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House of Commons Hansard
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General Committees
13 May 2019

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 Plant Health (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir Roger Gale

† Badenoch, Mrs Kemi (Saffron Walden) (Con)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Eagle, Maria (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)

† Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab)

Evans, Chris (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)

† Gaffney, Hugh (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Heaton-Jones, Peter (North Devon) (Con)

† Martin, Sandy (Ipswich) (Lab)

Reeves, Ellie (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)

† Rutley, David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Seely, Mr Bob (Isle of Wight) (Con)

† Smith, Royston (Southampton, Itchen) (Con)

Sobel, Alex (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Sturdy, Julian (York Outer) (Con)

† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)

Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 13 May 2019

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 811).

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With this it will be convenient to consider the Plant Health (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 820).

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It is, as always, a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Roger. The statutory instruments relate to buyer security in Northern Ireland, and have been grouped to facilitate efficient scrutiny and ensure that we have a fully operable statute book on exit day.

The Committee might wonder why the instruments have not already been debated. To clarify, they were initially submitted in December 2018, but we needed to ensure that the policies we have developed for Great Britain worked in Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. On 13 March 2019, the UK Government confirmed their policy to have no new checks or controls on goods at the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement. That enabled the instruments to proceed to ensure that important controls to protect buyer security on the island of Ireland are managed without checks at the land border.

The statutory instruments are among a small number of affirmative measures made under the urgent procedure. The importance of having the regulations in place by exit day—initially 29 March and then 12 April—meant that the timeframe did not permit us to lay them via the normal route. It was of the utmost importance that we could assure the EU, in advance of its consideration of the UK’s application for third-country listed status in the event of exit on 12 April, that we had a complete statute book.

The nature of the instruments makes them critical. If they were not operable on exit day, there would be a significant risk that products of animal origin from third countries could not be imported directly into Northern Ireland and that plant products that host harmful organisms could enter Northern Ireland without regulatory controls. That was not acceptable and required urgent action. The priority was to provide as much certainty as possible for business and the public. The Committee now has an opportunity to debate and vote on the instruments.

The regulations largely mirror amendments made to the corresponding legislation for Great Britain, which have been considered by the House. As with those amendments, the regulations before the Committee are technical and are designed to ensure the continued operability of effective legislation. The instruments do not introduce any change of policy, nor do they impose any regulatory controls on imports from the EU. In particular, the trade instrument does not require consignments of animals and animal products from the EU to be inspected at border inspection posts in Northern Ireland. The plant health instrument provides for some operational changes to plant and plant product import arrangements, which I shall address in a few moments.

On animal and plant health products entering Northern Ireland directly from a third country following exit, I confirm that there will be no change to, or an increase in, the checks that are carried out currently. For animals and related products transiting from a third country to Northern Ireland through the EU, the only additional checks that would be applied if we left the EU without an agreement would be for products of animal origin and high-risk food and feed that is not of animal origin.

Such commodities would need to enter via a border inspection post in Northern Ireland, which are currently located at Belfast airport and Belfast port. Intra-EU movements of those commodities is not considered significant. Even if we left the EU without an agreement, live animals, reproductive materials and animal by-products from third countries would be able to enter Northern Ireland through a UK port without further checks if they have had full veterinary checks at a recognised EU border inspection post. A significant increase in the number of checks at Northern Ireland border inspection posts following exit is not therefore anticipated.

Plants and plant products entering Northern Ireland from third countries cleared in the EU would have to comply with the same import requirements as consignments that came directly from the EU. Regulated plants and plant products entering Northern Ireland from third countries via the EU that have not been checked in the EU would require three days’ pre-notification, documentary checks, and inspection at an approved place of inspection which, it is important to note, would be away from the border.

While operating within a United Kingdom framework, plant and animal health are matters of shared interest on the island of Ireland. The Belfast agreement provides the structures for north-south collaboration on plant and animal health. That has resulted in a recognition of the importance of the single epidemiological unit, which protects the island’s biosecurity. The regulations are specifically about protecting biosecurity across these islands while facilitating trade, and will not change any island plant and animal health partnership practices.

The Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which is the first of the two instruments, amends Northern Ireland legislation relating to imports of live animals including horses transiting through the EU; animal products; reproductive material used for animal breeding; and bees. It also amends legislation on the movement of pet animals, which is an important social issue in Northern Ireland given its land border with the EU. Most importantly, the instrument makes necessary technical corrections to the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011, a key piece of Northern Ireland legislation that sets out the requirements for trade in live animals and genetic material with the EU, and imports of animals and animal products from outside the EU.

The instrument makes no policy changes to the 2011 regulations. It does, however, provide for the transfer of the power to approve border inspection posts in Northern Ireland from the European Commission to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. I am pleased that the very hard-working DAERA officials who have helped ensure these regulations are in the best possible order are present.

This instrument ensures the continuation of veterinary controls and other import conditions in the 2011 regulations that provide the necessary protections for animal and public health. Furthermore, it amends two pieces of legislation that regulate the non-commercial movement of pet animals into Northern Ireland. Those amendments provide the necessary technical corrections to provisions in other Northern Ireland trade-related legislation that are predicated on EU membership and would be inappropriate to retain following exit, such as references to “another member state”, “intra-Community trade”, and the European Commission’s ability to attend inspections. They are very much technical operability changes.

