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Grand Committee

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

Grand Committee

Tuesday 31 January 2023

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2022 statutory instrument was laid before Parliament on 20 December 2022 and came into force on that same day. These regulations correct an error in the powers used to make the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021. The error was an unfortunate oversight. Due to the volume of Covid, Brexit and trade agreement work, pressures on the Government Legal Department—GLD for short—resulted in this referencing error not being picked up in checks. HSE and GLD regret the error and are taking steps to reduce the risk of this sort of error happening again. The error was identified by GLD during a recent review.

The urgency to make these regulations arose from the need to use the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 before they expired on 31 December 2022 and so avoid the requirement for primary legislation. This instrument has to be made in the affirmative and debated in both Houses because this is what the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 specifies.

This instrument is non-contentious, as it repeats the previous regulations with some minor technical changes. The preamble to the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021 did not cite one of the enabling powers and was not made with the consent of HM Treasury to certain fees for chemical regulation functions which were transferred from the EU. The correction ensures that the Health and Safety Executive can continue to recover its costs for these functions.

The preamble in the 2021 regulations refers to paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It should also have referenced paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to give the powers for the provisions which allow charging for certain regulatory activity around biocides and classification labelling and packaging—so-called CLP. In addition, this same error was repeated in later regulations, which contained a series of amendments to, and mirrored powers in, the 2021 regulations. This instrument also corrects that error.

Biocides and CLP provisions in the fees regulations 2022 rely on paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and so consent from HM Treasury is required, as referenced in paragraph 3 of that schedule. I can assure your Lordships that consent has been given. I can also assure your Lordships that we have a rigorous checking process in place which will normally ensure that errors are identified before instruments are made.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity to emphasise that this instrument is a restatement of the fees regulations 2021, with the correct powers cited in the preamble and for which HM Treasury consent has been obtained. These changes put beyond doubt the ability of HSE to charge fees for certain biocides and CLP regulatory activity. The instrument makes no changes to policy or duties, although, as explained in the Explanatory Memorandum, it corrects some minor technical errors as well.

I hope that colleagues of all parties will join me in supporting the new regulations, which I commend to the Committee. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that introduction, and I can only take it that the remarks he addressed to “colleagues of all parties” means me, so I am delighted to be here. I also love it when a Minister announces, as was done in the Commons as well, that an instrument is non-contentious. From the Opposition Benches, our mind goes, “Well, we’ll see about that; that’s our call.” It is not the kind of thing one can do unilaterally.

However, as we have heard, this instrument revokes and replaces the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021, as amended by the amending regulations, and consequentially revokes Regulation 14 of those. We have heard that the purpose is to correct a number of errors. I accept that some of them are clearly technical. There is the incorrect cross-reference in Regulation 12, the error in the definition of “nuclear provisions” in Regulation 16 and the omission from Regulation 22 of the process clarifying how to interpret terms on classification, labelling and packaging, and so on.

However, there is a more serious error. The fees regulations 2021, as amended, were meant to enable the Health and Safety Executive and the Office for Nuclear Regulation to charge fees for a range of specified activities, but, as we hear, it has become apparent that an error in the preamble to the regulations and to the amending regulations has caused a problem. Neither cites paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the EUWA 2018, but both should have done so. The problem is that that would have allowed provision for the charging of fees in connection with functions following Brexit, particularly those performed by the HSE in relation to biocides and chemicals—I still think fondly of our long debate on biocides and chemicals not very long ago.

I have some questions. The effect of the error was that the required Treasury consent was not sought prior to the making of regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the EU withdrawal Act. I accept that the Treasury has indicated that it would have given consent had it been asked. However, it was not asked, which is of course the problem. The EM says that the error

“may raise doubt as to HSE's ability to continue to recover the affected fees.”

Can the Minister unpack that a little more for us? First, we need to be clear what fees have already been charged using the flawed powers in the 2021 regulations. When these regulations were debated yesterday in the Delegated Legislation Committee in another place, the Minister, Mims Davies, said:

“About £25,000 was charged across the industry under the powers related to the error. However, HSE judged that there is a low chance of any case being brought, due to the amount of money involved. That is why we are rectifying it extremely quickly. HSE will continue to manage any legal implications on a case-by-case basis.”—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, Commons, 30/1/23, col. 8].

Can the Minister tell the Committee: was there a legal basis for charging those £25,000-worth of fees? If not, will the money be refunded to the firms which paid them, or do I take it from that last sentence of the Minister that the Government are simply waiting to see whether anyone who paid them under deficient rules will sue to get their money back? Were any fees not charged as a result of this error that would otherwise have been charged? If so, has any revenue been lost?

There are two other questions. We need to know more about how we got here and, more importantly, how the Committee can be assured it will not happen again. I accept that drafting errors happen, of course, but there are quite a lot of errors in one set of regulations here. Yesterday, the Minister gave the explanation that the noble Lord has repeated today, which dumps the blame pretty much lock, stock and barrel on the Government Legal Service, saying that it was under pressure as a result of Covid, Brexit and trade agreement work, it had too much pressure and that is why it happened. The only problem with that is that two of those three were completely foreseeable. I realise that post Brexit there will have to be redrafting of regulations and other legislation, but the volume and speed is a direct consequence of decisions the Government made about the nature of Brexit and about the way to handle retained EU law.

So, knowing all this, why did the Government not plan and resource the GLD accordingly so that it could deal with the volume of work and the pressure that it would be facing? We cannot simply accept that our statute book should be in a mess as a result of Brexit. There were various points at which these errors could have been picked up. Why were they not? Is there a quality assurance process in place? Does the HSE or the DWP do any checking of their own legislation? Do they literally just give it to the GLD, say, “Do it!” and then take whatever is given back and put it out? Is there a quality assurance process and, if so, why was none of the errors picked up? I spent some years as a non-executive director on a board. If the executive reports a significant error, the question that one asks is: is it systemic? If the answer comes back, “No, it is not”, then one wants evidence of that; if the answer is: “Yes, it is”, one wants to know how one can be assured that it will not happen again?

The Minister yesterday in the Commons said that,

“the HSE and the GLD have completed a full review of the lessons learned,”


“identified some practical actions”.—[Official Report, Commons, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 30/1/23; col. 7.]

to improve ways of working between their officials. That is nice but—this is an important question—if those practical actions had been in place, would they have avoided these errors? So, one has done lessons learnt. If one had done those things then, could this error have happened? If it could still have happened, then we have not solved the problem. Did the review look at other errors, other than the one that it turned out had created this problem?Crucially, how confident is the Minister in assuring the Committee that something this serious will not happen again?

