Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Commissioner for Patient Safety (Appointment and Operation) (England) Regulations 2022
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Dr Rupa Huq
Begum, Apsana (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)
† Britcliffe, Sara (Hyndburn) (Con)
† Caulfield, Maria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care)
† Clark, Feryal (Enfield North) (Lab)
† Costa, Alberto (South Leicestershire) (Con)
Davies, Dr James (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
† Evans, Dr Luke (Bosworth) (Con)
† French, Mr Louie (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
† Greenwood, Lilian (Nottingham South) (Lab)
† Jones, Darren (Bristol North West) (Lab)
Keeley, Barbara (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
† Knight, Sir Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
Ribeiro-Addy, Bell (Streatham) (Lab)
† Skidmore, Chris (Kingswood) (Con)
Stringer, Graham (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)
Seb Newman, Christopher Watson, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
First Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 14 March 2022
[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]
Draft Commissioner for Patient Safety (Appointment and Operation) (England) Regulations 2022
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Commissioner for Patient Safety (Appointment and Operation) (England) Regulations 2022.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. Patient safety remains a top priority for the Government, and we continue to place enormous emphasis on making our NHS as safe as possible for patients. Although we have made good progress, we know that more work needs to be done. In July last year, the Government published their formal response to the recommendations in the independent medicines and medical devices safety review, setting out an ambitious programme for change. That included our acceptance of the recommendation to appoint a patient safety commissioner with a remit covering medicines and medical devices.
We are making good progress towards fulfilling that important commitment. We included provisions in the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 to establish the commissioner and set out their core duties. We also held a public consultation between June and August last year on the details of the commissioner’s appointment and operation, and in January we started the process to recruit the very first patient safety commissioner. The job advert closed on 1 February and we hope to make an appointment by the spring. This statutory instrument will allow the Government to make legislative provisions about the appointment and the operation of the role.
Our public consultation covered details such as term of office, reappointment arrangements and remuneration, and we are grateful to all those who took the time to engage with our proposals and share their views. I am pleased to report that each proposal was supported by more than half of those who responded, with 59% to 91% of respondents being in agreement. Having considered all the responses carefully, we have laid before the House a draft statutory instrument that will implement the proposals put forward in our consultation. The instrument will enable the patient safety commissioner to function effectively by providing a clear legislative framework within which they can operate. I am aware that some respondents were concerned that the appointment time would be too short a period for the commissioner to establish themselves; however, the draft regulations also allow for the commissioner to be reappointed for an additional three years, in effect giving them up to six years in office.
At the moment, my understanding is that it is for an additional three years, and there is not room in the draft regulations to expand that further. I am happy to clarify that for my right hon. Friend, if he is happy with that explanation.
The draft regulations set out a range of other details relating to the operation of the patient safety commissioner. In summary, the commissioner will produce a business plan covering their key priority areas, receiving funding from the Government, keep proper accounts each financial year, receive remuneration, publish an annual report to be laid before Parliament, and have staff who may exercise any of the commissioner’s functions so far as they have been authorised to do so by the commissioner.
The draft regulations also require the commissioner to appoint an advisory panel to provide advice and assistance to the commissioner. The Government believe that the patient’s voice must be central to everything that the healthcare system does. The patient safety commissioner will play a vital role in promoting the safety of patients in relation to the safety of medicines and medical devices. We believe that the draft regulations provide a sensible set of arrangements that will enable the commissioner to function and operate effectively once appointed. As ever, I welcome the scrutiny of Parliament and Members’ valuable contributions. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. Although the Labour party welcomes the provision that the statutory instrument makes for a patient safety commissioner, and we will support it, we have a number of concerns. Keeping people safe should always be the first priority of any Government, and healthcare is no different. When people, often at their most vulnerable, put their trust in the hands of healthcare professionals, they rightly do so with the expectation that their safety will be of paramount concern. Sadly, on far too many occasions that has not been the case. Not only has patient safety been an afterthought, too often, where incidents have occurred patients have been made to jump through hoop after hoop in their fight for justice. Too many people are still having to take up that fight for justice, and it is for them we must speak out.
