Exiting the European Union (Plant Health)

Part of Delegated Legislation – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:06 pm, 8th October 2019

Well spotted. I am glad that the shadow Minister is on his toes. Yes, that will also include rail freight. I am glad we have cleared that one up.

Early warning systems for new threats were raised in the debate. As I think I suggested, pest, plant and disease experts in DEFRA, the APHA, the Forestry Commission and the devolved Administrations all work together already, providing an exceptional capability to protect plant biodiversity in the UK. All those bodies will continue to function and collaborate as we leave the EU.

Global warning threats were mentioned. Again, specialists will continue to work with pest and disease specialists in UK universities to inform our understanding of the risks. That is really important, and it is absolutely on the radar—for example, there is modelling of trade pathways for pests to arrive in the UK and the potential spread of outbreaks. Specialists will continue to collaborate with industry and stakeholder groups, and to develop citizen science capabilities and systems so that the public can help identify and report pest risks. Such citizen engagement is actually very useful in these areas.

I will move on to some of the points raised by the shadow Minister. He raised the issue of potential errors, given the number of changes being made and the errors being corrected. Our intention to retain relevant EU legislation has inevitably meant that it was not possible to include everything in earlier SIs, as EU legislation is updated frequently, especially in this kind of area. The purpose of this instrument is to introduce certain provisions that could not be included in earlier EU exit SIs, principally because they concern recent changes in plant health legislation. These changes are necessary to ensure that all deficiencies have been fully addressed. I hope he is happy with that answer.

The shadow Minister also asked whether we can be confident about the accuracy of other EU exit SIs. As I am sure he knows, such instruments go through the normal checking processes for draft SIs, including second and third pairs of eyes, and checks with DEFRA and other Government lawyers. They are also scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The principal focus of this instrument concerns operability, and the need to make technical changes and introduce certain provisions developed and agreed subsequent to earlier SIs.

The shadow Minister asked what consultation or impact assessment has been carried out, with whom and when. No separate formal consultation with stakeholders or impact assessment was undertaken because this instrument, as I have mentioned, makes many technical amendments, the purpose of which is to preserve biosecurity protections and assurances when the UK leaves the EU. It is not intended to change substantive policy.

The database for sharing information on biosecurity threats was mentioned. There is some precedent for third-country access to EU notification systems, and we will seek to negotiate such access with the EU. However, DEFRA has developed fallback positions for the eventuality of our losing access to EU notification systems. We are developing our own database to capture details of interceptions and incursions from day one to inform our decision making. All EU systems have publicly available elements that the UK will continue to access after exit. Our dedicated UK-wide risk and horizon-scanning team will continue to gather intelligence on plant health risks, including from other organisations, agencies and networks, and by increasing bilateral relationships with key trading partners and our nearest neighbours. Functionality has been added to the UK-owned plant portal to replace some EU notification systems. It is something that we take incredibly seriously, so under no circumstances would the Government let any of that slip, because it is crucial for all of us.

I shall touch quickly on a couple of points made by the Scottish National party spokesman. On the right for Scotland to make its own arrangements, plant health unfortunately is devolved, and Scottish Ministers have made the decision that they will deal with technical deficiencies relating to plant health legislation in Scotland, which will arise when the UK leaves the EU, by introducing their own EU exit SIs in Scotland. We are working closely with the Scottish Government, as ever, and the other devolved Administrations on a UK framework for plant health, including governance to minimise the risk of divergence, while respecting the devolved settlement, as the hon. Member for Falkirk will know. We will always work together closely.

The hon. Gentleman asked about protecting against future threats in the plant health regime. Policies in our EU plant health EU exit instruments are risk-based and proportionate, and will apply temporarily from day one until we develop our future plant regime. That will include consideration of the new plant health and official control regulation that will apply in EU member states from December 2019. In future, the Department will seek to take advantage of available technologies to facilitate as frictionless trade as possible while continuing our risk-based and proportionate approach to maintaining high standards of biosecurity. Again, DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency are working together closely to develop proposals on that.

I hope that hon. Members fully understand the need for the regulations, which has been made quite clear today. As I have outlined, they correct technical deficiencies and ensure that existing regimes for safeguarding UK biosecurity will continue to operate effectively from day one after exit. They ensure that newly regulated pests, plants and other material continue to be regulated after exit and provide for an internal market in plant material. I thank everyone for their input, and I very much look forward to collecting my tree. It is protecting such trees that the SI is all about.

Question put and agreed to.