Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 5 April be approved.
Relevant document: 58th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument)
My Lords, I hope that it will be helpful to your Lordships if I speak to both the Animal Health, Alien Species in Aquaculture and Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Animal Health, Plant Health, Seeds and Seed Potatoes (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, given the close connection between the two instruments.
It may also be helpful to explain why we are debating the Animal Health, Plant Health, Seeds and Seed Potatoes (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 again when it has already had your Lordships’ full consideration. We are doing so because timetabling issues in the other place led to a delay in the instrument being made; that meant that it was necessary to withdraw the instrument and make it under the emergency procedure, under which we are now debating it. Both statutory instruments were made under the emergency procedure as both were required to support the UK’s application to the European Commission for third-country listed status for animal health purposes. As the Government have made clear, we are seeking a negotiated deal with the European Union, but we are taking responsible action to prepare for other scenarios.
The European Commission called a meeting of the relevant committee—SCoPAFF—on 9 April to consider the UK’s third-country listing application and made it clear that it required all relevant animal health legislation to be in place by that date. Both SIs therefore had to be made in a very short window of time as both contain amendments to animal health legislation. By using the emergency procedure to make the SIs, the UK was able to assure the Commission that all relevant legislation had been made, enabling member states to vote unanimously on 9 April to list the UK as a third country. This would have enabled the export of animal products and most live animals from the UK to the EU to continue in the event of a no-deal scenario on 12 April. The Government have taken care to avoid using the emergency procedure under the EU withdrawal Act, but we considered use of this procedure to be appropriate in this instance.
I want to make it clear that our biosecurity controls for animals and plants are paramount and that these instruments continue to contribute to ensuring that we will have the most robust arrangements in place to protect public health and the environment. The instruments make technical operability amendments covering animal health, plant health, aquaculture, invasive non-native species, seed marketing and seed potatoes, and will contribute towards ensuring that the legislation protecting our biosecurity is fully operable.
As the first statutory instrument has been debated in this House previously, I hope that it will be helpful if I summarise it. The amendments made by the instrument concern recent updates on animal health control measures relating to African swine fever in certain member states. Retaining this EU decision requires the appropriate Minister in the UK to display public information notices regarding the importance of biosecurity measures to prevent this pig disease being brought into the UK; it also prohibits the movement of live feral pigs.
On TSEs, a reference to a function of the European Commission in the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2018 has been amended to refer to the Secretary of State instead of the EU Commission.
Part 3 of the statutory instrument covers plant health. It amends the Plant Health (Amendment) (England) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Plant Health (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to recognise arrangements with the Crown dependencies and deal with new EU plant health decisions, including controls on the red-necked longhorn beetle. I remember with some affection the debate we had on this particularly difficult beetle. As I said before, this is a damaging pest and a threat to a range of fruit and ornamental species in the UK, including cherry, peach and plum.
Regulations 4 and 5 recognise the arrangements with the Crown dependencies, following planned meetings concluded early in 2019, that will continue to facilitate the import and movement of regulated plants and plant products into the UK. The changes made by this instrument give effect to those arrangements. Regulation 5 also provides for the import of ash wood from the United States of America and Canada to continue under the same stringent derogation provisions after exit, ensuring continuity of supply for UK businesses without—I emphasise this—any compromise to bio- security.
The Plant Health (Amendment) (England) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 are also amended to enable UK plant passports to contain certain details in relation to the marketing of fruit plant propagating material and fruit plants. This is intended to avoid the need for dual labelling.
Part 4 of this statutory instrument covers seed marketing and seed potatoes, and applies to England as this is a devolved matter. Indeed, in the previous debate we considered the importance of consistency but also of respecting the devolved arrangements, which have worked particularly well. These regulations are amended to ensure that growers in England have continued access from the EU to new varieties of vegetables and a continued supply of seed potatoes for an interim period after EU exit. I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talking about the kalette during that element of our considerations. This instrument is required to attend to a number of elements of retained direct EU legislation to ensure operability and appropriate functioning.
