Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Siobhain McDonagh
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con)
† Blackman, Bob (Harrow East) (Con)
† Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
† Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)
† Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab)
† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)
† Garnier, Mark (Wyre Forest) (Con)
† Graham, Luke (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Con)
Hendrick, Sir Mark (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
† Hepburn, Mr Stephen (Jarrow) (Lab)
† Keegan, Gillian (Chichester) (Con)
† Lucas, Ian C. (Wrexham) (Lab)
† McMahon, Jim (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
† Morgan, Stephen (Portsmouth South) (Lab)
† Quin, Jeremy (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Sunak, Rishi (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)
Dr Adam Evans, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended (Standing Order No. 118(2)):
Gillan, Dame Cheryl (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)
First Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 7 May 2019
[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]
Draft Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. The order was laid before the House on 2 April. If approved and made, it gives effect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s decision that the locally led proposal to replace the five existing Buckinghamshire councils with a new single unitary council should be implemented. The order is a key element in the legislative process for establishing unitary local government in Buckinghamshire. It provides that on 1 April next year the existing five councils will be wound up and dissolved and in their place will be established the new unitary Buckinghamshire council. The order also provides for appropriate transitional arrangements, centred on the new Buckinghamshire council being established in shadow form as soon as the order is in force, with the council becoming fully operational on 1 April 2020.
By way of background, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assessed that the proposal he received from the councils met the Government’s criteria for unitarisation. The decision was finally made last November. To remind the Committee, the criteria are threefold: first, a proposal, if implemented, is likely to improve the area’s local government; secondly, the proposal commands a good deal of local support; and thirdly, whether the area itself is a credible geography.
Since the decision in November and the discussion with the councils concerned, we have been preparing the necessary secondary legislation to implement the proposal, regulations that streamline the process and that already have been approved by Parliament, and the order we are debating today. Our discussions with the councils have largely been about the transitional arrangements, including substantive issues such as the composition of the shadow authority and shadow executive and the new electoral arrangements. Where there has been agreement between all five councils, we have adopted their preferred approach. In other instances, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has balanced the various views that he received to reach his final decision.
In conclusion, we seek to replace the unsustainable local government structures in Buckinghamshire with a new council that will be able to deliver high quality, sustainable local services to the people of Buckinghamshire and provide for effective leadership at both the strategic and most local level. The welcome inclusion in the proposal of community boards and delegation to parish and town councils, where it is wanted, will mean that the arrangements not only open the door to improved local services, but will shift power to communities, helping them to be involved in decision making in their local area. All the existing councils have previously made it clear that they share those aims, and I am glad to know that they are committed to the very best services for the Buckinghamshire communities that they represent. The order delivers on those ambitions, and on that basis I commend it to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McDonagh. We have debated the issue previously, so I will not go into a lot of detail, other than to say that we are nearing the end of the process. We need to bear in mind, as I said at the start, that this is about people, place and community. When the new organisation comes into force, we need to make sure that, in its desire to re-establish its new identity, it does not ride roughshod over the historic community identities that people hold dear. The towns and villages where they live are what really matter to them.
We also cannot ignore the crisis that councils face with the future sustainability of the financial settlement. It does not matter whether it is an urban or a rural authority or one going headlong into a reorganisation. The truth is that there is not enough money in the system to fund the growing demand for adult social care, children’s services and other preventive services. We need to see an answer to that in the fair funding review that is taking place. Nobody in this room should believe that by simply reorganising local government we can solve the funding crisis that means older people are not getting the care they need, young people potentially are at risk, and the very fabric of our neighbourhoods or the community services that many people rely on are being taken away incrementally because of austerity. I accept that this is happening in isolation, but the Government need to come forward with a fair funding review and demonstrate that they have thought through the real pressures that councils will face. Of course, the bigger the council, the bigger the risk to the local community if the funding is not accurate and properly assessed.
The other thing that the Government have not addressed—this was particularly the case in the previous Committee on this topic, but I suppose they will say that this is for the local authorities concerned—is that there is still worry that several different councils are being brought together, all with different systems and processes, different ways of handling data and even different IT systems that will not necessarily talk to each other. It is important that the transition is managed in an appropriate timeframe, so that services do not fall over. We might think, “Well, what can go wrong?”, but even reporting fly-tipping on a local website requires a number of different components and IT systems to get the job from A to B and the fly-tipping removed. We might think that is something and nothing, but it is important to ensure that such community services are looked after. I will leave my comments there, in order to make way for Members with local interests.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak, even though I am not a formal member of the Committee. It will not have escaped hon. Members’ notice that I am the only person here speaking for Buckinghamshire, but I am afraid that I remain very much in isolation when it comes to local government reorganisation, in terms of being a voice for and about Buckinghamshire.
May I also say that I never thought I would be standing here saying I am glad that we did not have local elections in Buckinghamshire last week? However, the Committee will wish to know that we had a by-election in Chesham, which the Conservatives won by a very good and healthy margin. Buckinghamshire will not be a pushover, whatever happens to its structure in future years.
However, I would have been quite wrong, having spoken the last time this matter was discussed in a Delegated Legislation Committee, to allow this final draft order to go through without at least putting some more points on the record, because this is an important issue. The Minister said that the proposal came from the council, and I think that that is accurate. However, the proposal in fact came from only one council in Buckinghamshire, and all the district councils spoke out against a unitary authority, so the county council was dominant in the original proposals.
The Minister also said that there was unsustainability in our local structures. I take issue with that, because Buckinghamshire’s county council and district councils have always been well run. Indeed, my own district council, Chiltern District Council, has been merging its back office with South Bucks District Council’s for some time, looking for synergies between them, reducing costs to the taxpayer and providing very good services. That is not to say that the county council was not as well, but there was no demand from that layer of local government, so far as I could assess at the time, for there to be a unitary authority.