The Plant Health (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 is the second of the SIs. Although the instrument provides for some operational changes to import arrangements for businesses, those changes are necessary and risk-focused. First, regulated plant material such as ornamental plants in pots intended for commercial planting that currently enters Northern Ireland from the EU with an EU plant passport would require a phytosanitary certificate issued by the official national plant protection organisation, in line with international obligations. Those consignments must be pre-notified to the relevant plant health authority. In order to maintain the flow of goods, regulated plant material from the EU would not be subject to checks at the border in Northern Ireland, just like the rest of the United Kingdom. However, remote documentary checks would be undertaken in alignment with UK plant health authorities.

Secondly, consignments of regulated plants and plant products from non-EU countries that transit through the EU to arrive in Northern Ireland and have not been checked and cleared in the EU would require a statutory three days’ pre-notification to DAERA, as well as documentary checks and inspections at approved places of inspection within Northern Ireland, which would be away from the border. In the unlikely circumstance that plants and plant products from a non-EU country are checked and cleared in the EU, they will be treated as EU goods on arrival in Northern Ireland, and must comply with the import requirements for plants and plant products imported from the EU. The instrument also extends the application of an existing offence to the import requirements that would arise should the UK leave without an agreement.

Biosecurity and trade is significant for the Northern Ireland and wider UK economy. While operating within a UK framework, biosecurity in plant and animal health will remain important to the recognition of the island of Ireland as a single epidemiological unit. That will continue to secure close co-operation between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland officials on wide-ranging trade, disease and biosecurity matters. The instruments will protect biosecurity whilst facilitating trade following exit. For the reasons I have set out, I commend them to the Committee.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, even if it is for yet another set of amendments in the long series of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Brexit statutory instruments. Once again, the Minister states that the statutory instruments make technical changes. We can only hope that there are no policy consequences, impacts or costs for individuals or businesses and no risks to biosecurity or environmental or health protections. The fact is that, as with most other Brexit SIs, we are left with no choice but to take those words on trust.

Paragraph 2.4 of the explanatory memorandum to the Plant Health (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 states that the regulation “creates new offences”. Paragraph 12 states that no impact assessment has been done because it has no impacts. What assurance can the Minister give that the criminal offence of failure to comply with an order in respect of a demarcated area can be properly enforced? How will that be done without incurring any additional significant costs? Can he be certain that any additional costs will be below the de minimis threshold for an impact assessment? Regulation 12.10 states that the increase in public sector costs will be largely covered by charging businesses. Will he assure us that there will be sufficient public budget for the new offences to be detected and prosecuted whether or not the costs can be recovered?

In the debate on the draft Plant Health (Amendment) (England) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 on 19 March, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), said that the number of Animal and Plant Health Agency plant health inspectors was being doubled to 227 full-time equivalents. Will the Minister provide an update on how many of those staff are now in place, and the equivalent numbers for Northern Ireland?

The legislation being amended includes the Plant Health (Phytophthora Ramorum) Order (Northern Ireland) 2005, which concerns a serious fungal disease affecting native and introduced trees and plants, including oak and rhododendron. Will the Minister tell the Committee how many outbreaks of phytophthora ramorum are currently known in Northern Ireland? Why does the factsheet about that disease on the DEFRA website not seem to have been updated since 2012?

As with all the Northern Ireland EU exit legislation, it is important to have clear arrangements for plant health checks in any scenario. How can checks prevent the spread of disease in plant material and wood if there are no border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Is there not a danger that those wishing to import dubious material might choose to import via the Republic in order to avoid checks? The amended wording states that no person may move any specified material

“into or within England unless it is accompanied by a UK plant passport”.

Again, how will that be monitored and policed in practice without border checks?

The amended legislation includes emergency measures to put in place controls where there are outbreaks of disease. How will control areas be set up and made secure across the border with the Republic? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that close collaboration continues? How does the Minister justify the use of the exceptional urgency provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 now that we have agreed to extend article 50 to 31 October? Will the Minister continue to use the Act’s urgency provisions for further SIs that are needed to correct errors and omissions?

It is of huge concern that most SIs are being pushed through with little or no engagement with industry or voluntary groups who are, in any case, suffering from consultation fatigue. Of more than 500 Brexit-related statutory instruments churned out since last June, more than 120 are from DEFRA. Amid all the other chaos generated by the Government’s misguided handling of Brexit, surely it is legitimate to ask whether such a huge investment of parliamentary effort has resulted in effective scrutiny.

As the Opposition have said in other Committee debates, this is not a dry parliamentary issue. The regulations have a significant potential impact on the people of Northern Ireland. They are in place to protect commercial interests and livelihoods, prevent the spread of animal and plant pests and diseases, and protect food safety and animal health and welfare. Getting any of this wrong, even in small matters of technical detail, risks serious consequences. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew), said in the corresponding debate on the EU exit SIs on UK animal trade on 19 February,

“it would be economic madness if we allowed things like rabies to come in because we did not have enough people to check as a result of having a different process for allowing animals with such diseases to come in.”—[Official Report, Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee, 19 February 2019; c. 7.]

Ministers have rightly praised the officials, expert advisers and lawyers who have responded with the professionalism and dedication that we expect of them—often entirely unreasonably, considering the manufactured suspicion of experts in some quarters. However, the Government are now effectively asking Parliament to take their work on trust. Hon. Members have zero realistic prospect of following the jumble of lumped-together SIs on disparate subjects, each of which makes changes to a vast array of domestic and EU legislation. It is inevitable that the process will produce a statute book that is all but impossible for lawyers and the courts to track through, let alone real people struggling to run a business.