Finally, we are told that

“the Department is adopting the free issue procedure in relation to this instrument.”

Do I take it that that means that there will be free issues of this instrument and the amendment regulations? What will be the cost of that?

Given that I have fired a number of questions, I really want to get answers today—I do not want any more letters because they never arrive, or they may arrive eventually but it takes a long time and these regulations have already been made. To clarify, I am interested in finding out: what happened; why the mistakes were not picked up; whether fees were charged without any legal cover and, if so, whether fees are going to be refunded and whether there were fees that could have been charged that have not been; whether there is quality assurance in place; and whether the DWP and the HSE do any checking of their own legislation and how they can assure us that this will not happen again. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for her response. I totally understand the tone and nature of the questions that she has asked. I hope that I can respond. It may be that the detail in the responses is not quite what she is looking for and, of course, I will say that I will write to her if the answers are deemed to be not satisfactory. But I will certainly do my best.

I should like to say first that these errors are unfortunate. As I said, the error was an unfortunate oversight caused by pressures on the GLD—the legal side—due to the volume of Covid, Brexit and trade agreement work. Despite checks in place, the omission of one of the powers from the preamble was not noticed. I shall go into a little more detail in terms of how the error was noticed. The preamble to the fees regulations 2021 referred to Paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 to the EUWA 2018 but should have also referenced Paragraph 1 of that schedule. The error was repeated in the amendment regulations, being a set of regulations that amended the fees regulations 2021. Due to that unfortunate oversight, the correct power was not cited in the preamble, which meant that certain regulations were made without the consent of HM Treasury, as they should have been. The error was spotted during a recent review of the fees regulations 2021, as I mentioned.

On the noble Baroness’s question what has been done to prevent such errors happening again, I believe that the review has been rigorous, and we do not believe that it will happen again. However, I shall give a bit more detail. HSE and GLD have completed their review of lessons learnt. This has identified some practical actions that can be taken including better ways of working between GLD crucially and HSE policy officials.

The question of HM Treasury and its role came up, and perhaps I can be helpful in answering some questions. HM Treasury has approved the 2022 fees regulations and has confirmed that consent would have been provided at the time of the 2021 regulations, if sought. HM Treasury consent was given when the fees were first introduced into UK law in 2019 by way of amendments to the fees regulations 2016. HSE is informing HM Treasury of the proposed treatment of the approximately £25,000 of fees received between 1 April 2021 and 21 December 2022. Some 14 companies have been charged between £500 and £5,000, so I hope that is helpful.

These regulations put beyond doubt the ability to charge these fees. We are liaising with HM Treasury on the repayment. There is a quality assurance in place, and we regret that it was human error that led to this. We have reviewed our processes, as mentioned earlier, and have implemented actions to improve this. If they were in place, the error would have been avoided. I hope that helps to answer the questions raised by the noble Baroness.

On the £25,000, I asked a specific question: was there legal cover for charging that money? I would like an answer to that. I think the Minister said that the HSE is informing the Treasury as to what it will do about the money. Can he inform us what it is going to do about it rather than just the Treasury?

Those are two fair questions. I will have to write to the noble Baroness to follow through on the specific details that she has asked for. I will certainly write a letter and make sure that she is fully informed. With that, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Plant Health and Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Plant Health and Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, the Plant Health and Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) Regulations 2022 were laid before the House on 19 December 2022. Protecting our biosecurity is of paramount importance to addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis. By correcting deficiencies that have arisen from EU exit, this instrument ensures the effective operation of the biosecurity regime in Great Britain. The instrument makes amendments to plant and animal health legislation and, while the provisions in the instrument are merely technical amendments and not a change in policy, I must emphasise that the instrument is urgent.

In recent months, an outbreak of a plant disease near the Wales-England border highlighted an unknown gap in the legislation. This gap prevents the authority in one territory of Great Britain from establishing a demarcated area, based on the findings of a pest or disease in another territory. A rapid solution was needed to ensure that the legislation continued to allow effective action against this disease. Additionally, the withdrawal Act powers required to make changes in this instrument were due to sunset on 31 December 2022. We needed to address the identified deficiency before that date.

On the details of this instrument, these regulations correct the deficiency identified by allowing authorities to implement demarcated areas after a pest outbreak in another territory. They do this by making the following changes. First, they ensure that all relevant pests are included in the legislation for the application of demarcated areas. They also allow authorities in Great Britain to co-operate with one another in demarcating areas affected by certain plant pests. Authorities are then permitted to take measures in their own territory to control the spread of plant pests from a neighbouring territory. For example, a demarcated area could be established, and a restriction put in place on the movement of potentially infected material.

Amendments are additionally made to domestic legislation in, respectively, England, Scotland and Wales to allow notices to be served to establish demarcated areas in these instances. Given the urgency of this instrument, Scottish and Welsh government Ministers have formally consented for amendments to be made on their behalf.

Finally, this instrument corrects errors from earlier instruments made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; these amendments have been deemed non-urgent. The corrections include amending a retained EU decision to ensure that certain potato commodities from some regions of Lebanon meet stringent entry requirements.

An animal health instrument is also corrected to ensure the transfer of functions from the EU Commission to the appropriate authority in Great Britain. This will give the appropriate authority the power to change or establish specific rules on the imports of equine animals from third countries.

I am pleased to state that the devolved Administrations have given their consent for these regulations to extend across Great Britain, with some exceptions. Regulation 3 applies to England only, Regulation 4 applies to Scotland only, Regulations 5 and 6 apply to Wales only, and Regulation 8 applies to England and Scotland only.

As I stated previously to your Lordships, this instrument is urgent. As a result, these regulations came into force on 20 December 2022, except for the non-urgent provisions, which will come into force after the approval period for this instrument has ended.

In conclusion, I emphasise that these regulations ensure that effective biosecurity controls are in operation within Great Britain. They also enable co-ordinated action between territories within Great Britain to best manage the outbreaks of certain pests. I hope noble Lords will support these measures and their objectives. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for introducing these regulations, which I broadly support. I have just a couple of points of interest.

