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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 9 December 2020

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Julie Elliott

Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)

† Carmichael, Mr Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

† Colburn, Elliot (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

† Doogan, Dave (Angus) (SNP)

† Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

Holden, Mr Richard (North West Durham) (Con)

† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)

Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Mayhew, Jerome (Broadland) (Con)

Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)

† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Peacock, Stephanie (Barnsley East) (Lab)

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

† Roberts, Rob (Delyn) (Con)

† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)

Chloe Freeman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Tenth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 December 2020

[Julie Elliott in the Chair]

Draft Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020.

It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. The draft regulations, laid under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, cover all four nations of the UK. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations, who have given their consent. The idea is to ensure an approach consistent with both the devolution settlements and the existing systems of fisheries management.

The draft regulations will make technical changes to UK law to reflect the EU common fisheries policy legislation that is directly applicable in Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol. That is required to enable the enforcement of EU law, where that is directly applicable, to enable the UK to play its part in ensuring sustainable and traceable fishing practices and to meet obligations under the withdrawal agreement and several other international agreements to which we are—or will become—independent contacting parties. The draft regulations do not make amendments that will change our fisheries management policy.

Is the Minister confirming that the Factortame case will continue to enforced in respect of fisheries in Northern Ireland?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Factortame case was the bane of my life as a young lawyer. We are not quite clear yet of the precise implications of yesterday’s announcement from the Joint Committee. I will go to a briefing immediately after the Committee, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will make a statement to the House at, I believe, 12.30 today. Following that, I am sure we will have much greater clarity. I know I am to meet the right hon. Gentleman next week to discuss another fisheries matter and I would be delighted if he wanted to go into the details of what we will hear this afternoon at any point between now and our meeting next week or at that meeting.

For the avoidance of doubt, if I never have to talk about Factortame again in my life, that will still be too soon for me.

But the Minister will know as well as I do that there is that wonderful bit in the Factortame judgment where it speaks about the indirect effect of non-directly affected directors. It seems to me that, in respect of fisheries in Northern Ireland, that is exactly what the Minister has just described.

I absolutely refuse to confirm or deny that because I know no more than the right hon. Gentleman at this point. It is important that we listen to what the CDL has to say at, I think, 12.30—the Whip will confirm—and then, I hope, we will have much greater clarity. I am really pleased that the Joint Committee came to the agreement that it did and I am really looking forward to learning the details.

I turn to the changes on enforcement. First, the draft regulations will amend the 2019 fisheries regulations, updating the wording in relation to the amendment to section 30 of the Fisheries Act 1981 to ensure that, after the end of the transition period, criminal prosecutions can continue to be brought in Great Britain and Northern Ireland for breaches of EU fisheries rules that are directly applicable in Northern Ireland by virtue of the protocol. That does not represent a change in practice since prosecutions can currently be brought relying on section 30 of the 1981 Act for breaches of directly applicable EU fisheries rules.

Secondly, the draft regulations will amend regulations concerning sustainable and traceable fishing, correcting deficiencies and reflecting the direct application of EU law in Northern Ireland under the protocol. That will allow the UK to fulfil its obligations under ICAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, and CCAMLR—that may be less familiar to hon. Members, and is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—to which the UK is an independent contracting party. The UK, rather than the European Commission, will be responsible for the submission of information to the relevant secretariat as required by the obligations of each regional fisheries management organisation. To clarify, the UK will continue to submit the same level of information to ICCAT and CCAMLR, which is required by these international agreements, to which we will be an independent contracting party.

Thirdly, the draft regulations apply certain aspects of retained EU law relating to illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing to Northern Ireland. This is necessary to ensure that the UK is able to comply with its obligations under the port states measures agreement—the PSMA—once it accedes to that agreement at the end of the transition period. The PSMA requires the UK to apply controls to all non-UK vessels, including requiring them to land into designated ports. The draft regulations serve to implement that requirement in relation to EU vessels landing in Northern Ireland by applying the retained version of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing regulation to Northern Ireland, supplementing the direct application of the EU’s IUU regulation under the protocol.

The port state measures agreement does not require the UK to apply controls to vessels that are registered in the UK. Once the draft regulations are in force, all non-UK fishing vessels will be subject to PSMA-related controls when landing anywhere in the United Kingdom, thus meeting the UK’s obligations under the agreement.

The draft regulations do not impose significant changes to what the public sector or businesses will have to do. They will ensure UK vessels are subject to largely the same rules as they are subject to at the moment. Accordingly, a full impact assessment has not been prepared. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott, and it is also good to see the Minister in her place. We have spent many hours debating fisheries policies over the last few months.

The draft regulations make further changes to retained EU law relating to the common fisheries policy to ensure that it continues to operate effectively once the transition period has come to an end. I have a few questions for the Minister that I hope she will be able to answer regarding the proposed changes to retained EU law, which could potentially limit the UK’s role in international collaboration on important marine issues post Brexit.

As noted by ClientEarth in its submission to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee,

“certain delegated powers currently held by the EU have not been transferred to the UK.”

These powers relate to the implementation of the UK’s international obligations on the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The draft regulations remove the Council regulation article that required EU members to provide the Commission with a summary of the list of catch documentations issued or received into territory regarding landings, import or export. Catch documentation schemes for Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish are an important tool to support the conservation and management of Antarctic marine living resources.

The Minister referred to this point, but will she confirm that post Brexit the UK will continue to implement its international obligations, including those relating to the regulation that I have just mentioned? Will she also provide assurances that the UK will continue to co-operate and collaborate with other countries on marine and fisheries after the end of the transition period? As the Minister knows, many marine issues are trans-boundary and it is vital that the UK maintains a close relationship with our overseas partners to protect the marine environment and end the over-exploitation of certain fish stocks. It is important that the Government provide more detail and more clarity on what our post-Brexit fisheries regime will look like.

Labour will not divide the Committee on the draft regulations today, but I would be grateful if the Minister could answer those few questions.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. The draft regulations are probably a fairly sensible and necessary step. It is in nobody’s interests that somehow or another we should move into unregulated waters on 1 January. However, it is worth reflecting that the draft regulations are the consequence of a political management strategy that has been somewhat less than what was promised to the fishing industry right at the start.