I know that there are many champions of this issue here and in the other place. I pay particular tribute to the passionate and determined work of Baroness Cumberlege. Her report has been a landmark in the fight to improve patient safety, and thanks to her vital work we have made the progress that brings us here today. I also praise the work of a number of campaign groups in this area that I have had the pleasure of meeting in recent months. Whether it be on sodium valproate, Primodos or surgical mesh, they have stood up on behalf of thousands who have suffered because patient safety has not been taken seriously enough. Their unwavering determination is truly admirable, and I look forward to working with them as they continue their fight to ensure that patient safety is not treated as an afterthought.
Despite the fight of so many to improve patient safety, the Government continue to lag far behind where we can and must be. The Cumberlege review has given hope to thousands who have gone through decades of pain and suffering; however, it cannot remain as another review that sits gathering dust on the desks of Ministers. While we support the steps taken today, where is the progress on the remaining recommendations of the Cumberlege review? The Government cannot take a pick-and-mix approach to patient safety. Unless reform is viewed as a whole package, patients will not see the speed and breadth of progress that is urgently needed.
An independent patient safety commissioner will take steps to ensure that patient safety is a top priority and will act as a voice for all those who have suffered for far too long. It will be a crucial step in ensuring that the entire health care sector is responsive to the steps that need to be taken and listens properly to the voice of patients; however, there remain a number of questions for the Government to answer on the function of the role, and how it will deliver the change that we need. The role cannot simply be a token gesture to those campaigners who have given so much; it must be a fierce champion of patients, willing to speak truth to power.
A particular concern raised by Baroness Cumberlege is the tenure of the commissioner being three years, as the Minister and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire mentioned, rather than five years as for similar roles such as the Children’s Commissioner. As it is a new role, and we have to get an organisation up and running, I share the concerns that such a short period is setting the commissioner up to fail. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined how the decision on length of tenure was reached and what further provisions will be made to avoid a revolving door of commissioners. She mentioned an additional three years, but I would like to hear more about that.
We welcome the obligation on the commissioner to lay an annual report before each House of Parliament; however, the additional obligation for the commissioner to publish a business plan at the start of each year is not mentioned within the obligation to publish an annual report. What would be the purpose of the commissioner providing a business plan if they were not held accountable for its contents? Can the Minister therefore outline what accountability functions will exist to ensure that the commissioner delivers on the plans that they will set out? I would also like to hear what opportunities will be available for Parliament to scrutinise the contents of the report when published.
Lastly, I will focus on the provision for the advisory panel, which will
“provide the Commissioner with advice and assistance...and encourage good practice in involvement with patients.”
The SI goes on to state:
“The advisory panel must consist of persons who…represent a broad range of interests which are relevant to the Commissioner’s functions.”
In this instance, the clue is in the name: the patient safety commissioner. For statutory patient representation not to be embedded within the advisory board is simply not good enough. It is the lack of patients’ voices that has led to many of the scandals that we have seen, and the breakdown of trust for many.
For patients’ voices to have been an afterthought once again for the Government does not bode well for the future, so what reassurances can the Minister give to patients that the role will do what it says on the tin, and be a commissioner for patients? Although the SI has our support, the Government must not see this as the end of the road. Patients will continue to make their voices heard, and I will not stand for anything less than a commissioner who will put them and their safety at the forefront of the Government’s approach to healthcare.
I thank the hon. Member for Enfield North for the Opposition’s support in establishing this crucial role. I reassure her that Baroness Cumberlege is part of the recruitment process, and will be part of the interview panel that takes the process forward. I put my thanks to her on the record; without her work in this area, we would not be here today. I also reassure the hon. Lady that it is patients’ voices having been heard loud and clear that has established the role. It was a key recommendation, and one that we are taking up as quickly as we can.
This is not the only area within patient safety on which we are making progress. In the Health and Care Bill, which is currently going through the other place, we are changing the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch into a slightly different body that will look not just at NHS care but at the independent sector. It will be more robust in dealing with patient safety, and patients will have a strong voice in that. On what we are doing in maternity, the early notification scheme has already resulted in an improvement in outcomes for mothers and babies, and is being used as a tool not just to identify problems and find solutions but to learn from processes that have gone wrong in the past. I point the hon. Lady to that amazing work.