I know my noble friend has visited—sometime last year, I think—Fera, based at Sand Hutton near York, which used to be in my constituency. I take this opportunity to praise it for the work it does. Presumably it will have a role to play in identifying any pest and the danger it might hold.

I would like to focus on the position of the Lebanese potatoes to which my noble friend referred. I think the regulations call for demarcation and for controls to be taken at the point of entry. On paragraph 7.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum, I sympathise with the department for the errors it has made and welcome this opportunity to correct them. It begs the question: if we are transposing these regulations into UK law, will they be subject to the retained EU law Bill? Will we ask Defra to lift them? I would be interested to know why we are being asked to look at them this afternoon if they are to be reversed later this year.

I know that it is a slightly separate issue, but it is very difficult to follow the retained EU legislation from looking at the dashboard. Defra does not appear in alphabetical order but has just shy of 1,800 regulations. I know that we in both Houses were involved in transposing these regulations into UK law, but Defra bore the brunt of the 2,700 or 4,000 regulations. I thank the officials for the work they did over a very intensive programme.

Paragraph 7.9 refers to ensuring

“that potatoes from certain regions of Lebanon meet stringent entry requirements.”

Did the checks take place at the port of entry? What is the normal entry route for these Lebanese potatoes? Do they come directly from Lebanon or through the EU? That is my first point of information. If they come through the EU, which is a strong possibility, I draw attention to the concern that the Food Standards Agency raised in its most recent annual report, Our Food 2021: An Annual Review of Food Standards Across the UK, which states at paragraph 8 on page 13:

“The UK Government recently announced that full import controls for goods coming from the EU to Great Britain would be further delayed and replaced by a modernised approach to border controls by the end of 2023.”

I am trying to understand whether that really is the case. If it is, it will put a huge onus of responsibility on local authorities. For information, I would like to know where the entry and route into this country is.

I also raise a question my right honourable friend Kit Malthouse asked in the other place. Ash dieback has taken hold of the country. I think my noble friend will confirm that we have ended the practice of exporting ash seeds and reimporting young saplings into this country from regions such as Denmark and Poland, in which ash dieback is rife. Kit Malthouse asked about ash dieback on Wednesday 25 January when this instrument was debated in the other place. It again begs the question: where are ash trees, whether saplings of bigger trees, being imported to? Where do the checks take place? That is crucial to ensuring that any diseased trees among these imports are taken at a very early stage.

I commend these regulations because there is an animal or plant scare or scandal roughly every 10 years. I think of BSE, foot and mouth, horsegate and, this year and last year, avian flu. The regulations provide the department with the tools it needs, but I have raised concerns that I hope my noble friend will address.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the rationale for this statutory instrument so clearly. It apparently addresses failures of retained EU law to operate effectively following Brexit. It also corrects some errors in previous SIs, including ensuring that potatoes from Lebanon meet stringent entry conditions. Perhaps the Minister can say whether potatoes from Lebanon were entering the country without being properly monitored before this SI was laid.

Corrections are also needed to the Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment and Legislative Functions) Regulations 2022, or the TARP (ALF) as they are called. These ensure the transfer of functions from the EU to appropriate GB authorities, with a change to establish specific rules on imports of equine animals from third countries. Corrections in Regulation 7 in part 2 of the instrument before us deal with the import of potatoes, while Regulation 8 in part 3 deals with the errors in TARP (ALF).

The main body of this instrument deals with plant pests and relates to the devolved Administrations, with Regulation 6 dealing with Wales being in Welsh. These regulations deal with plant health and genetically modified organisms, allowing for the setting-up of demarcation areas on the borders between Wales and England, and between England and Scotland, all to help control the spread of pests. It is important to have demarcation areas on the borders with the devolved Administrations so that territories can be protected from pests and plant disease, outbreaks of which need to be dealt with quickly and effectively. Ensuring co-operation between the devolved Administrations to control outbreaks is vital.

The Explanatory Memorandum refers in paragraph 3.3 to an

“outbreak of a certain pest near the Wales/England border”.

This has flagged up the need to ensure that legislation is corrected to allow for outbreaks of pests to be controlled. I hope that the Committee will forgive my pronunciation in the next part. I understand that this pest is Phytophthora pluvialis, which was first seen in Cornwall in September 2021 and attacks the bark on trees. There are currently six demarcated areas in place in England: Devon and Cornwall, Cumbria, Herefordshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire, and Shropshire, so it would appear to be spreading. Does the Minister think that the measures in this instrument will contain the spread and help save trees in other rural areas, or will more stringent measures be needed to control the spread?

I have looked at photos of the effect of this disease, and it is certainly extremely unpleasant, but until I read this instrument and asked what the pest outbreak on the border between Wales and England was, I had no idea that it had acquired a toehold in England. Perhaps I am the only one and everybody else knows about it. It appears to have spread fairly rapidly over the ensuing 17 months since it was first identified in Cornwall. The Forestry Commission has lifted its original restrictions on the movement of wood, isolated bark and trees affected by this virus. This has been replaced with restrictions on plants for planting within demarcated areas. Can the Minister say whether he feels these restrictions are sufficient to contain the spread of the disease within the current demarcation areas?

I realise that this SI deals with a broad-brush approach to plant health and puts in place legal measures to ensure plants and animal products are protected. However, it provides us with an opportunity to have a debate, albeit somewhat curtailed, on the effects on our trees, which are under attack from all quarters through disease and need constant protection. I support this SI, which is really important, and look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I confirm that we also support the SI and note that the Minister said it is urgent. Our main concern, however, comes from the fact that the 18th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has once again drawn the attention of both Houses of Parliament to our having a defectively drafted SI in front of us, so we are once again tidying up some mistakes that have come through from previous instruments.

Section 3 of the Explanatory Memorandum notes that the instrument corrects various errors in bits of retained EU law and cites a previous JCSI report. Our concern is really: what is Defra’s resource, since this seems to happen time and again? Are there concerns about the level of resources Defra has to deliver well-drafted SIs? We know that the department will have to accurately review all retained EU law by the end of this year, as envisaged by the retained EU law Bill, so it would be good to have confidence in its resources and ability to do this without errors.

Other noble Lords have talked about paragraph 3.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which refers to the pest outbreak on the Wales/England border. The Minister knows of my concern about trees, ash dieback and the terrible impact of larches being felled; I have mentioned it before. It would be helpful to understand the reaction to this outbreak. What work is being undertaken to ensure that these kinds of outbreaks are brought under control? As we continue to debate EU law, what powers are needed to ensure that we do not have constant new pest outbreaks in this country? The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about ash seeds. It would also be useful to have clarification about this.