It is worth remembering that when article 50 was triggered in March 2017, that anticipated that the UK would leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. The industry was told that that was the point at which we would come out of the common fisheries policy—that was to be the big bang day. Of course, the arrangement, the agreement, made by the former Prime Minister put fisheries management into the political declaration. Had it been part of the withdrawal agreement, we would not be here today; this would all have happened by now. It has carried on in that way ever since. The withdrawal agreement that was apparently part of the oven-ready deal was one that, as far as fisheries were concerned, went along exactly the same course. The fact that we are in this position and the big bang that was promised has still to come—and will not now come even on 1 January—is a consequence of the decision, and the lack of political will, to put fisheries into the withdrawal agreement, leaving it in the political declaration. That is where we are now with the negotiations that are going on as we speak.

I have no interest in seeing fisheries left unregulated— that is in nobody’s interests and certainly not in the interests of the fishing industry—but I think it is important that we place it on the record that we understand that this falls very far short of what the industry was promised.

Does no other Member wish to speak? I call Minister Prentis to respond. [Interruption.] Oh, did you indicate, Mr Doogan? I do apologise. I call Dave Doogan.

Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. The Minister will not be surprised to learn that there are no salvos of discord to come from the Scottish National party this morning. As she has already pointed out, the Ministers in the Scottish Government have provided their legislative consent for this measure and, just as importantly, the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is content to provide its consent to Scottish Ministers, once removed. Nevertheless, it noted to the Scottish Government their ongoing dialogue with the UK Government around the Northern Ireland protocol and requested that the Committee of the Scottish Parliament be kept up to date on progress with those negotiations.

I think I understand the concerns that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has on the Northern Ireland protocol. Much of the change in language that we are discussing this morning is a result of the separation, in administrative and operational terms, of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and therefore GB, for fisheries purposes, in line with the protocol. This will see fishermen in Northern Ireland continuing to fish UK waters, but free to export both harvested and processed fish to the EU internal market without the burden of tariffs.

Does the Minister agree—I am happy to accept that she may not—that, subject to the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, the separation of Northern Ireland in this way poses a profound commercial and operational threat to Scottish fishing, should a deal not be done, owing to the tariffs that will inevitably be placed on harvested and processed fish from Scotland in a no-deal scenario? I wonder—continuing that theme—whether Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers have given due consideration to the issue of skippers under GB Administrations, although most likely from Scotland, registering their vessels in Northern Ireland to take advantage of those favourable terms and avoid any post-Brexit barriers to the EU. Does the Minister agree that that is a material risk and, if so, what are DEFRA’s views on how to mitigate it?

We are just a few days away from a deadline without any details of a deal, meaning that the risk of calamity for the fishing industry is high. Should there not be a deal, tariffs will pose a huge threat to Scottish fishermen and Scottish fishing communities and processors, unlike their fellow seafarers a mere 12.5 miles across the North channel. The reality of the Government still amending vital legislation just weeks away from the end of the transition period highlights keenly how sub-optimal this process has become.

If I am mistaken in any of what I have said, I look forward to the Minister correcting me.

Does any other Member wish to speak? I am looking very carefully this time. No. I call Minister Prentis.

I thank everyone who has contributed to this morning’s debate. I am glad that there is broad agreement on the new fisheries regulations, and I am genuinely grateful to the DAs for their co-operation in getting this secondary legislation through.

I will set the mind of the hon. Member for Barnsley East at rest on the issues that she raised. We will of course continue to abide by international regulations, which is the purpose, really, of what we are doing today. ClientEarth raised some concerns that DEFRA answered in full in a letter to the Committee in the other place. In brief, the UK will continue to submit the same level of data to CCAMLR. The EU Commission currently does that, but we will now do it directly. The obligation in question, which simply requires member states to communicate the data to the Commission, has been omitted because we will no longer need to use it as a middleman and will go directly to the CCAMLR secretariat, which I understand is in Tasmania. The delegated powers that concern the hon. Lady, which were previously held by the EU, have not been transferred because they were never used by the EU. We plan to use other powers that we already have to implement the international obligations regarding Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish. I think that deals with the hon. Lady’s points.

Turning to the hon. Member for Angus, this statutory instrument will not affect Northern Ireland vessels landing into Northern Ireland. However, referring to what I said earlier, we will have to see what happens when the CDL speaks to the House this afternoon, and I am very much looking forward to listening to him. Under the agreement on port state measures, to which this instrument refers, the UK is required to impose controls and landing requirements on foreign vessels only, including vessels from EU member states. Imposing controls on UK vessels landing into UK ports is not required. We have been clear that there should be no unacceptable new requirements for vessels registered in Northern Ireland.

I say to both the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for Angus that I very much hope that there will be a deal. That will be in the interests of all British fishermen, and there is not a great deal of purpose in going into further detail at the moment, because we are about to hear much more detail.

I am grateful to the Minister, because she has been generous in giving way. However, the point made by the hon. Member for Angus is a good one. If, for example, the Minister were the skipper of inshore boat on Islay, where I was born and brought up— just 12 miles to the north-east of Northern Ireland—she could register that boat in Northern Ireland while continuing to fish the same waters around Islay. However, she could land in Northern Ireland, rather than in mainland Scotland, because doing so in Northern Ireland would avoid any tariffs. Would the Minister not do that? If she did, what would be the consequences for processors on mainland Scotland?

I know that I have a very good note, which I temporarily cannot lay my hands on, about the concerns that were rightly raised about the registration of vessels. We have good, robust rules on where vessels should be registered, and reasons must be given for that registration. We do not anticipate that there will be either multiple breaches of the rules or attempts to try to get around them following the end of the transition period. However, we need to look at what the rules are, and we will know much more at lunchtime. I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to welcome the good news that came from the Joint Committee yesterday and then wait to find out what it means in some detail. Can we park the rest of this discussion till after we know where we are?

