Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Gas Tariffs Code (Amendment) (EU Exit) regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: James Gray
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Cartlidge, James (South Suffolk) (Con)
† Cowan, Ronnie (Inverclyde) (SNP)
† Doyle-Price, Jackie (Thurrock) (Con)
† Duguid, David (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
Garnier, Mark (Wyre Forest) (Con)
† Herbert, Nick (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Kendall, Liz (Leicester West) (Lab)
† Kwarteng, Kwasi (Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth)
† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)
Reeves, Ellie (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP)
† Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
† Turley, Anna (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op)
† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Stuart Ramsay, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
First Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 October 2019
[James Gray in the Chair]
Draft Gas Tariffs Code (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Gas Tariffs Code (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The draft regulations were laid before the House on 10 July this year. As Members will know, a significant part of the legislation that governs our energy markets is derived from EU law. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will have the effect of making such legislation retained EU law, and as we approach EU exit my Department is determined to ensure that that energy legislation continues to be operable in the event of a no-deal exit.
The extension of the article 50 period to 31 October means that additional EU law that is now applicable will be retained EU law on exit day, and the draft regulations deal with precisely that issue. Chapters II, III and IV of the network code on harmonised transmission tariff structures for gas, known as TAR, applied across the UK and the EU from 31 May 2019. The tariffs regime therefore needs to be amended to correct deficiencies in what will be retained EU law, such as where there are functions in relation to EU entities that will no longer have a role in our affairs, and EU references that are no longer appropriate. A clear example of that is replacing references to member states with reference specifically to the UK. We are amending the Gas (Security of Supply and Network Codes) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to address that very issue. That supports our aim to retain regulatory functions and frameworks if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, by keeping Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s gas markets working effectively and providing continuity for UK industry and consumers.
The TAR network code covers the ways in which transmission system operators collect revenues associated with the provision of services at entry and exit points via capacity and commodity-based transmission tariffs and non-transmission tariffs. By retaining those technical specifications we will maximise business continuity for market participants and cross-border gas trading. The modifications are straightforward and ensure that on exit day TAR will operate effectively, maintaining regulatory certainty in its entirety.
The draft regulations are an appropriate use of the powers set out in the 2018 Act. They will maximise continuity in our energy regulation and, crucially, ensure business continuity for operators in the UK market. They will facilitate continued international trade in gas and protect the security of affordable cheap gas supply for UK consumers as we leave the EU. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. As the Minister set out, the changes being made regarding the applicability of the TAR regulations to the UK are very straightforward: they bring the nomenclature in the regulations into line with UK purposes, rather than the intent of the regulations, which was to include the UK within a wider EU context. The suggested changes are therefore straightforward and pretty uncontroversial. However, I will put one or two points to the Minister for clarification, which I hope will help our deliberations.
I start by asking about the relationship of this statutory instrument to one made earlier this year, the Gas (Security of Supply and Network Codes) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which set out what at that point was thought to be the entirety of the elements of the TAR regulations that it was necessary to incorporate into UK law, instead of retained EU law, at the original time of exit from the EU. That SI incorporated into UK law chapters VI and VIII of the TAR regulations, which had come into force in October 2017 following the passing of the regulation. It was not thought necessary to incorporate chapters II, III and IV into UK legislation, because they were not, at that time, coming into force until after the EU exit date. Because EU exit day has been pushed on somewhat, it becomes necessary to incorporate those chapters into UK law. That is essentially what this SI does.
When the original SI was introduced, we were told that it was the intention of the Government to pass legislation to deal with what would have been the effect of chapters II, III and IV on a separate occasion after EU exit. I therefore assume that what we see before us is what the Government would have done had Brexit taken place when it was originally going to take place, and that no more legislation relating to the TAR regulations will forthcoming after the SI before us today. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case? If it is, we potentially have a landscape for the applicability of the TAR regulations overall to the future arrangements for UK gas supply.
Assuming that that is the case, what appears to happen concerning the applicability of chapters II, III and IV is quite interesting. Not everything in the TAR regulations is identical. The first SI dealt mainly with the solidarity—the extent to which EU member states would be obliged to supply each other with gas during conditions of difficulty affecting one or more member states. It was indicated at that point that those solidarity conditions would not apply post Brexit. However, chapters II, III and IV do not deal with that; instead, among other things, they deal with the alignment of tariff regulations and the permanent agreements on reserve prices and tariffs between those who trade with each other within the EU and, in this case, an external state and the EU. As the Minister will of course be aware, that is done mainly, but not exclusively, through interconnectors, which implies that we will now have a permanent arrangement of tariff solidarity between the UK and the EU. Personally, I think that is a good idea, but I am not sure that that sits entirely squarely with what has been said previously about the future regime for tariffs. In principle, it appears that, by accepting the TAR regime now in its entirety, that is what we have done. Is that the Minister’s understanding, or does he think there is a different interpretation possible of the acceptance of those TAR regulations?
My final point is about a rather odd addendum to the draft SI, which is the statements that are required to be made relating to an instrument’s compliance with the EU withdrawal Act—in particular, its compliance with admissibility, the assurance that the legislation does not go beyond what is appropriate, and equalities legislation. Those statements are all signed by the right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), presumably in his role as the stand-in Minister for the then Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), when she was taking a leave of absence from her duties. Of course, the right hon. Member for Kingswood is no longer the Minister, stand-in or otherwise, for Energy and Clean Growth. Indeed, the Minister here today occupies that post.
What is stated in the EU withdrawal Act 2018 is that all such statements have to be signed and signed off by “the relevant Minister”. It may be the case that there is covering legislation that states that whenever a Minister signs these documents or statements, the assurance is good for any subsequent Minister, but I would have thought that the right thing to have done on this occasion and for this SI would have been for the present Minister to sign off those statements, so that we would be completely clear that the relevant Minister had signed them, in accordance with the EU withdrawal Act. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on that.
On the first question, I think the hon. Member for Southampton, Test was trying to get me to say that we will somehow be locked in forever, but the point of this legislation is to ensure that retained EU law is not affected in the event of no deal. I know about this sort of thing, because I an Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union in charge of the withdrawal Bill. The principle behind that was that we did not want any discontinuity, or as little as possible, between 31 October—or 29 March as was—and the following day. That principle, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, is enshrined in this SI. He is quite right to say that the reason chapters II, III and IV were not covered by the original SI is that they have only been in operation since 31 May, so that is quite in order.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, it is a principle of the UK Government that if a Minister signs in his capacity as Minister, which is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood did, and he is the relevant Minister at the time of the signing, it does not invalidate that if he is then moved on. In fact, he has not really been moved on; he is still a Minister in the Department. At the time of signing, he was technically not the relevant Minister anyway because, as the hon. Gentleman says, the relevant Minister was taking a leave of absence, but he was standing in for her and signed the requisite documents. As I understand it, that does not make any difference.
I would be grateful for an indication that the Government do not intend to introduce any further legislation relating to the TAR regulations as they now stand, as was implied in the original statutory instrument, which I think has been superseded by the present one.
The Government have no intention to review or change the tariff regime. Obviously, once we have left the EU, future Governments may decide to review that, but the present Government have no intention to change anything in regard to gas tariffs.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Freedom of Establishment and Free Movement of Services (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: David Hanson
† Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con)
† Chalk, Alex (Cheltenham) (Con)
† Duguid, David (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)
† Forbes, Lisa (Peterborough) (Lab)
Graham, Luke (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Con)
† Hollinrake, Kevin (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
† Huq, Dr Rupa (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
Johnson, Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
† Kerr, Stephen (Stirling) (Con)
† Metcalfe, Stephen (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
† Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
† Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)
† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)
† Zahawi, Nadhim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended (Standing Order No. 118(2)):
Doughty, Stephen (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Rodda, Matt (Reading East) (Lab)
Third Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 October 2019
[David Hanson in the Chair]
Draft Freedom of Establishment and Free Movement of Services (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Freedom of Establishment and Free Movement of Services (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, and congratulate you on becoming a grandad for the first time? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
The regulations, which were laid before the House on 11 July, will disapply directly effective rights of establishment and the provision of services derived from article 49, on freedom of establishment, article 56, on free movement of services, and article 57, the definition of “services”, of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union—TFEU—if the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement. Certain directly effective rights, derived from article 18 of the TFEU, prohibit discrimination on grounds of nationality within the scope of application of the EU treaties. For completeness, the regulations therefore also disapply article 18 of the TFEU in so far as it relates to the disapplication of rights of establishment and provision of services.
The regulations also disapply equivalent or similar articles derived from the European Economic Area agreement between the EEA countries, the free movement of persons agreement with Switzerland, and the Ankara agreement and the additional protocol with Turkey. Henceforth those will be referred to as countries with associated agreements.
Directly effective rights of establishment and free movement of services ensure that nationals from EU member state territories can be self-employed, own and manage a company and provide services on a temporary basis in another member state under the same conditions as that state’s own nationals, and that they can receive services without facing certain restrictions in the EU single market. Rights derived from the TFEU are based on reciprocal relationships between EU member state territories; and rights derived from EU bilateral and multilateral agreements are based on reciprocal relationships between EU member state territories and certain non-EU territories.
The rights are retained in UK domestic law on exit day by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The Government have decided to disapply the rights as part of their preparations for Brexit on 31 October. The decision was taken for three primary reasons. First, the rights will no longer be reciprocated. The rights apply only to nationals of one EU member state or country with an associated agreement operating in the territory of any other EU member state or country with an associated agreement. As a result, once the UK ceases to be a member state of the EU, the rights will automatically no longer be reciprocated.
The second reason is sovereignty. Given that the rights will no longer be reciprocated, failing to disapply the rights in UK law would leave a lack of clarity as to whether EU nationals and nationals of countries with associated agreements had additional rights, compared with nationals of other countries, to challenge the laws and decisions of UK authorities after Brexit. In turn, that could restrict the Government’s future ability to regulate, particularly when UK nationals will no longer have the benefit of these rights in the EU.
The third reason is compliance with international law. Disapplying the rights will facilitate the UK’s compliance with international trade law and specifically the World Trade Organisation’s general agreement on trade in services—GATS—ensuring that the UK is not in violation of the most favoured nation principle.
I want to move on to impact. The Government were keen to ensure that the regulations received proper scrutiny before being brought before the House. I can confirm that the Government sought and received the consent of the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales to legislate on this matter, as the treaty rights being disapplied could, in a domestic context, impact on both reserved and devolved policy. This included agreement from the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee. The Government also notified the Northern Ireland civil service of our intention to legislate.
In addition, the Government engaged fully with the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Committee considered the regulations at its meeting on 4 September and chose not to report them to either House. The instrument was also considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 23 July, and it drew the instrument to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.
I appreciate that I have not been selected as a member of the Committee, but I understand that I have the right to speak and ask questions on behalf of my constituents. The Minister is obviously getting his defence of this highly controversial measure in early. Does he not accept that it has caused great alarm to many self-employed EU citizens who have been operating legitimate and important businesses in our communities up and down the country? I was contacted by a constituent today who was simply unaware of this and is deeply alarmed.
That is precisely why I am going into some detail on why the regulations will have no impact at all on the work or services provided by EU nationals or nationals of Turkey or Switzerland.
Let me make some more headway on the reasoning given by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. For example, the Committee noted that the instrument seeks to ensure that the UK is compliant with WTO law and that it will make it an offence to dishonestly use illicit satellite decoder cards from the EU. I will attempt to address both of those points momentarily. However, I want to reassure the House on a number of aspects of the regulations: the practical impact that we expect from the disapplication of these rights; the interaction between these rights and EU citizens’ rights, which I think was essentially the thrust of the concern of the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on behalf of his constituents; and the impact of the disapplication of these rights on the immigration regime.