Section 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum talks about how previous amendments to retained EU law failed to provide for the new demarcated area system. I would be interested if the Minister could go into a bit more detail on the policy background. I am trying to ascertain whether this would have been possible under the original regulation before it was amended to take account of our departure from EU, or has the power not existed previously? I am trying to understand that better.

I will not go into detail about the Lebanon potatoes. Other noble Lords talked about that.

I appreciate that many of the SIs which Defra has had to deal with following our departure from the EU, of which there are a very large number, are really complicated. I do not want to undermine the officials’ confidence, because I know that there has been an enormous amount of work involved. We have the REUL Bill coming forward. It is important for us to be confident that the Minister and his officials have the resources and ability to function properly in all the work that they have to do.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. They have raised some very good and important points. I will start by addressing those raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh and emphasised by other noble Lords about the risks we face.

At the moment, the main areas of concern which come up at my regular biosecurity meetings with the Defra group include Phytophthora pluvialis. This is an emerging concern. Phytophthora ramorum has been here a little longer. My noble friend mentioned ash dieback, which continues to be a real concern. I see a glimmer of hope there, but I do not want to raise expectations. The horrendous way in which it galloped through our woodlands in recent years seems to have slowed a little. This may be for a variety of reasons. We are working hard to find resistant strains. I recently visited a Forestry Commission site, where we have taken plants from the most resistant species in the eastern areas of England where the disease first hit landfall. We are trying to develop a real understanding of what makes certain ash trees more resistant than others. You can find a relatively healthy tree standing next to one that is practically dead. We are trying to understand the genetics and pathology of this really serious problem in our landscape. We are dealing with a number of different agencies. Fera certainly has a part to play.

We have just published our biosecurity strategy for Great Britain for the next five years. It has been a comprehensive, collaborative piece of work with devolved Governments and a variety of stakeholders across the piece. I think it is one of the most impressive biosecurity strategies you can find anywhere in the world. As I have said in other fora, we can no longer rely on the fact that we are an island. We have to consider ourselves just as much at risk as countries that share land borders in Europe. The globalised economy is moving plant and animal diseases at alarming rates. If there is one that keeps me awake at night it is Xylella, which is absolutely devastating in parts of southern Europe and is moving north.

Of all the plants sold in this country from nurseries, 92% come from overseas. We have to be absolutely clear that we are promoting homegrown products. Our Plant Healthy strategy, which really tackles this, and Grown in Britain—another really good initiative that the Government support—are supporting nurseries to produce more homegrown products. Where they are imported, we are making absolutely sure that they come here in a way that is safe.

My noble friend asked about the Lebanon issue. Changes are being made to specify the relevant labels that should be in English and reference the relevant testing standards that we felt were omitted. These amendments are merely technical. Certain official controls are inserted in one of the intermediate stages of testing for the pest potato ring rot. It is a very small volume of trade—only 20 kilograms have come from Lebanon since 2018—but sometimes a very small amount is all you need to create a massive problem.

A number of issues were raised around the retained EU law Bill. I want to make absolutely clear that our default position is to retain. In no way can we hit our targets for reversing the declines of species, or meet our international commitments and our determination to see our seas and oceans recover to health and many other commitments to support nature and biodiversity, if we just dump regulations that we need. What we need is good regulations, and that is what industry wants—it does not want a bonfire of regulation that could see the wrong kind of people prosper.

I was talking to the Horticultural Trades Association conference this morning, making the point that we really value good, responsible businesses and see them as a key partner, because they are the connection with the customer. There are 30 million gardeners and a great many professional growers, and we need to know that what they are getting is safe and secure and will not pass on diseases in this country. That is a key part of our determined effort to create a proper regulatory regime.

Noble Lords are right: the dashboard has been amended. A great many of the nearly 1,800 regulations that exist for Defra will be retained. A great many of them have nothing to do with the United Kingdom whatever; they are about the export of olives, or relationships between certain countries and their fishing arrangements with other third countries, and have no relevance to the United Kingdom at all. They will obviously go. A number can be reformed and made better, and we see this as an opportunity to do that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, rightly questioned us about our resources. In this Parliament, we have had a Fisheries Act, an Agriculture Act, an Environment Act, a sentience Act, a gene technology Bill, soon to become an Act—and a great many provisions that lie within those Acts have been debated in this Room—and other pieces of legislation. So, yes, we have been running hot in terms of legislation. I would not be so arrogant as to try to pretend we always get this right. Sometimes we need to tweak regulations, and that is what we are doing today, but we need to tweak them for a very good purpose.

On containing Phytophthora pluvialis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, it started in the south-west. There is a depressing map showing it creeping up the temperate west of Great Britain, parts of the Welsh/English border and up into the north-west of England. We want to make sure we are doing everything to contain it. The people from the Forestry Commission who are doing this are remarkable. They are also tackling other diseases, such as oak processionary moth and ash dieback, as I have already talked about. Ips typographus, which has blown in from Europe into the south-east, is particularly devastating for spruce plantations. We are basically trying to eradicate every spruce tree in the south-east of England to make sure there is no foothold from which it can move to other parts of the country.

It feels at times like a war: I spend a lot of time looking at a map and seeing the enemy, in various forms, approaching. The ability of our scientists, agencies and civil servants who help me with these issues is breathtakingly impressive, but these diseases present a growing problem in an age where the climate and people’s habits are changing, with their ability to move around the world. That great British tradition of going abroad, seeing a cutting or plant and putting it in your suitcase has to end—we need to stop that wonderful thing that my mother always did, but must no longer do, because we do not know what we are bringing in. I would like to see an Australian-style culture of biosecurity in this country. We are moving very fast to try to weaponise society in this great endeavour, not just government. It is crucial that we involve other people.