The amendments in this SI, which is what we should be discussing, are essential to ensure that retained fisheries law is effective and enforceable. I think the Committee is broadly in agreement that that is a good thing. The SI enables compliance with our obligations under international agreements. It is a key part of our preparation for the end of the transition period, and it will help us to meet our commitment to deliver a prosperous and sustainable fishing industry for future generations. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Unmanned Aircraft (amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Andrew Rosindell

Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)

Ali, Tahir (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Anderson, Lee (Ashfield) (Con)

† Courts, Robert (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

† Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)

Grady, Patrick (Glasgow North) (SNP)

† Kane, Mike (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)

† Lamont, John (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con)

† Mayhew, Jerome (Broadland) (Con)

† Mullan, Dr Kieran (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)

Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

† Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

† Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)

† Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Trott, Laura (Sevenoaks) (Con)

† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)

Hannah Bryce, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Twelfth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 December 2020

[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Draft Unmanned Aircraft (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Unmanned Aircraft (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. The draft regulations will be made under the powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The regulations amend EU delegated regulation 2019/945, which sets out new product standards for unmanned aircraft, and EU implementing regulation 2019/947, which sets out new requirements for the operation of unmanned aircraft.

EU delegated regulation 2019/945 requires unmanned aircraft and associated accessories to be designed and manufactured in accordance with certain standards. It creates classes of unmanned aircraft and defines the characteristics of those classes. It imposes certain obligations on manufacturers, importers and distributors, such as ensuring that unmanned aircraft are accompanied by a manufacturer’s instructions. It also defines those unmanned aircraft whose design, production and maintenance shall be subject to certification.

That regulation entered into force and became applicable on 1 July 2019. However, transitional provisions mean that while most existing unmanned aircraft can continue to be sold for now, products placed on the market after 1 January 2023 must comply with the requirements of the delegated regulation.

EU implementing regulation 2019/947 requires unmanned aircraft to be operated in accordance with certain rules and procedures. It creates operational categories that unmanned aircraft can be flown in, proportionate to the level of risk proposed by an operation. The open category is for the lowest risk operations and requires operators and remote pilots to abide by certain requirements. If those requirements cannot be met, an authorisation must be obtained to fly in the specific category.

The highest risk operations, including use of unmanned aircraft designed for carrying dangerous goods or for transporting people, must occur in the certified category.

That requires the certification of the unmanned aircraft and the operator and, where applicable, the licensing of the remote pilot.

The regulation also imposes requirements on operators and remote pilots to ensure that operations are carried out safely and securely. For example, remote pilots must meet any applicable competency requirements for the flights that they undertake. This regulation entered into force on 1 July 2019 but is not applicable until 31 December this year. Therefore, it will still be retained in UK law.

As civil aviation is a reserved policy area, both regulations apply to the whole United Kingdom. The withdrawal Act will retain both the delegated and implementing regulations in UK law after the end of the transition period. The draft regulations we are considering make the necessary changes so that the regulations continue to function correctly. This is essential to ensure the continuation of an effective regulatory regime for unmanned aircraft.

The draft regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure because they create or amend a power to legislate. For example, they provide the Secretary of State with the power to make regulations designating geographical zones for safety, security and privacy or environmental reasons.

The most significant amendment made to the delegated regulation is to provide a new power for the Secretary of State to designate standards after the end of the transition period. Until that power is exercised, unmanned aircraft and associated accessories that conform to EU harmonised standards will continue to be considered compliant with EU requirements, and those requirements will be recognised by the UK. It is not possible for those harmonised standards to be recognised in UK law yet, as they are still under development in the European Union.

Another significant amendment replaces the term “notified body” with “approved body”, thereby enabling the Secretary of State to approve bodies to carry out conformity assessments without notifying the EU Commission. Other changes to the regulation are mostly minor and technical, including replacing the phrase

“a language which can be easily understood”,

with the word “English”.

The amendments to the implementing regulation are minor but equally important. As well as providing the Secretary of State with the regulation-making power to designate geographical zones, this instrument amends various references to EU institutions and appoints the Civil Aviation Authority as the competent authority for the purposes of the implementing regulation.

Finally, this instrument amends articles 94A and 94B of the Air Navigation Order 2016 by removing references to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. That ensures that the flight restriction zones that currently apply around EASA-certified aerodromes will still apply after the end of the transition period.

This instrument demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring a fully functioning regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft after the transition period. While we are focused on securing the best arrangements for our future relationship with the EU, including in the aviation sector, this instrument will ensure that legitimate, safe unmanned aircraft operations can continue, while ensuring effective oversight if we get to the end of the transition period without a deal. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I would like to place on the record my thanks for your chairmanship of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) all-party parliamentary group. As you know, I have a significant community in my aviation constituency who work at Manchester airport, and it has been a great pleasure to work with you on that issue over the years.

I can see that Members across the room are absolutely riveted by this delegated legislation. Thank God we are doing the Prime Minister’s work for him today and this is not part of the subject of the negotiation tonight in Brussels with Ursula von der Leyen. We can praise the Lord for that, I am sure.

As the Minister says, these regulations keep the effect of the policy framework established by the EU implementing and delegated regulations. They ensure that certain provisions relating to unmanned aircraft will be retained in UK law and will continue to apply after the end of the transition period, in just three weeks’ time.

The regulations enable the Secretary of State to designate standards after the end of the transition period. In the meantime, unmanned aircraft that conform to current standards will be considered compliant with the EU requirements recognised by the UK. The main immediate consequence of these regulations is that, as we will no longer be part of the EU or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the European Union standards CE marking will be replaced by an official UKCA marking, recognised in the UK. The same product standards as currently apply will be maintained. As a result, unmanned aircraft that lawfully bear the CE marking can continue to be put on the UK market. The regulations set out a transitional period to 1 January 2023, during which unmarked CE or UK unmanned aircraft will continue to be placed on the market.

I genuinely believe that the long-term prospects for drones in the UK are particularly exciting and hope to work with the Minister in this post over the years to come. Future drones could be deployed in search and rescue—I had the great pleasure of talking to Airbus about this just the other week—as part of the next phase of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s search and rescue provision. I am sure the Minister shares my enthusiasm about implementing this technological boon in the UK’s search and rescue capabilities in our remote mountain regions and the seas around our great islands.

Do the Government have any view on whether the designated standards from the end of the transitional period will vary to a significant degree, and if so, in what way will they vary from the current standards under the implementing regulation? Has the Minister considered what effect this divergent system may have on the development of drone technology in the UK as compared with the EU?

I welcome these regulations. The opportunities for unmanned aircraft are enormous. I was pleased to see Baroness Vere confirm that the purpose of the Government’s framework is to provide certainty so that the UK can capture these future opportunities. I hope it will also provide flexibility and allow future innovation while maintaining our exemplary safety standards.