I turn to the Animal Health, Alien Species in Aqua- culture and Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This instrument amends four previous EU exit statutory instruments to ensure that the previous instruments work fully as intended. At this moment, I again extend my regrets and apologies, and I take responsibility if errors are discovered, but—as I have said before—given the pressures, I understand how these errors have been made. I put on record that I regret having to bother your Lordships with a piece of business about errors. I am open, transparent and straight about that, but I regret it.
The invasive non-native species instrument is amended to correct a small number of drafting and typographical errors that have been identified. An amendment has also been made to Regulation 7(3)(e) of the invasive species instrument to ensure consistency with the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019. The order provides for recovery of enforcement-related costs from importers by enforcement authorities, and this amendment provides certainty that importers are responsible for these costs.
The two aquatic animal health and alien species in aquaculture instruments have been amended to allow cross-references in the legislation to be more readily understood. I agree with that. Both instruments contain reference to an article in EU directive 2006/88 that has since been implemented by a more recent Commission decision, making these references redundant. These references have therefore been omitted from both SIs.
The instrument relating to the import of and trade in animals and animal products is amended as it revoked a 2006 Commission decision in error, instead of revoking a single article from that decision. This decision imposes the import requirements of fruit bats, cats and dogs from peninsular Malaysia and cats from Australia—intended to prevent the introduction of the Nipah and Hendra viruses—and is now correctly reinstated as EU retained law. The UK does not import any fruit bats, but a number of cats and dogs are imported from these countries and so it was clearly imperative that this situation has been rectified. Again, we are clear that there is no intention to weaken biosecurity standards and, again, I regret that this occurred. I am extremely pleased that, on further scrutiny, this was discovered and we propose through this instrument to sort it out.
Additionally, within the same instrument, lists of animal product commodities that require checks at UK border inspection posts are being amended to make the additional removal of products from the list an administrative function. The import conditions for animals and products remain in the legislation and so, again, there will not be a lowering of any standards.
I emphasise that this corrective instrument makes purely technical changes to these four existing EU exit instruments to ensure that they will operate correctly when we leave. This instrument does not introduce new policy but simply amends the original instruments so that they operate as originally intended.
The decision to use the urgent procedure was not taken lightly. It was deemed necessary in order to protect the biosecurity of the United Kingdom and to prevent financial losses and maintain trade by ensuring that the UK was able to achieve EU third-country listed status in the event of leaving the EU without a deal on 12 April. These instruments will ensure that our strict biosecurity controls with regards to animal health, plant health, aquaculture, invasive non-native species, seed marketing and seed potatoes are maintained. I beg to move.
I thank my noble friend for introducing these two statutory instruments but regret the circumstances that he has set out. I welcome the opportunity to consider them and I have a couple of questions.
Mindful of the fact that we are on the eve of the Chelsea Flower Show, I wish to press my noble friend on the comments he made in relation to inspections and the role of the import controls. When these were considered in the other place on 9 May, our honourable friend David Rutley said:
“Notifications will be required for live animals, Germplasm and animal by-products not for human consumption, and high-risk food and feed are subject to vet checks”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/19; col. 13.]
This raises a question not only about plants but about who will be responsible for the inspection for beetles. Will it be the responsibility of the UK border inspection or the importer? Will the importer pick up the cost of these inspections?
Page 44 of Statutory Instrument 2019 No. 809, refers to the policy on GMO and food and feed regulations. My noble friend has said that these two statutory instruments have been brought forward today in case there is no deal. It would be welcome if he could reassure me that our policy on GMO will not change in the event of no deal.