First, with respect to the practical impact of the regulations, they do not impose any additional restrictions on EU nationals or EU-based businesses, or on the nationals and businesses of the countries with associated agreements, at the point at which we exit the EU. This is because existing UK legislation is expected to be compliant with these rights. The Government have prepared as thoroughly as possible to identify policy areas that are reliant on the establishment and free movement of services treaty rights, and therefore have a good understanding of where direct policy impacts can be expected as a result of disapplying these rights today. With the exception of an impact on the use of satellite decoder devices, no direct policy impacts were identified during that preparation. The regulations will impact on the use in the UK of satellite decoder devices intended for EU audiences in order to dishonestly receive a programme with the intent of avoiding a charge. This is as a result of aligning the law with that already applied for satellite decoder devices intended for non-EU audiences.
Secondly, on citizens’ rights, the rights disapplied by the regulations should not be confused with the citizens’ rights of EU citizens currently resident in the UK, which are being protected separately. The UK’s guarantee to EU citizens is that those who are resident in the UK by exit day will still be able to work, study and access benefits and services, whatever the scenario. This is separate to, unrelated to and unaffected by these regulations.
Thirdly, with regard to immigration, these regulations will not in themselves have any impact on the immigration regime applying to EEA, Turkish and Swiss nationals in the UK. The Government have announced that free movement as it stands under EU law will end on 31 October if we leave the EU without a deal. A new points-based immigration system will be introduced from January 2021. Until then, much of the free movement migration framework will remain until the UK Parliament passes legislation to repeal the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016.
The regulations that we are considering today carve out the rights in so far as they fall within the scope of the immigration regime applied to Swiss nationals and Turkish nationals. This is to ensure that changes to the immigration regime applied to Swiss nationals and Turkish nationals come into force via primary immigration legislation. These regulations are an important part of the Government’s preparation for Brexit. They facilitate the UK’s compliance with international trade law and they preserve the UK’s freedom to regulate, should this Government or a future Government choose to do so—after we have left the EU, of course.
I commend the regulations to the House.
It is an even greater pleasure than usual, Mr Hanson, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate you on becoming a grandad for the first time and I hope we will not detain you for too long from visiting your new grandchild, which I know you are keen to do—but I apologise that I will detain you for a little while.
Before we consider these regulations, we should consider the comments of the3million, the organisation representing the more than 3 million EU and EEA citizens resident in the United Kingdom. The organisation has described this measure as not being what was promised by the Government and says that it undermines promises made by the Government, which, of course, is something that the Democratic Unionist party has been only too familiar with in recent days.
What is it that we are considering today? We are considering the removal of the rights of EU, EEA, Swiss and Turkish nationals who are self-employed or business owners or operators in the United Kingdom. Who are these people and how will they be affected? They are thousands—potentially hundreds of thousands —of people who are working in professional services, entrepreneurs, people who operate start-up businesses, people who operate in IT and in professional and financial services, architects, or self-employed workers in the gig economy. There are serious potential consequences not just for them but for their staff, their customers and their suppliers—both for businesses and the self-employed—as well as for their families and the local economies in which they operate.
The Minister talked about the impact of the regulations; in fact, at one stage, he said that he was keen to move on to the impact. But there is no impact assessment, so how can we possibly know? This is a perennial discussion—it seems that we have been dealing with the issue long enough for it to be perennial and not just something of a repeated nature. Every time we have a set of these regulations, the impact assessment is lacking. Because this measure affects so many people, it is impossible for the Minister to say that it will not have a significant impact on the economy. He simply has no way of knowing that, because that investigation—that impact assessment—has not been carried out.
My hon. Friend is making strong points, with which I completely concur. He will note that the Minister used very careful words: he said “no further restrictions at the point of exit”. The fact that this matter is being considered in this way, rather than through the immigration Bill, will raise significant concerns about these rights changing in due course. We on the Select Committee on Home Affairs have looked at the subject many times. This issue did not come up, and we have discovered all sorts of problems with the existing EU settlement scheme, let alone with this provision, which many people were unaware of.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks, which I will address in some detail later.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a disturbing lack of assessment and evidence-based policy making on these important matters? The Government are ignoring the demands of many, including the official Opposition, for a full assessment of their new deal. Surely there should be some proper assessment of these important matters.
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend is right to mention the lack of impact assessment or analysis of the proposed deal, which we are being asked to consider without being able to judge the line-by-line detail of what is in it. Somebody will have to remind me how many pages the new document is.
Two hundred and eighty-odd.
I will accept the hon. Gentleman’s comment from a sedentary position; does anybody want to go higher? The reality is that we do not have the information we need in order to make judgments, whether on the new deal or the consequences of no deal, and on these regulations. In the explanatory memorandum, the Government use the phrase, “It is anticipated”. What they are saying is that they do not know what the impact will be, and I am afraid that is a real problem. These regulations were drawn to the attention of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
The hon. Gentleman may be familiar with the document we were given access to, which was held in the Treasury since November 2018. That contained an impact assessment of all kinds of different scenarios, and said that in all of them, the economy is expected to continue to grow. Does that give the hon. Gentleman some confidence that there is life beyond the European Union?
That is a slightly different point to the one we are discussing. We need to look at the detail. I am not sure whether that intervention was part of the hon. Gentleman’s pitch to be Chair of the Treasury Committee—others must judge—but I will touch on his point. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee speaks of the removal of treaty rights, and the fact that this is a policy change. That goes to the heart of the concern about what is being proposed, because when the withdrawal Act was passed, the Government promised that they would not use the Henry VIII powers in section 8 of that Act as a vehicle for policy change. They also said that it “almost goes without saying” that no change should be made to rights through delegated legislation, yet that is exactly what is being proposed.
The disapplication of the rights of EU, EEA, Swiss and Turkish nationals is clearly at odds with what was promised regarding section 8 of the withdrawal Act. That Act was not intended to address how, whether, and how quickly we should meet our obligations under the WTO, which is the reason the Government are giving for putting these regulations through. The purpose of section 8 of the withdrawal Act was to fix deficiencies in retained EU law—an explanation that, to be fair to Ministers, they have used to justify previous regulations in Committees in which I have responded on behalf of the Opposition. Why is that not the case on this occasion? Why is this not being addressed through primary legislation? Why is it not being done through an immigration Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth asked, and why is that Bill stuck in Committee?
If free movement of people is to end via primary legislation, as the Home Secretary said on 5 September, why is the same principle not being applied to the freedom of establishment and free movement of services, and what are the consequences for those individuals who are self-employed, or who own or manage businesses in this country? A large cohort of the people delivering services or running businesses depend for their lawful residence qualification on being regarded as economically active. They have the right to that definition and to qualify. Their rights are derived under the 2016 immigration regulations, which the Minister mentioned, but that is because they are in accordance with article 49 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. These regulations disapply article 49, and therefore the 2016 immigration regulations.
It makes no sense to decide immigration rights for those who are self-employed or are running a business separately from determining the immigration rights of other people, but that is what these regulations do, despite the assurances that were given when the withdrawal Act was passed. If there is nothing to worry about, where is the legal analysis? Where were the Minister’s comments about the legal opinion that the Government have obtained? Where is the analysis that these regulations will not adversely affect the immigration rights of EU or EEA nationals? Thousands of self-employed, business-owning or business-managing providers of services need the assurance that they will not be disadvantaged and that their right to stay will not be questioned or removed. Where is the legal protection? It is not referred to in the explanatory notes, and the Minister did not refer to it.
I note from previous regulations passed in these Committees that on other occasions it has suited the Government to apply a principle of reciprocity. For example, I was responding for the Opposition on the matter of intellectual property regulations when the Government chose to allow EU and EEA firms the right to continue to have full access to our intellectual property regulations, and there was no guarantee that our firms would have those rights in return. Reciprocity was not a barrier on that occasion, but it seems that it is here, when the Government want to remove the rights of self-employed or business-owning or managing EU or EEA nationals.
This is a particularly worrying point, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s analysis of the situation. The Government seem to have one rule for big business and a very different one for small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy. Surely they should be equally fair to both types of business.
That is right. As my hon. Friend points out, these regulations relate to the self-employed or those running small firms, who do not have legal protections. That relates to the point about where the legal assurance is. He is right that large firms are able to ensure protection, give assurance and make applications to enable individuals to live and work in this country.
On the question of whether the regulations are about delivering WTO most favoured nation compliance, the Government do not have to act so quickly: as with IP rights, they could wait and see whether the EU and EEA grant reciprocal arrangements. After all, Government Members who support no deal—I cannot remember whether anybody in the Committee is in that category—have often argued that, in the event of no deal, the EU would continue with the existing arrangements and reciprocate because it would be in its interest to do so. I wonder whether the Minister goes along with those Members, who almost certainly all belong to the European Research Group. Whether he does or not, why are not the Government waiting to see the response of the EU and the EEA on the matter of reciprocal rights?
I come back to the central point: that EU, EEA, Turkish and Swiss nationals were promised under section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that it would not be used for policy changes—especially those affecting rights. I remind the Minister that section 8 was designed to rectify deficiencies from minor changes—what we are concerned with is not minor, but is a policy change—and where there would be a failure of retained EU law to operate effectively. Compliance or otherwise with WTO provisions is not a matter of retained EU law and should not be addressed in that way. It was never intended that it would be done in that way.
Let us remind ourselves of the impact. More than 3 million EU nationals live in the UK and so do tens of thousands of Turkish and Swiss citizens. Among their number countless thousands will be affected by the regulations. That will affect their confidence about doing business, and it could affect the confidence of those who trade with them. That may mean contractors having to stop working in the UK, which will affect customers and suppliers. There could be legal proceedings against contractors for breach of contract, or sudden retendering because of the loss of non-UK contract holders’ rights. It did not seem to me from the Minister’s remarks as if the Government had considered those potential economic and business consequences.
There are questions about legal remedy and compensation through bilateral investment treaties. Before a number of east European countries came into the EU, we were party to bilateral investment treaties with them. Once we leave the EU those treaties will come back into force, and once those agreements are back in force they will enable companies in those countries to take legal action against the UK Government. Have the Government considered that potential challenge to the legislation? What steps are being taken to ensure that it is not a problem or threat for the UK?
I turn back to the question of the economic benefits of having in this country the relevant businesses and their owners, and self-employed workers. In the event of no deal and the regulations being enacted, what steps will the Government take to protect the investment that those companies bring and make sure they are not undermined by the regulations? At the moment, the response to the regulations of the3million and the businesses that my hon. Friends have referred to is concern about whether it is desirable for businesses and self-employed people from the EU or EEA to stay in this country. If that protection is not in place and that assurance is not guaranteed, those people will be hit, and there will be a knock-on effect on UK jobs and our economy—to return to the earlier comments of the candidate for the Chair of the Treasury Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised concerns and the3million says that the provisions are not what was promised, and undermine promises made by the Government:
“We were repeatedly promised that we would be treated no less favourably and nothing would change to our rights. These regulations do the opposite and remove our right to bring nationality discrimination claims. The proper place to consider the issues of immigration is in the immigration Bill. Not here.”
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hanson; I, too, pass on my congratulations. The SNP agrees with Labour: we oppose the regulations and the way in which they are being brought about, which is completely inappropriate. It is inappropriate to lump satellite decoder cards in with people. This is about people’s lives and people’s businesses.
The Government are making it more and more difficult for people to continue their lives in the UK. Those two things should not be lumped together in the same Committee, hidden away on a first-floor corridor. The measure should be part of the immigration Bill, which would allow us to debate it, move amendments and have some degree of control over the process. The Government are taking control away from the House in this hidden Committee, and that is despicable. EU nationals, Turkish nationals and other EEA nationals are finding out about the measure through the grapevine and the work of the3million and others, and they are, frankly, appalled that the Government would add insult to injury by doing it in this particularly heavy-handed way.