I thank the Committee for its consideration of these draft regulations. I will respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, whom I thank both for his questions and for his enthusiasm about the future benefits of this technology, which I entirely share. He is absolutely right: there are many opportunities for unmanned use, in search and rescue and many other things besides. I very much look forward to working with him as we develop plans to realise those benefits.

In answer to his questions, I can confirm that the Government have no immediate plans to diverge from the standards set out in the delegated regulation. Nor are there currently plans to diverge from the requirements of the implementing regulation, apart from the requirement to have a remote pilot minimum age. However, as with all legislation, we will keep the regulations under review to ensure that they are fit for purpose. When we are doing that, our primary concern will of course continue to be the safe and secure use of unmanned aircraft.

These regulations will make the necessary changes to delegated regulation 945, which sets out product standards for unmanned aircraft, and retain implementing regulation 947, which sets out rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft to continue, to ensure proper functioning after 31 December 2020. Without this, we would be unable to continue to effectively regulate unmanned aircraft while also maximising the benefits of such technology. I hope the Committee has found this afternoon’s sitting both interesting and informative and that it will join me in supporting these regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Animal Welfare and Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Judith Cummins

Begum, Apsana (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)

† Campbell, Sir Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)

† Carter, Andy (Warrington South) (Con)

† Davison, Dehenna (Bishop Auckland) (Con)

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

† Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Henry, Darren (Broxtowe) (Con)

Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

† Johnson, Gareth (Dartford) (Con)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

McGinn, Conor (St Helens North) (Lab)

† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

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

† Sambrook, Gary (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)

Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Thirteenth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 December 2020

[Judith Cummins in the Chair]

Draft Animal Welfare and Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations

Before we begin, I remind Members to observe social distancing and to sit only in the places clearly marked. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could send their speaking notes to

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Animal Welfare and Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. This statutory instrument amends earlier EU exit regulations in three areas: animal welfare, leghold traps and pelt imports, and invasive non-native species. The amendments ensure that retained EU law continues to remain effective and operable at the end of the transition period and in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol.

The SI amends the regulations relating to the welfare of animals during transport, at control posts and at slaughter, to ensure that they remain operable in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol. It will end recognition in Great Britain of transporter authorisations, driver and attendant certificates of competence, vehicle approvals and journey logs that are issued by an EU member state. From the end of the transition period, EU transporters will have to apply to a competent authority for those documents in order to be able to continue to transport animals in and through GB. That will allow for better enforcement, create a level playing field and ensure that GB transporters are not commercially disadvantaged, because the EU is applying similar rules. Transport documents issued in Northern Ireland will continue to be acceptable for use in Great Britain.

Additionally, the SI ensures that we meet obligations under the UK-Ireland common travel area by making provision for training that is carried out in the Republic of Ireland to be recognised as equivalent to that in GB for the purpose of giving a driver or attendant certificate of competence in GB. It makes amendments to regulations protecting animals at slaughter and will ensure that slaughterers’ certificates of competence issued in any part of the UK will continue to be recognised across GB.

Without the SI, EU transporters could continue to move animals into and through the UK, but we would lack the ability to take enforcement action if they breached the rules on the welfare of animals in transport. Following an animal welfare incident, the ability to suspend or revoke a certificate of competence or a transporter authorisation until that transporter has been retrained is an important enforcement mechanism. Live animal movements should be carefully planned, based on predicted journey times. Long journeys must be approved by the competent authority, as any delay could result in significant welfare issues. The SI will ensure that from the start of the year, EU transporters will need to apply to the GB competent authority to gain approval for their planned journeys.

The existing exit instruments amend the retained EU leghold trap regulation. The regulations that prohibit the use of leghold traps and the import of pelts and manufactured goods from certain wild animal species make the retained legislation compatible with the Northern Ireland protocol, and they ensure that the import of pelts and pelt products from the EU will be treated in the same way as imports from any other third country. The regulations will continue to prohibit the use of leghold traps in Great Britain and to ensure that only pelts sourced from captive-bred animals, or pelts from approved countries that abide by humane trapping standards, are imported. They will maintain the high standards and controls that are currently in place for pelt imports.

On invasive non-native species, the SI makes technical amendments to ensure the proper working of retained EU law and the management of the Northern Ireland protocol. The changes make provision for the devolved Administrations to be consulted properly about species listing and decisions on reserved matters. That is particularly important in relation to grey squirrels in Scotland, for example, where they have particularly strong views as they are working hard to promote red squirrels. The changes also allow traders in Northern Ireland to continue to use established rules on the sale of commercial stocks after a species has been listed.

The regulations ensure that specimens seized at the UK border do not have to be transported to England or Wales: border officials in Northern Ireland and Scotland, for example, may send seized animals to local facilities instead of having to ship them to England or Wales. They also make a minor change relating to civil sanctions to bring clarity on the procedure and appeal rights for non-compliance. Furthermore, the changes allow for temporary emergency restrictions on previously unlisted species to be introduced and enforced promptly where that is necessary.

The draft regulations will ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol is upheld and that, in line with Government policy, we can enhance and continue to enforce our high animal welfare standards and protect the UK’s biosecurity at the end of the transition period. I commend them to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. Last week I commented on the eclectic grouping of statutory instruments and today we have an eclectic group of things within a statutory instrument—never let it be said we do not have variety in our lives.

The regulations have already been discussed in the Lords, so let me echo some of the points made by my colleague, Baroness Hayman. It is clear that the SI makes necessary changes in three areas: to secure the continuity of an effective regime for animal welfare in transport, slaughter and other areas; to continue the ban on leghold traps and the import of pelts obtained by that method; and to ensure that the strict protections placed against invasive non-native species are maintained. It also, importantly, provides continuity to business in those areas after the end of the transition period.

Much in the SI is about the reciprocal arrangements being discussed with the Republic of Ireland. Last week, Baroness Hayman inquired about progress and, of course, there was a statement in the Chamber earlier today, but will the Minister say whether those arrangements have any impact on the areas under consideration? This is perhaps a bit mischievous, given that the Prime Minister seemed unwilling or unable to answer a direct question earlier, but can she perhaps tell us how many of the 50,000 promised customs agents are in place? I am sure that Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs follow that closely.