Statutory instruments go through multiple rounds of checks ahead of laying. However, the drafting of the EU exit SIs has proved challenging to the department due to the pressures on legal and policy resources and the complexity of some provisions. It is the department’s intention to correct errors at the earliest opportunity to ensure we have a fully operable SPS regime in place.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about ash imports. There are strong import controls on ash trees and ash wood to reduce the risk of introduction through trade, and a pre-notification of firewood imports. Why are we importing firewood? I was in the Alice Holt laboratory the other day looking at a piece of firewood that had come from eastern Europe. We have a lot of degraded woodland in this country that we need to bring into management, which will be good for our biodiversity and our domestic industry. We are doing a lot to try to encourage homegrown industries so that we do not import firewood. Where we do, we have the strongest measures in place to prevent the risk of any diseases coming into this country. The emerald ash borer is known to occur in some of these species. We want to make sure that we stop them at the border.

My noble friend also asked about checks at the point of entry. We have increased the number of inspectors, in line with the increase in checks we are demanding. Our Animal and Plant Health Agency’s services will see 137 new inspectors, who have already been recruited and performing checks. They will perform a lot of those checks at our new purpose-built BCPs—our border control posts.

At the moment, the checks are at the point of arrival. Many of the nurseries I have visited are incredibly professional and are helping with that. The plant health inspectors are good at spotting a problem and ruthless in dealing with it when one arrives—sometimes at great cost to the company. We want to try to stop these diseases before they get here by digitalised certification and, when they do get here, at the border control posts. We are shortly going to announce the rollout of our targeted operating model, which will see these measures come into place. I am spending a lot of time talking to ministerial colleagues in the devolved Administrations to make sure that we are working with them. Like nature, diseases know no boundaries. We want to make sure that we are working across Great Britain, and where possible across the United Kingdom, to try to prevent them.

Intensive surveillance, diagnostics and research are being carried out to understand more about Phytophthora pluvialis. This includes extensive UK-wide aerial surveillance, including a ground survey of more than 1,900 sites across Great Britain and comprehensive research modelling to explore factors such as climatic suitability and species susceptibility to inform the management response. In October we published a pest risk analysis assessing the risk posed by Phytophthora pluvialis.

That covers most of the points. I would like to reassure the noble Baroness that while we are running hot on a number of fronts, we are also getting it right most of the time. The vast majority of measures that we bring before your Lordships are properly thought through. The teams involved take them through an exhaustive process of checks to make sure that they are doing what they say.

My eyes should roll when I hear reference to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which the noble Baroness sits on, because time is the monkey on my back, but I applaud it for what it does. Its job is to make sure that secondary legislation works, and we get that right in the high 90s, percentage-wise, of the time. Where the committee pulls us up on something, we try to correct it. If we think it has got it wrong we will sometimes point that out, but that is very rare. I appreciate that the committee is an important part of this process.

I hope I have answered your Lordships’ questions and that all noble Lords share my conviction of the need for this instrument. Pests and diseases do not acknowledge country borders and can spread to any suitable wider environment. As I have outlined, this instrument makes technical operability changes to ensure that effective biosecurity controls are in place within Great Britain. These amendments are crucial for taking effective co-ordinated action between the devolved Administrations to deliver biosecurity and protect the environment of Great Britain in the future. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Code H) Order 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Code H) Order 2023.

My Lords, this order was laid before this House on 12 December. Following the horrific terrorist attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019, the then Home Secretary commissioned the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, to review the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, commonly referred to as MAPPA, used to supervise terrorist and terrorist-risk offenders on licence in the community. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, hereafter referred to as the 2022 Act, established three new powers for counterterrorism policing: a personal search power, a premises search power and a power of urgent arrest. These powers were established in response to recommendations made by Mr Hall KC following his review of MAPPA.

This order relates to the new power of urgent arrest, which was inserted into the Terrorism Act 2000 as new Section 43B of that Act by the 2022 Act. The new arrest power came into force on 28 June last year. The Government have also taken this opportunity to make a small number of updates to the code to reflect changes previously made by primary legislation, including ensuring that relevant terminology within the code is up to date.

As set out by the Government during the passage of the 2022 Act, the new power of urgent arrest applies across the UK. The power enables the police to arrest without warrant a terrorist or terrorism-connected offender who has been released on licence and is suspected to have breached their licence conditions when it is considered necessary, for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a terrorism risk, to detain the offender until a recall decision is made.

Section 66 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, commonly referred to as PACE, requires the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice in connection with the exercise by police officers of statutory powers to arrest a person and the detention, treatment, questioning and identification of persons by police officers. We have prepared a revised PACE Code H, which relates to the detention and treatment of people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000; it applies across England and Wales. This order seeks Parliament’s approval to bring the revised code of practice into force.

The primary update to PACE Code H is the incorporation of the new urgent arrest power provided for by Section 43B of the Terrorism Act 2000. A terrorist offender who is detained under new Section 43B must, unless recalled to prison or otherwise detained under any other power, be released if a decision is made not to revoke their licence and accordingly the offender is not recalled to prison. A terrorist offender must also be released from police detention if a recall decision has not been made by the end of the relevant period, which in relation to terrorist offenders who have been released on licence under the law of England and Wales is six hours, beginning with the time of the arrest.

The Government have updated PACE Code H to reflect this new arrest power, including by ensuring that there is clarity for the police on the length of time for which the terrorist offender on licence can be detained, and their rights upon first being detained, such as their right to have one named person informed of their whereabouts and their right to consult and communicate privately with a solicitor. The revised PACE Code H also reflects that there is no requirement to caution a terrorist offender on licence who is arrested under Section 43B, as they will not have been arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offence and so will not be questioned or interviewed by the police under caution while being detained under this power. The Government plan to collect data from police forces on the use of this targeted power, as we routinely do for other police arrest powers, and make this data publicly available through future statistical publications.

The Government have also updated PACE Code H to reflect other changes already made to primary legislation by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, hereafter referred to as the 2019 Act. The 2019 Act amended provisions in Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to specify in the legislation that, on first being detained, a detainee must be informed of their rights to inform a named person of their detention and consult a solicitor. The 2019 Act replaced provisions in Schedule 8 that would enable a senior officer, in certain exceptional circumstances, to direct that the detainee has to consult their solicitor in the sight and hearing of another officer with one whereby a senior officer can, in these exceptional circumstances, require the detainee to consult a different solicitor of the detainee’s choosing.

The 2019 Act also amended Section 41 of, and Schedule 7 to, the Terrorism Act 2000 to give effect to a recommendation made by a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that the detention clock should be suspended in the case of detainees who are admitted to hospital. Finally, the 2019 Act created powers to stop, question, search and detain a person at UK ports and the Northern Ireland border area for the purpose of determining whether the person appears to be someone who is, or has been, engaged in hostile state activity.