In addition—I believe I mentioned this last time but it is important to put it on the record—in the polls of the parishes, 70% would have preferred two unitary authorities. I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton, but I was pleased that he had at least bothered to look at the websites for the local area. We need to make sure that we do not lose that local touch for Buckinghamshire. Buckinghamshire will become an absolutely giant authority, and it will only grow bigger because of the Oxford to Cambridge arc of innovation, as I call it, which is a good idea and will contribute to our economy locally and nationally.
That will present Buckinghamshire with the most amazing challenges, and Buckinghamshire’s local government will find itself up against the wall if central Government do not resource it properly in order to face those challenges. Let us face it: that is what has been behind a lot of the clamour for a unitary authority. It is the resourcing of local government and the challenge that our councillors face on a daily basis of balancing the services that they provide to our community that has led to the draft order.
The fact that having two local authorities was rejected is a matter of great regret, because that would have provided us with a manageable size of authority and would have built on the synergies already being achieved by the district councils. I received a communication from my own district council shortly before coming to this Committee, and I want to put of its fears on the record one. We should appreciate that this will be the last time, as I understand it, that a unitary authority will be imposed upon on area without universal consent from all the councils concerned. I think that that is right, because the voices of people raised in opposition to what looks like a good idea from central Government’s perspective are not always heard clearly.
One thing I want to clarify with the Minister today is how the shadow authority will operate. The Secretary of State has already made it clear that Buckinghamshire council will not be a continuing authority. The draft order seeks, unfortunately, to give county council members control of the shadow executive, by nine seats to eight. An argument has been made that many councillors—from all five councils—who will sit on the shadow executive will be, in some cases, twin-hatters, able to see things from more than one perspective, and it is clear that either district twin-hatters or county twin-hatters may vote accordingly.
It has been argued that county council services take greater precedence and are of greater importance, and therefore that the county council should have a greater say on how the future arrangements are to be set up. There is still a feeling from some district councils that, by giving the county nine seats and each district only two, that has gone too far. I would like the Minister to explain how he arrived at his arithmetic when in Dorset, another county that is going unitary, I understand that there were equal seats, and that the situation was actually 10:10.
The draft order also gives the shadow executive the power to change its chairman, but with the nine:eight majority still persisting. There is a question—I would like the Minister to explain how we can safeguard against this—of what would happen to a county member who broke ranks and voted with the districts against the chair. Would they be swiftly replaced with a nominee, so that the districts would again lose out?
These are valid questions to ask at this stage, and to ask the Minister to give his views on, particularly in the light of some of the meetings and negotiations that I was privy to in the run-up to the draft order’s introduction. However, I will end on a positive note: now that this has been done, there is no doubt that the four district councils in Buckinghamshire originally opposed to a unitary authority have all said that, in reality, they accept it per se. They want to move on and to make sure that they have a meaningful voice in shaping the new authority.
I think that that is most important, because I have just come from a meeting, which showed that changes to the structure of local government can affect what happens in Buckinghamshire. The last meeting I had was about a scout camp in my constituency. If the edict from the Minister’s Department is followed, it will mean having to bring into play an area of the green belt for development, which in effect could kill off that scout camp through the development in and around it. Before that, I met HS2, to talk about the problems that the new construction commissioner will face when looking at HS2 and the way it cuts a swathe through the whole of Buckinghamshire.
If the unitary authority is not efficient, immediately active and well run, I am afraid that the people of Buckinghamshire will pay the price. We will not be able to resist some of the greater faults and problems coming from the construction of HS2, if indeed it goes ahead, and we will not have that competence in the initial stages to be able to turn round to central Government and say no to some of the edicts that will remove our green belt and threaten some of our most beautiful areas in Buckinghamshire. Having said that, no one wants it to succeed more than I do, because the price of failure is paid by my constituents and the residents of Buckinghamshire.
It is a pleasure to make the winding-up speech, in which I hope briefly to answer the questions posed.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) for her continued championing of this cause. She has participated in all the debates on these matters in the Chamber and in Committee, and she is right to seek to ensure that local democracy remains vibrant in her area. I know that she has had concerns about the process, but I thank her for the constructive fashion in which she has engaged with the Department and with me on those questions. We may not agree on everything, but I hope she will feel that her inquiries and pushing have yielded some positive outcomes for her district councils and for her residents.
My right hon. Friend raised a specific question about whether these local structures were indeed sustainable or worthy of change. The point I was trying to make was that both proposals, as submitted by the district councils and by the county council, stated that they thought that the change was welcome in Buckinghamshire. The representative surveys and open questionnaires that were sent to the Department in relation to the proposals highlighted the enormous and indeed overwhelming appetite for change in Buckinghamshire. We received more than 3,000 representations in response to the Department’s engagement exercise, 87% of which were in favour of some reorganisation of local government in Buckinghamshire. The survey itself, which is representative, had a slightly lower figure, but it was still, from memory, in the high 70s.
My point was that there is general consensus for change in Buckinghamshire and that the quesiton was what form that change should take. Obviously the Department received two different proposals and had to adjudicate on them. In the end, it concluded that both had a good degree of local support, which is one of the criteria. On the other two criteria, however, which relate to improving local government and representing a credible geography, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ultimately took the decision that the proposal from the county council was most appropriate.
On the composition of the shadow authority and executive, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham raised the question of twin-hatters and those sitting on the shadow authority. Where we have ended up with a number of members on the shadow authority with the role and votes of twin-hatters, that was the position that the district councils represented to the Department that they preferred. Indeed, they reached some consensus on that point with the county council, and we were pleased to implement that decision in the order.
The question of the shadow executive is important. The principle is simple here, as is the way of making a comparison with previous reorganisations. The approach that the Department has always taken is that the entity or bodies that submit the proposal that ultimately ends up being enacted should be the ones that have ultimate control over the shadow executive. My right hon. Friend mentioned other examples where there has been a split. That is because the proposals came jointly from all bodies concerned. Where there has been a difference of opinion, it has always been the approach that the body, or district groups or bodies that submitted the proposal should have the chance to implement it.
I gave the example of Dorset, but Dorset was not a unified bid. There was a dissenting voice among those councils as well.
