ensure that it is both impactful and proportionate. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is not sufficient just to pass a piece of legislation and hope it does its job. In fact, as I think many noble Lords would acknowledge, this in itself is not enough to tackle obesity. It has to be a multi-angled view with many different approaches. Some will work, some will not, but we have to learn from what works and make sure that we are not driving consumers into unintended consequences and leading them to worse health outcomes.
We hope that this strategy that we published in 2020 will be world leading. I think the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned Sir Keith Mills and his programme. This shows that it is not just this piece of legislation; it is a multichannel approach, if you like, including incentivising people to have healthier lifestyles —monitoring their steps and other exercise functions. Anyone who has looked at successful and unsuccessful diets will recognise the fact that it is not just about reducing what you take in; it is also about burning off those calories. We have to get the right balance. Each individual will have different BMIs and different physiologies and different strategies will work for different individuals.
In terms of the businesses that these regulations will impact, the location and volume restrictions apply only to medium and large businesses in England and around 24% of stores are in scope of the volume price restrictions. Given the size threshold for stores subject to location restrictions, these apply to approximately 16% of stores in England. Some 94% of estimated food retail revenue falls under the volume restrictions, while 84% falls under location restrictions. This means that these restrictions offer considerable potential, if done correctly, while ensuring that small businesses are not disproportionately impacted by the changes. I acknowledge that many noble Lords were concerned about the cost for both large and small businesses.
The original timescale was to be April 2022, but having considered feedback from the industry, we have made the decision to extend the implementation to October 2022. I am well aware that some in the industry are asking for a further extension and, as noble Lords can recognise from the tone of the debate today, some are in favour and some are against and the Government are trying to get the right balance. The Government want to bring in these measures so we can start analysing whether they work. We are also very mindful of the fact that it falls on industry to implement them.
The other issue raised was about smaller stores and what are called symbol groups, which, as noble Lords may understand, are smaller retailers that come under a wider brand. If we excluded symbol groups in their entirety, that would take away some of the health benefits of the policy. Franchises and symbol groups make up about 60% of those in scope of the volume price promotions and 14% of the location restrictions. Approximately only 12% of symbol group stores are over 2,000 square feet, therefore the vast majority of these stores will be exempt from the location restrictions. I hope noble Lords understand the point about the cost falling particularly disproportionately on smaller stores.
I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for forwarding to me the list of 25 priority questions compiled by the Food and Drink Federation, the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. It is a priority to finalise the guidance for businesses as soon as possible and make sure that it supports industry as far as possible to get the right balance. Officials are concentrating on completing the exercise and, as part of this, are considering the feedback that the authors of these questions have offered. Our intention is to provide a point of clarification to industry in the final published guidance, which we are working to publish as soon as possible after these parliamentary debates. So, watch this space and do challenge me if it does not happen imminently.
It would be very helpful if, in responding to those questions and proposing the guidance, my noble friend the Minister could make a copy available, perhaps in the Library, to those of us who are interested in understanding because I do not think that this is the end of the era on this issue; I think we will revisit it again and again in various different ways.
My noble friend makes a very reasonable demand that is difficult for me to refuse. Let me put it this way: I hope that I have not caused any shock waves, as it were.
There has been an impact assessment, which shows that the location restrictions over the 25-year appraisal period are expected to bring health benefits of more than £57 billion and provide NHS savings of more than £4 billion. The volume price restrictions are expected to accrue health benefits of more than £2 billion and provide NHS savings of £180 million. We recognise that there will be costs to businesses; once again, this is all part of that difficult balance and debate. A phrase I have often heard is, “Do not let perfection be the enemy of progress”. We want to try as hard as possible to get this right. From the consultation that has been going on, we are very aware that this will have an impact on a number of businesses but, at the same time, there is lots of pressure, as noble Lords will have heard today, just to get on with it.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but £57 billion is a much bigger figure than I have seen anywhere; £3 billion, perhaps separately, I could understand. It is really helpful to have the impact assessment but it is difficult to understand what the benefits and costs are, which we need to understand to give my noble friend the Minister the full support that he requires.