The best way to guarantee that rights are reciprocated is to take the first step, because the UK Government are making the change and going about Brexit. It would be an act of good faith to make sure that we did our best to protect rights, rather than remove them. No one is going to reciprocate if we start to remove rights in this country.
The regulations will further erode the rights of EU citizens by removing their right to be self-employed, to own and manage companies and to provide services in the UK on the same basis as UK nationals. It is odd that the Conservative party, which is supposed to be the party of small businesses and entrepreneurs, is taking action today to undermine them. It keeps claiming that it supports them, but it is not there for them at their time of greatest need, when they need their rights to be protected.
The regulations remove the rights of EU citizens to bring nationality discrimination claims in relation to those rights. It is sinister that people cannot even fight when there is discrimination against them, and it certainly does not bode well for the future Brexit—certainly not for the people I know. It also does not chime with the promises made by the right hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), for Witham (Priti Patel) and for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). They all promised that EU citizens would be automatically granted the right to remain and that they would be treated no less favourably than at present. The regulations do quite the opposite.
The hon. Member for Sefton Central mentioned a lot of the things in the3million’s briefing, which I will not reiterate, but the Public Law Project also provided a comprehensive briefing that mentions its four key concerns with the regulations. First, it is concerned that secondary rather than primary legislation is being used to make significant policy changes and to disapply important rights. Again, this Committee is not the proper place to do that.
Secondly, the Public Law Project is concerned that the changes may have an impact on immigration rights and should be included in the immigration Bill, which is stuck—logjammed. We do not know whether it will ever conclude, because this Parliament is so uncertain. The Government probably do not have the numbers for that either, so it is in their interest to stick it in Committee rather than make any progress. Thirdly, the Public Law Project is concerned that the regulations go beyond the powers conferred on Ministers by the Henry VIII powers in section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and, fourthly, that no impact assessment was done before laying them, despite the obvious impact on businesses and individuals.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in the Lords picked up on that issue, and noted that:
“removing the treaty rights will mean that the people and businesses affected will not be able to use the rights to challenge possible new policies or regulations in the UK which place restrictions on their access to the UK Internal Market after exit.”
All the things that the Government have done on the hostile environment until now have had a deliberately chilling effect—they do not want people to come here. That is the message being sent to EU nationals by the regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) had an email from constituents in that vein this evening, and he asked me to pass it on. They are a couple who have businesses, who say:
“Apart of the fact that this is highly discriminating, my husband and me will be personally affected by this as we are both running businesses in West Lothian as full time occupation. Both of us have already been granted Settled Status and I was of the impression that this would keep our rights intact. Apparently now, the government is seeking ways to frustrate those rights through the backdoor, which will ruin the livelihood of so many…We love Scotland. This is our home and would like to stay here, however, if we are stripped of our rights and our livelihood, it would be impossible for us to stay.”
That is how EU nationals feel about the issue, Mr Hanson. They feel as though their rights are being undermined in a sneaky, sleekit, underhand way up in this Committee Room this evening.
Stuart Gregory, managing director of Lentune Mortgage Consultancy, emailed every member of the Committee, I think, to express his concerns. He and his wife started a business together in 2008 after the financial downturn caused him to be made redundant from his job. He said:
“This issue even being put forward by Government is appalling, and to threaten the removal of rights to run a company in the UK is making me feel quite sick—it’s literally treating EU Nationals as 2nd class citizens—which I’m sure would excite many leave voters.
If this comes to pass, I’m disgusted by how my country has fallen into the gutter.”
That brings me to the heart of the issue, because it is appalling and inappropriate that the regulations are being brought forward in this way. It is a sad state of affairs that the rights of EU nationals are being debated in this way and that the rug is being pulled out from under people in this cruel and underhand way. It is no wonder that EU nationals, EEA nationals and Turkish nationals have a lack of faith in the Government and in due process, because they see this underhand thing happening time and time again: people are promised, “Nothing will change—everything will be fine. Don’t worry. Fill out this form. Do that.” That is not how it feels to them.
Perhaps the Minister thinks I am talking nonsense; perhaps, in his heart of hearts, he knows I am right. He should withdraw the regulations and do things properly. The Government should not be sneaky about it. Yes, we need to look at the issue of satellite decoder cards—perhaps that is quite important. But it is not as important as people’s lives and livelihoods and their feeling that they want to live in a country where they feel welcome. Many of the EU nationals who I speak to on the doorsteps of Glasgow Central voted no in 2014 because they wanted to retain their EU membership. That is very much what they were told in 2014. They voted to remain in 2017. They have seen how EU nationals have been treated over this five-year period and the rhetoric that comes from the Government. The EU nationals who I spoke to on the doorsteps of Glasgow Central over the weekend are going to vote yes when they get their chance, because they see how the UK is going, and they want none of it. I completely reject the regulations and will vote against them.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak briefly to the Committee. I should declare an interest, as I have a relative who is an EU national and who might be affected by the regulations.
The regulations sum up the Government’s lack of concern for the feelings and aspirations of EU nationals living in this country. There are simply thousands and thousands of people across the country affected by the issue. It is of huge concern to them. As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central has just pointed out, many of them have lived and been resident in the UK for a very long time. They have established businesses and are contributing significantly to the local economy.
My constituency has a large number of EU residents—so many that at one point, one of our local newspapers was published in Polish so that the Polish community could read it. We have residents from long-standing EU states through to people from new accession countries, as well as many from Switzerland and Turkey. Many of them have professional qualifications and business skills. They are involved in small businesses in every sector, from catering through to delivery businesses through to IT, which is a major local industry. Others are in other walks of life. The Government yet again show a complete lack of concern for those people’s legitimate desire to stay in the UK and continue their businesses here.
The regulations underestimate the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises and other types of businesses in the UK. The regulations also misunderstand the need for skilled, highly trained and committed entrepreneurs in Britain providing an important component of our economy. I could give many examples from my area of small and medium-sized IT employers dependent on international labour. There are also larger ones such as Microsoft, which has its second-biggest European office in Reading East. They expect and demand that countries around the world should be able to facilitate the ease of movement of skilled people, many of whom in IT, for example, are highly skilled subcontractors operating their own businesses and contributing to a wider IT economy.
I find it simply staggering that a party that once styled itself as the party of business can be so cavalier in its approach. Indeed, it is equally cavalier in its apparent lack of concern for people’s rights, and I urge the Minister, who I understand to be a decent man, to reconsider this ill-thought-through approach and to consider, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has said, the importance of primary legislation and a proper debate on the Floor of the House to explore these matters in much more detail and provide a much better and fairer law with which all our residents are more likely to feel comfortable.
May I start by sharing with the Committee my dismay and disappointment at the conflating of this SI with issues of immigration and the status of European citizens, as well as those from Turkey and Switzerland, who work hard and deliver services here?
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central might not have been in the room when I confirmed that the Government sought and received the consent of the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales because we wanted to make sure that we received consent before we moved forward, but I hope that she and the hon. Member for Reading East will refrain from scaremongering. They both spoke about the impact on EU citizens’ rights, and I want to reiterate to the Committee that EU citizens’ rights are being preserved separately from this instrument. The Government have already committed to protect the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens, which we have heard being conflated today with this statutory instrument. We will make sure that their rights are protected. The regulations do not affect the offer that the Government have made to EU citizens resident in the UK at the point of exit. They do not interact with the citizens’ rights agreements with Switzerland and the EEA European Free Trade Association states.
Will the Minister give way?
I have a lot to cover, but I will happily take the hon. Lady’s intervention later. The Government’s plan on citizens’ rights confirms that EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK by exit day would be able to apply to the EU settlement scheme until at least 31 December 2020 to secure their status in a no-deal scenario. The EU settlement scheme is live and performing well. More than 2 million applications have now been received, and the scheme will continue to run in a deal or no-deal scenario. EU citizens resident in the UK by exit day will continue to be able to access benefits and services on exactly the same basis after the UK exits the EU as they do now. I sincerely hope that colleagues will refrain from scaremongering. It is deeply irresponsible for hon. and right hon. Members to do so.
The hon. Member for Sefton Central asked important questions, which I will attempt to address. He asked about the impact assessment for the regulations. An impact assessment has not been prepared because the impact has been approved de minimis in line with the better regulation framework.
How will you know if you don’t do one?
Let me make some headway.
The only area in which the directly effective rights of establishment or free movement of services have been identified to have a direct impact on UK businesses is in the case of satellite decoders, where we expect the impact to be minimal. The directly effective rights of establishment and free movement of services impact the immigration regime applied to Swiss and Turkish nationals. Changes to the regimes will be delivered by primary immigration legislation, so let us not conflate those two things.
The hon. Gentleman also asked how we know that the EU will not reciprocate. Why are we doing this now? These rights are no longer reciprocated once we leave the EU. They are directly effective rights that are applicable only to member states. However, this does not preclude us from agreeing an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth said that the regulations are necessary to protect the Government’s freedom to regulate in a no-deal scenario and asked what regulations the Government are planning that would contravene or depart from those rights. We anticipate that the immediate practical impact of the regulations on the ability of EU, EEA, EFTA, Swiss or Turkish nationals to establish or carry on business or provide services in the UK will be limited, because UK law is currently expected to be compliant with these rights. Were there to be any legislative changes that depart from these rights—which I think is his point— after we have left the EU, they would be subject to the scrutiny of Parliament in the normal way and so would be considered at the appropriate time.
I want to return to the hon. Member for Sefton Central, who asked how the Government can be sure that there are no other direct impacts. The Government have prepared as thoroughly as possible. I hope he would agree that we have consulted as thoroughly as we can, and that the only exception is the satellite decoders.
Several hon. Members spoke about the submission from the Public Law Project. Allow me to address it. It is important that we get this on the record, because emotions are running high and the atmosphere is febrile in this place. I think I have addressed the issue of the impact assessment. The hon. Member for Sefton Central said that these go beyond the powers conferred on Ministers by the Henry VIII powers in section 8 of the withdrawal Act, a point that pretty much comes from the Public Law Project notes that were circulated today. I will share with the hon. Gentleman the correct position. The powers delegated to Ministers by Parliament via the EU withdrawal Act specifically allow changes to be made to existing Acts of Parliament by secondary legislation, through so-called Henry VIII powers. In its report on Henry VIII and delegated powers, the House of Lords Constitution Committee noted that
“the distinction between Henry VIII and other delegated powers is not in this exceptional context a reliable guide to the constitutional significance of such powers, and should not be taken by Parliament to be such.”
Section 8 powers to prevent, remedy or mitigate deficiencies in the EU law retained under the Act that arise from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU are used here to address deficiencies in retained EU law relating to certain provisions on freedom of establishment and free movement of services in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Section 8 is used to address any inoperability of such rights and to ensure that UK law continues to function effectively and with legal clarity.
I made the point that section 8 of the withdrawal Act is designed to address deficiencies in retained EU law—that is not in question. The problem is that it is not being used for that; it is being used for changes in policy and to affect people’s rights. That goes way beyond the scope, as does addressing WTO deficiencies. That is not what was ever envisaged or stated by the Government when they passed the withdrawal Act.
The deficiencies in retained directly effective rights concerning freedom of establishment and the free movement of services, including a lack of reciprocity, which there cannot be in this case, arise as a result of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. That is the whole point. The provisions in the regulations are being made as a direct consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU.