That is indeed right, but because the structure was different, and there was a combination of three different bodies, the membership did not give any one of them a particular veto over any other. In other circumstances there have been two competing proposals, which did not happen in that case. In Central Bedfordshire there was a proposal from the district councils and a proposal elsewhere. It was the district councils whose proposal was ultimately implemented by the Department, and it was the district councils that had a majority on the shadow executive. That is the approach taken here, where the body whose proposal is being adopted is the one that rightly has the ability to execute that proposal. As a result of the conversations that my right hon. Friend has had with the Department, and that her district councillors have had, we have ensured in the order that the shadow executive can change its leader should it want to do so in future, which gives it a greater ability to change things down the line than has happened in previous proposals. I hope that that represents a step in the right direction.
I know that we are not supposed to refer to the Public Gallery, but people who have more than a passing interest in this matter are sitting in the Public Gallery and hearing what is said. Is there a protection for those members of the interim committee if they wish to change the leader at any stage?
I am not particularly sure what kind of protection my right hon. Friend is referring to, but just because there is a vote there is no ability for them to be removed, if that is what she is asking for. They will have a democratic right to choose their leader in the council and that right is enshrined in the order as it has been negotiated. Should those involved want to avail themselves of that right, they can do so. That represents a change that has not been found in previous reorganisations. I think it is a positive step that I hope will be welcomed.
More broadly, my right hon. Friend highlighted the importance of place and local community, which also touches on comments made by the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton. We must not lose sight of that point. People are right to highlight that their local government should be close to them and responsive to them, and should not feel remote. In that vein, I have been glad to see in the county’s proposals—I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will appreciate this—the plans for 19 new community boards to be formed. Each will have its own community hub, so that each individual area, town and village will have appropriate representation. Those councillors, should they want to do so, will be able to take decisions on local matters and community funding. This builds on a strong tradition of town and parish councils in Buckinghamshire, which is one of the most parished entities in all England, with more than 160 different town and parish councils.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton asked about historic traditions. I am pleased to say that the Department believes very strongly that none of those ancient and historic traditions should be lost in any local government reorganisation. Where a town and council already has those, nothing should change. As we know, at this moment new town and parish councils are being contemplated in Buckinghamshire, and there is consideration of community governance reviews. Of course, the Department will provide any support that is needed, and I am sure that the new authority will look favourably on those proposals as they come forward. Should that not happen, and if there are some traditions or ancient practices that need to be carried on, the Department has the ability to create charter trustees through statutory instrument, to ensure that those traditions can be passed to charter trustees and passed on at the appropriate time to any new town or parish council that is formed. That is something we have done in the past and which is very easy to do in future, to ensure that none of those ancient traditions is lost. Both the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham are absolutely right to highlight the importance of place.
Would the Minister like to give me some examples of the traditions that will not be lost, and of those that he is seeking to protect?
In this particular instance there are none that have been brought to our attention that require protecting, but in previous reorganisations—perhaps in Suffolk, if memory serves me correctly, or in Somerset; I am sure I will receive a note—it has been shown that charter trustees can easily be created to take on board considerations such as ancient mayoral roles or civic traditions. [Interruption.] I see that it happened in Poole—there we go. From memory, the ancient office of high sheriff was passed on. It is a relatively straightforward process, and I have been speaking to honourable Friends in Northamptonshire about it as they contemplate their own reorganisation. They are keen to preserve the civic traditions in the town of Northampton, and I have been able to give reassurances to colleagues in Northamptonshire that that will be no problem. In the instance we are considering, Buckinghamshire is already exceptionally well towned and parished, and new ones are being contemplated, so there may well be no need for any charter trustees to be formed.
The order represents a step forward for the people of Buckinghamshire. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham ended on a positive note. She is absolutely right to do so. At this point, we should all be focused on the people of Buckinghamshire and on ensuring that they get the local services and representation that they deserve. Perhaps I can end my remarks with a quote from some of the district council leaders, who recently said that, although they were unhappy with some elements of the process,
“it remains our sole intention to do everything we can to ensure the new Buckinghamshire Council is something we can all be proud of and will be the very best for all our residents”.
I commend them for their sentiments, and wish all the council leaders in Buckinghamshire the very best of success as they embark on this exciting adventure.
Question put and agreed to.
Common Agricultural Policy and Market Measures (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Sir Henry Bellingham
† Bacon, Mr Richard (South Norfolk) (Con)
Beckett, Margaret (Derby South) (Lab)
† Chishti, Rehman (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
Cryer, John (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Drew, Dr David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
† Gaffney, Hugh (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)
† Grant, Bill (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Con)
† Green, Kate (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
† Jenkyns, Andrea (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
† Jones, Mr David (Clwyd West) (Con)
† Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)
† O'Hara, Brendan (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
† Seely, Mr Bob (Isle of Wight) (Con)
† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
Dominic Stockbridge, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Second Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 7 May 2019
[Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]
Common Agricultural Policy and Market Measures (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Common Agricultural Policy and Market Measures (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 812).
As usual, before I start, I would like to declare my farming interests, as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The purpose of this statutory instrument is to ensure that legislation recently introduced by the European Union relating to the common agricultural policy, or CAP, is retained in an operable form in UK law at the point of UK withdrawal from the EU. Since the previous Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs SIs—the Common Agricultural Policy (Direct Payments to Farmers) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Market Measures (Marketing Standards) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019—were laid the EU has made changes to the legislation, and this SI ensures that those changes will be reflected in UK law on exit. We have also taken the opportunity to make minor corrections to other DEFRA exit SIs.
I must explain to the Committee why it was necessary to us the urgent affirmative procedure for this statutory instrument. The Government have always said that the urgent procedure under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 would be used only as a very last resort, and we have taken as much care as possible to avoid using it. However, it was necessary to enact this critical SI in advance of a possible no-deal exit on 12 April 2019, because during March 2019 the European Commission introduced two new amending EU CAP regulations, and it is essential that the UK retains those amendments in an operable form after exit.