Specifically on the patient safety commissioner, there is provision in draft regulation 3 for the term of office, which is initially for three years, with a review process. Because it is a new post, it is important to review how the first three years have gone, but the patient safety commissioner can be reappointed for a further three years, making six in total, which is roughly in line with the term of office for many other commissioners. On the annual report, a copy will be sent to the Secretary of State and put before both Houses of Parliament. Many Members may seek to debate the report and pull out some of its findings. It will be right and proper that the report receives parliamentary scrutiny.
The advisory panel is for the patient safety commissioner to set up. The commissioner has a wide remit, ranging from issues such as maternity to medical devices. It is right and proper that they have a panel of experts, including patients, to look at whichever aspect of patient of safety they are looking at. It will really be for the commissioner to appoint that advisory panel, as set out in the statutory instrument. This is a new role, and we have a break period after the third year to ensure that it is doing the things that we need it to, and that patient safety is the No. 1 priority in healthcare.
Question put and agreed to.
Customs (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Mr Virendra Sharma
† Baker, Mr Steve (Wycombe) (Con)
† Baron, Mr John (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
† Coutinho, Claire (East Surrey) (Con)
Davies, Geraint (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
† Frazer, Lucy (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)
† Grundy, James (Leigh) (Con)
† Hendry, Drew (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
† Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
† Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
† Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)
† Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Neill, Sir Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
† Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)
† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)
† Webb, Suzanne (Stourbridge) (Con)
Rebecca Lees, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Second Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 14 March 2022
[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]
Customs (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Customs (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022 (S.I. 2022, No. 109).
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma.
The regulations consist of two measures that are being introduced following a review of customs enforcement rules. The measures make minor changes to legislation that will not have significant implications for traders or place additional burdens on them. None the less, the regulations will help to ensure that trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain can continue smoothly and that traders in GB have appropriate safeguards where customs enforcement rules are applied by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
The first measure makes a number of changes relating to vehicles and goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. First, it will ensure that HMRC can collect information about goods—for example, alcohol or tobacco—that are imported to the UK on Royal Navy ships from Northern Ireland. That rule already applies to vessels more broadly. The measure makes no change to the way in which the Royal Navy supplies that information to HMRC.
Secondly, that measure will give HMRC new powers to prevent fraudsters from exploiting the rules, for example, by putting goods shipped into Great Britain via Northern Ireland into the British market without paying the right duty. Thirdly, the measure will remove an unused and outdated requirement for information about goods being transported by ship from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Again, let me stress that those are all minor changes that will place no extra burden on traders.
The second measure is also made up of several parts. The first relates to HMRC’s right to request a security as a condition of releasing imported goods from customs control. That might happen where a customs declaration form cannot be verified immediately, for example, in cases of suspected undervaluation fraud. Our customs officials rightly take a rigorous approach to their work. That means that, in some circumstances, the verification process might take a significant amount of time which, in turn, might mean that goods become commercially worthless to traders and cause storage problems for HMRC. As a result, it is in both parties’ interest to allow the goods to be released from customs control, as long as a trader can provide a security to cover any additional duty owed.
When the UK was in the European Union, traders who disagreed with HMRC’s decision to require a financial security could request a review or appeal to an independent tribunal. Those rights were also supported in domestic legislation. Since the end of the transition period, HMRC has the right to continue to require financial security from importers under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. That legislation, however, is not currently linked to statutory rights to request a review or to appeal to an independent tribunal. The regulations will therefore reinstate those rights and give businesses the same right of appeal as under EU legislation.
The final parts of the measure update the 1979 Act so that it reflects terminology used elsewhere in domestic customs legislation. The measure also omits previous amendments to the Act that have not yet come into force and that would have removed HMRC’s ability to require traders to provide a security.
I would like my right hon. and learned Friend’s assessment of whether the arrangements are proceeding as per the spirit of the EU protocol, given that when the trade arrangements were being negotiated, the feeling was that if there were no disruption to trade elsewhere in the EU, there would be a light-touch approach to the trading relationship between Northern Ireland and the mainland. In effect, however, that has not taken place. What is her assessment of that?
My hon. Friend and many Members of the House—on both the Government and Opposition Benches—are very concerned about the implications of the Northern Ireland protocol. For that reason, through the Foreign Secretary, who is leading the negotiations, we are trying to change the arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is important that we do so, because they are having an effect on trade and on societal difficulties in Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend knows, we have a number of easements on Northern Ireland that ease the requirements that were first put into the protocol. We support them, because they ease trade.