Finally, the hon. Member for Sefton Central mentioned the3million’s campaign on our doing this here through secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation. The regulations do not represent a significant policy change, as he suggests. They simply do not. If colleagues prefer to scaremonger, that is their prerogative, but I do not agree with them. I think it is a mistake to do that. It is a time to behave responsibly. The regulations do not impose any new restrictions on EU, EEA, EFTA, Swiss or Turkish nationals or on EU, EEA, EFTA, Swiss or Turkish-based businesses at the point at which we exit the EU, and we do not expect disapplying these rights to have a direct impact on the ability of EU, EEA, EFTA, Swiss or Turkish nationals to establish or provide services. The hon. Gentleman will know better than I do that successive Governments have implemented EU obligations via both secondary and primary legislation, so I hope he will reconsider his position.
I will end, Mr Hanson, because I want to get you over the road to the hospital to see your granddaughter. I thank Members for their valuable contributions to this debate. I compel them to think twice before they scaremonger. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central should talk to her colleagues in the Scottish Parliament on this.
On that point, I agree with the Minister. It is very distressing in Scotland to hear the kind of propaganda we have heard this evening. It has been widely disseminated. In fact, an MEP in Scotland has written to all the EU citizens living in my constituency with similar scaremongering, with an opening paragraph on the Government’s attitude towards EU citizens. Does he believe for one minute that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central will go back to the constituents to whom she spent the weekend scaremongering and put them right? I do not. This is typical of the tactics that the Scottish National party is using in Scotland at the minute.
It is incumbent on us all to be sensible and to reflect on today. Let us not add fuel to the flames of division. Let us come together. Hon. Members heard in my opening remarks that we have consulted thoroughly with our colleagues in Scotland and Wales, so I ask everyone to please act responsibly.
I gently say to the Minister that it is certainly not my intention, or that of many hon. Members, to scaremonger in any way. The fact is that we are representing our constituents who are scared and who have concerns. I was not aware of this issue until my constituents raised it with me. I have to say that I do not agree with his characterisation of the EU settlement scheme. The Home Affairs Committee, on which I sit, has repeatedly found serious concerns and problems with how it operates, and indeed with the entire immigration system. That is why people have those concerns and are scared. It is genuine; it is not us scaremongering.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that thoughtful intervention. I only ask that he shares the debate with his constituents, so that they can read, in black and white, what I have outlined as the true position of the legislation.
I again thank you, Mr Hanson, and Committee members. The regulations form an important part of our preparations to leave the EU, hopefully with the great deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated. They help to preserve our freedom to regulate after we have left the EU with respect to the establishment and carrying on of business in the UK, and the provision of services. They also facilitate our compliance with international trade law, which is important. We pride ourselves on being a country where people obey the rule of law—a subject that has been widely debated in this place and across the media. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
21 October 2019
The Committee divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That the Committee has considered the draft Freedom of Establishment and Free Movement of Services (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Sir George Howarth
† Blunt, Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
† Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Ellwood, Mr Tobias (Bournemouth East) (Con)
† Eustice, George (Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
† Hair, Kirstene (Angus) (Con)
† Jayawardena, Mr Ranil (North East Hampshire) (Con)
† Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
† McLoughlin, Sir Patrick (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)
† Morris, James (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP)
Smith, Owen (Pontypridd) (Lab)
† West, Catherine (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
Laura-Jane Tiley, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 October 2019
[Sir George Howarth in the Chair]
Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 1312),
laid under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
The technical amendments made by this instrument will ensure that retained EU law remains operable upon leaving. These provisions mainly fall into the category of changes that are needed because EU regulations have changed since the end of March, when previous statutory instruments were laid before Parliament. This new SI is therefore needed to reflect the changes that have taken place in EU policy. However, this SI makes no new policy changes to the effect of the retained EU law, and no change in the way that the fishing industry conducts its activities is expected as a result.
The amendments extend and apply to the United Kingdom. Fisheries management in the UK is largely devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These instruments have been developed and drafted in close co-operation with the devolved Administrations, who have given their consent. This ensures a common approach that respects the existing devolution settlement and maintains the existing system of fisheries management, providing certainty to the fishing sector and to business.
The regulations amend three pieces of retained EU legislation. First, they make updates to the technical conservation regulation, which outlines technical rules that fishing vessels must adhere to for conservation purposes. That regulation is essential for the management of fisheries in the UK, wherever those vessels may be, and of non-UK vessels in UK waters. The technical conservation regulations were previously made operable in retained EU law through an EU exit statutory instrument made in March 2019. However, in July, the EU introduced revisions to those regulations. The UK was engaged in the process of revising the technical conservation regulations, which make important changes—for instance, to support the implementation of the landing obligation. UK fishermen are already working to those new standards, which are important for the protection of our marine environment.
Secondly, this statutory instrument completes the transfer of the North sea multi-annual plan into retained EU law. This establishes long-term plans for the recovery and sustainable management of mixed fisheries in the North sea. The bulk of the legislation was previously made operable in UK law, but this statutory instrument completes the process by bringing across legislative powers necessary to introduce or amend the details of the plan in future. Those powers were previously conferred upon the European Commission, but will now be exercisable by UK Administrations.
Thirdly, the SI makes necessary changes to ensure that the western waters multi-annual plan is made operable in retained EU law. This establishes a long-term plan for the recovery and sustainable management of mixed fisheries in the western waters, of which the UK forms a part. Just as we did for the North sea multi-annual plan, which was published and implemented earlier, we are making this plan operable now that it has been published and implemented.
As a consequence of changes made to the EU regulations since previous instruments were passed, the instrument also amends previous marine and fisheries EU exit SIs: the Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Common Fisheries Policy and Aquaculture (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and the Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019. Such minor changes include the revocation of certain regulations relating to regional fisheries management organisations and a community fisheries control agency; as those regulations have been revoked at EU level, they will no longer form part of retained EU law. They also include a minor change to the amendments to the North sea discard plan, which has since been amended by the Commission. This ensures that our amendments to retained EU law are up to date with the legislation that, on exit day, will be transferred to the UK statute book via the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
There were also a number of errors in the previous instruments that are being corrected by this statutory instrument, such as a typographical error in a reference to “member state”, in the singular form, when it should have been “member states”, in plural. These minor typo- graphical errors would not have stopped the instruments functioning correctly, but given that we now have the luxury of time, as it were, as a result of the extension of exit day from the end of March, we thought it prudent to take this opportunity, since we were bringing forward an SI anyway, to make these minor corrections.
We have also corrected a handful of other small errors in previous amendments made to the annual EU total allowable catch and quota regulation. In particular, we have amended provisions relating to commercial and recreational bass fishing, to ensure that the approach intended by the regulation—namely that the provisions in question continue in force into 2020 until they are replaced with new regulations—is actually implemented, and to ensure that these provisions do not just fall at the end of the year.
Finally, this instrument makes minor changes to the Animals (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, to amend an EU regulation on the protection of animals during transport and related operations. In particular, it removes an unnecessary power to make regulations about animals not previously covered by the regulations’ annexes, because there was already a power to amend the annexes themselves. Therefore, the power is not necessary. Similarly, a second amendment to a technical rule for transporting horses has been removed, because it duplicated an amendment made by a different instrument.
As I said earlier, these are technical changes to reflect the fact that EU law has changed since the end of March. As I also said earlier, we have consulted with the devolved administrations and secured their consent to make these changes on a UK-wide basis. I therefore commend this statutory instrument to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George.
It is also a pleasure to see the Fisheries Minister back in his place, after his short sojourn away from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It is also good to see the new Whip, the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, and the new and singular Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Department, the hon. Member for Witney. It is a shame that the Government have chosen to reduce the number of PPSs for the Department, but perhaps the political nature of PPS-ing may reduce somewhat and we can get back on to DEFRA issues with the new Secretary of State.
It is still a dream team.
The right hon. Gentleman says it is a dream team. One might wonder what type of dream could possibly dream up these people here.
Can the shadow Minister confirm whether anybody from the original team is still in place?
The Minister is back from the political dead. It is genuinely good to see him back in his place, because a common critique of the DEFRA team under the previous Administration was that there were far too many soundbites and not enough detail, and I know that the Minister was one of the few in the Department at the time who was holding out for detail, and I know that he knows these issues very well, so it is good to have him back.
When scrutinising this piece of legislation, it is important to view it in its context, and the real problem with fisheries regulations that we have under this Government is that there is still no Fisheries Bill. The Fisheries Bill needs to set the framework for all these statutory instruments to sit underneath. This SI is very similar to the other fishing SIs that we dealt with in March, in that it deals with a patchwork quilt—a dog’s breakfast of different SIs being updated and amended, here, there and everywhere. Like nearly every single SI that we have dealt with in this Session of Parliament, it deals with the errors of previous SIs that were hurriedly rushed through the House.
I know that the Minister tried to explain the matter away by saying that these are simple typographical errors, but they are still errors, and the key thing is that we should be taking more time to get this done right. That is a real concern, because in the absence of a Fisheries Bill that could change the fishing landscape and improve the experience of fishing for our coastal communities, some of the measures included in this SI seem to sit like little policy islands that are not really integrated with the other parts.
The importance of fishing cannot be overstated. We need a comprehensive and joined-up regulatory approach, be that for our departure from the European Union or for the everyday operation of our fishing industry in what is a complex regulatory environment.
There were opportunities missed in these regulations for us to amend fisheries legislation but which could be included in a complementary Fisheries Bill, such as increasing quotas for small fishing boats and banning electronic pulse fishing, on which we still need to see the detail. We need a Fisheries Bill for day one of a no-deal scenario, which is still a possibility. Will the Minister come up with his new excuse under this new regime for why we do not have a Fisheries Bill along the way? I am familiar with his excuses from the previous regime and am keen to see whether they have changed under this latest Administration.
During the plentiful sittings of the Committee on the now-dead Fisheries Bill, I tabled numerous amendments to promote the sustainability of the fishing industry. Much of the regulations deal with the industry’s sustainability. There is commonality between the Minister and me in wanting to make fishing more sustainable, both environmentally and—importantly—economically. If over-fishing is allowed to continue, there will not be enough fish left to catch, so there will not be a fishing industry left to catch fish. We need to ensure that fishing is truly sustainable.
Since we met in a room similar to this one to discuss that Bill, Parliament has declared a climate emergency. For me, the regulations provided an opportunity to reflect better the priorities of Parliament in making that declaration. Of course, the climate emergency is about not just carbon, although that is a large part of it, but about water, habitat loss, sustainability of fish stocks, protection of the fragile marine habitat and, to the purpose of the regulations, the careful management of fishing grounds, ensuring there are enough fish for today and tomorrow.
In paragraph 2.2 of the explanatory memorandum, we see the hurried consideration of previous statutory instruments on the common fisheries policy coming back to haunt us again. I am concerned about paragraphs 2.2 (a) and (b). We are starting to create a situation in which we cannot see a coherent legislation set on the common fisheries policy.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the updates required since 29 March. We will need to update our fisheries policy regularly, especially because fish do not protect borders. We must ensure that our policy sits closely in co-operation with that of our European neighbours. However, I am disappointed that in paragraph 9 of the explanatory memorandum, the Government state that, on CFP changes,
“There are no plans to consolidate the legislation.”
I gently say to the Minister that there needs to be an opportunity to consolidate many of these changes, because as we have seen from the patchwork quilt of edits in fisheries legislation, it is difficult for those working in fishing to follow the changes and difficult for stakeholders working in the sector to understand the consequences—intentional or otherwise—of changes.
Far too few people in this place follow the ins and outs of fishing policy. I am one of the nerdy few. I like to do so and, while the Minister might not describe himself in that manner, he is also one of those people. We need to spend more time ensuring that no further mistakes are being added to our statute book. The best way to do that is to join up the current regulations in a consolidated fashion so that the industry and stakeholders can see exactly what is changing and we do not risk putting more gremlins into our laws or further polluting our statute book.