We have repeatedly warned Ministers that errors and omissions will happen. For the record, I repeat my request to the Minister that, once the process is complete, a comprehensive survey be made of all the DEFRA statutory instruments passed to facilitate Brexit, so that any further errors or omissions can be discovered. I hope he will reiterate his commitment to carrying out that survey.

If we could be certain that Brexit would not involve leaving the EU without a proper deal, much of this SI madness could have been avoided. We still hope that the Government will see the light and agree that there should be a permanent and comprehensive UK-EU customs union, close alignment with the single market, dynamic alignment on rights and protections, and clear commitments on participation in EU agencies. That would ensure that we can continue to share knowledge and expertise with EU bodies and would avoid extra costs and burdens for business, save jobs and protect our livestock, trees and plants from pests and diseases. Given where we are, however, we understand the Government’s rationale for introducing the regulations, so pressing for a vote today would serve no purpose.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I will not detain the Committee for long, but I have one or two questions for the Minister. I also have a general grouse, I am afraid, which is that, on the basis of the papers available in the Committee Room, it is virtually impossible to understand the changes made by the regulations—my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich made a similar point. Without being able to look carefully at the legislation that the regulations refer to, we cannot agree whether the measures in them do what they purport to, so it is very difficult to scrutinise them. That is not the fault of the Minister or of the hard-working civil servants who have produced the regulations, no doubt under extreme pressure. It is a fault of the process that the Government have undertaken to introduce the regulations.

The Minister said that the changes made by the regulations “largely mirror” changes in the existing GB legislation. The word “largely” suggests that in some respects they do not mirror them, but he did not set out how they do not. I would have expected him to set out those differences to provide clarity and reassurance to the Committee. I am sure we would all find it useful if he could do so today.

I note that the animals SI refers to the rabies order from 1977—a very serious piece of legislation aimed at stopping the importation of a horrible disease, which we would not want to see go wrong. As far as one can tell—I am guessing—the statutory instrument makes minor and technical changes, but given how important that order is I would like the Minister to reassure us that the changes are purely technical, and that they are correct and will not suddenly make the provision impossible to implement practically. It would be a disaster if that or something like it were to happen.

The instrument revokes the Destructive Imported Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1933 and one of its more modern counterparts. It seems to me that revoking something entirely is making not a minor or technical change, but a substantive change, so perhaps the Minister will be a bit clearer about why this SI, which is supposed to be making minor and technical changes, is revoking regulations. I am sure that there is a perfectly good explanation, and that it is just that we have not heard it, but I want the Minister to deal with that point.

All these matters, whether on the animal or the plant side of things, are about important issues, such as diseases of plants or animals. If those things go wrong, they can have a huge impact on businesses, food supplies and the natural world. These are very important matters. It is not at all clear to me, despite the best intentions of all concerned, that these instruments do as they say they will. The explanatory memorandums appear not to be as explanatory as one might wish. For example, they say that this instrument revokes the Destructive Imported Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland), but do not explain why that is necessary. One certainly cannot gather from the wording of the instrument why it is necessary.

I hope the Minister understands the Opposition’s frustration at not being able to ascertain why some of these things are being done. These instruments seem extensive—revoking something is not a minor and technical change—but the explanatory memorandum simply asserts that it is being revoked without giving any explanation of why. I hope the Minister will enlighten me on that point.

This illustrates the Opposition’s difficulties at being faced with these instruments at a late stage and not having the legislation present in the Committee—I have complained about that in other Committees—so we can make comparisons between the old instrument and what the new instrument is doing. One simply cannot understand, from reading these instruments, what impact they will have. I hope the Minister will enlighten us about those two points and will take back to his Department and the Government the fact that, yet again, we are a bit frustrated that they are making proper scrutiny impossible.

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I thank hon. Members for their contributions and questions. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) has been consistent in his concerns about the sheer number of SIs but, as I have explained previously, DEFRA in particular is significantly affected by a potential no-deal scenario, and as a responsible Government we have needed to look at and plan for every eventuality. I am grateful to hon. Members in this Committee, many of whom—I am thinking in particular of the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Bristol West—have sat through many other SIs with great fortitude and interest in these important subjects. I also pay tribute once again to the officials who have taken this work through, not least the DAERA officials who are with us today.

I understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Ipswich. However, in my view, it is clear that the best way forward would be to ensure that we have a deal; if we did, we would not have to worry about these arrangements. Obviously, conversations and negotiations are going on between both our parties at the moment. I wish them success in moving forward, and we will see how they play out, but to my mind a deal would be the optimal outcome.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of points about enforcement—I will address both his points and those made by the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood in turn. As far as enforcement goes, regulated plants and plant products from third countries that transit through the EU en route to Northern Ireland are currently subjected to plant health checks at the first point of entry into the EU to ensure biosecurity protection. Cleared goods can then circulate within the EU, and are assigned the same status as EU goods.

Under the instrument, regulated plants and plant products from third countries transiting the EU en route to Northern Ireland that have not been cleared in the EU would be subject to regulatory controls. Those controls require all importers of regulated plants and plant products from third countries transiting to Northern Ireland via Dublin, or anywhere in the EU, to provide DAERA with three days’ pre-notification of any consignment arrival in Northern Ireland. Pre-notification provides relevant details of goods and the expected date of arrival at the DAERA-authorised approved place of inspection within Northern Ireland, where documentary checks and physical inspections are completed. Goods will not be subject to plant health checks at the Northern Ireland border. The instrument also requires that the goods must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate issued by the appropriate authority in the country of origin.