Specifically, the regulations were EU regulation 2019/288, which applied to all member states from 1 March 2019 and relates to direct payments to farmers under the CAP, and European Commission delegated regulation 2019/428, which took effect from 26 March 2019 and relates to marketing standards in the fruit and vegetable sectors under the common organisation of agricultural markets, the CMO. We concluded that the urgent procedure was the only viable route available to us, as at that point a statutory instrument laid before the House through the usual processes might not have passed the necessary parliamentary procedures in time to come into effect on 12 April 2019, when we were so disappointed that we did not leave the European Union—[Interruption.] Well, we on this side of the House were disappointed.
The instrument also corrects a number of minor and typographical errors and, in the case of regulation 3(3), a duplication in a small number of previous DEFRA EU SIs. None of those errors have policy implications, but we are taking advantage of this opportunity to attend to them, to help to ensure that the statute book is error-free.
As Committee members will be aware, agriculture is a devolved policy area and of special importance to all parts of the UK, and Scotland is represented in the Committee today. We have therefore worked closely with the devolved Administrations to agree the context of this UK-wide statutory instrument. It reflects the UK devolution settlements and the status quo, whereby relevant authorities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales operate the CAP direct payments network and enforce CMO marketing standards in the fruit and vegetable sector within their representative territories.
I know that the Labour Opposition might be tempted to ask about consultation. I assure them that this statutory instrument has not been subject to a formal consultation because it only makes technical amendments to the EU exit SIs that DEFRA has already laid before the House, and does no more than is strictly necessary to ensure that the regulatory baseline applicable in the UK under EU CAP and CMO legislation is maintained after exit.
As explained in a previous Committee debate on EU exit strategy instruments on 25 March 2019, when we debated a number of statutory instruments on the common agricultural policy, the UK Government have pledged to continue to meet their commitments to funding in the agriculture sector. This SI, by taking account of the EU’s recent regulatory updates, fine-tunes DEFRA’s EU exit instrument on direct payments, to ensure that the recently introduced flexibility afforded to member states to manage their budgets between pillar one and pillar two for scheme year 2020 will be truly reflected in the retained EU legislation.
Turning to the direct payments amendments, the EU direct payments provisions amended by this instrument will enable the UK relevant authorities, by which I mean the devolved Administrations as well as DEFRA in England, to continue to have the flexibility to decide whether to transfer funds from the direct payments budget to the rural development budget via an inter-pillar transfer. That provision was available across the UK in previous years of the CAP. It was used by England, Scotland and Wales at that time, but was limited up to and including the 2019 direct payment scheme year. As the Committee will be aware, that flexibility extends to up to 15%.
DEFRA had already intended to address that regulatory gap for the 2020 scheme year via domestic legislation, but the EU decided to make the inter-pillar transfer provision available to member states for the 2020 scheme year. That decision came into effect through new EU regulation 2019/288 on 1 March and DEFRA has taken the earliest available opportunity to account for the changes in the regulations. The regulations will retain the valuable flexibility afforded to EU-relevant authorities, which will enable direct payment and rural development funding levels for 2020 to be maintained in line with previous years.
On the CMO, the regulations amend provisions of an existing EU statutory instrument as regards marketing standards for mixes of fruit and/or vegetables and citrus fruit. The EU has recently refined its regulations on marketing standards for fruit and vegetables to align them with the latest United Nations Economic Commission for Europe marketing standards. It has also clarified that marketing and labelling requirements for small packages of mixed fruit and/or vegetables apply equally to mixes of fruit, mixes of vegetables and mixes of fruit and vegetables. Those updates came into effect on 26 March.
The version of the EU marketing standards regulation that will be retained in UK law on exit will include the update. We want to ensure that the regulation is operable in the UK at the point of leaving the European Union by taking the amendment into account. The updates made by these regulations are therefore technical in nature to ensure that labelling changes are applied consistently and to update references to other provisions, which will provide clarity to stakeholders.
We have used the opportunity provided by the regulations to make minor technical amendments to four exit statutory instruments related to the CAP that were made by DEFRA between February and March. By way of example, regulation 3(3) omits a duplicate provision. Regulation 6(2) amends a phrase in a non-operative section of the domestic statutory instrument that describes the provision of retained EU legislation to ensure that the terminology is consistent with the exit statutory instrument that amends the provision described. We use the word “appropriate” rather than “relevant” authority. Neither amendment has a practical implication but merely tidies up the statute book.
The other corrections are essentially typographical, such as the use of the word “of” instead of “or”, taking account of different phrasing in the EU regulation, and correcting an instance where the text quoted in the statutory instrument does not match the text in the retained EU regulation. None of the errors have any policy implications, but I am pleased that we were in a position to use the opportunity to make the regulations to remedy them and to ensure that our statute book is absolutely correct and can operate without ambiguity.
The regulations bring the amended retained EU legislation into line with subsequent legislative amendments by the EU and correct a small number of errors. As with previous measures, that is purely to make policy operable in no-deal scenario. In the event of the withdrawal agreement being agreed, the regulations will be deferred to the end of any associated implementation period.
Before I call the Opposition spokesman, if anyone wishes to remove their jacket, they are welcome to, because it is quite warm.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry, and to see the Minister in his place. I will not delay hon. Members for too long, but it is important to make some of the considerations clear, as we have throughout the process of making these statutory instruments. We are now amending the amendments and we have to make sure that is done with due consideration and care.
I want to check with the Minister—he can nod approvingly—that we are talking about five SIs in total, rather than four. Four are implied in one place but five are mentioned in another.
Yes, we are. As I have said, the two major provisions are to do with, first, the ability to switch from pillar one to pillar two and, secondly, the labelling of citrus fruit products. The others are merely typographical and other drafting measures; the hon. Gentleman will be pleased that we spotted before he spotted them and that we are able to correct them.
I thank the Minister. It is always useful to know exactly what we are dealing with, otherwise something could come back to haunt us in due course because we thought we had dealt with it but we had not.