The regulations matter, dealing with the size of fishing nets and the size of the fish that those nets catch. With many species of fish in British territorial waters at unsustainable levels, those rules matter. So, too, does the huge increase in ghost gear—the lost plastic fishing gear that pollutes the oceans around Britain’s coastal waters. I am excited about a new campaign we have started in Plymouth to pinpoint the ghost gear lost by fishing boats, using proper navigation tracking. There is an opportunity to do much more about that through regulations on fishing nets and fishing gear. Will the Minister reflect on that, given their mention in these regulations?
There is a lot more that we need to do in relation not just to fishing nets, as mentioned in the regulations, but to the other types of fishing gear that are lost at sea, including car tyres, which until relatively recently were an important part of fishing gear—they helped to weigh down fishing nets. In Plymouth Sound, the country’s first national marine park, we identified nearly 1,000 car tyres, all of which emit microplastics directly into that fragile marine habitat. The Minister has a huge opportunity to make more comprehensive and ambitious remarks on fishing gear, lost or otherwise, to ensure we deal with ghost gear and lost gear and, importantly, are able to return some of it to fishers so it does not simply count as a cost to their businesses. There is an opportunity to do that with these regulations.
Let me turn to some of the concerns from stakeholders. The Minister will know from previous remarks that there has been a certain level of stakeholder fatigue in relation to the tsunami of statutory instruments. The new Whip has managed to avoid many of them, but I understand that 12 more DEFRA statutory instruments are required before exit day. Indeed, we need to ask, if they are required before exit day—currently 31 October, before the extension that the Prime Minister has requested is granted—how could they have been passed before 31 March? That raises concerns about the pace with which these statutory instruments are being introduced and about what more DEFRA is discovering as it looks through the regulations that need to be updated before the SIs become law.
Greener UK has raised concerns about the removal of provisions on the effectiveness of mitigation measures and monitoring amendments in the statutory instrument. I will read out a few, and perhaps the Minister can respond to them. He will be aware that article 5(21)(c) removes article 21(c) of regulation 2019/1241 from the Parliament and Council, on the conservation of fisheries resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures. Article 21 sets out joint recommendations on conservation measures and the provision of information on the effectiveness of existing mitigation measures and monitoring arrangements. I would be grateful if the Minister can confirm whether he intended to remove that provision. If so, what should replace it? I understand that Greener UK and some of its members have raised that issue with DEFRA, which argued that it has retained most of article 21 to highlight what may be included in regulations made under article 15, but arguably these provisions do not alter the powers available under article 15. I would be grateful if the Minister can set out whether he concurs with Greener UK’s concerns. They all sound quite technical, but the problem with fisheries regulation is that many of the concerns are actually technical, so the detail really does matter. Greener UK’s concern is that the removal could lead to cumulative measures being introduced, with little regard for their impact. I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with that point.
It is unclear from the statutory instrument and the explanatory memorandum that accompanies it what the Government’s approach to the North sea and western waters multi-annual plans is. It seems that we will co-operate with some of them but not necessarily all of them. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out the Government’s continuing commitment to co-operate with our near-neighbours, be that in a pre-Brexit, post-Brexit or no-Brexit world, so that fishing is properly co-ordinated and measures are put in place to ensure the sustainability of our stocks. It is curious that the regionalisation of the western waters plan was omitted from this statutory instrument. I would be grateful if the Minister would explain the reasons for that.
Article 62(4) of the United Nations convention of the law of the sea, which the UK has signed in its own capacity, dictates that we will have to agree on the management of resources. Therefore, we have to co-operate with the EU in that respect, and the regionalisation should be included. I would be grateful if the Minister can set that out in his remarks.
The Minister spoke about how devolved fisheries administrations work together. That is really important, because fishing is rightly devolved to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, which enables Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to have greater regard to the fish species that they catch.
I would be grateful if the Minister set out how any changes in the regional nature of fisheries management will be policed and, importantly, how any conflict between the views of those devolved fisheries administrations can be resolved. He will remember that in proceedings on the Fisheries Bill, the Labour party tabled a proposal for a dispute mechanism to ensure that if there was a disagreement—say, between the Scottish Government and the UK Government acting on behalf of England—about the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement, there would be a methodology to resolve those concerns, ensuring that the statement could still be put together, and that we would not enter a logjam. I am not presuming that the Governments of Holyrood and Westminster will disagree about fishing, but it is prudent to look at all possible future avenues. I would be grateful if the Minister set out the SI’s relevant powers in that respect.
Regular watchers of these Committees—I know that many watch Delegated Legislation Committees on Parliamentlive.tv—will know that the Opposition are concerned that statutory instruments are being rushed through with mistakes and gremlins in them that we have already spoken about. In a similar Committee on 25 March, I set out the Opposition’s concerns about the several glitches and gremlins in that instrument that had not been caught because of a lack of scrutiny, and noted that there could be severe consequences for implementation.
I am grateful for the fact that the Minister and his officials have caught a few errors; what concerns me, however, is the number of errors not caught during the implementation of regulations, especially at a time when there are so many fisheries sector SIs coming through. It is really hard for people to keep track of the tsunami of SIs.
The Minister managed to get out of coming to the main Chamber last week. I am very grateful to the Conservative Whips for tabling two statutory instruments for debate in the main Chamber, which enabled both of the Minister’s new colleagues to step up to the Dispatch Box and not quite apologise for the errors of their predecessors in pushing through SIs containing errors. None the less, there was an introduction about making sure that we get this right. Paragraph 2.11 of the explanatory memorandum states that “minor errors” need to be corrected. The Minister mentioned the typographical mistake, but I would be grateful if he spelled out what other errors this SI corrects, just so I am sure.
Hon. Members who have had the privilege of sitting through a Delegated Legislation Committee with me will know of my concerns about impact assessments and the language used in them. This 30-page statutory instrument makes a number of changes, including in relation to new European Union regulations made since the last fisheries SI was passed. I am concerned about the wording of the explanatory memorandum, which states in paragraph 12.1 that
“There is no, or no significant, impact”.
It goes on to state:
“An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument because no significant changes…are envisaged.”
It is really hard to distinguish between “no impact” and “no significant impact”. As we have seen from previous mistakes, and from the new regulations that the Minister cited, we do not know what impact measures will have if there is no impact assessment. In the past when I have asked about updating the language, the Minister has referred me to the Procedure Committee. I would be grateful if he used his good offices to look at whether explanatory memorandums could be clearer, because “no impact” and “no significant impact” are two very different things.
Finally, I will raise a few questions about Northern Ireland and the territorial application of the statutory instrument, which covers the entirety of the UK. I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether he anticipates that the Prime Minister’s deal, which was secured since the publication of the statutory instrument, means any changes for the implementation or future corrections of the instrument. The SI was published before the deal came about, and there are particular concerns about the proposed border down the Irish sea.
The deal gives rise to a number of concerns about Northern Irish fishing. As that is slightly off topic, Mr Howarth, I will not go into that now, but the territorial application of the common fisheries policy raises some concerns that are within the scope of this statutory instrument. Some of those concerns relate to the export of fisheries products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and vice versa, and the landing of fisheries products in Northern Ireland. For instance, if a British fishing boat lands in Northern Ireland and there is a separate tax regime there, would the refund on red diesel continue to apply? Would catch certificates need to apply? Would landing into a third country also create a requirement for prior notification and additional paperwork? Some of those things relate to elements of the statutory instrument. Some people are concerned that the detail of regulation on fishing, particularly between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is being overlooked. Will the Minister say whether any changes would need to be made following a deal? Have any of them been discussed?
The Minister made a number of comments that I want to touch on. I liked his phrase about the “luxury of time” that the extension gave us. The Minister and I are regular attendees of the BBC’s “Sunday Politics South West”; I am sure that viewers in the south-west will be pleased to hear what he said. He might wish to share that with the Prime Minister.
The discard ban and the landing obligations, which are covered by the statutory instrument, are causing significant concern to fishers across the country, particularly those who fish in mixed fisheries. The majority of the south-west counts as a mixed fishery. The Minister will know that since their implementation earlier this year, there has been significant concern about whether the discard ban and the landing obligations are being honoured, the perverse consequences, and whether the amount of fish caught, landed and discarded is correctly recorded. The parliamentary questions I have tabled on that have not quite produced clear answers from the Minister and his predecessors, so I would be grateful if he set out whether the discard ban and the landing obligations are due to be updated, as there is genuine, sincere concern about how they operate, especially on the part of fishers who do not possess a huge amount of additional quota for those fish stocks they are catching as bycatch and in mixed fisheries.
Bass fishing has been raised a number of times by stakeholders. I imagine Members from all parts of the House will have heard from recreational anglers about the new requirements that mean bass fishing is included in the quota arrangements. The Minister said that the SI means that current regulations will not fall at the end of the year. Will he say slightly more on that? Recreational anglers in particular have concerns.
Sir George, you will be pleased to hear that I am not an expert on transporting horses, so I will not comment too much on that element of the statutory instrument. However, it causes me concern that a statutory instrument mainly on sea fisheries should have provisions relating to the transport of horses. It should cause us concern us that these separate issues, as important as they are, are being mangled together in a dog’s breakfast—a patchwork quilt—of an SI that is not getting the scrutiny it needs, either in the parliamentary process or from stakeholders, who have to deal with a tsunami of SIs.
I am genuinely happy to see the Minister back in his place. He knows that I take the detail of statutory instruments seriously, because I represent a constituency with 1,000 jobs in fishing. If we are to do Brexit—that seems to be the Minister’s current position—it is important that we get the detail right. When it comes to fisheries, and the transporting of horses, it is not the soundbites but the details that really matter.
Here we are again, stuck in an endless groundhog day that stretches out before us with no end in sight. Alternatively, as this place revels in classical references, perhaps we are like Prometheus, tied to his rock and condemned to endless agonies—unless, of course, someone somewhere—the public, perhaps—takes the sensible decision that the whole bùrach is too much of a mess, and that it is time to finally put it out of its misery.
“Fishing after Brexit” sounds like the title of a novel about regret. Here we are, though, making sure that the common fisheries policy continues to rule over our fisheries after we have left the EU, and that access to markets for our fishing industries is restricted. We will still be stuck with the EU quotas, and ships and crews from other EU nations will have access to our waters. So much for the promises and predictions of the Leave campaign, and so much for the bravado and balderdash of the Government.
A previous Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, now lost to the anonymous corridors of some duchy, admitted repeatedly that leaving the EU would not include leaving the CFP, but that we would have better negotiating positions. It did not ring true then, and it certainly does not ring true now. The fishing fleets have been sold out once again by a Tory Government. It is economic catastrophe and utter betrayal, all wrapped up in one ideological miscalculation. Thirteen Scottish Tory MPs promised to vote down the withdrawal Bill if the negotiations continued. I look forward to their finally joining the rest of Scotland’s MPs in opposing Brexit.
I thank the shadow Minister for his kind words on my reappearance in the Department. He followed them with a blizzard of questions, which I shall try my best to address. I also want to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), our only PPS in the Department, is more than capable of doing the work of many, such is his ability. Indeed, he spends most of his time in Committees such as this.