The instrument gives the same assurance for third-country goods transiting the EU to Northern Ireland as is provided by the corresponding DEFRA instrument in respect of Great Britain. Furthermore, existing protections provided by the common transit convention and international air services transit agreement will continue after EU exit. That will mean that consignments will continue to travel under a seal from their place of origin, and goods arriving at the authorised places of inspection will have their seals removed there only by an authorised officer. DAERA and DEFRA have agreed the operational arrangements for goods transiting via the UK so, in those situations, strong enforcement mechanisms will be in place.

Regarding inspectors, all consignments of regulated plant and plants products currently imported from the EU under the existing EU passport system would require pre-notification accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, as I explained before. In the event of exit without an agreement, they would also be subject to remote documentary checks. A recent survey on the volume of trade with the EU indicates that up to 40,000 phytosanitary certificates would require remote documentary checks annually. Those certificates will replace EU plant passports, and similarly will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. That equates to 20 or 30 checks daily, which is a manageable workload. Resources will be in place to manage those processes, and it is anticipated that the number of inspectors required to undertake that work would more than double, from five to 11. However, plans have been developed to deploy and redeploy staff to manage that additional workload, so the appropriate number of inspectors and the resources required to carry out those inspections will be in place if required.

The hon. Member for Ipswich raised points about co-operation with Ireland in the area of biosecurity. There is a strong sense of collaboration and a real sense of partnership to this work, which will continue as we go forward. We will work to maintain common protected zones for plant health in both jurisdictions.

The hon. Gentleman also asked questions about new plant health offences. The instrument extends the application of offences to the import requirements that would arise if the UK left the EU without an agreement. The existing offence relates to failure to comply with a notice served by a DAERA inspector identifying non-compliance with regulations relating to a relevant consignment. In the event that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, goods that require an EU plant passport will need to be pre-notified and accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. The instrument ensures that the existing offence covers non-compliance with those requirements.

The Committee mentioned the Rabies (Importation of Dogs, Cats and Other Mammals) Order (Northern Ireland) 1977. The definition of “member state” in that order is amended to reflect the fact that the UK will no longer be a member state of the EU. References to “Council Directive 92/65/EEC” are replaced by references to

“the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011(2)”.

The amendments are very technical in nature.

The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood mentioned the differences between statutory instruments for Great Britain and those for Northern Ireland. The SI makes minor amendments to four additional pieces of Northern Ireland legislation—I apologise for not including them in my speech, which was quite long. I am pleased to have the opportunity to update the Committee now.

Three of those pieces of legislation have been included in the instrument because there was no other vehicle with which to amend them. The amendments made have been made for GB legislation via other instruments. One of those pieces of Northern Ireland legislation has no GB equivalent—the Northern Ireland Poultry Health Assurance Scheme Order (Northern Ireland) 2011—while others relate to bees and to destructive animals. Those are all technical changes.

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Will the Minister tell us how the revocation of an instrument can be defined as a “technical change”? The Destructive Imported Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1933 is being revoked. How can that be described as technical?

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This SI makes a minor technical amendment to one piece of Northern Ireland legislation—the 1933 Act. The amendment is designed to ensure that the movement into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK of certain animal species, such as the muskrat, continues to be prohibited following exit, except when permitted under licence, which mirrors an amendment made affecting England. I will write to the hon. Lady to set that out more clearly.

I have covered most of the questions and, for the reasons that I set out, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Trade in Animals and Related Products (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 811).

PLANT HEALTH (AMENDMENT) (NORTHERN IRELAND) (EU EXIT) REGULATIONS 2019

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Plant Health (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 820).—(David Rutley.)

Committee rose.

Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Ian Austin

Braverman, Suella (Fareham) (Con)

† Bruce, Fiona (Congleton) (Con)

† Churchill, Jo (Bury St Edmunds) (Con)

† Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

† Cryer, John (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)

† Cummins, Judith (Bradford South) (Lab)

† Goldsmith, Zac (Richmond Park) (Con)

† Johnson, Dr Caroline (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

Law, Chris (Dundee West) (SNP)

† McFadden, Mr Pat (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)

† Pawsey, Mark (Rugby) (Con)

† Perkins, Toby (Chesterfield) (Lab)

Rashid, Faisal (Warrington South) (Lab)

† Stuart, Graham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

† Warburton, David (Somerton and Frome) (Con)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Hannah Bryce, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 13 May 2019

[Ian Austin in the Chair]

Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 806).

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I am pleased to be able to open this debate on the regulations, which were made in exercise of the powers conferred by section 8(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. They correct errors in an earlier statutory instrument, the Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which, as some hon. Members may recall, have already been debated and approved by both Houses. At the time, I acknowledged that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had reported that instrument for defective drafting in three respects. I said then that we would correct those errors, and we are now doing so.

In addition, we are correcting an error concerning the removal of annex IV of the retained dual-use regulation. Annex IV establishes authorisation requirements for certain intra-Community transfers, and it was deleted because in a no-deal scenario the UK will not be party to intra-Community transfers. However, annex IV is referenced elsewhere in the dual-use regulation and so it needs to be retained in order for the regulation to function properly. We are therefore reinstating annex IV.

To conclude, the regulations do nothing more than to correct acknowledged errors in another instrument that both Houses have already approved. On that basis, I call on my fellow hon. Members to support the regulations, which I commend to the Committee.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin.

When we considered the original Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, I asked the Minister whether, given the drafting errors, we might be back at some point in the future to discuss them again—and here we are. As the Minister said, the regulations correct the drafting errors in the original regulations, including the inadvertent consequences of removing annex IV. Labour will, of course, support the Government in correcting those errors.