It is a difficult process. Because of the delay—I am not going to argue about why that is taking place—we face having to amend existing SIs because the Commission has made further changes. That is what the Minister alerted us to. That is right and proper, but I am still confused about the terminology in the explanatory memorandum that the Minister repeated. We are considering the notion that the
“marketing standards for mixes of fruit and vegetables apply to mixed packages ‘of different species of fruits, of vegetables or of fruits and vegetables’”.
To say that that is obscure is obvious—I would use the pejorative before that. This is complicated. At one level, the changes are purely typographical and about trying to bring things up to date that have gone through alterations elsewhere. On another level, the measure is important, because it talks about the relationship between pillar one and pillar two.
I want to be absolutely clear that the Government are not pulling a fast one, and that they will be able to make good some of the problems that we have had. The Minister is a farmer and he knows that it is a source of aggravation in the farming community that farmers do not get their direct payments on time through the Rural Payments Agency. We spent a lot of time in Committee on the Agriculture Bill—we would love to have the Bill back, so we could amend it accordingly—and on previous SIs trying to clarify exactly where the Government’s direction of travel is taking us. We know that we will be paying farmers for public goods and environmental supports, but it would help if that was clarified at this stage through the various SIs.
My one concern about the instrument is that clearly, in Europe, some ability is being introduced to improve flexibility, but the danger is that rather than taking the direction of travel that we would want to go in in this country, which is towards greater payments under pillar two, it is possible that, because of the shortcomings of the existing system, it could be taken as an opportunity to further enhance the pillar one payment system. That matters because the British Government—previous Governments and this Government—have failed to entirely deliver on their obligations under pillar two. That is clear from the rural payments, which some of us would certainly want to be enhanced, and from some of the other opportunities through pillar two—including the obvious one, environmental payments.
The other point is that we could be back here again. If we go as far as October, we will have to consider further amendments to some of the SIs that we have made—and because it is DEFRA, we have made an enormous number of them. It would be useful to know from the Minister what work is going on to see what further amendments we will have to make. For the benefit of my colleagues—well, my one colleague who is not on the Front Bench—and of the SNP spokesperson, we have had more than 120 DEFRA SIs. It would be worrying if we had to revisit an awful lot of those because of the updates and changes, even if some of those changes were purely typographical. It would be useful to have an indication from the Minister on how often we will have to re-engage in the process, because we will have to do that if the secondary legislation demands it.
In conclusion, the instrument is obscure but it is important that we get it right, which is why some hon. Members would ask why we are we doing this in May when we might have to further amend it in advance of October. Those are the points that I wanted to make and I welcome what the Minister has to say in response.
I will not detain the Committee for long, Sir Henry. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship; I always feel that Committees go better when someone from Norfolk is in the Chair.
I have a question for the Minister, which relates to paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum. It came to a surprise to many of us, in the week when we thought we were going to leave the European Union—that is to say the week of 25 March, the Friday of which was 29 March, which is named as exit day in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—that in fact, that Act had not been commenced. Although it sits on the statute book as an Act of Parliament, it does not have legal force. Paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum says:
“This instrument is being made using the powers in section 8(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 in order to address failures”
and so on. My question for the Minister is this: has the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 now been commenced? If it has not, how is it possible for this instrument to be made using the powers contained therein? Is it the case—I understand this is possible, but I do not know—that section 8 of the Act has been commenced, even though the rest of it has not?
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. Following on a little from what the hon. Member for Stroud was saying, the legislative procedures of the EU march ahead in the background, and one of its amendments to a regulation is responsible for the instrument that we are considering. The CMO marketing standards legislation came into effect on 26 March, meaning that the original statutory instrument—a no-deal SI, or a “getting ready for exit day” SI—needed amendment through what we are doing this afternoon.
I ask the Minister whether I am to understand that, from now until October at the earliest, we will be revisiting a lot of the statutory instruments that have been put through over the past few months. There have been lots of them, put through with great haste, for obvious reasons. Will we be revisiting a lot of them as the Europeans’ legislative agenda marches ahead, doing what it has always done? I can only assume that in days past, when the EU was putting out such measures, they came through under the negative procedure and did not really get looked at in this place, apart from the European Scrutiny Committee perhaps having something to say about them.
If the withdrawal agreement is ever agreed—it is a very big if—the implementation period would also mean Committees such as this doing very similar things: amending regulations as we stay in step with the EU during that period. While we all love serving on Delegated Legislation Committees, such Committees could be a regular feature over the years ahead.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Stroud is on his mettle, and has asked some very pertinent questions. The first point I make to him, and indeed to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, is “why wait until 31 October?” I have had three opportunities to vote for the withdrawal agreement; the hon. Member for Stroud could have taken those opportunities to get the deal over the line, but has yet to do so.
It is indeed the case that, while we are still in this position of limbo—I do not think that is an unreasonable term to use—we will have to update our legislation to bring us in line with changes made in Europe. In answer to one of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, we fully engage with changes that are taking place in Europe, not only through our Members of the European Parliament but through our excellent officials who operate in UKRep in Brussels. On Tuesday of next week, I will be at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels, where as long as we are members of the European Union, we will continue to engage and play a full part in the processes that are developing policy.
I have to say, however, that on the last occasion I was in Luxembourg, at the same meeting, I did not participate in the discussion on the future of the common agricultural policy—although, based on what was said in the room, it will be much easier to get agreement within the UK than within the member states of the European Union. There was a lot of talk about making progress, but an awful lot of vested interests, and national interests, were seemingly being supported. I think I have said before in Committee that leaving the European Union will give us a chance to tailor make our policy to fit the situation in the United Kingdom, particularly in the devolved Administrations.
The short answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Stroud about whether we are pulling a fast one is no; the regulations merely allow for the situation in previous years, so that inter-pillar transfers of up to 15% can be made from year to year. England has availed itself of 12%, Scotland 9.5%, and Wales 15%—the full amount. Northern Ireland has yet to avail itself of that and, with the lack of any political direction in Northern Ireland, I suspect that that will continue to be the case. I assure the Committee that the devolved Administrations will still be able to decide their flexibility in that regard.
