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General Committees

Debated on Monday 4 December 2023

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Wine (Revocation and Consequential Provision) Regulations 2023

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Graham Stringer

† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)

† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)

† Barker, Paula (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)

Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)

† Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)

† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)

† Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Hudson, Dr Neil (Penrith and The Border) (Con)

† Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

Lewis, Clive (Norwich South) (Lab)

† Loder, Chris (West Dorset) (Con)

† Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

† Osborne, Kate (Jarrow) (Lab)

† Quin, Jeremy (Horsham) (Con)

† Spencer, Mark (Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries)

Timpson, Edward (Eddisbury) (Con)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Natalia Janiec-Janicki, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended (Standing Order No. 118(2)):

Morrissey, Joy (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 4 December 2023

[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Draft Wine (Revocation and Consequential Provision) Regulations 2023

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Wine (Revocation and Consequential Provision) Regulations 2023.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. The regulations were laid before the House on 25 October. I am proud to support our thriving wine market, which is one of the largest in the world and which had a total value of over £11 billion in 2022. The Government want to provide a regulatory landscape that enables the wine industry to be as innovative and productive as possible.

With this statutory instrument, the Government seek to take advantage of leaving the European Union. For the first time in decades, we can set our own wine regulations. We are therefore delighted to take the first historic step in providing flexibility for our wine industry. This instrument brings welcome flexibilities on how wine can be produced and labelled. These reforms are pragmatic and respond to calls for change from the wine industry.

First, the instrument will amend importer labelling requirements by removing the requirement that imported wine must show the prefix “importer” or “imported by” before the address of the business responsible for importing the wine to England. Doing so will apply general food law to wine labelling, and the intention is that the change will reduce the need for winemakers and bottlers to have separate labels for the UK and EU markets. That will reduce costs and remove administrative burdens.

The second change removes a restriction on new applications for wines with a protected designation of origin. That will enable new wines with a protected designation of origin to be produced from any permitted grape variety or hybrid variety, rather than just from the species Vitis vinifera. The change will ensure that our domestic wine sector increases resilience in the face of climate change and diseases.

Thirdly, the instrument will allow producers in England the scope to produce and sell piquette—a beverage produced by adding water to grape pomace, which is then fermented. That is an exciting and interesting opportunity, which the Government wish to offer our wine producers.

The Government will continue to support the already thriving wine industry by enabling the blending of imported wine in England. That will enable the wine industry to blend different varieties of wine from the same or different origins, including wines from third countries, to achieve greater consistency in its products and to create entirely new products that respond to consumer tastes. The Government are delighted that the measure also offers the prospect of more British jobs in English wineries and bottling plants.

The instrument will remove the mandatory requirements for foil caps and mushroom-shaped stoppers to be used in marketing sparkling wine. It will also remove the wine certification scheme in GB. The Government opposed the policy as a European Union member. Now that we have left, we can seize the opportunity to remove that pointless burden.

I thank the Minister for that explanation. There is general acceptance that this is a positive measure. I was just reading the briefing note from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, and I did not realise that we are the second biggest importer of wine in terms of quantity—we import 1.3 billion litres—and the 12th largest exporter. I looked through the impact assessment, but what impact will the bottling of blended wines have on employment? Will it be a positive as a result of this legislation?

We are really hopeful that it will be a significant positive and give flexibility to wine blenders here in the UK. It will also allow them to improve the quality of what they sell in UK markets and around the world. We very much hope that it will give the industry the freedom to be flexible and to respond to consumers’ changing tastes at the same time.

Sussex is very proud of its wine industry, which is growing year by year. There is a huge amount to be proud of—

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne concurs from a sedentary position.

To pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Easington, the growth of the wine industry brings benefits not only to the industry itself but to tourism. I very much welcome these proposals, and we see a lot of potential in Sussex for us to grow not only the industry itself but, more broadly, its positive impact on tourism.

My right hon. Friend is a great advocate and consumer of wine. He will be aware that Sussex is quite unique: it has its own geographical indicator and protections for its English wine and its English sparkling wine. I am grateful for his support and that of his constituents.

To get back to the matters at hand, the majority of these reforms will apply only in England. However, the Welsh Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have agreed to pursue future reforms together, allowing the benefits to flow to the wine industry across both nations, and we continue to encourage Scotland to make similar reforms.