To return to the detail, as the Minister explained the SI will end the recognition in Great Britain of a number of documents that relate to animal welfare maintenance, including transport authorisations, driver and attendant certificates of competence, vehicle approvals and journey logs. EU transporters will need to apply for those documents to be issued by a competent authority in Great Britain if they wish to continue to transport animals in Great Britain after the end of the transition period. According to the explanatory memorandum:

“Doing so will cause these individuals to incur a small cost.”

However, it seems that no impact assessment has been prepared for the provisions relating to the changes in documentation. Why is that? What might the impact be? How many such EU transporters are there? Are they expected to continue to operate? If not, what effect would that have? How have the new procedures been communicated to them?

The regulations are about ensuring that welfare in transport is respected. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee looked at them and the Government responded to its questions by saying:

“Although EU and GB standards will remain aligned at the end of the transition period, we have ambitions to strengthen welfare in transport standards in the near future.”

Of course, that was a prescient observation on the Government’s part, because last week DEFRA announced its welcome consultation on how to improve animal welfare during transport. Of course, that was intended partly to trumpet the great triumph of Brexit that we can now end the live export of animals; for some of us, that is one of the few tangible benefits that has been discernible, which is doubtless why it is cited so frequently. But let us be grateful, because although live exports may have declined considerably over the years to some 35,000 animals a year—although I am told that the figure varies—that is 35,000 too many, and we want to see an end to it.

I will point out a couple of issues on which the Minister might be able to provide clarity. Compassion in World Farming has long campaigned for an end to live exports. CIWF is puzzled and disappointed, as we are, by the proposed length of maximum journey times within the UK, which in our view are far too long. It is proposed that pigs could be transported for 18 hours or sheep and cattle for 21 hours, and for even longer with permission from the Animal and Plant Health Agency. CIWF says that in its view that is ridiculous. There are few journeys within the UK of that length. It argues that the maximum for each species should be eight hours, with a maximum of six hours for unweaned calves. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.

CIWF also says:

“The underlying principle should be that animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the farm of rearing and fattened on or near the farm of birth.”

I suspect that, like me, the Minister would largely agree with that principle, but, as was raised in the Lords, that hinges on the availability of local abattoirs, and I wonder if the Minister could therefore comment on both the journey times, and the Government’s policy on the availability of local abattoirs, for which I think a powerful case has been made by campaigners in recent times.

To return to the detail of the SI and the transport arrangements, it seems likely, as with any new system when it is introduced, that there will be teething problems. Is there any form of discretion that can be exercised if a transporter arrives at a port without the relevant paperwork? If not, have the Government considered what kind of delay this is likely to cause and at what potential cost? What plans are in place to deal with such potential problems?

Turning to leg traps, I think we will all agree that we want to ensure that there are strong provisions against these barbaric traps and that we exclude products associated with them. In paragraph 7.5 of the explanatory memorandum there is a fairly standard claim about our wonderfully high welfare standards. I do not entirely agree with the Government’s view. In some aspects of animal welfare, we frankly are not world leading.

I am told that we are only one of five countries in Europe that do not prohibit the use of snares, which, in the words of the League Against Cruel Sports are “cruel and indiscriminate”. In the league’s view, they are

“used extensively for the extermination of native animals simply to produce as many birds as possible to be short for sport”.

The league has calculated, based on the Government’s own research, that 1.7 million animals a year are killed in these traps. Although the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that they should be set only for rabbits and foxes, many other animals are regularly caught in them, and, as Baroness Bennett noted in the Lords debate on this SI, there is particularly horrific film footage of badgers being entrapped, and frequent reports about domestic pets being caught in, injured by and sometimes even killed by snares. Will the Government take the opportunity, when reconsidering animal welfare, to look at the whole issue of snares and to consider joining most of the countries of Europe in banning them?

On the invasive non-native species element of the SI, the Government say that an impact assessment has not been prepared for the provisions on invasive non-native species, because this instrument relates to the maintenance of existing regulatory standards. However, they also say in paragraph 2.24 of the explanatory memorandum that they are making improvements to the domestic enforcement legislation relating to invasive non-native species. In that case, why has no assessment been carried out of the impact of these changes?

We recognise the need to ensure that retained EU legislation in these important areas remains operable, and therefore will not oppose the draft regulations, but we would like clarification on the points raised.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. I will do my best to answer the many questions he raised. On the impact assessment on live animal exports, we have not done a formal public consultation, but we have engaged directly with industry representatives on the issue. The SI relates to the maintenance of an existing regulation. We would not anticipate an enormous amount of impact as a result. There are, as the hon. Gentleman said, limited impacts on European business, but there is no effect on GB public services, for example. The EU has made it quite clear that the provision is reciprocal. We are quite clear that we have extra staff in APHA to process any new EU business applications, so we feel that we have done what is necessary there.

On the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s statement, I was pleased to be in the Chamber and hear what he had to say. He announced a really useful grace period for supermarkets and those in their supply chains. We have not yet got all the details of what the Joint Committee has agreed, but I look forward to engaging with them fully in the coming days as they become available. It is a welcome statement and I am pleased that we came to that level of agreement.

On live animal exports, I heard what the Member had to say on the consultation. It is an eight-week consultation and I look forward to the hon. Gentleman joining in with it. We will also be consulting on transport for animals more generally, for example on maximum journey times, the amount of space available for animals while they are being transported, stricter temperature controls and the specific rules for sea transport. It is important that we view this as about not just live animal exports, but the whole conglomeration of issues about animals being moved. On that note, on small and local abattoirs, I noticed that the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare has produced a useful report on the role of the small abattoir, which is something that I personally have long been interested in, and indeed the role of the mobile slaughterer.

I, too, was very impressed by that report. Going back to those journey times, there is genuine puzzlement—it was not simply a criticism—as to why those long times have been proposed. It might help some of the people responding to understand the thinking behind that.

I will not go into the ins and outs of the consultation, but I encourage those responding to be forthright and frank and to make their views clearly felt, and the evidence behind them. Of course, the Government acknowledge the important role of small abattoirs. The decline in their numbers is due to a combination of factors including, for example, consolidation in the retail sector and the drive for greater efficiency, which has led to consolidation in a small number of large abattoirs. Officials in DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency are working with the Sustainable Food Trust to understand why that has happened and to see whether steps can be taken to reduce regulatory burdens, which might help small abattoirs to survive.