Once again, I thank my noble friend for making that request. I always make it clear that it is important that we publish as much evidence as possible and let it be challenged; that is part of a healthy debate. If things do not work as intended, we should see what works and what does not. I am always very sensitive when someone says, “the evidence suggests”. We need to have that challenge but also make sure that we know what works. At the end of the day, we all want to see less obesity across our country, so surely it is important that we make sure that the evidence is there. Where something does not work, we will just have to try other ways.
On compliance, it is for local authorities to decide how best to enforce the requirements. Where an enforcement officer suspects that HFSS food or drinks may be inappropriately promoted, they should request further information to verify. If the product is in scope and has been promoted contrary to the law, an enforcement officer will consider what action should be taken.
I thank the Minister; it is generous of him to give way. I would be very interested in how he sees the greater responsibility on local authorities. Picking up my question again, does he feel that local authorities are resourced suitably? Can they expect some recognition of this new and extremely important role, because the regulations require their co-operation too?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. The Government are committed to ensuring that enforcement is proportionate and fair, and we intend to support local authorities and the judicial system on additional costs incurred as a result of enforcing the policy. Up front, I cannot say what those costs will be, but we want to understand what they will be to help enforcement.
I was asked whether we had watered down the policies for some products. We have excluded some products that are not among the highest sugar or calorie contributors to children’s diets or are not heavily promoted, but we will continue to keep the policy under review.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about weight management and other ways of tackling weight issues, including exercise. In March 2021, we announced an extra £100 million for healthy weight programmes to support children, adults and families in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
On infant foods, we will shortly consult on proposals to improve the marketing and labelling of commercial food and drink products for infants and young children. I acknowledge many of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked why we are using secondary legislation. The different legislative approaches being pursued reflect the current legislative framework and implementation routes available to the Government. For the promotion restrictions, we used existing powers in the Food Safety Act 1990 to lay secondary legislation before Parliament in July 2021. The statutory instrument has been subject to the affirmative parliamentary procedure.
On how we look at issues of inequality, noble Lords made a very fair point. Perhaps I may be so bold as to suggest that one issue for people I talk to in many of the communities that we are supposed to be reaching out to is that, for far too long, the public health industry has been dominated by white middle-class people who feel they know better than immigrant and working-class communities. It is really important that we understand those communities. As someone who comes one of the communities that have been patronised, I recognise that we have to make sure that we work with them and do not just sit in a place like this and assume that we know better. It is important that we really understand them. What is really good about the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is that “disparities” are on the label, on the tin, which means that we have to look at how we address them.
There were some questions about why smaller businesses are exempt. I hope that I have answered them.
On people not being able to afford to eat a healthy diet, anyone who has watched daytime TV will know that some of those programmes can show you how to cook a meal very quickly and much more cheaply than is the case with many of the convenience foods that you can buy. The problem is how we translate that from the TV and entertainment to people’s lives in reality. In many ways, it means understanding families, where the decisions are made and what they have access to in many of their communities. Anyone who has been to many of the immigrant communities, for example, will know that there are plenty of shops that sell and openly display fresh food, but how do we make sure that we translate that into healthy diets?
On their own, these regulations will not be enough. We also have to look at how we translate all this into understanding people’s lives right at the family and the community level. It is our goal to improve children’s health and to reduce obesity. The shopping environment plays a vital role in the way products are marketed to us—for example, the pumping out of the smell of fresh bread from bakeries. We know that marketing people are experts in understanding consumer behaviours, with factors such as the location of products at the end of aisles affecting what we buy. The Government are committed to getting the right balance between stopping bad practice and working constructively with industry. We also want to evaluate the evidence of the restrictions once the policy is implemented.
We believe that retailers can play a vital role in creating a healthier food environment that does not promote the overconsumption of less healthy products. The Government hope that these regulations will enable us to achieve a healthier food environment and make progress to halving childhood obesity by 2030, and allow us all to live longer lives in good health. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Committee adjourned at 7.24 pm.