Together, these changes will liberalise the growing wine industry and address issues faced by our wine businesses. I hope I have said enough to assure members of the Committee of the need for this instrument. It is the first part of a broader package of reforms that will give our thriving wine and alcoholic drinks sectors greater flexibility and support in the future.

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer, and to hear the Minister’s introduction. I start by reassuring him and the Whips that we recognise the constructive approach the Department has taken with the industry on this instrument and that, given the support the industry has expressed, we will not oppose it. That said, there are of course some issues, which were aired in last week’s debate in the other place and on which more clarity would be helpful.

As we have heard, the wine sector makes an important contribution to this country’s economy, and I thank the Wine and Spirit Trade Association for its help in preparing for this debate. I noticed that it is quoted in the impact assessment as saying that the UK wine market was worth over £10 billion in 2022—I think the Minister said £11 billion, but what is 1 billion between friends. However, it is certainly a very large amount of money in off-trade and on-trade sales, with large volumes of wine imported, bottled and re-exported across the world. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Easington, we are the world’s 12th largest exporter by value. Wine is a very important part of our highly successful food and drink sector.

As has been said, the vast majority of wine consumed here—99%—is imported. We recognise and accept the need for the rules inherited from the European Union to be updated and streamlined to help the sector operate even more efficiently. I also appreciate that efforts are being made in this legislation to provide consumers with clearer information and to reduce unnecessary packaging—for instance, by removing the foil and mushroom cork requirements for sparkling wines—and we have heard that the Minister intends to bring in another two instruments to make further changes and to consolidate legislation.

I understand that today’s instrument needs to be in place before 1 January—just a few weeks away—which rather answers the question raised in the other place: why not do all three together? To put it kindly, DEFRA is clearly a just-in-time Department; putting it less kindly, this is all rather last-minute. Perhaps the Minister can explain why this could not all have been done a bit earlier, and therefore in a more rational way.

I also understand that the Department has yet to reach an agreed way forward to ensure alignment across the GB internal market. Of course, this is not the only such issue, as it has also failed to agree a UK deposit return scheme, which could accept wine and other glass bottles. Will the Minister therefore provide more clarity around what exactly the other two instruments will do? How will they impact on the labelling requirements? What further changes is the Department planning for 2024-25? What is getting in the way of it reaching the agreements needed with the devolved Governments on this and other important matters? Perhaps the Opposition could help. How exactly does the Minister plan to reach a consistent regulatory approach across the GB internal market?

We are grateful to the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its useful report on this instrument, which makes for sobering reading and is worded quite strongly. In addition to the questions I have asked, it expresses concerns about the potential negative impact on consumer confidence if labelling ends up providing less information for consumers or is just less clear. It states:

“it will be important that all products are labelled clearly so that consumers can make an informed choice of what they are buying.”

The issue was raised in the other place, but the response of the Minister’s colleague there was a little vague.

I am sure that many of those present today study wine labels closely, and many of our constituents who buy wine will be used to seeing specific information showing the origin; the grape varieties used; by whom, how and where the wine is produced; and other important details, such as the percentage alcohol content and units, whether the wine is fair trade or organic, and whether it contains sulphites or egg white. They may feel wary of that sort of information being presented in a different and perhaps more generic or less informative way. Will the Minister clarify exactly what the changes in the regulations will mean in practice for the information on wine bottle labels? How does the Department plan to inform consumers, so that their confidence can be maintained?

In conclusion, much in the regulations is to be welcomed, but if we dig into the detail, support for some of the measures was not as strong as the explanatory memorandum suggests. It would be sensible to pick up some of the points when the other instruments are brought forward, so that the new regime can be considered as a coherent whole.

I am grateful for the support of the shadow team, and I will address some of the points made by the hon. Member for Cambridge.

Of course, it would be much better to do these things across the whole UK. It is a question of ensuring that we take our friends in Scotland and Wales with us. The hon. Gentleman slightly pressed me on why we are bringing the regulations forward so close to the deadline. We have been engaged in many conversations with our friends in Wales and Scotland, cajoling them along the same route. To be clear, they have not said that they will not do this; they are still considering what they would like to do. We are helping and supporting them in that decision-making process and to come on board and do some of these things in Scotland and Wales. Those conversations are ongoing, and we will continue them.