I come to the INNS part of this SI, on non-native species. The policy change, which is not related to EU exit, relates to a sensible provision that means that enforcement officers in Scotland and Northern Ireland who seize a cargo of live animals that should not be there will not have to transport them a long distance to England or Wales to be processed. This is not something that will be often used, we very much hope, but it is a completely sensible and practical provision to reduce the stress and burden on those live animals. That is why we feel an impact assessment is not necessary. The whole point is to improve animal welfare and prevent the associated costs and bureaucracy caused by sending the animals on a long journey to where they have to go at the moment to be correctly processed—that is the purpose of that.

I reiterate that these regulations will not amend any current animal welfare standards. They make operability changes to ensure that existing EU law works appropriately at the end of the transition period. With that in mind, I commend them to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Stewart Hosie

† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

† Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)

† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)

† Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)

† Bowie, Andrew (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)

† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Bassetlaw) (Con)

† Davies, Mims (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

† Eshalomi, Florence (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)

† Everitt, Ben (Milton Keynes North) (Con)

† Malhotra, Seema (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

† Mangnall, Anthony (Totnes) (Con)

† Russell-Moyle, Lloyd (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

Seely, Bob (Isle of Wight) (Con)

Sheerman, Mr Barry (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

Sultana, Zarah (Coventry South) (Lab)

Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)

Seb Newman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 December 2020

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Before we begin, I remind Members to observe social distancing and sit only in the places that are clearly marked. Our Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could send their speaking notes to

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

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

This draft statutory instrument was laid before Parliament on 15 October. Through this instrument, we are making the necessary arrangements to implement the terms of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol in law for chemicals regulations. It will ensure that those regulations function effectively from the end of the transition period, and that the existing high standard of protection for human health and the environment will be maintained.

In preparation for our exit from the European Union, a statutory instrument was made last year to ensure that the regulatory framework for chemicals remains functional after exit and to provide certainty for businesses and the public. It achieved that by making technical amendments to the retained EU law, such as changing EU-specific references and transferring functions and powers currently held by the European Commission to the appropriate authorities in each of the UK’s constituent nations. Since the 2019 regulations were made, the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, has been agreed. The protocol requires that EU legislation will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. The existing EU exit legislation therefore needs to be amended to reflect the fact that retained EU law will be substantively applicable in Great Britain only. If approved, the draft regulations will make the necessary arrangements to three retained EU regulations, as well as EU-derived domestic legislation.

I appreciate that the technical and composite nature of the regulations makes this particularly complex, and therefore the decision to present the proposals as a single instrument was for the benefit of the House, to reduce pressure on parliamentary time and to ensure we are able to deliver an orderly transition. As this is such a technical instrument, I shall provide a concise summary of the regulations and the changes we are making for the members of the Committee.

On the three retained EU regulations to be amended, the first is the biocidal products regulation that governs the placing on the market and use of products that contain chemicals which protect humans, animals and materials or articles from harmful organisms such as pests or bacteria. This market covers a wide range of products such as wood preservatives, insecticides such as wasp spray or anti-fouling paints to remove barnacles from boats. Secondly, the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures regulation ensures that hazardous intrinsic properties of chemicals are properly identified and effectively communicated to those throughout the supply chain, including to the point of use. The current classification laws are sophisticated and incorporate a detailed technical system of classification criteria. The classification is partly done through standardised hazard pictograms and symbols and warning phrases associated with specific hazards such as explosivity, acute toxicity or carcinogenicity. Lastly, the export and import of hazardous chemicals regulations require the export of listed chemicals to be notified to the importing country. For some chemicals, the consent of the importing country must be obtained before export can proceed.

The instrument is making three main changes, which I shall summarise. First, we are updating some transitional provisions in the 2019 regulations so that they apply from the end of the transition period, when the retained law comes into force, rather than from exit day. It should be noted that although the instrument’s title references genetically modified organisms, the only amendments to the relevant legislation are to update two references to “exit day”.

Secondly, the instrument removes Northern Ireland from the scope of the 2019 regulations by omitting references to Northern Ireland and changing UK-specific references to “Great Britain”. The instrument also revokes changes made to domestic legislation in Northern Ireland in the 2019 regulations, which are no longer required due to the protocol.

Finally, the instrument legislates for the Government’s commitment on unfettered access for these chemical regulations as well as the need to ensure that the UK authorities have the appropriate information and regulatory safeguards in respect of chemicals placed on the market in Great Britain.

The Health and Safety Executive currently acts as a UK competent authority within the EU regimes for chemicals regulations. Under this instrument, it will become the GB regulatory authority. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland will be the regulatory authority with responsibility for Northern Ireland. We are working closely with Northern Irish colleagues to prepare for the end of the transition period and support them afterwards. Both organisations have demonstrated their resilience throughout the pandemic, and I am confident that they have the capacity to undertake any new responsibilities brought by EU exit.

This instrument was not subject to consultation as it does not alter existing policy. Published guidance has been followed, and in line with it a full impact assessment has not been concluded for the instrument as it does not meet the de minimis threshold. However, I assure Committee members that the changes brought by the instrument have been communicated through a series of stakeholder events throughout the autumn and guidance published on the HSE website in October.

Devolved Administrations have also been fully engaged in the development of the instrument and have provided consent for the elements that relate to them. We are also in the process of agreeing a provisional common framework for chemicals that aims to maintain existing standards and promote common approaches to chemicals policy in the future.

In conclusion, this instrument will provide important continuity and clarity to the chemical industry, ensuring that the legal requirements that apply in relation to chemicals regulations are clear, following the end of the transition period. I hope that colleagues of all parties will join me in supporting the draft regulations, and I commend them to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie.

I thank the Minister for her opening remarks. The regulations are needed to address deficiencies in retained EU law on chemicals and GMOs legislation arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Minister has outlined the regulations, but I will cover them briefly in my remarks.

EU law has played a vital role in ensuring that the framework that regulates chemicals and GMOs operates coherently and effectively. That framework includes regulations such as the biocidal products regulation that the Minister mentioned; the classification, including of hazards, labelling and packaging, or CLP, regulations; the regulations concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals; and the GMO regulations, which lay down measures for the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms with a view to protecting human health and the environment. We support this instrument, which ensures that retained EU law relating to chemicals and GMOs continues to operate coherently at the end of transition.