When revising PACE Code H, the Government have also made other minor, non-discretionary updates to ensure that terminology contained within it is up to date and reflects wider legislative changes. The revised code makes a clarification to refer to retained EU law to reflect the effect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, updates the wording regarding offences having a terrorist connection to reflect changes made by the Sentencing Act 2020, and updates a reference to the relevant department to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

In the course of revising the code, we have engaged key stakeholders, including Counter Terrorism Policing, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, all of whom are supportive of the approach being taken.

While powers such as the Section 43B urgent arrest power in the Terrorism Act 2000 apply UK-wide, our revised PACE Code H applies in England and Wales. We have liaised with the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on our proposed revisions, and they intend to update their respective equivalent guidelines and code of practice correspondingly in due course.

The revised code promotes the fundamental principles to be observed by the police and helps preserve the effectiveness of, and public confidence in, the use of arrest powers under the Terrorism Act 2000. I very much hope that noble Lords will support these revisions to PACE Code H.

My Lords, I want to ask several questions of the Minister, not least because the recommendations to upgrade Code H are in fact non-discretionary—the policy for a code of practice. In other words, the Secretary of State has to transfer these into the code of practice without any subsequent amendment.

I have two questions, the first of which is about process. Code H says:

“This Code of Practice applies to, and only to … persons in police detention after being arrested”.

The word “after” is important, because the first of the powers transferred into the Terrorism Act 2000 in Section 43B relates to the fact that constables “may arrest without warrant”—so this is before the arrest has taken place. There are four bullet points at paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum on the 2019 Act changes. The last one, which the Minister mentioned in his opening speech, is about creating powers to stop, search and detain. Again, such powers are obviously prior to the arrest being made.

If the advice on the code of practice to police officers does not appear in this document, PACE Code H, where does it occur? It cannot occur in this document because these powers are prior to arrest. That is a technical question, but if it is not in Code H, where might it be? It may be in general advice to police officers somewhere else; perhaps the Minister can tell us. Two distinct powers given by the various Acts are prior to someone being arrested; then, of course, as the Minister says, after they are arrested the conditions within the relevant Acts are clearly transferred into Code H. Clearly, if there is no explanation of where they might have advice, that leaves a certain amount of unhelpful discretion to the police, who will want guidance on this very important matter.

My second question relates to Section 43B(1), inserted into the Terrorism Act 2000. I do not want to rehearse the debate that was had when the relevant Act was discussed in this House, but it says that

“a constable may arrest without warrant a terrorist offender who has been released on licence”,

and then gives two conditions—

“if the constable … has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the offender has breached a condition”


“reasonably considers that it is necessary … to detain the offender”

because of a public risk of terrorism. I understand why both conditions are there, but I do not understand what advice has been given to police officers and where that advice might be. First, you would have to understand or know that the person was a terrorist offender. Secondly, you would have to understand or know whether they had been released on licence. Thirdly, you would have to understand or know what the licence conditions were for that person to be released on licence.

I understand the reasons. We had the very tragic case that the Minister referred to, but if I were a police constable, knowing that I had these powers but with those conditions, I would want to see some advice in a code of practice as to how I would understand those three conditions prior to my being able to detain a person. I must have reasonable grounds for the offender having breached the conditions of their licence and I must understand the risk of terrorism. The latter is probably much easier to understand—it could well be by observation of the circumstance—but the former would require a police officer to understand and know that this person had a licence. Given that the advice cannot be in PACE Code H, because it is prior to arrest, where, if anywhere, is it? These are important questions relating to how a police officer can operate the code of practice inherent in the primary legislation that we are debating.

My Lords, we support this statutory instrument, which revises the PACE code of practice H to reflect the introduction of a new power of urgent arrest by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. As the Minister outlined, this power enables the police to arrest without warrant and detain a previous terrorism or terrorism-connected offender who is suspected of presenting a further terrorism risk to the public. It also updates Code H to reflect changes made by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.

As the noble Lord said, the horror of the attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019 and a subsequent attack in Streatham is a reminder of the harm that terrorist-risk offenders are capable of. Following these attacks, the Government commissioned the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall, to review MAPPA, which is used to supervise such terrorist and terrorist-risk offenders. The creation of the power of urgent arrest was recommended as part of this review.

We supported the introduction of this power during the passage of the PCSC Act and we support it now. We believe it is vital to have the right safeguards in place. With the introduction of such powers comes the possibility of unintended consequences or missed opportunities. I look forward to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation considering the effect of the introduction of these powers, as well as the other new powers introduced to improve the management of terrorist offenders on licence, and the 2019 powers that Code H now includes.

I was just reflecting on my memory of the attack in Streatham, which is not that far from where I live. I have no inside information on it other than what I read, but I read in the papers various bits of speculation about the officers who were tracking that terrorist offender, who was out on licence; they observed a crime being committed and intervened, and the offender was killed. The speculation I read in the press was about how that process was managed and the huge resource-intensiveness of tracking such people when they are out on licence. Can the Minister say anything about whether this change to the codes of practice within Code H is partly a result of the large resource implications of tracking such offenders when they are out on licence? However, we support the changes.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked me, first, in essence, where is the guidance for the police pre arrest? Of course, the guidance is operational in nature, so it will be issued by Counter Terrorism Policing and the College of Policing, which will issue it internally. Any guidance for officers is of a highly tactical and operational nature and will therefore obviously have to sit within the police’s own guidance rather than a government-issued code of practice.

On how to determine whether an individual is on licence for a terrorist offence, this will be understood through close working by Counter Terrorism Policing and the Prison and Probation Service, which will include information-sharing and briefing about terrorist offenders on licence. If they breach their licence and are recalled, a warrant will be out for their arrest. Obviously, policemen can find out whether an offender is out on licence by checking their details on the police national computer, which will flag it.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about potential operational constraints on the police because of potentially large numbers involved, obviously, I hope that there will not be a large number of people subject to these powers, but I am quite sure that if Counter Terrorism Policing and more routine and—shall we say, traditional?—policing come up against capacity issues, we will certainly hear about it and come back to debate this in further detail. I fear that I cannot supply any better detail than that at this point. However, I will have a dig and, if I can find anything, I shall come back to the noble Lord in writing, if that is acceptable.