We are doing this SI first, and we will do the other two when we get to them, but more detailed work is needed with the industry to ensure that we get the legislation right.

May I press the Minister slightly? In a few weeks’ time, will we not end up with produce being regulated differently in different parts of Great Britain?

To be clear, absolutely not. We will not have products that are regulated differently, but we will have an industry that is regulated differently in terms of blending. It will be possible for a winemaker in Cambridge to blend a wine in Cambridge and to sell it throughout the United Kingdom—it will still be possible to sell Cambridgeshire wine in Cardiff and Edinburgh—but it will not be possible for someone to blend a wine in Cardiff and to sell it in Cambridge. However, we hope our friends in Wales and Scotland will catch up.

The hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions about labelling, and it is important to get across that it is fundamental to these changes that the consumer is not misled, and nothing in them will mislead consumers. People will have to be absolutely clear. It will not be possible for me to buy in some Australian wine, blend it with three grapes from Sussex, bottle it in Nottinghamshire and call it Nottinghamshire wine. Clearly, that would be misleading, which is not permitted under these regulations. We must be clear about the percentages, the blends of grapes being used and the origin of the wines.

That is all clear for those who are doing it, but the regulations do give importers flexibility to blend different varieties and types of wine to maintain a standard product throughout different seasons, because wines can change, and they can also change in transport.

I am grateful for that explanation, but I support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge on the Labour Front Bench. It would be in everyone’s interests to have a clear system of labelling, particularly when half the wines we import are bulk wines that are subsequently blended. Is there a particular point of contention with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly? Is there a particular issue that is concerning them?

I am not aware of any specific concerns; I think it is more a question of timing. I do not want to imply any criticism of the Scottish or Welsh devolved Administrations, because positive conversations are taking place, and I am sure Scotland and Wales will get to these regulations in time. There is a much more established wine sector in England—certainly on the south coast—so it is probably a higher priority for the UK Government to facilitate these changes in England. That said, there is quite an established wine sector in Wales, which I am sure the Welsh Government will want to support as we move forward. However, the conversations remain positive and constructive, and I am sure any issues will be resolved in due course.

With that in mind, Mr Stringer, I ask the Committee to support the regulations, and I shall cease to speak.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Data Protection (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mrs Pauline Latham

† Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)

† Bryant, Sir Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)

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

† Foster, Kevin (Torbay) (Con)

† French, Mr Louie (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)

† Glindon, Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab)

† Hollobone, Mr Philip (Kettering) (Con)

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

† Lord, Mr Jonathan (Woking) (Con)

† Mak, Alan (Havant) (Con)

† Mills, Nigel (Amber Valley) (Con)

Monaghan, Carol (Glasgow North West) (SNP)

Penning, Sir Mike (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)

† Russell, Dean (Watford) (Con)

† Timms, Sir Stephen (East Ham) (Lab)

† Webb, Suzanne (Stourbridge) (Con)

† Whittingdale, Sir John (Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure)

Stella-Maria Gabriel, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 4 December 2023

[Mrs Pauline Latham in the Chair]

Draft Data Protection (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Data Protection (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Latham.

As Members will be aware, the UK’s departure from the European Union provided us with an opportunity to amend, remove and replace unsuitable retained EU law. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023, which was passed earlier this year, set out that certain EU-derived laws, principles, rights and regulations should cease to apply in the UK by the end of 2023.

The Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation, known as UK GDPR, require that the Government, the Information Commissioner and other organisations using personal data to consider people’s “fundamental rights and freedoms” in certain situations. For example, such rights and freedoms must be considered by data controllers when relying on the “legitimate interests” lawful ground for processing under article 6(1)(f) of the UK GDPR, and by Ministers when considering whether to create new permissions in relation to the use of people’s sensitive data.

Before EU exit, those were taken to be rights under the EU charter of fundamental rights. Following the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, they have been those fundamental rights retained by section 4 of the Act. Given that section 4 is set to be repealed at the end of 2023, it is important for us to take action through this draft statutory instrument to substitute the reference to it. Failing to do so would lead to ambiguity surrounding the interpretation of references to “fundamental rights and freedoms” in the data protection legislation. The lack of clarity could pose significant difficulties for organisations using the data protection legislation, resulting in inconsistent outcomes and legal uncertainty.