Hon. Members will be thankful to hear that I will not repeat everything that I said in the first debate, although I will make some brief points. Labour fully supports a robust export control system. We therefore support the Government’s intention to ensure that the existing approach to export controls for dual-use items and firearms continues once we leave the European Union. We want to see minimal disruption to exporters, and safeguards in place, to ensure that controlled goods are not inadvertently exported inappropriately.

Labour recognises the considerable contribution that a responsible, world-leading defence and security industry makes to the UK economy. We also believe that strong export controls have a vital role to play in sustaining a legitimate trade in arms, while protecting UK jobs and research and development. As I said before, we also believe that we need a tighter approach in some areas of our export control regime, and we have called for the cessation of exports to countries where there is a concern that those exports would be used to violate international humanitarian law.

Recently, I asked several written questions on some technical aspects of the regulations. One question concerned the way in which the UK Government intend to work with our European partners once we have left the EU. I hope that the Government will at some point set out exactly what they intend to do in that regard. For example, what relationship will the UK have with the dual-use co-ordination group? It is vital that, whatever our exact relationship with the EU, we continue to work with other countries on crucial issues such as this.

I repeat my question about how the Government intend to define human rights violations in the context of export licence applications, given that we will no longer be following the charter of fundamental rights.

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I thank the hon. Lady for her response. We do not expect to make any changes to how we deal with exports. Every export is judged against the consolidated criteria. Ensuring respect for international humanitarian law, as she knows, lies at the heart of that. We will never approve of an export that is inconsistent with those criteria, which are always applied.

To reiterate my opening statement, we made some errors in the original regulations, and through these regulations we are correcting them. The instrument does nothing more than that. Given that the original regulations have already been debated and approved by both Houses, I ask Members to support these regulations, which I commend to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Food and Feed Hygiene and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

† Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

Crawley, Angela (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP)

† Duguid, David (Banff and Buchan) (Con)

† Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)

† Henderson, Gordon (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)

† Hodgson, Mrs Sharon (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

† Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)

† Kennedy, Seema (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care)

† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)

† Masterton, Paul (East Renfrewshire) (Con)

† Morton, Wendy (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

† Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)

Snell, Gareth (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op)

† Streeting, Wes (Ilford North) (Lab)

† Throup, Maggie (Erewash) (Con)

† Trevelyan, Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)

Medha Bhasin, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 13 May 2019

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Draft Food and Feed Hygiene and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Food and Feed Hygiene and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. This instrument, which concerns food and feed law, is made under the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to make necessary amendments to UK regulations. The Government’s priority is to ensure that the high standard of food and feed safety and consumer protection that we enjoy in this country is maintained when the UK leaves the European Union. This statutory instrument will correct deficiencies in certain regulations to ensure that the UK is prepared in the event of leaving the EU without a deal. Amendments are limited to the necessary technical amendments to ensure that the legislation is operative on EU exit day. No major policy changes are made through this instrument, and we do not intend to make any at this point.

As hon. Members know, the Government have negotiated a deal with the EU and are in the process of taking it through Parliament. This deal is designed to secure a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. However, it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all possible scenarios, including the potential outcome that we leave the EU without a deal. We are committed to ensuring that our legislation continues to function effectively in the event of no deal and that public health remains protected. This instrument has been laid for such a scenario.

Fifteen EU exit-related instruments have been laid previously, addressing various aspects of food and feed safety and hygiene. This instrument will address a range of minor deficiencies in retained EU law relating to food and animal feed that have not been addressed by earlier instruments or by very recent changes made to EU law and that could not have been addressed by previous instruments. As with previous SIs recently laid before the House, I wish to make it clear that no policy changes are made through this instrument, which makes only the essential changes necessary to ensure an effective and fully operable statute book on exit day.

The primary purpose of the instrument is to ensure that legislation continues to function effectively after exit day. The proposed amendments are critical to ensuring minimal disruption to food controls in the event that we leave the EU without a deal. The changes also ensure a robust system of controls, which will underpin UK businesses’ ability to trade both domestically and internationally. The contents of the instrument cover several policy areas, which I will address.

The health mark for carcases of animals such as cattle, pigs and sheep, and the identification mark for all foods of animal origin, will change once the UK has left the EU, with the letters “EC” no longer used. The Specific Food Hygiene (Amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 retain the requirement for health and identification marks to contain either “UK” or “United Kingdom”. The instrument allows for the abbreviation GB to be used in such marks, as this is the International Organisation for Standardisation’s two-letter country code for the United Kingdom. The instrument also provides for a transitional period of 21 months after exit day, during which UK food businesses can apply their current health and identification marks on carcases and food of animal origin in the UK domestic market. This transitional period will assist businesses by providing a smoother transition to the new marking requirements and permitting them to use up existing labels and packaging.

Let me turn to the trichinella pork nematode worm parasite provisions and the transitional provisions for official laboratories. This SI addresses deficiencies in retained EU law on trichinella testing requirements to ensure that these rules are fully enforceable, replacing references to EU institutions and bodies with appropriate UK bodies and authorities.

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Can the Minister explain how virulent and how difficult for human health that particular issue is? I am a bit unsure, and the more difficult it is, clearly the more we have to be careful about how we deal with it.

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The hon. Lady raises the point that trichinella—a parasitic nematode worm—can be extremely serious. It can cause disease in people who eat raw or undercooked meat from trichinella-infected domestic animals or game. The instrument will provide assurance that testing requirements that ensure protection will continue after EU exit. Maintaining the requirements of the existing regulations will retain confidence in the pork industry. Confidence in food safety is our Government’s priority.