The Minister also outlined, as does the explanatory memorandum, why, if the changes were not made, several chemicals regimes in the scope of the instrument would not be consistent with the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol when the transition period ends. The reasons for the instrument are clear, but I want to focus on several concerns about its effective implementation and the transfer of functions to the HSE.

The first concern relates to HSE duties as it becomes the GB regulatory authority. Leaving the EU and the European Chemicals Agency means that the HSE will take on new responsibilities. From 1 January, businesses that wish to apply for an active substance to be approved, or for a biocidal product to be authorised in Great Britain, will need to apply to the HSE instead of the European Chemicals Agency. As the Minister said, the territorial extent of this instrument is Great Britain except for certain provisions. The HSE will take on the functions that the ECHA performs where these are still relevant in Great Britain. For example, it will co-ordinate the active substance evaluation process for Great Britain. It will also introduce its own processes and systems for receiving and processing applications.

The Minister said that she has confidence in the HSE’s capacity, but she will appreciate why I am asking questions about it. The new demands pose concerning questions about whether the HSE is adequately funded, staffed and resourced to deliver its new responsibilities, particularly on top of the additional work it has undertaken due to covid. Since 2009-10, funding for the HSE has been cut by £144 million in real terms: by more than half since Labour was last in Government. Although in May the Government announced £14 million more funding for it, that still leaves a substantial cut.

We know from a response to a parliamentary question that the Government have recruited only 37 full-time equivalent inspectors since March. What review has the Department for Work and Pensions undertaken with the HSE about its resources, systems and processes, and how it will effectively carry out its extra duties, such as confirming the hazard classification and labelling of chemical substances after the end of the transition period?

Is the Minister confident that the HSE will be able to cope with that increase in responsibilities? What assessment has she made of any new specialist skills that may be required? Could there be an economic impact on the chemicals, pharmaceuticals or plastics industries if there are any delays in required work being carried out by the HSE? Has that risk assessment been done as part of any review that the Department has undertaken? There may be a need for further recruitment, and difficulties have been experienced in the past year in finding necessary specialists. Can the Minister therefore guarantee that any extra staff will be in place by the first week of January, ready for EU exit?

With the HSE potentially having to navigate and regulate stand-alone GB schemes and parts of the EU chemicals schemes simultaneously, there will be additional pressure on it. At the same time, staff will be making new regulatory decisions for UK’s entire food and chemicals markets, with limited access to EU data. Not having adequate resources and systems will also put the incredibly hard-working HSE staff under enormous pressure, which is why we and the Government must not ignore this.

None of us wants questions about the HSE’s capacity to deliver an effective chemicals regulation regime into 2021 and beyond. Indeed, this issue has been raised before, and in February this year the Government said that they

“are making sure that the HSE…have the resources and evidence they need to ensure the safe management of chemicals and to protect public health and the environment.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2020; Vol. 672, c. 159WH.]

My hon. Friend is making a good point about the HSE. In the European context, both the HSE and the Environment Agency fed into chemicals regulations. Is there a danger that not also increasing funding for the Environment Agency to be able to be feed into the new HSE regulator will leave an area of regulation or expertise lacking?

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, which I am sure the Minister noted. It relates very much to the next point that I was about to make.

In February 2019, Mary Creagh, the then Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, also raised concerns about how the new functions would be taken on within the UK and the budget in relation European Chemicals Agency funding. That is not to say there should be direct comparison of EU-wide budgets and what the UK needs, but the HSE and other agencies involved need to be sufficiently equipped in order for our scientists to deliver safe and effective products on to the UK market. For the new work now required of the HSE, other agencies within Northern Ireland and others across industry that will be involved in a proportion of the new work that will be now taken on, what assessment has been made of the level and type of additional resources required?

My second question before I conclude relates to the Northern Ireland protocol. I thank my colleagues in the other shadow departmental teams for their input on this. The Northern Ireland protocol will mean that a number of areas of law in Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the EU after the end of the transition period, as the Minister commented. Changes to the standard policy approach for unfettered access are needed for highly regulated goods, such as chemicals. This will require a strong focus on transparency requirements to ensure that UK regulators are provided with the requisite information, in parallel to that provided to the EU. With regards to unfettered access and the forms required for highly regulated goods, what estimate has the Minister made of costs to business of the additional transparency requirements, and how many exports does she expect will be covered by them?

In conclusion, the amendments to the 2019 regulations relating to the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, are necessary to ensure that retained EU law relating to chemicals and GMOs continues effectively from January. However, I would welcome reassurance about the planning and resourcing for the new functions that the HSE, particularly, and other agencies will take on.

This is one of around 20 statutory instruments that will need to be tabled before the House rises for recess. Will the Minister update us on the timetabling for the remaining SIs relating to the Northern Ireland protocol? With only two weeks until Christmas, she will understand concerns that there may not be enough time for all these to pass through the House before the end of the year with the necessary scrutiny. If she is unable to update us today, perhaps she will be able to forward that information to me after.

I thank the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston for her comments and the questions she raised. On the final point, I believe that we are at the end of the road of what we need to do in regard to the HSE, but I am happy to take away her query. I thank all Members who have been part of this debate, and I am happy to address some of the hon. Lady’s comments.

The HSE works very closely with the Environment Agency, under the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am happy to take away the point of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown and ask the HSE to respond to him.

As to whether the HSE has the administrative capacity and resource to deal with the additional burdens, it currently acts, as I said in my opening remarks, as the competent authority for the EU chemicals regulations and therefore already has capability and capacity, which can be built on, to take on full GB regulatory authority responsibility.

Since the announcement of the referendum and our leaving the EU, the HSE has been preparing for all different scenarios for future UK-EU relationships and has always had a focus on readiness for a stand-alone regulatory system. It will be ready on day one: roles, processes, skills and recruitment and training have all been scoped out and mapped, as part of the wider HSE transition programme, which covers chemicals regulation as a whole. We have looked at what workload there might be on day one, in terms of the operating model and how we develop the scope of chemicals regulation as a whole, carrying out discovery work with stakeholders on the work that will be needed with regard to future operating capacity.