That is why, through the draft regulations, the Government are clarifying that “fundamental rights and freedoms” refer to rights under the European convention on human rights, known as the ECHR, which has been given further effect in UK law under the Human Rights Act 1998. By doing that, the Government are ensuring that there is a clear, legally meaningful definition to rely on. That will provide consistency and certainty for organisations that are subject to data protection legislation, as well as continued protection of people’s rights.

The draft regulations are made under powers in the REUL Act, which allow Departments to revoke or replace references to EU-derived law. However, it is important to note that the regulations themselves do not remove any EU law rights; it is the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the REUL Act that do that. The regulations are simply designed to replace references to EU law that would otherwise become meaningless at the end of the year.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm what happens if we have left the ECHR by the end of the year? Do we have to make up our own definition, or is that not going to happen after all?

My hon. Friend raises a wholly theoretical proposition. Should it ever occur, we will probably have to define our own version back in Committee. For the moment, however, we are members of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act applies, and it is the rights as defined in that Act to which we will now refer.

Subject to the approval of the Committee here gathered, the draft regulations will ensure clarity for organisations. From the end of 2023, they will provide ongoing protection for people’s rights when their personal data is processed by replacing a redundant definition of fundamental rights with a new one based on rights protected by domestic law in the UK. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a great delight to sit under your chairmanship, Mrs Latham. You and I have many things in common, not least our determination to see that fewer people suffer from melanoma and that more get the proper treatment that they deserve. I know that has been a long-standing campaign of yours.

First, I will just correct the Minister. He mentioned these regulations being subject to the agreement of the Committee today. There is no such thing as the agreement of the Committee today, because even if every single member of the Committee voted that we disagreed with the motion, it would go through none the less as all it does is ask whether the Committee has “considered” the regulations. On a minor point, this is one of my arguments regarding the problems with Henry VIII powers and the extensive use of secondary legislation, all of which is unamendable.

To get back to the bit where I agree with the Minister, these regulations do indeed amend the existing UK data protection regime so that references in relation to data controllers and Ministers, and to “fundamental rights and freedoms”, pertain to the European convention on human rights—enshrined by the Human Rights Act 1988—as opposed to the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. This may of course feel like a great deal of dancing upon the head of a pin, in that we are changing one European Court for another—I am sure that has been a very useful waste of British legislative time over these years. As the Minister says, the Government are making this change under section 14 of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023, which allows the Government to revoke secondary retained EU law and replace it with such provisions as they consider appropriate.

I do have a few questions. Paragraph 2.2 of the explanatory memorandum refers to

“an alternative source of fundamental rights and freedoms, namely those under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which have been enshrined in the UK’s domestic law under the Human Rights Act 1998.”

The regulations themselves, however, refer directly only to the Human Rights Act, thereby making me worry as to the true intentions of the Government in relation to the European convention on human rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Why is there a difference between what is in the memorandum and what is in the regulations?

Secondly, can we presume from this that the Government—as the Minister’s helpful, mischievous friend at the back, the hon. Member for Amber Valley, pointed out earlier—have no plans to leave the European convention on human rights? I know the Minister has been a very outspoken critic of Russia and of Belarus. I am sure he would personally hate for the UK to be joining a small group of Belarus and Russia as the countries that have left the European convention. Or should we presume that the Government do intend to resile from the convention? That seems to be the implication of the difference between the memorandum and the regulations.

What further amendment to the data protection regime would be necessary if we were to leave the European convention on human rights? The Minister said that we would have to convene again. Is that right, or would we simply be able to rely on the Human Rights Act 1998 as it stands?

The next set of questions relate to the fact that we are changing essentially from one Court to another. The ECHR has often taken a much more permissive approach than the European Court of Justice to mass surveillance by Governments and other organisations. Is this an attempt from the Government to move to a situation where they are intending to extend mass surveillance of, for instance, bank accounts, including the bank accounts of people with state pensions in the UK, as was agreed to by hon. Members last week in the debate on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill? Have the Government made an assessment of the difference between the approaches of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice towards such mass surveillance issues?

Under the Human Rights Act, UK courts will obviously be adhering to their understanding of what the European Court of Human Rights has held on these views, particularly in relation to the two key human rights of privacy and freedom of expression—articles 8 and 10. The truth, however, is that the UK courts will only effectively keep pace with the European Court of Human Rights. They will not recognise rights in contexts where the case law has not yet been developed. What analysis have the Government done of the case law, which might therefore be applied by UK courts in interpreting the Human Rights Act?