Let me be clear that the regulations do not in any way make it harder for traders to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. In fact, they take away redundant provisions, tidy up the legislation and provide an easier and simpler route by way of the provision of a security. I understand the overall concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay and I share the concern that we need to get the right approach in Northern Ireland, but I do not think that the statutory instrument should aggravate or concern him unduly as regards Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma.
I thank the Minister for her explanation of the regulations. Although they are technical in nature, this is clearly an important area and I have a number of questions. As she set out, the regulations will make changes to customs legislation applying to goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Opposition recognise the significant challenges that businesses in Northern Ireland face when importing goods from Great Britain and, conversely, the challenges that businesses in Great Britain face when selling into Northern Ireland.
We have urged the Government to negotiate properly with the EU to ensure that the protocol works for the people of Northern Ireland and people across the UK. Although progress has been made recently, a number of issues remain. For example, businesses and political parties in Northern Ireland have been urging the Government for months to negotiate a veterinary agreement that lowers barriers and brings long-term benefits to the people of Northern Ireland. People’s jobs and livelihoods depend on the Government solving such problems as soon as possible.
Let me turn to the specific measures. I recognise that most of the amendments to the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 largely tidy up the legislation to ensure that it reflects current customs processes. I also note that the explanatory memorandum states that the changes do not impact on the unfettered access of qualifying Northern Ireland goods that move to the rest of the UK. To double check, will the Minister confirm that businesses importing into Northern Ireland will not face any further trade barriers as a result of the changes?
The provision in paragraph (3) of regulation 2 allows HMRC to require a security and a guarantee in order to release imported goods in certain circumstances. It is sensible that goods can be released pending a future customs declaration, to prevent them from piling up in warehouses or, in the case of perishable goods, becoming entirely unusable. But why is that change being introduced now? Why has that procedure not been possible until this point? Have businesses suffered because of a failure to bring in the necessary legislative changes until now, given that is more than two years since the end of the transition period? Have the Government consulted with relevant businesses about the impact of the policy? If so, will the Minister tell us whether businesses expressed any concerns about the operation of the securities process?
It will be useful to hear from the Minister how long, on average, importers will have to wait until HMRC has calculated the right amount of duty to be paid. Finally, will the Minister say a little more about the new review and appeal procedure in relation to a HMRC decision to require a security? What will be the process for businesses if they wish to appeal?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma.
The fact that the regulations are a technical amendment has been laid out. I do not intend to ask any questions on the detail further to those that have already been asked. It would be wrong, however, to let the opportunity pass without commenting on the process.
More than a year on from the signing of the Brexit UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, the House is still finding and amending existing legislation to implement Brexit changes. What an absolute bùrach this is. It is messy and time consuming. It has been a drawn-out process, rather than an event. Brexit, it should be noted, has served absolutely no benefits to Scotland—quite the reverse—and yet the time of MPs is taken up with these issues, rather than with passing meaningful legislation to tackle the vital issues such as the cost of living crisis or the energy crisis. That does not shine a good light on this House or on the decisions that have been made on this issue.
The statutory instrument substitutes “Great Britain” where “United Kingdom” can be found. It does so repeatedly and explicitly. I listened carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and to her explanation that it is technical, but here is the problem. According to article 4 of the protocol:
“Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom”.
That was an absolutely crucial concession by the European Union in the course of negotiations.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that trade will continue smoothly, but she subsequently acknowledged that there are real problems. I have just come back from Belfast, and I can tell her that temperatures there are running very high in the Unionist community. GB suppliers of note are not shipping to Northern Ireland—they are simply refusing to supply products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland—and other goods arrive in Northern Ireland from Great Britain with customs declarations attached.
People are forgetting that the Belfast agreement operates east-west as well as north-south. This is a matter of the most profound concern to the Unionist community. The statutory instrument, by substituting “Great Britain” where “United Kingdom” should be found, appears to run up the white flag and say that we are not negotiating on the protocol, that we will not use facilities in the treaty that were foreseen.