Just before the Minister moves on, reflecting on the answer he just gave me about the internal guidance, is that guidance publicly available? If so, has it already been written and where can we find it?

I do not know whether it is publicly available; I am afraid I shall have to find that out as well and come back to the noble Lord. I should be somewhat surprised if it is, but you never know.

In closing, I reiterate that this order provides for the revised PACE Code H, which relates to the detention and treatment of people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and applies across England and Wales, to be brought into force. This revised PACE Code H will govern the fundamental principles to be observed by the police when exercising the new urgent arrest power in Section 43B of the Terrorism Act 2000 and will help preserve the effectiveness of and public confidence in the use of police powers of arrest. The updated code will also reflect various changes made to primary legislation by the 2019 Act, as well as other minor updates to ensure that the terminology in PACE Code H is up to date with wider legislative changes. I can pre-empt writing a letter to the noble Lord, Lord German: I fear the guidance is for internal police use only, so it is not public. That said, I thank both noble Lords for their broad support for this SI and I commend it.

Motion agreed.

Trade (Mobile Roaming) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Trade (Mobile Roaming) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I am pleased to move these regulations, which were laid before your Lordships’ House in draft on 15 December. This legislation represents a world first in international trade: the UK-Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein free trade agreement contains the world’s first provisions regulating mobile roaming charges.

Most recent free trade agreements mention mobile roaming, but provisions in those agreements talk of co-operating or even endeavouring to co-operate. However, this free trade agreement takes a further step: actually ensuring the regulation of charges in order to make a real difference to Britons travelling overseas. It is an example of the innovative trade deals we can now negotiate, bringing real benefits to British travellers.

This legislation is necessary to implement domestically the UK’s international obligations under the terms of the agreement. Technically, the legislation implements the agreement’s provisions that regulate international mobile roaming wholesale charges.

As many noble Lords will appreciate, wholesale charges are what mobile operators charge each other, as distinct from retail charges, which are what they charge their customers. The wholesale charges Norwegian and Icelandic mobile operators can charge UK operators will be capped by their domestic legislation. The legislation we are debating will cap the charges that UK operators can apply to Norwegian and Icelandic mobile operators. The caps cover wholesale charges for mobile data, voice calls and text messages. The regulation of wholesale charges in the agreement is with a view to facilitating surcharge-free international mobile roaming for British consumers to Norway and Iceland, as well as, of course, surcharge-free mobile roaming for Norwegians and Icelanders in the UK.

I note that the agreement’s provisions regulate mobile roaming wholesale charges between the UK and Norway, and the UK and Iceland. The agreement’s provisions do not apply to Liechtenstein. Therefore, this legislation is not relevant to that principality. That is because Liechtenstein decided to opt out, given its operators’ commercial relationships with Switzerland. Because of the topography and the limited geographical area of Liechtenstein, a significant part of its territory is supplied by masts from neighbouring Switzerland. I add that this legislation also ensures that Ofcom has the power to enforce the caps on wholesale charges.

Before I make way for the debate on this legislation, I will cover an issue that might form the basis of questions that noble Lords might have: the agreement’s coverage of wholesale, rather than retail, charges. The reason the agreement covers wholesale charges but not retail ones is that wholesale charges have to be covered by an international agreement. Wholesale charges are a cross-border issue; an international agreement is therefore required to cover them. UK legislation alone cannot bind the charges of Icelandic or Norwegian operators.

Retail charges can be covered by an international agreement, but they can also be covered by purely domestic legislation. This is because retail charges are between UK operators and their domestic customers. Retail charges are not a cross-border issue.

The parties concluded that this agreement should cover only wholesale charges, as these have to be covered by an international agreement. That the agreement does not cover retail charges reflects its light-touch regulatory approach. It will ensure that UK operators are protected from high wholesale charges from Norwegian and Icelandic operators. It is therefore expected that those UK operators who surcharge their customers roaming in Norway and Iceland will react at the retail level by reconsidering their approach and moving to surcharge-free services.

While the agreement is light touch in its regulatory approach, let me be clear: one of the key, publicly stated achievements of the agreement was to keep costs low for holidaymakers and business travellers in Norway and Iceland. The Government are committed to delivering that aim. They therefore expect UK mobile operators which are surcharging to reconsider their approach. If they do not, the Government have the capacity to intervene.

My Lords, this is my opening speech. My noble friend will be able to join the debate in a moment. I look forward to the contributions from my noble friend and other noble Lords. I beg to move.

I wanted to ask my noble friend: what advantage does the mobile telephone user get from us having left the European Union? Is this not a rather pathetic doing of a deal with a few countries, when everybody in Britain suffers from having left the European Union and being charged extra? This deal is just with a couple of countries—even Liechtenstein is left out.

My Lords, that was a suitable start to my own small intervention. I will not trouble the Minister for too long but I want to strike a note of genuine regret, rather along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said.

It is a very small crumb of comfort to be faced with this order when previously, right across the EU, there were no roaming charges for consumers. As we saw, last July the EU extended the exemption from roaming charges for another 10 years—an extensive period. I suspect we are all now much more aware of what we have lost as a result of leaving the EU, exactly as the noble Lord mentioned.

There is a small consolation offered in this free trade agreement. I do not know whether any negotiations will ever be underfoot again with the EU about taking advantage of its single market and the resulting lack of roaming charges. Maybe the Minister could say whether any kind of initiative was available.

I have only a couple of questions about these new regulations. The Minister talked about the technicalities of wholesale, retail and so on. Obviously, the retail charges—if any—follow from any wholesale charges. How are these charges to be set? What is the basis for them? Norway and Iceland are limited exemptions. Even Liechtenstein did not feel moved enough to join up to this great roaming exemption. Why has Liechtenstein excluded itself from this splendid initiative?

Of course, we support these regulations. I welcome particularly that there is a review. I am greatly in favour of government reviewing its own regulations, and the mechanism in Regulation 13 is very useful, but what does the Minister envisage? Do we do this after a couple of years, after five years, this time next year or never? What is the plan? It is useful at least to have in the department’s diary something that says, “Review these Norway and Iceland regulations”, when somebody has the spare time to do it. I hope that consumers will take great benefit from these regulations.

My Lords, I intervene briefly to ask two questions, one of which, about the review, has just been asked. Regulation 13 says that the review has to be within five years but can be in as little as a year. Can the Minister say anything about when the department might intend to consider a review? The subject of roaming charges is of pretty wide interest generally.