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Is the Minister confident that we have enough capacity in this country to continue testing for that worm and its associated health risks, as we do not have time to put in place our own testing facilities? Will she tell the Committee how much extra resource her Department has allocated to make sure that we do not allow a loss of control during the transition?

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I am confident that the Foods Standards Agency will be able to cope. It has done sterling work, and I met the chairman of the FSA this morning. An extra £14 million was provided to the FSA for EU exit in 2018-19, and £16 million for 2019-20. The FSA has had an additional grant fund of £2 million for local authorities for the year ending 2019, and again for the year ending 2020. That is just to support food safety-related activity related to EU exit pressure.

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The Minister is very well briefed. Although that is an increase, she gives general figures for the Food Standards Agency, not the amount of extra resource that would be available to ensure that those particular nematodes do not infect meat that might be imported into this country and eaten by people here. Does she have a more broken-down version of those figures, so we can have some idea of whether her Department has allocated enough resource to ensure there is not increased risk to food safety as a result of the changes?

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I am confident that there will be no increase in risk. I do not have to hand the exact figures on the amount that the FSA has spent on trichinella.

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Could the Minister write to me?

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I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady with those figures.

Let me turn to the rules for businesses and official controls relating to products of animal origin, or POAO. EC regulation 2704/2005 is an EU tertiary implementing measure that provides certain technical and administrative refinements to EU regulations for food products of animal origin. It sets out specific rules on analytical methods, rules relating to fishery products used in the production of fish oil, and more. The instrument will assign powers and responsibilities currently incumbent on EU entities to appropriate UK entities to ensure that diverse regulation is fully operational.

The model import health certificates for certain products of animal origin under EC regulations 2074/2005 and 2016/759—for imports of certain products of animal origin such as fishery products, gelatine and collagen for human consumption—are amended so that they can be used solely to import foods to the UK.

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Clearly, people worry about food irradiation. I suspect that what the Minister is talking about is irradiating things such as collagen, so that they are safe for human consumption, rather than irradiating meat for human consumption. The Americans do a lot of that, and I suspect that many of our consumers would not want that. Can she give us some clarity on the irradiation regulations that she is talking about in this particular context?

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The hon. Lady anticipates that I was about to turn to food irradiation. The instrument amends the definition of imports in existing legislation so that it is clear that any new facilities approved by EU member states in the future will no longer be automatically approved for food imported into the UK. Without the instrument, there could be a lack of clarity on the status of newly approved facilities.

The instrument includes provisions to set minimum charging rates for hygiene controls for fishery products by amending the Fishery Products (Official Controls Charges) (England) Regulations 2007. It updates provisions for the charges. For example, the rates are currently set in euros with an exchange rate to sterling. The instrument also updates the exchange rate from 2008, as it is now somewhat out of date and would not be in line with central Department for Exiting the European Union and Her Majesty’s Treasury guidance on amending outstanding references to euros.

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Will the Minister give way on the irradiation point again?

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Can I just finish the point I am on?

The Food Safety (Sampling and Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2013 are national and stipulate the necessary qualifications and experience required for an official control laboratory analyst in England. The instrument corrects inoperabilities in the legislation, replacing references to EU institutions and bodies with UK authorities and bodies.

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When people look at irradiation issues, they worry about whether it is the kind of practice one sees in America, where a lot of food is irradiated to make it last longer in a way that our consumers in Europe and particularly in the UK do not like. I am trying to establish—I hope the Minister can make this a bit clearer for me—whether the irradiation she is talking about with this instrument relates to food safety, such as with animal-derived collagen. That might have to be irradiated, but it is not the same as having prime steak irradiated to make it last longer, so that it might be much older when it is eaten. Will she clarify whether the irradiation amendments are about a food safety issue or about allowing food, particularly meat, to survive longer on the shelves, which would worry consumers?

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I think it is important that the hon. Lady wants to draw out what people are worried about, which is food safety. There is only one approved food irradiation establishment in the UK, and it does not currently treat food on an entirely commercial basis. Its main business is medical sterilisation. Only a small proportion of food is irradiated and that should be robustly regulated. The overall message I would like the hon. Lady to take away is that the Government are absolutely committed to food safety. There is no suggestion in this instrument or any other that has been laid that there will be any watering down of, or reneging on, the Government’s absolute commitment to the very robust regulation of food. That is something we pioneered and are very proud of.

The proposed amendments for smoke flavourings address minor drafting errors in the previously laid Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Those errors were identified by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. In its response, the FSA provided an undertaking to the JCSI that the deficiency would be addressed.

EU authorisation decisions relating to genetically modified food and feed have come into force since the laying of the Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which will implement retained EU law on exit day. The instrument introduces amendments to make the decisions fully operable by specifying the UK entity to which authorisation holders must submit annual reports on activities set out in their environmental monitoring plans and to remove references to the European Community in connection with the register of authorised GM food and feed.

The instrument makes equivalent changes to the relevant Northern Ireland legislation to ensure that the body of Northern Ireland food law can function properly and is enforceable once the UK leaves the EU. It also inserts a definition of “Northern Ireland devolved authority” or, where appropriate, identifies the Department that is the correct appropriate authority, replacing references to EU institutions and bodies in various EU regulations. The amendments also include naming of the relevant legislature for Northern Ireland where the regulation-making procedure is provided in various EU regulations. The instrument transfers powers to UK entities to support a UK regulatory regime. It also transfers responsibility for risk assessment from the European Food Safety Authority to the food safety authorities, the FSA and Food Standards Scotland. [Interruption.] Yes, “All You Need Is Love”. They will continue to deliver independent, open and transparent, science and evidence-based advice.