The protocol was always unfinished business. That is why some of us, when we backed it, said that it was a tolerable path to a great future. The Prime Minister became Prime Minister on the assurance given repeatedly to Eurosceptics:
“The withdrawal agreement is dead”—
his words. We asked him, “You won’t just remove the backstop, replace it with something else and change the destination, will you?” No, the withdrawal agreement is dead. He then went on to do just what he told us he would not do. Now, in a statutory instrument that replaces “United Kingdom” with “Great Britain”, we find that he appears to be doubling down on not fixing the protocol.
Surely we all now agree that the protocol is not doing what it promised. It is dividing the two communities, it has destroyed political confidence, it has ended power sharing and it has caused trade diversion. Those things are incontrovertible. They are good reasons for change. Not only that, they are reasons for change that were foreseen in the protocol itself. It is especially galling that the Government are not using article 16, which is of course limited in what it can do, when during the worst of the pandemic, the EU itself used article 16 to try to deprive the UK of vaccines—an extraordinary and aggressive act.
We must now save the Belfast agreement—I mean, save it—by recognising that it applies east-west. We must take steps to restore power sharing by doing what is necessary to bring Northern Ireland back into the UK single market. That is the problem with this SI: it seems to further entrench—it is very explicit in the regulations—the substitution of “Great Britain” where “United Kingdom” should be found.
We need to use article 16 safeguards immediately, before the Stormont elections. Any suggestion that devolved purdah prevents our national Government from doing what is in the interests of the whole country is entirely risible. Any suggestion that Putin has vetoed action to restore our constitutional settlement is outrageous. Brexiteers would be rightly shamed into silence if we attempted that ludicrous argument in reverse. Violence does not have a veto—neither Putin’s in Ukraine nor any closer to home. It has been reprehensible how many supporters of the protocol have prayed in aid violence, the risk of violence and threats of violence to support their cause. That is not how we do things, and we should never surrender to threats of violence.
In any event, the question of a trade war that plagues us has been asked and answered. There are those saying that the EU would start a trade war if we did what was necessary to alleviate the problems of the protocol, but the public told us to get Brexit done, and they gave the Government an enormous—surprisingly large—majority to do it. The nation overall was willing to do what was necessary to get Brexit done, including possibly risking a trade war. The question was asked and answered, yet still we seem to be too reticent—too nervous—to do what the country instructed us to do.
I will begin to conclude my opening remarks. If the Government do not resolve the problem of the protocol, they will find themselves going into the next election saying, “Actually, Brexit’s not quite done.” Quite a large number of Members of Parliament in certain seats will not be able to put it on their leaflets and will have to say, “I’m afraid Brexit’s not quite done.” I expected that by now we would have resolved the problems of the protocol by using the facilities in it to improve and replace it. That has not happened. At the moment, the Foreign Office’s approach is strategic patience, I understand. Strategic patience will not do for the people of Northern Ireland. It is not fair and reasonable to Unionists, under the east-west provisions of the Belfast agreement, to continue as we are.
The cover of the Ukraine conflict has enabled the Prime Minister to avoid confronting the problem of the protocol, but I say to the Government that when the Ukraine conflict comes to an end, if it appears to Eurosceptics, and indeed to Members of Parliament recently elected on the promise that Brexit would be done, that Brexit is not quite done, and if Brexiteers lose confidence in the Prime Minister and his ability to deliver change on the protocol, what on earth do Ministers, Whips and party members think that they will do? It seems to me that the answer is obvious.
I know that this will amuse some Opposition Members, but I say to the Scottish National party spokesman that he will be left comically eating his words if he ever gets his way. He just spouted such nonsense about Brexit. Imagine that Scotland had had its independence from the UK. My goodness—the time and effort that they would all spend trying to untangle our Union would eclipse the problems that we have. I am grateful to you, Mr Sharma, for allowing those extended remarks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. Perhaps the Minister could explain the benefits of the regulations? I understand that they are technical, and I am sure that the intention is to solve the mischief of the back-door route via the Republic into Northern Ireland and GB, but I will read what it says in the Northern Ireland protocol. In the preamble it is pretty clear that
“Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom and will benefit from participation in the United Kingdom’s independent trade policy”.
Article 4 says very clearly:
“Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom.”