The hon. Gentleman made a fair criticism about our performance in delivering many of the payments that farmers have earned and expect. I am pleased to report that the performance on the basic payment scheme has been much better this year than in previous years. However, I am the first to admit that we have failed to deliver on obligations under agri-environmental schemes. That is one of the reasons why the administration of those schemes has been taken away from Natural England and put in the hands of the Rural Payments Agency, which, as I say, is upping its game.
Will further amendments be necessary? That may well be the case as EU legislation continues to evolve, but I hope that we can get agreement as soon as possible on the withdrawal agreement. As I said at the outset, this is no-deal legislation, which we would need in place in the event of leaving. If we move into the implementation period, we will of course continue to apply EU legislation until the point at which we actually leave. Other legislation will likely be introduced in the event of EU legislation that may come into direct effect in the UK. We stand ready and prepared to ensure that that will happen.
The last point, which was made by my hon. Friend from Norfolk, somewhere—
Thank you. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk asked whether the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is in force. Many of the sections of the Act were brought into force on Royal Assent, including section 8 under which the regulations are made. I hope that satisfies him.
In closing, the statutory instrument will provide important and necessary continuity for stakeholders and CAP beneficiaries by bringing our amended, retained EU CAP legislation in line with recent amendments made by the EU, and by correcting some small errors in previous statutory instruments that we have identified. I urge Members to agree to the amendments proposed to those instruments, and I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Railways (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 Railways (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Ms Karen Buck
Abrahams, Debbie (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
† Beresford, Sir Paul (Mole Valley) (Con)
† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)
† Cowan, Ronnie (Inverclyde) (SNP)
† Dunne, Mr Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
† Ghani, Ms Nusrat (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
† Heappey, James (Wells) (Con)
† Huq, Dr Rupa (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
† Jack, Mr Alister (Dumfries and Galloway) (Con)
† Jones, Susan Elan (Clwyd South) (Lab)
† McLoughlin, Sir Patrick (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)
† Mann, John (Bassetlaw) (Lab)
† Maskell, Rachael (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
† Morris, Anne Marie (Newton Abbot) (Con)
† Percy, Andrew (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Third Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 7 May 2019
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
Railways (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Railways (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 826).
With this it will be convenient to consider the Railways (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 825) and the Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 837).
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I know that there is some confusion about why the superb Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), is not here to present the statutory instruments himself, but he was responding to an urgent question at the Dispatch Box, so I hope the Committee will bear with me.
The instruments will be needed if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and are important in ensuring clarity, certainty and confidence for the rail industry and customers. I shall start by explaining why this Committee is considering them under the urgent “made affirmative” procedure provided for in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The instruments were originally laid for sifting under the negative procedure in February. In March, the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee recommended that the affirmative procedure should apply, as it believed that peers might wish to debate the potential impacts on cross-border rail services and those that operate them. Following the recommendation, the Government gave very careful consideration to what the most appropriate procedure was for progressing these important instruments. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the sifting Committees for their work. The Government recognise the valuable role that they have played, and welcome the opportunity to debate the instruments today.
The instruments are important in providing passengers and industry with the confidence and certainty that, should the UK leave the EU without a deal, the rail legislative framework will continue to function effectively. That is particularly important in the case of the SI addressing rail safety in Great Britain. Therefore the Government concluded that, to ensure that the instruments were in place for exit day, using the “made affirmative” procedure was appropriate. The Rail Minister wrote to the Chairs of the sifting Committees in April to explain that decision and the reasons behind it. Given the importance of providing clarity to industry as soon as possible on the important issue of rail safety, we consider that it remains important to ensure that the instruments remain in place.
Colleagues will be aware that we are awaiting the final report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the two Northern Ireland instruments. Although we understand that it is unusual to proceed with a debate in such cases, EU exit does create unusual circumstances, and we wish to give this Committee the opportunity fully to debate these instruments. The JCSI has sought clarification on some minor issues in the two instruments, but we do not consider that those affect their validity and we will ensure that they are fixed before the instruments come into effect. However, should the JCSI ultimately raise more fundamental issues, we will revert to this House with these instruments. If that is the case, I will write to Committee members and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
Turning to the instruments themselves, I shall start by providing some background. The three instruments make corrections to several pieces of EU and domestic legislation covering rail safety in Great Britain, and rail safety, train driver and operator licensing, access and management, and cross-border rail workers’ rights in Northern Ireland.
First, the GB rail safety instrument will make technical corrections to the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 and the Railways (Access to Training Services) Regulations 2006. Those sets of regulations, which transposed EU law, set out, among other things, the requirement to obtain the appropriate safety certificates or authorisations before operating vehicles or managing infrastructure on the railway in Great Britain. This instrument also makes corrections to EU implementing regulations that apply to the whole UK.
Let me turn to the two Northern Ireland instruments. Rail is a transferred matter for Northern Ireland. It has been agreed that, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government will be responsible for the necessary Northern Ireland EU exit legislation at Westminster. In preparing the instruments, officials from the Department for Transport have worked closely with their counterparts in the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland.
The Railways (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 will correct deficiencies in the Railways (Safety Management) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, which established the legislative regime for managing railway safety in Northern Ireland. The Railways (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 will correct deficiencies in three key pieces of Northern Ireland rail legislation: the Railways Infrastructure (Access, Management and Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016; the Train Driving Licences and Certificates Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010; and the Cross-border Railway Services (Working Time) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008. Among other things, the first two of those sets of Northern Ireland regulations established a common regulatory regime for licensing and certifying train drivers and operators on the railways. The third set of regulations implemented rules on aspects of the working conditions of rail workers engaged in interoperable cross-border railway services.
The instruments will correct deficiencies in legislation as a result of the UK leaving the EU. The vast majority of the corrections are minor and technical, such as removing the term “Member State”. It is important to emphasise that the GB instrument will preserve the status quo, including the requirements and procedures for obtaining safety certificates and authorisations, as well as requirements for rail operators to establish and maintain common safety management systems. The Government’s highest priority is to maintain safety and a highly effective safety regime—one of the safest in Europe. The regulations are important to secure that regime.