On a separate matter, I am keen that we use the same language as is used in this and other statutory instruments and regulations from my noble friend’s department, whether it relates to the import of plants, animals, potato seeds or other items within the remit of these two statutory instruments. We successfully amended the Trade Act, but I am concerned that the wording used in that amendment related only to plant and animal health. I would argue that it should extend to food safety. I realise it does not fall entirely within the remit of these statutory instruments, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this at greater length with my noble friend if we have the opportunity to do so. I am very keen that the language used by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the same as that used by the Department for International Trade to make sure that, when we look at these issues across departments, we entirely understand what is being considered.
My final question relates to my noble friend’s comments on Statutory Instrument 2019 No. 813. Page 3 refers to the import of fruit bats, cats and dogs. As he explained, we have no imports of fruit bats, for what purpose are they in the regulation before us today?
My Lords, first, I commiserate with my noble friend who has to introduce these statutory instruments. I am sure the whole House understands. What we do not understand is why we are doing this at all, as it is manifestly barmy. It just reminds us why we should not be trying to leave the European Union. It really has to be said again and again. When we are talking about invasive species, I can think of one or two whose names will be on the ballot papers when we come to the European elections.
I want to question my noble friend a little about the African swine fever element of this. I declare a family interest. It is not just a question of making sure that there is no spread of invasive African swine fever at our borders but of making sure that it does not spread inside our borders. I am sure my noble friend will not mind me saying so but there is a degree of unhappiness about the large and growing number of wild boars in this country—I refer to the animal species—and the danger that African swine fever will therefore be very difficult to control. Will the Minister take this opportunity to tell the House what measures we are taking internally to complement the external measures he has outlined?
My second point is fundamental. Can anyone imagine circumstances in which we would have different animal and plant health arrangements from the rest of Europe? I cannot imagine circumstances in which, divided as we are by only 22 miles of water, with enormous movement backwards and forwards—unless, of course, we get ourselves into a situation in which it all stops—we could have a system that was not a common system because we are a common area irrespective of our political arrangements. I hope my noble friend, on behalf of the whole Government, will apologise to all the civil servants having to do all this knowing perfectly well that it is a futile exercise because there is no way we can imagine a Britain divided from our nearest and sometimes dearest—sometimes not—friends in the rest of Europe and had different policies in these areas. This is a means of protecting ourselves from a common enemy, and that common enemy is disease spread by the movement of plants and animals.
In case my noble friend feels I am being entirely negative on this matter, the third point I shall raise with him is that the reason it is important for us, even in a repeat debate such as this, to remind people of the futility of the exercise is that, so far, that message has not got out as far as it should. People still do not understand that we are bound so closely to our neighbours that we either have a sensible arrangement between us called the European Union or we have a much more difficult arrangement in which, from piece to piece and from time to time, we try to sort these matters out.
I accept my noble friend’s very understandable apology for reintroducing these regulations and I in no way criticise him, but I just want to say that it is yet again a misuse of this House and these parliamentary procedures. We would never have been here if anyone had behaved sensibly and recognised that, in the end, if the people were presented with the alternatives and were able to make a sensible decision, they might indeed ask why on earth no one had explained that much of what we do here we have to do anyway, and all we are doing is making life more complex, more difficult and more illusory. We are pretending to do something—pretending to take back control—and I really am fed up with being part of a pretence.
My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register—in particular in forestry. We have to learn from past sad experience—for example, over Dutch elm disease, which has wiped out the great majority of all the elms of southern England. At this very moment, we are grappling with ash bud disease, which can make the timber of ash completely useless, except as firewood. Other, lesser infections and importations have affected chestnut trees, oak and larch, and one hopes that they are not spreading or getting more serious. Invasive weeds have been mentioned, notably by the Minister, and on quite a few occasions your Lordships have discussed Japanese knotweed, but I will say no more about that.
I notice that of course the regulations are unamendable —incidentally, I apologise for not having been present when they were discussed earlier—but I trust that the Government have devised the very best possible protection. As an island, we are better placed than those with land frontiers to protect our stock of plants and trees, but we should try to benefit from our natural advantages and devise the very best possible protection.
