Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do consider the Animal Welfare (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2022.
My Lords, this instrument makes several minor, technical amendments to retained EU regulations, correcting deficiencies so that the legislation operates effectively. These regulations relate to the protection and welfare of animals during transport and to official controls on the imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products, including food and other imports relevant to the agri-food chain.
In Great Britain, the Animal and Plant Health Agency issues authorisations to commercial transporters of animals which can show that they meet the regulatory requirements, such as having appropriately trained and competent staff. For long journeys, the Animal and Plant Health Agency also approves journey plans, known as journey logs, prior to the journey beginning. Approval of a journey log depends on the transporter demonstrating that it can meet the welfare needs of the animals being transported, through providing appropriate rest, food and water. The requirement for an APHA-approved journey log extends to EU transporters that wish to import animals to Great Britain.
This instrument clarifies the role and powers of the competent authority to grant or refuse requests for journey logs and transporter authorisations needed for the transport of live animals into, out of and through Great Britain. This will allow for better enforcement, as the role and powers of that authority would otherwise be unclear in some circumstances, resulting in possible confusion on the ground.
It also clarifies a power of the competent authority to recover the costs of enforcement action where appropriate; that is, it provides the competent authority with the discretion to decide whether to recover costs. The powers of the competent authority are not affected, and the change is intended to make it clear that cost recovery is an option for the regulator. The power to recover costs, without an obligation to do so, enables the authority to take into account circumstances and make decisions regarding cost recovery on a case-by-case basis.
This instrument removes defunct references to various EU systems and organisations—contact points, mutual assistance schemes and an oversight committee. It also removes the legal requirement to report annually to the European Commission on long journeys and animal welfare inspections. Multiple references to “EU member states” are replaced with “Great Britain”. An outdated requirement to provide rules on penalties for infringements of animal welfare in transport regulations by 5 July 2006 is removed, as those rules were laid by that date and are currently in force. Finally, outdated references to other regulations, relating to training for competent authority staff, other veterinary legislation and animal welfare inspections for animals destined for slaughter, are corrected, ensuring that the regulators’ ability to enforce welfare standards is maintained.
The amendments contained in this instrument are necessary to ensure that, in line with current government policy, we can enforce our high animal welfare standards and protect the UK’s biosecurity. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that introduction. We agree that these changes are broadly technical in nature but, once again, we have an SI before us which, in its own words, corrects failures and deficiencies in retained EU law which should and could have been spotted earlier. First, can the Minister say how these errors came to light and why they were not identified earlier? Has there been any detriment to animal welfare controls since the adoption of the withdrawal Act in 2018, as a result of this incorrect wording?
Secondly, the Minister explained the rationale for changing mandatory cost recovery to discretionary cost recovery. On the face of it, this seems sensible, but can he say something more about the types of cases where it would not be in the public interest to pursue cost recovery? Is there a danger that, if we now switch to what he described as a “case-by-case basis”, it could lead to a broader fall in enforcement action, with many authorities making a financial calculation that the cost is just not worth the effort, particularly if it is a marginal benefit? Could there be an overall drop in enforcement as a result?
Finally, paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum says that the outdated references have been updated to refer to current legislation, and the Minister gave some examples of that. Are the current standards now in place equivalent to or better than the old ones that were there before? As this is quite a complex area of regulation, will it potentially be revisited as part of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s bonfire of EU regulations? If so, what will the process be and when will we hear more about how he intends to conduct that review? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her questions and her understanding of the need for this. She rightly identified a number of areas that need clarification. I absolutely reiterate that these regulations do not reduce any current animal welfare standards. As the noble Baroness pointed out, they make technical but necessary changes to ensure that existing legislation on animal welfare during transport can continue to operate effectively in practice.
In answer to the noble Baroness’s first question, no detrimental effect nor operational issues have arisen since our EU exit but this legislation enables operational delivery. However, there is a need, met by this SI, to ensure that the role of the competent authority is clarified to avoid any points of confusion. There is also a need to ensure that the definition of the competent authority is consistent with that set out in the retained form of the official controls regulations. The other corrective measures in the SI, such as the removal of any obligations to report to the EU Commission and references to defunct legislation, are tidying-up requirements and so have not created any impact.
Leaving the EU was never going to be an easy job. The legislation that took us through the retained EU competence process left a number of anomalies, for which there is a time limit for us to sort out. This is one of them and is relatively minor. It could have been done earlier but is being done now. I hope that the noble Baroness understands.
The noble Baroness talked about the importance of recovery of costs. By providing discretion for costs recovery, we are allowing for situations where such actions would be impractical, uneconomic and not otherwise in the public interest. It is our view that this measure would enable money-saving decisions to be taken by the regulator or at least to ensure that the costs are net zero. We are not amending the powers available to the competent authority; this change is intended to make it clear that recovering costs is discretionary for the regulator. Currently, the competent authority is required to attempt to recover the costs of any and all enforcement actions undertaken. This relates to expenses incurred and there will be a de minimis where the activities exceed the monies recovered. We want to make sure that we are protecting businesses, not imposing costs on them. Giving that discretion to authorities is important.
The noble Baroness asked about making sure that the competent authority has the skills. Any references to other regulations related to training for competent authority staff, other veterinary legislation and animal welfare inspections for animals destined for slaughter have been deleted. They have been replaced by references to current legislation, which maintain the standards already in place. The training requirements for competent authority and veterinary staff are now set out in the retained versions of the official controls regulations. I hope that this gives the noble Baroness comfort that the new standards are at least equivalent, if not better.
On her point about the Government’s deregulatory drive, this is a key area in which we want to retain high standards. We want this country to continue to have the highest animal welfare and environmental standards, which is why it is important that we take this forward. I do not see that changing in this Government and I think that there is cross-party support for Britain remaining a beacon for animal welfare standards, constantly raising the bar and improving what we are trying to achieve. The Government’s animal health and welfare pathway is an example of that and has been broadly welcomed by the farming industry. It is just part of this picture.
We are proud of our world-leading standards on animal welfare. As I have outlined, these amendments will ensure that existing regimes for animal welfare during transport continue to operate effectively.
Committee adjourned at 4.54 pm.