Animal Health, Plant Health, Seeds and Seed Potatoes (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30 pm, 3rd April 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction and for his time, and that of his officials, in the briefing session. As he said, we have here an SI that covers four subjects. First, regulation 999/2001 covers animal health in the form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy —BSE. Secondly, Commission implementing decision 2014/709 covers movement restrictions within the EU where African swine fever is present. Since the UK is designated free from that disease, we are not currently subject to those restrictions; Thirdly, Council directive 2000/29/EC covers protective measures on organisms harmful to plants and plant products. Fourthly, Council directives 2002/56/EC, 2002/55/EC and 2008/90/EC prescribe marketing standards for seed potatoes, vegetable seed and fruit-propagating materials. That is quite a mixed bag.

I shall deal first with the animal health aspects and TSE. This is a technical amendment relating just to England, as Scotland and Wales already have their own arrangements. Part 2, relating to African swine fever, relates to other member states. There is none here in the UK at the moment and we have not had an outbreak in the past. The SI makes provision to make it illegal to both import and export wild boar into the UK. There are powers in place to ensure that we can deal with an outbreak of African swine fever should one occur, and I am content that this aspect of the SI is both sensible and sufficient.

Until quite recently, a landowner a mile away from where I live had a small herd of wild boar on his land. His neighbours were none too pleased as it was not unknown for the piglets to escape and run riot, in the way that piglets will. Everyone was extremely pleased when he at last got rid of that small herd. I wondered whether he might have been subject to this SI had it been in place at the time.

The plant health aspects are slightly more complex. We debated this topic last week but that SI did not cover the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. That is now rectified today. I will refrain from making the obvious comment.

Schedule 16A refers, as the Minister has said, to the red-necked longhorn beetle, which is currently present in Italy and a tremendous pest. The SI attempts to prevent this pest arriving in the UK. The other aspect covered by the SI is the import of ash wood, which may come in from Canada and the USA. It is vital for the UK to protect its biosecurity, and by restricting the importation of both the longhorn beetle and ash wood that may come from unregulated areas, I am assuming that we are ensuring full protection. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case?

It is vital that all imports of plant material are fully regulated and certified; that is, with a plant passport. All paperwork needs to accompany imports with very detailed information on plant health, with pre-notification of imported plants from infected regions. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, about the issue of travellers bringing plant material into the country in their luggage. I hope that flagging up this piece of legislation will raise its profile and prevent the import of material that could be injurious to our indigenous plants.

Lastly, we come to seed marketing and seed potatoes. This follows a negative SI and is only a small part of what went before. There are no barriers to trade within the UK and no impact on the Scottish seed potato producers; it is a really big industry in Scotland. Our producers are reliant on certain types of potatoes coming in from the EU. In Scotland they use different types of potatoes from those in England, and I shall look out for those when next buying potatoes, although I am not confident that I will be able to find them where I live.

The previous SI on this subject had wide-ranging acceptance of the use of seeds from the EU for a two-year period. Given that the UK’s production of ware potatoes is valued at £900 million, it is important that we get this right.

I was very interested in the phrase “unlisted vegetable varieties” in paragraph 2.15 of the Explanatory Memorandum. I was correct in thinking that this applied to new varieties of vegetables. These have yet to be registered and require two years of official testing before that registration takes place. My understanding is that there is a short-term registration authorisation before this, so that the product can be market-tested to some extent. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that. One such new vegetable is kalettes, which have become very popular as a new and tasty way to eat our greens. There will undoubtedly be others. I can recommend kalettes if your Lordships have not already tried them.

Although there has been discussion with the devolved Administrations and there is now agreement on the way forward, there is no consistent approach across the UK. Basically, the devolved Administrations are doing their own thing, which, of course, they are entitled to do. However, this could lead to confusion among producers and growers as to whether they are complying with the legislation.

I fear there will be huge problems further down the road as we work with these various pieces of legislation, which have become very fragmented and piecemeal. It has all become rather rushed at the end, instead of there having been a proper implementation plan at the outset, with sensible groupings together. That said, I support this SI. I doubt that it will be the last, but I live in hope.