As for HSE finances for the 2020-21 financial year, an additional £6.1 million was made available by the DWP, and £4.5 million was made available from DEFRA, to prepare for the new chemicals framework.[Official Report, 11 January 2021, Vol. 687, c. 2MC.] That represented a 60% increase on the 2019-20 financial year, and appropriate bids have also been made under the spending review for 2021-22. We wait to understand the details on that.

I thank the Minister for her responses, but I would be grateful if she will clarify one point. She talked about how the HSE’s existing capabilities could be built on, and said there had been some scoping and mapping. As we are so close to the end of transition, can she say whether any risks and concerns have been raised either by DWP or the HSE to her directly about readiness for 1 January, and whether any resources might still be required?

I am happy to respond to the hon. Lady. In fact, I must point out that owing to more demand in relation to covid the HSE budget in 2019-20 was £129 million, and there will be an extra £1.6 million for the functions in question.

On recruitment and readiness, the HSE has identified a total of 147 posts to be filled by the end of the financial year. It reports good progress on filling those posts, with 108, or 73%, filled. It is confident that that means it will be ready in relation to the transition period. Of the 73% of posts filled to date, the vast majority will start in January, with the remainder commencing in post before April.

Several campaigns are ongoing and due for completion in 2021. We are concluding the recruitment of the outstanding posts and recruiting 117 brand new posts in the chemicals regulation division, relating specifically to EU exit. That represents a 45% increase from the baseline staffing, since January 2020, and I hope that the hon. Lady will see that it demonstrates a significant commitment to taking on the new functions that are required. I believe, in fact, that we had about 900 applications when the recruitment opened.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those at the HSE who have done a remarkable job through the pandemic and covid this year. The HSE has called in or visited 78,000 businesses as part of its work on spot checks. It has a significant compliance rate and staged spot checks in more than 41,000 businesses in relation to covid issues.

As to taking on the new functions and being ready to work with industry, there has been significant engagement with industry on the next stage, including 22 comms events just this month with the chemicals industry. Since January we have engaged with more than 6,000 attendees from across the chemicals section. There is significant information on the HSE website, the chemicals section of which gets over 50,000 views a month, and over 226,000 e-bulletins go out to subscribers. There have been extensive conversations and communications with the sector, and I have joined with Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and from DEFRA to engage with that sector and with stakeholders.

I am really pleased to hear that the Government and HSE have been engaging with businesses. However, I am still hearing concerns from businesses that are worried about re-registering pre-existing chemicals that have already been registered, and any potential need to prove that new levels of testing have been met, particularly animal testing. Can the Minister give an assurance that no new tests will be required for pre-existing chemicals by the HSE, and particularly no new animal tests?

On animal testing, the relevant legislation affected by the instrument is the biocidal products regulation. That regulation contains mandatory data sharing provisions that are maintained in retained EU law and will apply in Great Britain, with amendments to make clear that the HSE will operate this process, rather than the European Chemicals Agency. The UK has been at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches could be used, and we will retain the last resort principle. I hope that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Turning to divergence, GB will be free to make decisions on key issues. However, that does not mean we will disregard evidence, discussions and decisions made at EU level, nor any impacts on Northern Ireland. Horizon scanning and monitoring will be part of the UK chemicals framework as a whole.

I appreciate what the Minister just said. What would be useful, maybe in writing, is an absolute confirmation for the industry and for animal rights organisations that any pre-existing chemical that is currently registered under the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals regulation, and will need to be re-registered with the HSE, will not require any new levels of testing due to moving their registration over. Of course, it will be difficult for new chemicals that come on board later, but just so that we can be absolutely sure, will the Minister say that no existing registered chemical will require any new levels of testing? That would give me and the industry reassurance.

I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the REACH regulation is not included in this SI. DEFRA has the policy responsibility for REACH regulation and is bringing separate legislation forward on this. I hope that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the Minister for her responses to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, and I understand that some of the REACH regulations are covered by other SIs. However, these are very important points, so could I just probe her on one thing, which relates to the reduction in animal testing that the BPR has promoted? She has given some assurance that this will remain part of UK policy, but could she also give an assurance that if there is any change to that policy at any time, that change will come before the House? I do think people across the country will want to see us keep that commitment into the future.

On divergence, I reiterate that GB will be free to make decisions on key issues. However, that does not mean that we will disregard evidence, discussions and decisions made at an EU level or elsewhere, and we will absolutely be engaging with stakeholders.

Regarding scrutiny—I think that was where the hon. Lady was going—decisions taken by the Secretary of State on chemicals regulations will be subject to the same processes of informal and formal consultation, enabling Ministers to be held to account as they are for any of their other decisions. In addition, for several decisions, the consent of devolved Administrations will be required as well. I maintain that the HSE has an excellent reputation for engaging with stakeholders and ensuring that we develop the appropriate health and safety regulations. I hope that I am reassuring hon. Members this morning.

In regard to unfettered access, the Government’s approach to the Northern Ireland protocol was set out in the May Command Paper and subsequent business guidance. This outlines that there will be some specific requirements for movements between NI and GB in respect of items categorised as highly regulated goods, and chemicals are highly regulated goods because they can pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. Northern Irish businesses will have the right to place a product on the market in Great Britain where they already have an authorisation to place that product on the market in Northern Ireland, provided that they notify the HSE with the information that they would submit previously to the EU. If the HSE has any serious concerns that any product poses a risk to public health or the environment, it has the ability to take safeguarding measures. The HSE has the ability to act and it will continue to. Costs, of course, are recoverable from industry. The return of costs is agreed, and they come back to the HSE—I must point that out to Members.

As many Members will attest, our chemicals sector is world leading, and, as we have heard today, it is vital for other key industries, such as the pharmaceuticals, automotive and aerospace industries. We want to ensure that that continues and that those sectors continue to succeed. We also need to provide certainty, as we have heard, for businesses in Northern Ireland and across GB that the statute book will be fully functioning for the end of the year and that NI businesses will have unfettered access to the market in Great Britain. This statutory instrument seeks to ensure that and to meet our obligations under the protocol.

I am sure that Members are all with me on the need to provide continuity and clarity to our chemicals industry following the end of the transition period. I want to ensure that the legal requirements that apply in relation to chemical regulations are clear and provide certainty to all. We must maintain our high standard of protection in the workplace and otherwise, and this instrument will uphold that. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Committee has considered the draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Committee rose.