My Lords, my noble friend was emphatic about the stringency of the controls over the import of ash wood to this country. I take it that that means that no leaf and no centimetre of bark will come in. However, would he take this opportunity—alternatively, perhaps he would write, as I have given no notice of this question—to compare the progress of the disease in Britain and the United States and to compare the methods of control of the disease in those two countries?
My Lords, perhaps the Minister could say a little more about the process by which these errors were discovered. I think he used the phrase “further scrutiny”, particularly in relation to what we find in the animal health, alien species regulations regarding fruit bats, dogs and cats coming from Malaysia and Australia. Some of the things that have been corrected seem, at a glance, to be almost typing errors. We are asked to substitute for the words “set out in” the words “as set out in”, and elsewhere to substitute for the word “Law” with a capital “L” the word “law” with a small “l”. It looks as though someone is taking great care to look at these regulations again to check that something which may have been done under great pressure is being corrected so that it is absolutely accurate. I applaud that if it is what is going on, and I sympathise entirely with the Minister and all those in his department having to deal with such an enormous quantity of material in great detail. It would be interesting to know what the process is and whether more of these instruments may come forward as further errors are discovered. If so, for my part, I would regard that as a consequence of this very punishing exercise, which is putting great strain on many people.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very full introduction to these minor amendments and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has pointed out, corrections. We previously debated these statutory instruments on 20 February and 3 April. I do not want to bore the House by running through the comments that I made then or rehashing the debate that we had. The EU requirements on 9 April for changes in order to accommodate the UK’s third-country status ensure our biosecurity and that of the producers, and that is the right step forward. I agree with virtually all the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben.
I want to refer to African swine fever, which is a really major concern for national pig breeders. There are areas of the land with huge populations of feral pigs, and the disease is a threat to pig farmers as there is little monitoring of the health of the feral pigs. It is important that we protect legitimate pig breeders from African swine flu. There does not seem to be any way to monitor how the feral pig population is doing and whether or not the pigs are carrying African swine fever.
That apart, I think it is a pity that we are having to make minor corrections to important pieces of legislation. However, I am quite content for it to be dealt with under the emergency procedures, and I support the amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out why the SIs that we are debating today have been subject to the affirmative procedure under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Like other noble Lords, while we accept that this is necessary, we share the frustration that we could be doing something much more constructive in taking these issues forward rather than revisiting the past. This feels like a bit of a futile exercise; nevertheless, we understand that the Minister has to do what he has to do.
I am grateful for the helpful briefing with the Minister’s civil servants prior to this debate. I declare an interest through my involvement with the Rothamsted institute, which carries out scientific research into the areas that we are debating today.
I have a couple of general points about the process being used. In his letter of 4 April, the Minister explained that the procedure was being used because the EU had asked for a specific reassurance that these measures were in place to support the UK Government’s application for third-country status, and he has repeated a similar explanation today. Of course we understand why that third-country status was necessary, but when we met the Minister I asked whether the EU had been consulted over the wording of the SI prior to the deadline for it to consider that third-country status. I was told that that was not the case and it had not been consulted in advance. I find that a bit odd; I would have thought that, in the spirit of co-operation and particularly because we wanted its goodwill over our application, it would have been beneficial to keep the EU in the loop on what we were proposing, including the proposed wording for this SI before the decision was made.
I suppose that that raises another question: if the EU does not see the SIs in advance, does it simply take the Government’s word on trust that this legislation is in place? If that is the case, some of the corrections to errors that we have been considering may not even be necessary because we can just promise that the legislation is in place and not actually have to justify it.
The Minister apologised and I think we all understand that this is not his fault, but we are concerned about the number of errors that are coming to light after the SIs have been considered and agreed. As he said, this is the case here. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I wonder how these errors came to light. Were the SIs being double-checked specifically in preparation for our EU third country application? In other words, did someone go back through them before we reassured the EU that they were all in place? Does that mean that many of the other SIs which we have already agreed and signed off may also contain errors which have yet to come to light? Is there another batch of error-ridden SIs which will be brought before us and updated in due course when someone goes back and double-checks them?