The shadow Minister is aware, as all hon. Members are, that the central principle behind the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is one of continuity. It explicitly is not about changing, making or consolidating policy. It is about simply making the changes necessary to make retained EU law operable. The idea is that on day one after we leave the EU, we should have a statute book that is as close as possible to that of the day before. Only after we have left can we, through primary legislation, debate properly in this House what future policy should be, and what changes we want to make. In the 2018 Act, the emphasis is on continuity. That is why there is no consolidation planned. EU law is what it is—a hotch-potch of all sorts of regulations—and there is a lot of complexity in making those operable. However, I know that the National Archives will be publishing all the SIs that have been tabled. It is working on various products to ensure that those are accessible and available to people. The most important thing that we can do for people in the fishing industry, and any other industry, is give the reassurance that there will be a functioning statute book on day one after we leave that is as close as possible to what came before. Policy change and divergence thereafter is a matter for primary legislation.
With my colleagues’ permission, I ask a question as Opposition Whip for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Could the Minister enlighten us about said primary legislation? Can he give us a hint, or a raised eyebrow, or perhaps suggest when we might see the Fisheries Bill again? He and the shadow Minister put a lot of work into it, as did officials, and as he says, the fishing industry needs some certainty to work towards.
I was just about to come on to the issue of the Fisheries Bill. A little under a year ago, we were debating it and taking it through Committee, perhaps in this very room. I had hoped that we would stick to the plan to leave the European Union at the end of March; that the House would get behind the withdrawal agreement that the previous Prime Minster had put together; and that we would then be able to get the Fisheries Bill through Parliament. We would have had an implementation period, and then the provisions of the Bill would have taken over. In the event, there was not a majority in the House for that. We all know what happened: this House has been in a muddle for a period of six months, unable to agree anything. It has been incapable of saying what it does not want and unable to say what it does want. That has made it very difficult to introduce any other Fisheries Bill.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I shall finish my point. The Fisheries Bill was unable to progress because Parliament failed and refused to progress leaving the European Union, and in fact voted to delay leaving. We now have a new Session, and the Fisheries Bill is in the Queen’s Speech, so there will be a Fisheries Bill in this Session of Parliament. That answers that question.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport raised a question that had been highlighted by Greener UK, namely why article 21(c) had not been brought across. The reason for that is that article 21(c) includes the concept of member states making joint recommendations for the European Union to consider. Once we are outside the EU, we will not be making joint recommendations to it; we will be controlling and deciding these things for ourselves, so the very concept of a joint recommendation does not make sense. In so far as there were other elements of article 21 that did make sense and did function in a national context, those were brought across.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the point about regional co-operation. To be clear, this statutory instrument brings across the conclusions of the North sea multi-annual plan and the western waters multi-annual plan, but it does not bring across the architecture for that co-operation, because once we cease to be a member state, under EU law, we cannot be a member of those particular groups. At the moment, Norway is not a member of those groups; it sometimes attends as an observer, but it gives its input to the groups on the North sea through different mechanisms.
How we will co-operate with our European neighbours will be an issue for a future partnership. If we can get across the current withdrawal agreement, which the Prime Minister has brought back, and get the deal agreed, the plan is to have a new partnership agreement with the European Union by next July. That can cover all manner of things, including how we would co-operate on a regional basis. The issue of the architecture for regional co-operation is a matter for our future partnership agreement with the EU. However, coming back to my point, the purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is to ensure that on day one after leaving, we have an operable law book, and that retained EU law is operable. The changes to regulations that the EU has introduced since March are now EU law, and we should therefore make them operable. That is the primary purpose of this SI.
The hon. Gentleman asked about impact assessments, and complained about the use of the phrase,
“no, or no significant, impact”.
I am told that the term has particular relevance to the procedures of the House, and is terminology that it relies on.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about what other types of errors there were. They are all similar. In one case the word “fishing” was used, where it should have been “fisheries”. In another case, the text said “ICCA” when it meant ICCAT—the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. In one case, the Roman numeral “ii” should have been “a(ii)”. In one instance, “must” was used, but it was felt that “shall” was better. I do not want to bore hon. Members any further by going into that, but the hon. Gentleman asked a question that suggested that what we meant by “errors” was suspicious, and I just wanted to clarify the point.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked what would happen if Parliament got behind the Prime Minister’s deal. He will be aware that all the statutory instruments that we are talking about and taking through should be seen in the context of no-deal preparations—preparations for what would happen if we came out without an agreement. A withdrawal agreement Bill will be published later today and will have its Second Reading tomorrow. A deal will include various saving provisions to ensure that we can have an implementation period. The regulations are predominantly about no-deal preparations. In the event of a deal being done, the provisions of the implementation period come into effect.
The hon. Gentleman asked about pulse trawling. He will recall that this was a matter we discussed in the Fisheries Bill. In a previous SI, we chose to ensure that the scientific exemption could not continue for EU vessels, and that will remain the case if we come out of the EU in a no-deal scenario. The European Union has since made other changes to phase that out by 2021, and has already significantly reduced the number of vessels that are licensed.
Finally, we discuss bass provisions every year. They form part of the total allowable catch and quota regulations, which would always stay in place until the new TAC and quota regulations take effect, typically at the end of January. The way the original SI had been drafted meant that they would have ended at the end of December, which meant that there would have been an air gap. The draft regulations simply ensure that the provisions will remain extant until replacement provisions are put in place.
I am grateful to the Minister for his clarifications. In relation to the intricacies of fishing in Northern Ireland and the new border down the Irish sea, would the Minister be prepared to write with further detail, in particular about the paperwork required for a GB boat landing in Northern Ireland, and vice versa, and around the concerns that the industry has regarding red diesel?
Rather than write, let me touch on that now. The concerns on red diesel are a separate agenda being pursued at the World Trade Organisation about removing subsidies. We believe that, although we want to remove subsidies from fishing, red diesel is not the type of subsidy that we are referring to, so we very much support the continued use of red diesel for our fishing fleet.
The withdrawal agreement—the Prime Minister’s deal—does not have any implications for the fishing industry per se, because it is more about customs than fishing opportunities and fish being landed. It is already the case that a catch certificate is required when crossing borders, whether a boat is coming from the Irish Republic to the UK or vice versa. Beyond that, there will not be additional changes for the fishing industry.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019, No. 1312).
Railways (Safety, Access, Management and Interoperability) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mike Gapes
† Blackman, Bob (Harrow East) (Con)
† Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)
† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
† Costa, Alberto (South Leicestershire) (Con)
Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Duncan, Sir Alan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
Girvan, Paul (South Antrim) (DUP)
† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)
† Heaton-Harris, Chris (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
† Jarvis, Dan (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
† Lamont, John (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con)
McMorrin, Anna (Cardiff North) (Lab)
† Maskell, Rachael (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)
Dominic Stockbridge, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 October 2019
[Mike Gapes in the Chair]
Railways (Safety, Access, Management and Interoperability (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Railways (Safety, Access, Management and Interoperability) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 1310).
That is a mouthful that I will refer to as “this statutory instrument” from now on. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I will start by explaining to the Committee why we used the affirmative procedure provided for in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
This statutory instrument will be needed if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, as it is important to ensure clarity and certainty for the rail industry and passengers. The statutory instrument fixes deficiencies in a number of pieces of rail-related legislation, including important changes to the rail safety legislative framework and corrections to minor issues in previous Brexit-related instruments that were raised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. In previous debates on rail Brexit legislation in the House of Lords, the Government made the commitment that the rail safety amendments and issues identified by the JCSI would be fixed in time for Brexit.
The Government have given very careful consideration to the appropriate procedure for this statutory instrument. Providing certainty and clarity to industry and passengers is our absolute priority, and we concluded that to provide the right level of certainty and to fulfil commitments made in Parliament and to industry, the statutory instrument needed to be in place for Brexit day. The use of the affirmative procedure was thus appropriate to provide such certainty and clarity.
This statutory instrument’s most significant provision is to introduce in Great Britain a two-year recognition period for part A safety certificates issued in the European Union before exit day, by amending the Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. The statutory instrument also makes corrections to EU implementing legislation that came into effect on 12 April 2019, as well as some minor corrections to earlier implementing legislation.
The part A safety certificates are valid for up to five years and are essential pieces of documentation that are issued in the UK by the Office of Rail and Road. They confirm that train operators have the necessary safety procedures in place and are competent to run a railway. The statutory instrument will introduce a two-year recognition period for the existing part A safety certificates issued in the European Union. That gives certainty that an EU-issued part A safety certificate will continue to be recognised for the purpose of operating trains on the mainline railway in Great Britain for two years after Brexit or until it expires, whichever is sooner. A train operator will then need to apply to the ORR for a new part A safety certificate and the accompanying part B safety certificate.
A two-year period provides an appropriate amount of time for the industry to prepare and align itself with the Great British domestic certification regime, and it is consistent with recognition periods introduced in other rail-related Brexit legislation. It also gives Great Britain appropriate control, which we will use to maintain our excellent safety record. Safety is always the No. 1 priority on the railway.
Only one operator has been identified as providing services in Great Britain using a part A certificate issued in another EU member state. Officials, both from my Department and from the Office of Rail and Road, have actively engaged with the operator concerned to ensure that it is prepared for Brexit.
What was that operator’s view on the fact that if there is a no-deal crash-out, its certificate would expire after two years rather than the time it has now, which could be longer?
I do not think that the operator has a view about the two-year period, because it hopes, by working with my officials and others, to fix that problem before Brexit day.
Does that mean that that operator will apply to the ORR for an updated certificate?
Yes, that is what it is working towards.
On the amendments correcting issues in previous Brexit-related instruments, the JCSI identified minor drafting issues in two rail Brexit instruments. The Government thank the JCSI for identifying those minor drafting points. My Department has also identified minor drafting errors in two other Brexit instruments, which the instrument that we are discussing will also correct. I reassure colleagues that those drafting issues are all extremely minor and did not affect the viability of any of the Brexit instruments. However, it is important, in the interest of certainty, to ensure that we resolve those problems as soon as possible.
The instrument will also make fixes to EU implementing regulations. It makes fixes to Commission implementing regulations to maintain the ORR’s ability to charge a fee to establish the impact of an open access application. It will also make the usual technical Brexit-related fixes to various implementing regulations, including regulations on the new rail passenger services, on access to service facilities, and on establishing common safety methods for supervision by national safety authorities. I hope that everybody has enjoyed reading these papers, and I commend this statutory instrument to the Committee.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I will not repeat the title of the legislation, which has been well documented. With just 10 days to go until the Government intend to leave the European Union, and in the light of the Minister’s admission that there have been drafting issues with legislation, it is clear that rushing through legislation at the eleventh hour is not the best way of conducting business. Are we expecting any further draft regulations? I believe that at least one piece of legislation is still outstanding. When does the Minister expect it to be introduced? We are getting close to the wire.
Ensuring the safe running of our rail system is vital for passengers, staff and the economy. The UK boasts the safest railway network in the world, despite the tragic loss of life that we have witnessed in the last year. It is vital that we continue to scrutinise all legislation to ensure that standards are raised and the public are kept safe. Moving the function of oversight and the issuing of part A safety certification should the UK leave the EU is non-contentious in itself. We need, however, to ensure that the Office of Rail and Road is properly resourced to carry out its extended functions.
I have noted a succession of secondary legislation arguing for increased roles for UK agencies; however, I am concerned that increasing the pressures on those agencies without sufficient additional resourcing will place additional pressure on what are already overstretched bodies. My first ask is that the UK Government commit to keeping parity with EU standards—non-regression—in advancing safety. Had I been able to amend the draft regulations, I would have inserted such a measure. It is essential that whichever jurisdiction—the EU or the UK—has the most advanced approach to safety, the regulation of standards and the oversight of those who are to abide by such standards, the highest application is adhered to.