The GB safety regulations will remove certain requirements placed on the Office of Rail and Road to share information with the European Union agencies for railways. However, there will be a power for the Office of Rail and Road to provide certain safety information to EU bodies, so we can continue to contribute to a safer European railway. Safety certificates issued in European economic area member states will continue to be recognised in Great Britain after Brexit. It is the Government’s intention to lay a second instrument that will limit that recognition to a two-year transitional period after exit, or until the relevant certificates expire, whichever is the sooner. That is consistent with previous rail EU exit instruments, which have introduced a similar recognition period for train driver and operator licences. It strikes a balance between allowing for a reasonable transition period and making greater control over the rail safety network possible.
The equivalent regulations for railway safety in Northern Ireland will mirror the GB safety regulations, with the exception that Northern Ireland institutions have no plans to introduce a two-year recognition period for EEA licences and certificates, recognising the greater role of cross-border services in Northern Ireland. Those documents will be recognised indefinitely in Northern Ireland, to make possible the continued recognition of licences and certificates issued in the Republic of Ireland.
As well as making minor changes, such as the removal of references to member states, the Railways (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 will preserve the status quo for rail operations in Northern Ireland. In short, that means that operators and train drivers in Northern Ireland will have clarity and confidence about the regime.
It should also be noted that the EU has adopted a regulation that will provide a temporary extension to the validity of authorisations, certificates and licences required to run cross-border services. That contingency is applicable for nine months in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place, and supplements the extensive efforts already made by Government and rail operators to secure those important services.
The changes made in the regulations are necessary to ensure that the legislation covering railway regulation, including our important, effective rail safety regime, operates correctly when the UK leaves the EU. They provide certainty, clarity and confidence for the rail industry and passengers. I hope that the Committee will agree that those are important. The regulations preserve the status quo.
Thank you, Ms Buck, for chairing the Committee. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I rise to speak to regulations appertaining to exiting the European Union, including two sets relating to Northern Ireland, more than a month after the UK was due to leave the EU. Part 1 of each set of regulations states that they are to come into force on exit day. Why are we still debating them now, so late, when the event in question would have taken place five weeks ago?
Perhaps I may turn first to the Railways (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019. When transportation across the borders of Ireland, north and south, has been at the heart of much debate, why have the Government sat on the regulations? Surely they should have noted the importance of the management of the rail system and the fact that it is essential to the flow of passengers and goods across the border, and how vital it is to establish frictionless arrangements.
When it comes to infrastructure, management and access, the provisions of licences and certificates for train drivers, and the issue of working time regulations on what are considered cross-border working arrangements, those are of high importance for the Government, as they are the people of Northern Ireland. After all, the EU has already agreed temporary reciprocal arrangements.
Given that rail safety is such a critical issue for the public, the issuing and recognition of existing licences is important. There is a question whether, without a deal on 30 March this year, trains would simply have had to stop at the border due to train drivers having licences with no stated recognition outside of the UK—hence the regulations being brought forward as a matter of emergency. Does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that the regulations have come to Committee so late?
The regulations will differentiate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Although licences from the EU will continue to be recognised indefinitely in Northern Ireland, elsewhere in the UK they will only be recognised for a period of two years or until they expire, if that is sooner, as highlighted in the explanatory memorandum. That divergence creates a differentiation between the ability of transport workers to cross the border in Ireland and their ability to cross the channel. Although it is highly unlikely that the same drivers would interchange between the channel and Northern Ireland border routes, it is worth highlighting the divergence in approach in the UK, east and west.
The regulations also impact on the ability to share data on train driver licences and certificates with the safety authorities. That is important in maintaining a safe rail service. That shared intelligence is part of the public standards we would expect to be monitored across border. The Labour party believes that issues appertaining to safety should be shared. In future, should the regulations be passed, the sharing of information within the wider EEA will be discretionary. That is not good enough, particularly as we are debating cross-border rail safety. We believe that the watering down of reporting makes it harder for the EU and the UK to advance rail safety. It is when we co-operate that we are safest.
We have no issue with part 4 of the regulations, on the changes made to the term “interoperable cross-border rail services”.
I move now to the two statutory instruments on health and safety, and I will discuss the regulations for Northern Ireland and for the wider UK together. The regulations bring technical corrections to various regulations from 2006. They also address 2019 changes that are due to be brought in by member states, with effect from next month, with an extension of up to a year to do so. What work has already commenced in the UK on the rail safety directive? How does the Minister believe that it will enhance the UK’s safety record on our railways? Although we can be pleased with the progress made on rail safety, the UK cannot be complacent—that is an important point to stress—and if there are no enhancements to be made, we should be worried.
Clearly, in leaving the EU there will be the disadvantage of not engaging with joint EU learning on improving rail safety. For me, the loss of co-operation on such matters and the sharing of data, intelligence and accountability is one of the greatest detriments of leaving the EU, not least when it comes to improving safety opportunities.
In the light that we recognise the continuum of service across the border in Ireland, north and south, and on the channel route, will the Minister explain how she will maintain a continuous process of safety across the border? That seems particularly important, as a number of operators cross the borders between the UK and EU, including Eurostar, GB Railfreight, DB Cargo and Northern Ireland Railways. If an incident occurred on a cross-border service, that would have implications for the jurisdictions either side of the border. How would it be dealt with? Although contingency measures extend to nine months after the UK leaves the EU without a deal, should that scenario arise, what would happen after that time period?
I note that the regulations seek to recognise the specific issues that arise as a result of cross-border services. For instance, part A safety certificates issued by EEA member states will continue to be recognised as valid. The 2019 directive calls for a unified approach in establishing a baseline across the EU for certifications, methods of monitoring, risk evaluation and assessment, and maintenance of standards and targets. Clearly, leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous for such matters, so it is essential that we maintain cross-border arrangements to ensure that certification and breaches, not least in the maintenance of standards, are handled by the relevant authority. Furthermore, the UK should continue to work with EU countries to maximise safety opportunities, the sharing of data, the raising of standards and the tightening of regimes across the network in the UK and Northern Ireland.