The instrument additionally changes references regarding the import of food and feed into the EU as references to the import of food and feed into the United Kingdom. It does not introduce any changes for food businesses in how they are regulated and run. The formal public consultation carried out by the FSA covering changes to UK health and identification marking received overwhelming support for the proposal. The instrument will provide continuity for businesses and protection of consumers’ interests and ensure that enforcement of the regulations can continue in the same way. The changes will ensure the retention of a robust system of controls that will underpin UK businesses’ ability to trade both domestically and internationally.

It is important to note that the devolved Administrations have provided their consent for the instrument. Furthermore, we have engaged positively with the devolved Administrations throughout its development. The ongoing engagement has been warmly welcomed.

The instrument will ensure that regulatory controls for food continue to function effectively after exit day and that public health is protected. It is therefore key to ensuring that the high standards of food safety and consumer protection that we enjoy in this country are maintained when the UK leaves the European Union. It will protect public health from risks that may arise in connection with the consumption of food. I ask hon. Members to support the amendments proposed in this instrument to ensure the continuation of effective food and feed safety and public health controls. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Robertson. I want to start by officially welcoming the Minister to her new role. It is the first opportunity I have had to do that and the first time we have faced each other in a debate. I am sure it will not be the last. I look forward to shadowing her and no doubt opposing her when I need to, but I hope that we can work together on all things public health, as I did with her predecessor, to ensure the better health of everyone in the country, regardless of where they live, how much they earn or who they are.

Earlier this year, as we approached the 29 March Brexit deadline, some of us would be in in this room, or one very like it, regularly as SIs were rushed through in haste. As has been said, the Minister’s predecessor and I debated 15 SIs relating to food safety in a matter of weeks. For many reasons I am pleased that we were able to secure a Brexit extension, but in this case I am particularly happy because if we had left on 29 March, some of the minor deficiencies that we are discussing today could have turned major very quickly.

The regulations have not previously been addressed in Brexit preparations, so it is good that we have time to discuss them now. They also deal with recent changes to EU law, which could not have been addressed in earlier instruments. As the Minister said, public safety is paramount. That is why any future changes to regulatory controls after the UK leaves the EU should provide the same, or hopefully an improved, level of consumer protection.

Any changes as a result of the regulations must be effectively communicated to the affected agencies in a timely manner. Will the Minister please tell the Committee whether she has had any further communication with those agencies since March? I am sure that they are awaiting further information from the Government about Brexit, and their business is no doubt hanging in the balance in the meantime. As this is a matter of public safety, changes must be communicated clearly and in a timely manner to ensure that the industry can be in line with current legislation. Will the Minister give assurances that that will not affect the safety or quality of foods available in the UK, now and in the future?

As we have heard, the SI relates to trichinella, which is a pork nematode worm parasite. I am sure that none of us had ever heard about it before, and hope never to need do so again, or to deal with its effect. The SI also relates to the transitional provisions for official laboratories. The retained EU law regarding specific official controls that apply to trichinella in meat and trichinella testing requirements may not be fully enforceable until the specific inoperabilities are addressed by the SI. Is the Minister confident that the legislation sufficiently addresses the inoperabilities regarding the testing requirements for trichinella, and when does she think that they will be fully enforceable, on passing the SI?

The instrument states that facilities approved by EU member states would in future no longer be automatically approved for food imported from the UK. Does the Minister know what impact that will have on supply and businesses? How long will the process be to approve facilities for food imported from the UK, and will a list of approved facilities be available? The instrument also includes provisions to set minimum charging rates for hygiene controls for fishery products by amending the Fishery Products (Official Controls Charges) (England) Regulations 2007. Will the Minister outline what the charges will be and what impact any new set rates could have?

The explanatory memorandum for the SI states that functions currently undertaken by the European Commission in adopting some implementing regulations rendering applicable the controls on imported food will in future be the responsibility of the Secretary of State. Can the Minister provide information on how decisions on those controls will be decided and managed? What will the arrangements be for collecting data monitoring the effectiveness of the regulations and regularly reporting the findings? What bodies will be able to scrutinise performance and delivery, and what assessment has been made of their capacity to take on that work, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey mentioned?

Finally, what conversations has the Minister had with devolved nations regarding the SI? We do not know for sure exactly when we will leave the EU, but it is best to be prepared, especially when dealing with parasites such as this little worm. That is why the Opposition do not oppose the regulations, but rather express some concerns that I hope the Minister can address.

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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. My hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West very well encompassed some of the Opposition’s worries. The issues seem to be fairly technical, and potentially innocuous, but when looked at they raise a few worries. This is about food safety, safety for consumers, consumer protection and food supply in general. Should we leave the European Union, a range of duties would be transferred from where they have been done in the past for many years—in the EU—back not just to the UK, but to four different bodies due to devolution, one of which is not even sitting at the moment because of what is happening in Northern Ireland. That is alarming enough, but when we think about the austerity that has been visited on every aspect of government—be it at national level in the regulatory area or at local government level, which is much more responsible for enforcement rather than testing—lights begin to flash at least amber.