Does the Minister agree with the Green Alliance that a lessons-learned exercise should be held on the whole process so that we can address the unintended consequences of the errors that will undoubtedly have crept on to our statute book? Indeed, are there lessons to be learned about how we could have better used stakeholders at an earlier stage to highlight and double-check some of these issues, so that we could have more confidence in the ultimate product?
Regarding the SIs before us, I accept that the Animal Health, Alien Species in Aquaculture and Invasive Non-native Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 are basically a tidying-up exercise and I do not have any specific points to make beyond those I have already made about the errors. We have already debated the Animal Health, Plant Health, Seeds and Seed Potatoes (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and I do not intend to repeat what I said last time we considered them.
The Minister will know that, since then, the JCSI has raised a question about how we define the exceptions—small quantities in travellers’ baggage. I know that the department had an answer to that, but it would be helpful if the Minister could put the outcome of that dialogue on record, given that it has been raised by the JCSI, and so that we are clear on the department’s answer.
Lastly, of course, we all recognise the importance of robust biosecurity measures. It is something we have flagged up time and again and we cannot say that too often. The Government seem far more intent on getting a trade deal than they do on securing continuing involvement in the EU-wide intelligence gathering and disease notification systems, and the co-ordinated research institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is absolutely right that our future is a common cause and we need a common strategy on all these issues. If we cannot get information sharing and a common strategy on biodiversity in place, we will be the loser.
Can the Minister clarify what progress is being made in the talks with the EU to guarantee that we will not face greater biosecurity risks and that we will maintain alignment with the EU, including sharing scientific advances and information about new threats without delay? Can he also reassure us about the Government’s plan for future biosecurity collaboration with the EU post Brexit? I look forward to hearing his response.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords. Curiously, this is quite a timely debate, because this week is Invasive Species Week. Tomorrow, after a meeting in the morning chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—I very much hope that some noble Lords will be present—I will be spending a few hours digging up American skunk-cabbage in Kent. If any of your Lordships would like to join me, I am sure that we can provide wellingtons and spades.
It is timely also because only this morning I had a meeting with the Chief Plant Health Officer and the chair of the Forestry Commission relating to the Chelsea Flower Show, which my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred to, and in particular on the resilience garden that Sarah Eberle is designing to record the importance of resilience and biosecurity. Perhaps it would be of interest to all your Lordships who have spoken if I were to send a note on some of the enhanced biosecurity arrangements being undertaken by the Royal Horticultural Society. For instance, because of oak processionary moth, oak will not be part of any display at Chelsea. There is an enhanced feeling about quarantine and the importance of these matters. I am very pleased that this has been a very determined point taken by Chelsea and the Royal Horticultural Society.
I will go through some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the fruit bat. This is before your Lordships because the EU legislation contains reference to fruit bats, so it would not be within the legal powers of the EU withdrawal Act to remove this from the instrument, despite the fact that we do not import fruit bats. The truth is that we are bringing over all the legislation. That is why many of your Lordships have had to consider such a range of issues.
My noble friend also raised the issue of GMO. It is absolutely right that we have very high food safety standards, and there are strict controls on GM crops, seeds and food. All GM products must pass a robust independent safety assessment before they can be marketed, and approved products have to be clearly labelled. These standards will not be watered down when we leave.
My noble friend referred to potentially compromising on food safety. I am prepared to say again that maintaining safety and public confidence in the food we eat remains of the highest priority and that any future trade deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers. Any new products wishing to enter the UK market must comply with our rigorous legislation and standards. I say yet again that this is strongly felt in the department, and I understand why your Lordships raise this frequently.
My noble friend also raised new plant health costs and businesses. Consistent with the existing policy of recovering the cost of providing plant health services through charging those who use the services, fees will apply for any inspections undertaken. For example, documentation and identity checks, which will be required on regulated material from the EU, are charged at £9.71 in total per consignment. Checks on third-party material that enters the UK via the EU will be charged in the same way as third-country material that enters the UK directly.