Despite the Government’s commitment to advance safety, it is disappointing that there is not a commitment in these regulations to map across the long-term progress of safety frameworks with the EU, and thus to maximise the opportunity for advancing safety. Proposed schedule 10 to the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 refers to outsourcing the maintenance function, or parts of it, but not the management of maintenance. The Labour party believes that the fragmentation of outsourcing across the rail service creates risk, and therefore we cannot support that approach.
Part 4 of that schedule determines how maintenance will be managed. Our first concern is that it enables each managing entity to establish its own plan and procedures, in line with an organisation’s own approach to safety targets. The organisation must then ensure that appropriate levels of resourcing to fulfil the task are made available. It must determine its own approach to risk assessment and deal with the consequences of that. It must determine that the calibration of testing equipment is accurate and that software is maintained and staff appropriately trained. It is responsible for the decisions it makes and the components required. That cannot be in the interest of safety, as best practice should be the determinant.
The monitoring function should be independent, but it will be internalised within the management structure. We therefore argue that it must also be subject to external audit or moderation. We must not just depend on an internal process to ensure that standards are maintained and that information is drawn out of any inspection and shared. We worry that self-audit, self-determination of training and competency, and self-assessment of physical and mental ability could lead to some organisations cutting corners on safety. According to proposed schedule 11, the issue will be dealt with through data collection rather than an inspection process, but that is a retrospective approach—it is not proactive—to ensuring the safest regime possible. It is disappointing that the Government do not want to advance rail safety and are complacent on the issue. They are not ensuring that we produce best practice, not just in the UK but across the EU.
I thank the Committee for its consideration of the regulations, which will ensure that rail operations in the UK can continue as they do now, providing certainty, clarity and confidence to business. I will respond to the points made, but I must put it on the record that the Government’s motivation is to ensure that we continue to have one of the safest railways in Europe.
I was asked why this process was not completed sooner. The instruments make technical corrections to a complex and significant body of domestic, secondary and EU-implemented legislation, which has evolved over several years. The GB and Northern Ireland safety regulations refer to each other and must be considered together. That adds a further layer of complexity. The regulations have had to be prepared in tandem to ensure that they work together effectively. To achieve that, it has been necessary to work closely with the Northern Ireland civil service on a provision-by-provision basis, which, as hon. Members will appreciate, has been a considered process and could not have been rushed.
Concerns have been raised given that no deal may have been ruled out, but the default of extending article 50 and not having a deal is no deal. It is absolutely right that we are doing everything we can to provide certainty to the sector, and ensuring that we remove any risk.
The hon. Member for York Central raised a very important and valid point about information sharing, to which I must respond. We expect to continue to share information that might have an impact on rail safety, because it is of mutual interest to the UK and the EU. The UK will retain access to the vast majority of information on the relevant EU rail documentation, which is publicly available on the European railway agency database of interoperability and safety, or ERADIS, and stored and arranged in each member state. The UK will still be able to request the information and we would not expect EU member states to withhold it, as it is in the interests of all parties, safety authorities and train drivers not to do so. We are absolutely determined to keep up our record on rail safety.
Another question posed was how we can continue to co-operate. We encourage the UK industry to participate in agency working groups where possible. We understand that the Rail Safety and Standards Board is already exploring arrangements for future co-operation. The Government are fully committed to maintaining high standards on our railways, and leaving the agency will not reduce standards. We are proud of our excellent safety record, which is one of the strongest in Europe.
Some very important points were raised on cross-border services. We are entirely committed to supporting the continued success of the tunnel for rail freight and passenger services, and we want to see them grow in the future. The Government have been actively engaging with a range of European counterparts to ensure that arrangements are in place for the continuation of cross-border rail services, both for passengers and for freight, once the UK leaves the EU. Those discussions have been constructive and productive, and include consideration of arrangements that would be needed following any implementation period, as well as preparations in the event of a no deal. We are fully confident that these arrangements can be agreed, as it is in the mutual interest of the UK and other countries involved to maintain the continued smooth operation of the services.
Very important points were raised about the island of Ireland. With support from DFT officials, the Northern Ireland civil service has been working to ensure that arrangements are in place to ensure the continued smooth function of the Enterprise service. The necessary arrangements are in place to ensure that the cross-border service continues as now from exit day, once again maintaining standards. I want to put on the record that we have one of the safest railways in Europe, and these SIs are about maintaining the status quo. Given the importance we already attach to railway safety, it is in no way appropriate to assume that we would ever add any risk to it once we are out of the EU.
In the event of a no deal, we would become a third country. We expect to continue to share information and to have strong working relationships and standards.
I thank the Minister for responding to my questions. Could she confirm that the Government do not intend to diverge from the standards set across the European Union, particularly in the light of the 2019 directive and the regulations that could result from it?
We have to adopt the EU regulations that are in place now. Given that we have such a high record, there is no doubt that our experiences are shared with Europe. Throughout the transitional period, we will have to pick up legislation. We are talking about reciprocating what is already in place in case of a no-deal situation.
A very important point was raised on co-operation and consultation. The consultation took place, and workshops were attended by passengers, freight operators, leasing companies, certification bodies, the Rail Industry Association, the Rail Delivery Group and the Private Wagon Federation, among other organisations. Everybody is keen for us to have that legislation on our statute books. The ASLEF union was invited to our stakeholder workshops; I understand that it did not attend, but it has good engagement with the Department. All have acknowledged that they want clarity, and they want these SIs delivered.
I hope I have responded to all the points. If not, I will write to hon. Lady in detail. I commend these regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Railways (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019
That the Committee has considered the Railways (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 825).—(Ms Ghani.)
Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
That the Committee has considered the Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 837).—(Ms Ghani.)