The regulations involve a range of issues, from parasitical worms in meat through to irradiation. Despite the Minister’s attempts to engage with some of my questions, I am still not entirely sure whether this is irradiation of things such as collagen, which in specific instances is derived from animals for human consumption, or whether it is about more general irradiation of meat and vegetables that are for public consumption, which happens in the US. Are there any issues there that we need to worry about? Consumers have particular worries about other issues that are involved, such as genetically modified food and feedstuffs.

Remember that the horsemeat scandal was not discovered by enforcement processes in our country; it was actually discovered by testing in the Irish Republic. We can see that we are in a situation in which things could go wrong due to the weakness that has been created in our enforcement system. I am looking for further reassurance from the Minister that the system we have—weakened by austerity and divided up by devolution—will be robust enough to take on all the extra duties that the Minister is putting on it through this SI.

We are talking about food hygiene, food safety, consumer protection and ensuring that, in all these different areas, the consumer in this country can have a robust confidence in the system that the Minister presides over, which is why I asked her about the extra resources that her Department is allocating to get this done. I must admit that I was not massively overwhelmed by the answer she gave about the extra money that is being allocated to the various regulatory bodies. I hope she can reassure us that the Government are absolutely certain that they have all their ducks in line before we get to the stage where all these things are transferred in the way specified by the SI.

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There were several points raised by the shadow Minister and by the hon. Member for Wallasey, and I shall try to address them. This SI is only on health marks, which have only recently been clarified by the Commission. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West said that she and my predecessor debated lots of these before. However, we need this instrument to address recent changes to EU law that were not applicable when the previous SIs were drafted. It makes some small corrections that have come to light since the earlier SIs were laid, and provides for similar changes in Northern Ireland legislation. The overarching message is that the Government are absolutely committed to high standards in the entire food chain, now and after EU exit.

On dialogue with other authorities, the Food Standards Agency continues that with local authorities and other agencies. It also has a continual dialogue with industry. On lab capacity, which the shadow Minister brought up, the UK is developing alternative approaches to deliver the necessary functions provided by EFSA and the European Commission, building on our own capacity and capability to carry out risk assessment and manage and control food and feed safety risk through scientific advisory structures. The UK already has national reference laboratories in place that help to ensure the safety of our food and feed and to prevent the entry and spread of infectious diseases in crops, livestock and feed. Those laboratories are internationally recognised for their scientific expertise.

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Will the Minister give way on that point?

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I fear that I might be disappointing the hon. Lady with my answer but yes, I am happy to give way.

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I thank the Minister for her generosity in giving way. Opposition Members do not doubt the excellent science available in many of our labs; we doubt that enough resources and people are in place to do the kind of job that will be required when this stuff all comes back. I suppose the reassurance that we seek is that she will ensure that an appropriate amount of resource and capacity will be in place to do the job properly.

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I will address funding and capacity later in my remarks. On fisheries, the charges are set out in detail in retained EU law, and various rates apply to different products. The devolved Administrations have been involved in the preparation of the draft regulations, and we engaged positively with all those Administrations throughout the statutory instrument’s development.

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Is the Minister including Northern Ireland?

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Obviously, because there is no sitting Assembly—

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You said all of them.

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I will correct the record: consent was sought from the Northern Ireland civil service, and was provided by the permanent secretary of the Department of Health of Northern Ireland.

To address the point made by the hon. Member for Wallasey, as I have said before, in 2018-19 additional funding for the FSA for EU exit was of the order of £14 million, and in 2019-20, £16 million. The FSA also had the extra £2 million in 2018-19 and in the year ending 2020 just to support food safety activity. We are therefore confident that it can meet the novel tasks that it will be expected to perform after EU exit.

Previous staff changes reflected efficiencies that were appropriate at the time. A careful assessment has been made of the additional work that we will now need to carry out when we leave the EU. The FSA has strengthened its capacity and capability for risk assessment and risk management by recruiting more policy and science experts, as well as strengthening processes and procedures that underpin the risk-analysis process. An extra—

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Will the Minister give way?

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May I finish this point? An extra 140 staff have been recruited, and the majority of them are already in place. I—

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Will the Minister give way?

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I would first like to address the other points that the hon. Lady made.

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But my intervention is on this very point—I thank the Minister for her generosity in giving way. I note from the figures that she gave us that £14 million has been allocated for one year and £16 million for the next, but then it goes down to virtually nothing, £2 million. That gives the impression that a lump of work needs to be done and that the funding can then go back to the way it was before. Is she happy that that is the right level of funding allocation, and that the FSA can go back to where it was before this lump of money? Does she think that gives the Opposition the reassurance that we seek? Is she happy with that?

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I am very happy that the FSA will be able to cope with the additional duties that it will have after EU exit and that it is properly funded.

On irradiation, EU legislation provides for EU approval for irradiation facilities for food and specific foodstuffs. Nothing is changing, and no new foods can be irradiated. I hope that gives the hon. Lady the reassurance that she seeks. That applies to imports and to domestic foods.

On GM foods, which I know worry many people, the draft SI is not about changing the robust controls that we have in place for GM food and feed. It corrects a further two retained EU authorisations, in addition to the 68 covered by the main Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which have already been approved by Parliament.

I hope that I have answered all the questions asked by hon Members. As I said, while the Government continue to work for an orderly exit from the EU and until we have final agreement, it is important to prepare for the possibility that we will leave with no deal. To reiterate, this instrument makes no changes to policy or to how food businesses are regulated and run. The draft regulations are limited to the necessary technical amendments to ensure that regulatory controls for food and feed continue to function effectively after exit day if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and that public health is protected.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Food and Feed Hygiene and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Committee rose.