I note that the rail safety directive is yet to be transposed into UK law. With time short before June 2020, when does the Minister expect that work to be done? I ask that it be expedited, so that proper scrutiny can take place and we can ensure that all safety standards are upheld. Perhaps the Minister could also set out how the regulations will apply to the cross-border service across the channel over the next two years. Will he also confirm where the information that is currently shared with the European Union Agency for Railways and the European Commission will be reported to, and where supervision by national safety authorities—currently within the EU—will come from? Clearly, the role of the Office of Rail and Road will be extended. How will that be accommodated, how much will it cost, and what level of additional staffing is anticipated? The Minister must have those figures, as the regulations will come into force within the next 10 days.
Labour is not in favour of opening up the market for operations or infrastructure, and we will bring rail back into public ownership when we are in office. Can the Minister say whether there will be any changes to the market on the introduction of the regulations when it comes to the economic equilibrium test, including the impact on open access? The legislation enables the Office of Rail and Road to charge a fee for its services. Can the Minister set out the fee schedule today? Such a schedule was absent from the legislation and could be applied within a matter of 10 days. Would an operator that currently holds a certificate that does not run out for a further five years be expected to pay for further certification from the Office of Rail and Road, or would there be continuity so that no more payment would be expected for this first wave of certification? Paragraph 2.11 of the explanatory note states that the UK will diverge
“where it is clearly in the UK’s interests.”
Will the Minister set out where he believes divergence will occur?
I also note the two-year grace period before the ORR alone will issue certification. If certification is not concluded within the two-year period, or if there is a failure to issue the right certification, it could lead to a serious fine or imprisonment. How will the Minister ensure that the current part A certification will be issued in time? I look forward to his response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I will be brief. Given that these are technical regulations that relate to safety, I will certainly not be opposing them. I note that there were only eight responses from the 300 industry bodies that the Government consulted, so I take it that the industry is generally happy with the proposals.
It seems interesting that the Government believe that, in principle, they need a two-year transition period for these technical regulations; but we are supposed to believe that if the Government get the EU withdrawal Bill through, they will magically sort Brexit and all the other stuff in a year’s time. These technical regulations need two years to bed in, so there seems to be a complete contrast in how things are going to go forward.
On Saturday, a Labour Back Bencher claimed that Labour had secured concessions on continuing the protection of workers’ rights if there is an EU withdrawal agreement. Can the Minister confirm how workers’ rights and protections will be guaranteed? Will he also confirm, as the hon. Member for York Central asked him to, how safety regulations will be maintained in order to achieve parity with the EU? Those things represent the direct opposite of a Government who want to cut red tape and are adamant that they can do things differently following Brexit. The two things are polar opposites, so can the Minister explain how those guarantees will be put in place?
Finally, I note that the papers confirm that this is a transferred matter in Northern Ireland. The Scottish National party has called for a long time for Network Rail in Scotland to be devolved to the Scottish Government. While this stuff is going on, the Williams rail review is happening. Can the Minister confirm that Brexit will not get in the way of the Williams rail review and any recommendations that come from it? Can he also confirm whether the devolution of Network Rail will be followed through, as the Scottish Government have recommended?
I will answer as many of the points as I can, although some of them were political. I will steer clear of being political, because it is very easy to spark a debate on Brexit, which could last the full 90 minutes. Although I am up for doing that, I am not convinced that other Members of the Committee would be too pleased—
Or whether it is order.
Most definitely, Mr Gapes, but that is your call, not mine.
A number of points have been raised. Let me start by saying that businesses welcomed the two-year recognition period for certificates. Such certificates would expire after two years. This statutory instrument gives continuity: only one business is affected by that regulation, and it is trying to sort out its certification way before that period ends. I think we are in a good place on that.
Is there any more secondary legislation required in this area for leaving the European Union? We prioritise; we have spent ages prioritising our legislation so that we have the right package of legislation ready for 31 October. This SI has gone through the JCSI and been thoroughly checked, so I am convinced that it is absolutely spot on. I thank the Committee for its work in finding the issues that we had with previous SIs. That proves that it is working on this all the time, not just when we consult it. I also thank my Department for spotting the couple of errors that existed in previously passed SIs that we needed to correct, and that were not spotted by others.
Will these regulations lead to any loss of access to EU information? No; information related to railway safety is stored publicly online on the European Union Agency for Railways database of interoperability and safety. That will be accessible in the event that the UK leaves the European Union with or without a deal, so there are no concerns there.
The hon. Member for York Central quite rightly says that we make, and she makes, safety on our railways—for workers and passengers alike—a priority. We want the highest application of safety standards, and I give her the commitment that she asked for in that area. She also mentioned where we might possibly want to diverge in the future; as she outlined in her comments, if we wanted to go further in the realm of safety, we absolutely would. I think there would be agreement on both sides of the House on that.
Can the Minister therefore confirm that should the European Union advance its safety standards, the UK would at least keep parity with those standards—or, as he has just related, go beyond those standards?
Yes, I think I can; in fact, we will not be diverging to reduce safety standards from where they are now. We might choose to diverge to increase our safety standards, but I give the hon. Lady the commitment that she asks for about not reducing safety standards through diverging—absolutely, 100%.
May I split hairs with the Minister on this issue? He has clearly stated that we will not regress from where we are now, but if the European Union were to advance its safety standards, would we keep parity with it at that juncture?
I would like to think so, but I honestly cannot answer, because I have no idea what the European Union might do in the future. I would like to think that we would be in advance of European Union standards. Certainly, there is no rush to diverge in any way from current European Union safety standards, and the only push that I can see from this Parliament and domestically is for better standards. I would assume, therefore, that if the European Union tried to improve its safety regulations and regime, we would be ahead of that curve already and the EU would be following us.
There were a number of questions relating to the Williams review of the Office of Rail and Road, its resources and whether it needs additional resources. There will be no additional cost to the ORR or train operators from Great Britain’s safety regime after Brexit, so, realistically, the ORR should have sufficient resources already. The Williams review opens up opportunities for how these things could be both resourced and policed in the future. We will doubtless have quite some debate across the Floor of the House on that, but that is for another time.
On devolution, I am as ambitious as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun is to have devolution writ thick through the Williams review. That, again, is not a debate for these particular regulations, but it is one that I look forward to having with him in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Agriculture (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Phil Wilson
† Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)
† Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
† Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
† Drax, Richard (South Dorset) (Con)
† Drew, Dr David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
† Eustice, George (Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
† Hollingbery, Sir George (Meon Valley) (Con)
† Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
† Mc Nally, John (Falkirk) (SNP)
† Masterton, Paul (East Renfrewshire) (Con)
† Morris, James (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP)
Slaughter, Andy (Hammersmith) (Lab)
Bradley Albrow, Sebastian Newman, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Second Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 October 2019
[Phil Wilson in the Chair]
Draft Agriculture (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Agriculture (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
This is one of a number of statutory instruments relating to our European Union exit that we have had the pleasure of debating. My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby took a number of them through Parliament during his tenure of my position, and my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor has enjoyed the Committees on them so much that he volunteered to sit on more of them.
The instrument that we are debating amends retained EU law and domestic legislation on the common agricultural policy—including the common organisation of the markets in agricultural products, also known as the CMO—to ensure their smooth transition into a domestic regime. The technical and operability amendments made in the draft regulations will maintain the effectiveness and continuity of legislation that would otherwise be inoperable following exit from the EU. The regulations will ensure that we continue to operate schemes for important farming sectors, and that we maintain the standards they set; that will support confidence in our farmed goods in domestic and international markets.
The draft regulations are technical in nature and limited in scope. They make changes to ensure that existing standards and processes continue in the UK. Where changes are required, we have endeavoured to ensure that they will have limited impact on businesses and other stakeholders. The regulations amend CAP and CMO functions in EU legislation that are carried out by the European Commission so that they are instead carried out in the United Kingdom by the Secretary of State—or, in one instance in relation to contractual negotiations in the dairy sector, by the Competition and Markets Authority. This will enable those legislative and administrative functions to continue to be used after the UK leaves the European Union.
The EU regulations concerned cover the following areas of the CMO: conversion rates for rice; certification and importation of hops; sugar sector agreements; milk and milk products; import and export of certain proteins derived from egg white or whey; export refunds; adjustments in the common customs tariff; producer organisations and co-operation; and the import of eggs. The EU regulations confer various functions on the Commission, so that it can develop the technical details required to operate a specific regime.
Examples of that include being able to update the legislation when necessary to take account of amendments in so-called CN—combined nomenclature—codes, which are used to identify tariffs in customs; establishing conditions for the fixing of export refunds; specifying certain forms to be used; setting financial limits or prices; defining programme eligibility criteria; setting deadlines; and facilitating producer co-operation and supporting producer organisations. If we were to leave the European Union without making these amendments, the legislative functions in the EU regulations would become inoperable, so this instrument simply uses powers under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to correct that deficiency to enable the necessary functions currently exercised by the EU to be exercised by the Secretary of State instead.
The draft instrument also makes a minor correction to a domestic EU exit statutory instrument, namely the Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products Framework (Miscellaneous Amendments, etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, to clarify that the power contained therein, concerning contracts in the sugar sector, rests with the Secretary of State, since it is a reserved power.
The draft regulations refer to reserved policy areas, but notwithstanding that, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has engaged with the devolved Administrations on its approach to CAP legislation under the 2018 Act, and on this particular instrument, to familiarise them with the legislation ahead of laying it before Parliament. DEFRA has worked collaboratively with the devolved Administrations and has fully involved them in discussions on the regulations. We consulted them extensively to ensure that the legislation that the regulations amend continues to work.
DEFRA has also engaged with stakeholder umbrella organisations and has met regularly with the Rural Payment Agency’s industry partnership group to update the farming and land management sectors on the Government’s plans for the UK’s exit from the European Union, including the approach to retained EU law.
These regulations, in common with many others under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, are really about changing references to EU institutions to references to the UK Secretary of State. Such changes are minor and technical in nature, but they are important to ensure that this body of regulations remains operable. I therefore commend the regulations to the Committee.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. Here we go again. I shall get the Whip to put “CMO” on my gravestone—and I will be there sooner rather than later if we have any more of these debates. We have had so many statutory instruments looking at the common organisation of the markets that we wonder where this one was, whether we have debated it before—perhaps the Minister can provide illumination on that—and whether we will be spending more time on the CMO.
These issues are important, as they involve segments of our agricultural industry. I was intrigued to hear what the Minister said, because it was almost a complete repeat of what was said another time by the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby. It is good to see the double act still in place, with one on the Front Bench and one on the Back Bench. The one on the Back Bench is sworn to secrecy, because he might be back on the Front Bench soon.
The Minister said that the legislation is technical in nature and limited in scope. One of these days, I will ask: what does that actually mean? All of it seems to be technical in nature and limited in scope, yet we go through it time after time. Why has it not been possible to at least group SIs together, as we have done previously? We seem to be dissecting all these different areas separately. He might be able to say something about that. If nothing else, can he warn us how many more statutory instruments we are likely to get? Clearly, the sands of time are clearly running out. It would be interesting to know what the implications would be of our crashing out by the end of the month—perish the thought—with regard to those statutory instruments we have agreed to, and those we will not have agreed to. There is not infinite time before the end of the month.
I have some fairly basic questions. First, the Minister talks about the Rural Payments Agency being in discussion with the sectors, but what about its level of preparedness? Will it be able to do exactly what has been done through the CAP? If so, will he assure me that payments will continue seamlessly, and that farmers or producers will not be seriously disadvantaged because payments have not been made on time? He knows, as I do, particularly from my time on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, that the RPA does not have the best of reputations when it comes to making expeditious payments, or payments that are right in the first instance.