Secondly, in respect of the scope—which, let us face it, is modest—am I right in assuming that, under the reconsideration of the trade and co-operation agreement that has been signed and comes up for review in a year or two, this whole area might be an appropriate part of any reconsideration and renegotiation that the UK conducts with the EU?

My Lords, I am grateful, as ever, to the Minister for introducing the SI, and to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for commenting on it in its 25th report. The scope of the SI is very narrow, as colleagues have said. But if we are looking for something to welcome, we should certainly welcome the fact that the Government have decided to work a bit more collaboratively with international partners, are bringing forward legislation that enacts rather than attempts to rip up international agreements and are seeking to negotiate somewhat with our partners in Europe.

The agreement with Norway and Iceland will give certainty to mobile operators about their costs when customers use roaming charges across the relevant jurisdictions, but this is a very limited agreement. I soon realised when I came back from Norway last year just how much more expensive it is to use a mobile device there than it used to be in the rest of Europe, so this is a small but welcome move forward.

The SI deals only with a wholesale price cap rather than with any retail-focused provisions. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee was right to query whether there is likely to be a knock-on effect. In a sense, that must be at the heart of this and a question. The Government’s response in paragraph 84 of the committee’s report is not entirely convincing. The DCMS says:

“If operators do not react appropriately, the Government will have to consider what further measures may be necessary”.

That seems to be something of an empty threat. The Government previously said they saw no reason why our departure from the EU would lead to the reintroduction of roaming charges, and we know where that led. Yet the DCMS has not introduced any further measures to address the decision of three of the four main mobile operators to reinstate charges. Why not? As well as setting the wholesale costs, the SI introduces powers for Ofcom to enforce them. Yet you would not really get that if you read the Explanatory Memorandum, which gives no explanation of how these powers will be exercised or operate in practice.

We obviously do not oppose this SI but, as is often the case with the DCMS, we are somewhat underwhelmed by the general approach to an issue that will affect millions of British travellers each year. A small crumb of comfort is the best description we can give of this SI, welcome though it is.

My Lords, I will take whatever small crumbs of comfort are offered by noble Lords. Looking around, I imagine that noble Lords will not be celebrating the third anniversary of our departure from the European Union this evening in the same way that I will, but I understand why they are taking account of that anniversary to use this opportunity to make some points about the European Union, which is tangentially linked to the issue before us.

As I mentioned, this statutory instrument covers only Norway and Iceland, but I am happy to respond to the points which noble Lords have taken this opportunity to make, not least to reiterate that, during our negotiations leading up to our departure from the European Union, UK negotiators did propose to the European Commission the continuation of reciprocal arrangements between the UK and the EU for surcharge-free roaming. The EU, regrettably, did not agree with that proposition. We subsequently proposed a review clause to consider the need for these agreements, should roaming surcharges return for consumers. The EU did not agree to that either, and we are unaware of any shift in its position on this issue.

My noble friend Lord Deben says that the SI refers to just a couple of countries. It is, as I say, world-leading legislation because it is the first agreement which refers to this important issue and its impact upon the bills of mobile phone users. There are nearly 200 countries around the world, only 27 of them member states of the European Union, and this issue affects travellers—holidaymakers and those from businesses—when they travel across the globe. We are proud that this agreement sets out a way for co-operation on this issue.

I will not hold my noble friend up, and I know this is difficult, but the countries to which most people go most of the time are those in the rest of Europe. That is the fact of the matter. Will he tell me how much the average person will benefit from this deal and how much they have lost from us not being members of the European Union? What I am really fed up with is that the Government never tell us the facts about the loss from our leaving the European Union, so people cannot understand whether this is something to be cheerful about or miserable about. Today, we had a Minister referring to our freedom from the European Union; the freedom is that we now pay more and we are blaming the European Union for not giving way to the fact that we left the EU. All I want to know from my noble friend—I know this is on unfair on him—is how much the average person loses by our not having a deal with the European Union and how much they gain, on average, from being able to go to Iceland and Norway, although they will miss out on Liechtenstein.

Even if I had the statistics to hand, I do not think I would be able to satisfy my noble friend entirely. I do not have the numbers to compare UK travellers visiting Norway and Iceland with, say, Bulgaria or any other EU member state. What they have gained, as the UK has gained by our departure from the European Union, is the ability to sign free trade agreements and agreements such as this which allow us to pursue these benefits. They are a model for our co-operation with countries around the world, whether they are in the European Union or not.

Decisions about imposing roaming charges on customers who travel to the EU is a matter for operators themselves. I note that some, including Virgin Mobile and O2, do not so consumers in the UK still have the option of using that network and travelling without any charge to the European Union. I do not suppose any of that fully persuades my noble friend, but I hope it addresses the points that he has raised.

As I say, this represents a world first in a free trade agreement, and we expect it to make a real difference to Britons travelling to Norway and Iceland. It was one of the key and publicly stated achievements of the agreement, when we signed it, to keep costs low for holidaymakers and business travellers going to those countries, and the Government are committed to delivering that aim.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about wholesale charges. They are set out in the statutory instrument and took the EU rates as a benchmark. The agreements sub-committee recommended to the joint committee that the current rate found in the EU roaming regulation would be appropriate for the UK, Norway and Iceland. That is consistent with the agreement’s language, which concerns looking at “relevant international benchmarks”. I should say that the sub-committee is made up of officials, while the joint committee is the senior body chaired by Ministers.

That is not set out in the agreement, but, as is set out in it, the joint committee will review the rates every two years, unless it decides otherwise, with a view to determining whether they are still appropriate. An option in any of the reviews could indeed be to follow the rates in the EU and EEA, as the agreement talks about “relevant international benchmarks”, but that will be for the joint committee to decide.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked whether we plan to legislate to intervene if surcharges are imposed and endure. Obviously, I cannot make commitments on the Government’s future legislative programme, but I can stress the Government’s firm desire to see the benefits of this agreement flowing to consumers in the form of surcharge-free roaming to Norway and Iceland. If that does not happen, the Government have the capacity to intervene, and we will of course keep that under consideration. We will review these in due course, noting the five-year limit set out. I fear I cannot give a more precise timeframe to the question posed by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate.

I think that covers all the points raised, but I will consult the Official Report and write if I have missed anything. With that, I commend the Motion.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.21 pm.