Inspection of plants, which again my noble friend raised in respect of Chelsea, is an area where we have opportunities to think about heightened biosecurity. It is why, for instance, Grown in Britain is an important concept—not because, as great plant lovers, we have found that many of our plants are not native, but because the issues of biosecurity and pests and diseases have made us have to think more strongly, as we should, about the sourcing of plants from around the world and absolutely not permitting plants from certain parts. This is why, for instance, the EU, with the encouragement of Defra and the Secretary of State, moved very much more strongly on plant movements in those areas with xylella, for instance, with the buffer zones, precisely because it would be so devastating.
My noble friend Lord Deben, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords are absolutely right—I do not for one minute see our leaving the European Union as signalling that we can put a barrier up. I say candidly that, although I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said—I will say more on this in a moment—22 miles is not wide enough. Yes, we should use the advantages of the sea, but the truth is that all eastern counties have ash dieback in the numbers that they do because of the spread across the continent. Cautiously, I say to my noble friend Lord Deben that I am afraid one of the lessons we should be learning is that the rigour of dealing with invasive species within certain countries of the European Union has not been as immediate.
I will give the example of the Asian hornet—of which we have had zero tolerance. Our rapid deployment force has eradicated every single one, because they are very damaging to our bees, and we rely on our bees and pollinators for so much to do with food production, and because they are a vital part of the eco-system. The Asian hornet arrived in a consignment from China, which is why immediate action had to be taken. The Channel Islands are having great problems because they are nearer to France. When the oak processionary moth arrived in an oak tree specimen, we did not immediately deal with it. That is why we are now seeking to contain the very damaging oak processionary moth in London and Surrey, pending better understanding through research.
The whole House knows of the noble Lord’s expertise in this area, and of his genuine personal commitment to environmental protection and the avoidance of environmental harm. He says that other countries in the EU are not carrying out the existing EU rules on that subject as robustly as we are. Perhaps the rules themselves need to be strengthened. The matter is very important indeed. Does he agree that in those circumstances the best thing is to have very tough rules in the EU that are imposed effectively, and that states which fail to live up to their legal obligations be penalised? For that purpose, would it not be very desirable if we remained part of the European Union?
I rather thought that the noble Lord might take me in that direction at the end of his comments. He is absolutely right in his opening remarks about international collaboration. Whether within the European Union or the whole international family, we are subject to many conventions, and are considered world-leading. We have not got it all right. There are many lessons to be learned. I am very keen that we heighten biosecurity. Candidly, I see our mission on this as a global reach. Yes, our partnership with our very close neighbours and friends is going to be absolutely crucial as we all deal with invasive species, pests and diseases, because these species do not respect any border. That is precisely why our next set of instruments deal with a single epidemiological unit on the island of Ireland. This is a subject I could get a little carried away on.
I say to my noble friend Lord Deben that I absolutely understand about African swine fever. I receive regular commentary on its devastating impact, not only in central and eastern Europe and into Russia, but in China. It is a very dangerous and damaging disease, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, is right to say that all pig producers in this country are very worried indeed about it. That is why we are raising awareness through the newspapers and magazines in many languages for workers from eastern Europe, saying that they must not bring pork products back with them, for instance. We must raise awareness of personal biosecurity because of the outbreaks in the Czech Republic and Belgium. Although it has not been confirmed in the Belgian outbreak it is certain that, as I have said before, in the Czech Republic it was a loose connection to someone discarding a pork product. We need to be absolutely clear on that.