Secondly, in the event of a no-deal exit, what guarantees are there, and what moneys have the Government set aside for payments that are due? I know that we are considering technical issues that do not necessarily tie in with payments, but as they say, “follow the money.” Someone, somewhere, will need to ensure that particular market sectors are not disadvantaged. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what preparations have taken place in different market sectors for dealing with the RPA in the immediate aftermath of no deal. There is also the question of whether market sectors will be protected, because some will be subject to duties or a fair degree of competition from outside. It is important to know exactly how they will be able to respond.
It would be useful to know how many more such statutory instruments we are likely to get. We had two on the agenda, but the Northern Ireland one has slipped; it would be interesting to know why. I saw the two as naturally connected; one followed on from the other. The position in Northern Ireland is particular. Why was that SI dropped at fairly short notice? When I came in this morning, after doing massive amounts of preparation for the debate that was to take place at 6 o’clock, I found that there was no such debate. Where has that SI got to? Are proceedings on it in train, or do we not need to debate it because circumstances have overtaken it? Perhaps the statement that will be made in the House shortly, about possibly getting the Assembly back in place, has something to do with it. I do not know. I hope the Minister can say something about the SI that we would have been considering.
We will not object to this largely technical instrument, but it is complicated and difficult to follow. It is also difficult to know whether we have debated it before, and whether we are amending amendments to earlier instruments, or even the amendments to the amendments. This is not the best way. The Agriculture Bill, which we need to get back in play, would hopefully go beyond some of the secondary legislation that we are considering, and would make it absolutely clear to farmers that we are working in their best interest and know what is going on, and that Members across the House will help them by ensuring that every eventuality is covered. If we do not do those things, some market sectors will undoubtedly suffer, not only in the shorter run, but in the longer run.
I am genuinely excited to be on this Statutory Instrument Committee; I would like to serve on as many as possible, particularly about agriculture, food and wildlife. I have a science degree in agricultural economics from Wye College, which is now part of Imperial College London, and this instrument strikes at the heart of what we were discussing even 30 years ago when I was at university.
I welcome the measure because it does exactly what it says on the tin: it pulls back powers to the United Kingdom that have been operated by the European Union and the Commission. With regard to the key area of debate about product standards and import-export, the measure is crucial in ensuring that our UK agencies can make decisions about the technicalities and the licensing and authorisation of movements.
I have three quick questions for the Minister. My first question is this: given the argument about whether coming out of the European Union means that our standards will be lowered, does the measure simply maintain existing standards—for example, animal welfare standards in live animal transportation—until a Secretary of State or the United Kingdom decides to improve them? Does the measure give the UK the power to improve those standards on agriculture and livestock?
My second question is about the devolved Assemblies. I recognise that many of the powers in the measure are reserved, so they go straight to the Secretary of State, but will there be an opportunity for the devolved Assemblies to take on some of those functions and powers?
My third question is general. We are all sick to death of the term “crash out of the EU”, because we know that, basically, we are pretty well prepared for leaving the EU in a measured fashion. Can the Minister confirm that this is one of the measures that ensures that when we leave the European Union, things are actually under control and within the power of the UK Parliament, the UK Government and the devolved Assemblies when it comes to standards, animal welfare and agriculture?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. The Minister said that the regulations were technical amendments, but I am always wary. I have not sat on the agricultural Committees, but I have sat on umpteen Treasury Statutory Instrument Committees, and I am always struck by what their impact, and the cost for the UK taxpayer, will be. The explanatory memorandum worries me a bit. It says that there is expected to be “no” impact, but then there is a rider: “or no significant impact”. Either there will be an impact or there will not—this is in reference to the charity or voluntary sector and business. I would like the Minister to tell me what range the impact will be in. The explanatory memorandum also says that how the powers are exercised in future will determine the impact of the new arrangements, and that no impact assessment has been prepared.
Is it not the case that, although we are talking about EU schemes such as the basic payment scheme or environmental schemes, the administration is already done by the UK, through DEFRA, the RPA, Natural England, and so on? I suspect that is why the memorandum says that there will be no impact: we are delivering the schemes already, albeit under the auspices of the EU.
I appreciate that, but as the powers are transferred over, there will be change. The hon. Member for Windsor argued that there could be an opportunity for the Government to raise standards; it is very strange that over the last few days no Conservative Member of Parliament has been talking about the fact that there will be an opportunity to weaken standards as well. The important point when it comes to being able to assess the impact is that there is a difference between “no” impact, which is straightforward—there is no change at all—and “no significant” impact. I am interested to know what, if any, costs there could be.
Likewise, the explanatory memorandum says that the costs that will fall to business from the change in regulation will be below the £5 million threshold. That is fine. I accept that when assessing impact there has to be a level, but it is important to know how close to that £5 million the figure could be. That might give us some indication of whether it will be, as the Minister says, business as usual. Clearly, a lot of what we are assured will be business as usual when we withdraw from the EU certainly will not be when we get into the detail.
I am no farmer, though I used to own a farm in the Rhondda for a few years, where we had sheep.
And killed a donkey.
My right hon. Friend tempts me to tell the story about my donkey, called Dusty, who died. It is a very sad story, but I am not going to tell it—nor that of the one-eyed sheepdog called Nelson.
It is always very tempting, when a Minister describes legislation as technical, to start worrying, and to ask him questions such as, “In regulation 6(2)(b)(v), what does proposed new point (f)(cc) mean?” But I am not going to do that, because I am sure that the Minister is right that, in large measure, this is entirely technical. As the hon. Member for Windsor said, in all honesty there is a lot of such legislation that we have to put in place to ensure that things will be in a good place.
I will, however, ask about regulation 3 and the provisions on eggs being imported into the UK. Why do we have to have a specific element on that in the legislation? One of my farmers who came to see me recently, along with other members of the Welsh National Farmers Union, was very keen to point out one of his big anxieties. He is a chicken farmer who produces eggs. A key part of his business model every year is deciding how many chicks to import from France, I think from Portugal, and from Spain. He has some anxieties about quite what route the Government are going down. He is not sure whether to import large or small numbers. It depends on whether he will be able to sell his chickens and eggs later next year. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain.
I am curious about my hon. Friend’s farm and the donkey, but that is for another time. He raises an important point about the impact on the lives of farmers. There is a broader concern, related to impact assessments, costs, consequences for people, and disruption. The Government have made a habit of turning up to Committees without an impact assessment. “Without an impact assessment” should be replaced with “with wishful thinking”, frankly, because we are being expected to make decisions and judgments without evidence or analysis. The same has happened with the Government’s deal, and the failure to provide an analysis of the impact of the deal on the wider economy and the country, including for the Treasury Committee. It would be helpful for the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will not keep doing this.
Perhaps I should have stopped my speech before giving way; my hon. Friend could have made a speech of her own. I shall not, at this moment, be as ungenerous as she has been, if that is all right with her. The major concern about farming in my constituency has been to do with lamb. I do not really want to go down this route, but if we were to leave the European Union without a deal, there would be a problem in relation to tariffs on lamb; 50% of Welsh lamb goes to England, and 45% of it goes elsewhere in the European Union. We have always found it difficult to sell lamb in countries such as the United States of America, but I do not think that is really addressed in the regulations. I would love to tease that point out from the Government. However, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been clear in Parliament on several occasions that one of the toughest issues for Welsh agriculture would be lamb. I think that that is generally already accepted by the Government, and it is one of the things that we all know we shall have to address if there is some kind of political catastrophic failure.
I shall try first to deal with as many as possible of the issues that are pertinent to the statutory instrument. I shall then touch on some of the broader, connected issues that have been raised.
First, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stroud, is right. The CMO is a complex body of law, so in the context of this exercise it has in some ways been the gift that has kept on giving. He will, however, be pleased to know that we are reaching the end of the process. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I understand that there are just two more items left relating to the CMO and, I think, 12 more left in total linked to EU exit; so we have a few more to do, but we are nearing the end of this process.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the issues are ones that we had to revisit, or whether they were not dealt with originally. There was one exception, which I alluded to, which was a change of a power that was drafted originally as though it were devolved, when it was actually reserved. The vast majority were secondary and tertiary legislation—implementing acts and delegated acts from the Commission. They were deprioritised as not absolutely essential for March, but they were things that we intended to get to.
The right hon. Member for North Durham and the shadow Minister asked what we mean by “technical” and were suspicious of my intent. Let me give a few examples. The vast majority of the changes are about replacing EU-centric terms such as “the Union” and “the European Union” with “the UK” to make provisions operable. We are also replacing “Commission” with “Secretary of State”, so that there is an authority to go to. It is really a matter of making sure that there are UK bodies that can exercise functions currently exercised by the EU, since the EU will no longer be exercising them.
That links to the point about impact assessments and what
“no, or no significant, impact”
means. The purpose of all the EU exit statutory instruments is to keep everything exactly the same. I know many Members of the House would like to keep things so much the same that we do not even leave the European Union, but these particular regulations ensure that when we do leave, all the same procedures can continue to operate. The real cost to business would be if we left whole functions and bodies of law with which they are familiar to become inoperable and no longer work; that would have consequences. By ensuring that systems are operable, we give businesses the continuity that they seek, and we ensure that we have a functioning statute book from the beginning.
The shadow Minister asked about the position of the Northern Ireland SI and why that had been dropped. I understand that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was unable to clear it in time for today’s debate, which is why it will probably be debated instead on Monday next week.
To return to the technical issues, the types of things dealt with in the instrument are regulations on conversion rates for rice. We are talking about an assumed rate—about x amount of rice flour coming out of x amount of rice milled. An assumption is made about that for the purpose of an import licensing regime. I assure the right hon. Member for North Durham that these things are very technical. In the sugar sector, we have an arrangement at the moment whereby there are some exemptions in competition law to allow the National Farmers Union to corral a collective of sugar beet growers to work with British Sugar, and a collective bargaining system decides the price of sugar for a given year. That enables the Secretary of State to make any changes that they might need to make to keep the sector operable. If the NFU decided that it did not want to do that role anymore, but we decided that we would still like a collective to do that, we would have the option of changing that.
The hon. Member for Rhondda asked about the import of eggs. This relates to article 30 of EU regulation 589/2008. The provision simply confers power on the Secretary of State to make determinations of equivalence on marketing standards as a prerequisite for the import of eggs. We allow eggs to be imported only if they meet our marketing standard, which is currently an EU marketing standard. If in future a third country were to meet that standard, which is set out separately in law, there would need to be a body that attests to the fact. That is a power that the Secretary of State must have in future, as the EU will no longer be able to do that for us.[Official Report, 5 November 2019, Vol. 667, c. 7MC.] Again, that is a very technical thing around determinations of equivalence on marketing standards.
There is a wider issue with eggs: some egg producers are concerned that they might be exposed to competition from other countries, such as Ukraine, under a proposed tariff suspension. Some might also be concerned about their exports. We do not export a huge amount of eggs, but we export poultry meat. Those issues are perhaps for another day; I am sure we will have discussions on tariff rate schedules and so on in the future.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor asked whether we can improve standards. When we have passed the Agriculture Bill, we will have in place the primary legislation that is needed to change and improve these types of processes, but not until then. He will understand that the purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is to bring across, warts and all, the existing EU system. It is not about changing things, but about continuity, and the regulations seek to preserve continuity wherever they can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor also asked about the devolved Administrations. When we leave the European Union, there will be huge scope for the devolved Administrations to have new powers over their agriculture policy. Agriculture is generally devolved policy, so they will have a new, additional set of powers that they do not have now, as those powers are now exercised by the EU. This statutory instrument is specifically about reserved powers relating to competition law, international trading standards and the like. All the powers set out in the regulations are reserved, and would remain reserved under our devolution settlement, even after we have left the European Union.
I hope that I have addressed as many of the problems and issues raised as possible, and I hope that the Committee will support the statutory instrument.
Question put and agreed to.