My hon. Friend referred a moment ago to the enormous new power that the Government put into their legislation last week that will allow them to look into the bank accounts of anyone claiming a state pension. In last week’s debate, he said that the House of Commons Library had confirmed that that is indeed the implication of the amendment that was agreed, and the Library has also confirmed that to me today. However, journalists speaking to the Department for Work and Pensions were told that that is not what that amendment does. Does my hon. Friend have an update on whether the Government are in fact taking that power for themselves?

I am afraid I am unable to update my right hon. Friend—he is updating me—but perhaps the Minister will be able to update us. I know that he is not a Department for Work and Pensions Minister but none the less it is his Bill that is going off to the House of Lords now. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham knows, we have significant concerns about the extent of the power the Government are taking and the set of circumstances in which they would want to use it. I have a sneaking worry that these regulations are aimed at helping them to take more substantive power and a bigger step, but perhaps the Minister will relieve my anguished breast on these matters.

My final question concerns the UK’s data adequacy, because it is obviously in the interests of UK businesses to have stability and certainty about where data protection law is going and that we have full data adequacy not only with the United States of America, which has been arranged through the new bridge agreement that we supported, but with the EU. I think the Minister agrees, notwithstanding the points he made about Brexit freedoms and all that stuff.

The EU made the decision to grant UK data adequacy in June 2021 for a period of four years, after which it will be renewed only if the European Commission considers that the UK continues to ensure an adequate level of data protection. What assessment have the Government made of how the regulations will impact on a future decision by the European Commission on data adequacy? For instance, if the Human Rights Act embraced the kinds of decisions previously made by the European Court of Human Rights and allowed a much more permissive approach than the European Court of Justice towards mass surveillance, that could thrust us into a situation where UK courts effectively allowed far more generous mass surveillance by Government and other organisations than the EU would allow. Would that not threaten the UK’s data adequacy arrangements? Nevertheless, despite those points, we are broadly happy to support the measure and I am sure that the Minister will want to reassure me.

I will do what I can to soothe the anguished breast of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Rhondda. He said that you and he share an interest in relieving melanoma, Mrs Latham. I would like to put on record that you and I share something as well: we are both holders of the order of merit of Ukraine, conferred by President Zelensky—something of which I am very proud, and I have no doubt you are too.

The hon. Member for Rhondda made a number of points, most of which appeared to see conspiracy where I have to say to him none actually exists. He followed the lead of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley in pursuing the theoretical question of what would happen if the UK left the European convention on human rights. As I said in response to my hon. Friend, the Government have no intention of the UK leaving the convention. The regulations do obviously refer to the Human Rights Act, although there is a reference to the convention rights within that Act. I say to the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention to somehow make it easier for surveillance to take place or infringe data protection rights. In the Government’s view, the rights referred to in the ECHR provide an equivalent level of protection to that which is available under the EU charter of fundamental rights. The regulations therefore represent no shift in the level of protection provided to citizens in this country by replacing the first reference with this particular reference.

The hon. Member for Rhondda rightly refers to articles 8 and 10 of the European convention as the principal articles that have been interpreted by the courts to confer privacy rights and in the area of data protection. We have looked at existing case law, which is quite extensive, and the courts have used those articles as justification for data protection. I therefore do not think there is any concern to be had by that.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested that this might somehow put data adequacy at risk. We had a slight reprise of the debate we had last week on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill with the right hon. Member for East Ham, who, I have absolutely no doubt, will be rigorous in his pursuit of the Department for Work and Pensions through his chairing of the Work and Pensions Committee. I will therefore probably leave it to my colleagues in DWP to answer the precise questions on that particular point.

On data adequacy, I do think there might be a concern should we fail to pass these particular regulations. It would leave existing UK law referring to something that is essentially meaningless and of which we would no longer be a member: the EU charter of fundamental rights. To that extent, the regulations will ensure that the freedoms and rights are still relevant and refer to a convention of which we remain a member.

I do not think, therefore, that the regulations represent a reduction in the rights of citizens of this country; they simply tidy up the existing statute book as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, using powers passed by Parliament in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act. On that basis, I welcome the rather qualified support that the hon. Member for Rhondda gave at the end.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.