I am sure it comes as no surprise to the Minister that when we see a statutory instrument of this type, which highlights a difference of approach in customs arrangements under section 63 of the CEMA—I have looked it up—then that raises alarm bells when a part of the United Kingdom, accepted in the protocol as fully and absolutely within the customs union of the United Kingdom, is treated separately from the UK as a whole.
Those are my concerns. If the Minister could lay them to rest, I might be in a different situation. However, as things stand, the SI almost exemplifies the difference that we need to be solve, not expand. Such SIs seem to expand and highlight that difference, particularly in the light of the recent court judgment in Northern Ireland and the fact that the Act of Union highlighted a long, long time ago—200 years ago or thereabouts—that there were complete and absolute freedoms to conduct business between any part of our Union, with no differences in tariffs, arrangements or anything else.
However, it would seem that the protocol, with its flaws, is being shown up as rewriting parts of that ancient Act of Union, with which we are all very familiar. Changes to the Act of Union seem to have crept through the back door, and that was not the promise that was given. Such statutory instruments make alarm bells ring in my head that we are not terribly serious about getting a proper solution to the protocol. Instead, we are giving into the inevitable and simply have to lump it, and I say to my respected right hon. and learned Friend that I really do not want to lump it. I have grave concerns about the statutory instrument and the direction in which things are going.
Having served in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, one still has friends and contacts there, if not through the Army then through the civilian population. I reinforce the concern expressed so far about the sense of unease in the Province, particularly in the Unionist community. I think the Minister understands that, but perhaps she needs to go to the Province more frequently and to talk to the Unionists, because passions are running very high.
The spirit of the Northern Ireland protocol—I hope that both sides entered the negotiations in this manner—was that provided it did not distort trade between Northern Ireland and the mainland and did not distort trade in any part of the EU, a light touch could be applied. However, that is not what has transpired. Despite no evidence whatsoever of trade being distorted within the EU in any other market, a hard touch has now been applied to the protocol. I recently heard an example of a Christmas card sent between Northern Ireland and the mainland that attracted a £3 custom charge—that is farcical. If we are not careful, that situation threatens not just trade between Northern Ireland and the mainland, but the Act of Union itself.
I hear loose talk that by invoking article 16 we are somehow reneging on an international treaty, but that is not true, because article 16 is part of the arrangements of the Northern Ireland protocol. It did not stop the EU, as highlighted previously, threatening article 16 when it came to the vaccination programme. I gently suggest to the SNP spokesperson that had we been a member of the EU, we would not have vaccinated as quickly as we did, because it was courtesy of us not being in the European Medicines Agency and under the directive that we were able to roll vaccines out much faster, and a lot of citizens benefited from that. I cite that as one example of the benefits of Brexit, but there are many others, including many more trade deals than the sceptics thought.
Putting that to one side, let me address my comments to the Minister about the SI. It worries me that we seem to be substituting “Great Britain” for “United Kingdom” in the terminology, confusing the issue. That again goes back to the core Act of Union many centuries ago, so I am not happy with the SI. I worry about its implications, about how it will be read in the Province, in particular by the Unionist community, and about the effect it will have on real trade between Northern Ireland, the Province, and the rest of the UK.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, because I know that that concern runs deep in Government. I have spoken to the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. I have shared my concerns and given what insight and reflections I can. Feelings are running raw in the Province, and it comes down to this approach to the Northern Ireland protocol at a time when there is no evidence whatever that a light-touch approach could not be reinstated.
There are strong feelings about the protocol and the nature of the Brexit that we had. Today is not the day for those, frankly. This is a technical statutory instrument, which is there to achieve a specific purpose that, it seemed to me, the Minister set out well. Sensible points were made by the shadow Minister, which I am sure that the Minister will deal with, but we all agree that it is necessary to have the measure in place. At the end of the day, it is manifestly in the interests of business that goods should be able to be released from customs control and that there should be a means thereby of doing that through the receipt of a security. That is what the regulations do.
There may be broader concerns, and we might well have sympathy with them, but this is not a debate about that. I therefore submit that the sensible thing is to have those debates in the right place—that is not here—and to pass the regulations, which are necessary to ensure better business continuity and are to the advantage economically of people in Northern Ireland. The bigger picture is that that debate is not for now, on a technical statutory instrument.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Alan Mak.)