The Forestry Commission and others are absolutely seized of the imperative of managing the wild boar population because much damage is being done to ecosystems. Much damage is also being done to people’s properties, to playing fields and graveyards; there are all sorts of examples where a population that is not managed or properly controlled is causing damage. I think that many local residents who so applauded the arrival of the wild boar are now deeply concerned about this. I therefore assure my noble friend Lord Deben, who referred to internal measures, that, yes, we see the responsibility for that. This would not be just about African swine fever; can one imagine an outbreak—pray God it does not happen—of foot and mouth in west Gloucestershire? As I said in a previous debate, we need to think maturely about how we deal with that.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to Dutch elm disease and ash dieback. The great thing is that the research undertaken by John Innes at Norwich gives us some hope about the ash. It has a much wider DNA and genome, and there is more confidence that people will be able to find tolerant strains. Although, very sadly, there will be a large number of losses over time we should remain hopeful about how we can deal with retaining the ash in our landscape. Regarding Japanese knotweed, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has tabled a Question on that for Thursday and I look forward to it. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we should take advantage of the buffer that we have; we should undertake that with rigour.
My noble friend Lord Elton asked about the progress of disease in the United States and the UK. I will use this opportunity to say that I am not aware of precisely what work is being undertaken in the United States. The point about the instrument before us is to reassure your Lordships that the rigour of the heat treatment, and all the treatments required for ash coming in from Canada and the United States, is retained and will be most important.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised an important point which I ought to go through. Instruments go through the normal checking process for draft SIs, including having second and third pairs of eyes checking them, involving Defra’s and other government lawyers. They are also then scrutinised by the JCSI. All government departments have rigorous checking procedures for EU-exit SIs and, as I have said before, Defra regrets that these errors have arisen despite its checking process. I can say to the noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness that Defra’s legal director is working with colleagues on any lessons that we can learn. Clearly, we want to prevent any similar errors. As I have said, I take responsibility for those errors so far as your Lordships are concerned, but I also have a responsibility to ensure that the statute book is correct. I cannot give a cast-iron guarantee that there will be none in these instruments and, conceivably, in business-as-usual instruments in the future. I am afraid that it is part of the human condition that perfection is sometimes difficult to achieve. All I would say is that your Lordships were very generous in a previous debate about how much work had gone into this enormous range of statutory instruments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the “small quantity” issue. These amendments contain exemptions for prohibitions and requirements in the Plant Health (England) Order 2015 and the Plant Health (Forestry) Order 2005, allowing a person to bring a small quantity of regulated plant material into England from the EU, in their passenger baggage. The amendments are based on the current exemptions for plant material from the EU and intend to replicate the current exemptions only. The meaning of “small quantity” is not defined, and the JCSI noted that relying on “small quantity” to define the scope of the exemptions makes it difficult to know, with certainty, when the exemptions will apply and, therefore, whether a person is committing an offence. The JCSI also accepts that the department is entitled to reach the view that it is outside the scope of the powers conferred under Section 8(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.
In referring to the Be Plant Wise campaign and “check, clean, dry”, I am keen that we return to this issue. As I have been saying, not only to your Lordships but more widely at biosecurity events, my strong advice is not to bring anything back. This is the legislation, and what we are bringing back to make it operable. I raise the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton: are these not areas of the regime that we should think of addressing, whatever happens? The numbers on the plant risk register are increasing, because of the way the global market and biosecurity work. We need to think strongly about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, made a number of points. If I have missed any or their spirit, I will return to them by letter. On access to EU systems and information-sharing, all these areas within the EU, United Kingdom and the world must inter-relate, because we are not a citadel. We want to trade. We need a market for our goods and those coming in. In managing that, there is precedence for third-country access to EU notification systems. It is something we seek to negotiate. Our own UK-wide horizon-scanning team will continue to gather intelligence on risk. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, was generous on this area.
I will say tomorrow that I am “ferocious” about these matters. We need to look at this much more stringently within this country, with our friends and partners in the European Union and more widely. Great damage has been done by invasive species. Great damage is done by plants and animals with diseases. That is why we have a strong protocol and want to continue to have it. I am most grateful to all noble Lords for their generosity.