I send my best wishes to the Agriculture Minister, and I am, obviously, standing in for him. I know that many Members have passed on their best wishes already, but I want to pass on mine and, I am sure, the best wishes of everyone in the Chamber.
I am seeking the approval of the Assembly to make the Marketing of Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020. I am bringing this draft legislation before you under the affirmative resolution procedure, as the statutory rule (SR) gives the Department a legislative power.
The proposed legislation would transfer to DAERA powers that would allow the provision of legislative functions from two EU directives that are not in annex 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol to be exercised by DAERA. One relates to the marketing of propagating material of ornamental plants, and the other relates to the marketing of vegetable-propagating and planting material other than seed. The SR will ensure that domestic legislation can be operated in propagating material and plant-propagating material, ornamentals and vegetable plant material after the EU exit implementation period (IP).
To give some background, as a result of those directives not being in the Northern Ireland protocol, the EU powers that are used to make and amend legislation relating to the directives will not be available to DAERA post-implementation period completion day, which is, of course, 31 December 2020. If no action is taken, the Department will not have sufficient powers available to make domestic legislation in propagating material and plant-propagating material.
The transfer of functions to domestic legislation can be done under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, provided that it occurs before the IP completion day. The powers are used in the SR to transfer the legislative functions from the two EU directives that I referred to, which are not in the Northern Ireland protocol, in order to give the Department the powers to make and amend the relevant domestic legislation.
The draft regulations confer powers to DAERA through a transfer of legislative functions that would not be available to the Department after completion day. That will enable DAERA to make and amend relevant legislation in the areas that I mentioned. The making of the SR does not make or amend policy in those areas.
I welcome the opportunity to speak as Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and to outline the views of the Committee.
The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 means that it has been necessary to review plant health legislation in order to take account of the protocol. DAERA currently uses section 2 powers of the European Communities Act 1972 to make legislation on the marketing of plant-propagating and planting material. Those powers will not be available after the end of EU exit implementation period.
While powers are available under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act for matters that are in annex 2 of the protocol, Council directive 98/56/EC, which regulates ornamental plant-propagating material, and Council directive 2008/72/EC, which regulates vegetable-propagating and planting material other than seed, are not in annex 2 of the protocol.
The AERA Committee considered a written briefing on an SL1 for a statutory rule on the Marketing of Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (NI) 2020 at its meeting on 22 October. It is that SR that we are considering today. At the meeting, the Committee indicated that it had no concerns or objections to the rule. The Committee has been advised that this instrument will allow DAERA, as the appropriate authority in this jurisdiction, to exercise legislative functions here after the end of the transition period equivalent to legislative functions exercisable by the Commission and the Council.
The instrument sets out DAERA's powers to set conditions with which ornamental planting material must comply; set labelling and document requirements for plant material; modify the regulated species of vegetable plant materials; set conditions with which vegetable plant material must comply; and derogate in the event of temporary supply difficulties. These regulation-making powers will enable the Department to amend marketing requirements after the end of the transition period to ensure that those statutory requirements can keep pace with scientific and technical knowledge and be responsive to market conditions.
The Committee considered the draft SR at its meeting on 3 December and was advised that no public consultation had taken place. The SR has been screened for equality impact, and there is no impact on business, charities, voluntary bodies or the public sector. A regulatory impact assessment has not been prepared. The regulations will have no financial implications for businesses. It has no human rights implications, nor is it incompatible with EU law. The order is, therefore, deemed to comply with the requirements of section 24 of the NI Act 1998. The report of the Examiner of Statutory Rules did not identify any issues in relation to the statutory rule. Therefore, the Committee was content with the proposals from the Department and recommends that the statutory rule be confirmed by the Assembly.
I send my best wishes to Edwin Poots and wish him a speedy recovery. The two motions before the House represent the latter stages of the Brexit transition process as we accelerate towards 1 January. It is important that we have these regulations before the House. In respect of the draft Marketing of Plant and Propagating Material motion, the Committee had its opportunity to discuss these points. There was a general acceptance that what is before the House is necessary, as is much of the legislation coming from DAERA, given the approaching deadline.
Powers being transferred include setting labelling and documentary requirements for plant material and derogations in the event of temporary supply difficulties. As the clock ticks down towards the deadline, I note that efforts are intensifying. At this late stage, there is still time for the Prime Minister and his negotiating team to ensure that, post-transition, our economies across the United Kingdom are protected and that trading arrangements remain frictionless and without costly barriers.
I have raised in recent weeks the issue of seed potatoes and ware potatoes and the absolute necessity for the east-west supply route to remain open and frictionless. I would welcome the Minister's update in that regard. I know that his Department has been in direct contact on the matter. I welcome his continued work on that front, given the importance of this market to, for instance, the hundreds of fast-food outlets across the Province that utilise potatoes from the south of England.
The Minister may also want to spell out to the House the wider implications of not progressing the legislation on plant and propagating material. As I have stated, we have little option, given the countdown to 1 January, which is just a few weeks away.
The SDLP accepts the amendments to the regulations on the marketing of plant and propagating material. The Chairperson has gone into the processes at the Committee in quite a bit of detail. The amendments are some of the many required by Brexit that the Assembly has had to scrutinise in a limited period. Indeed, there is a limited period for some of this stuff. The pace at which we were expected to scrutinise the statutory instruments, with the limited detail that we had, and return them to Westminster was, frankly, a disgrace. Those who think that Brexit was a good idea in allowing us time to scrutinise should reflect on that.
The regulations will transfer functions to the Department to allow for legislation in those areas after the end of the transition period. As the amendments are largely technical, we do not see a problem with agreeing to them; in fact, they are practically necessary. However, those powers should not be left in limbo or surrendered to Westminster at any stage. It will be for the Assembly to scrutinise any future legislation that the Department chooses to bring forward as a result of these and future amendments.
The SR is required in Northern Ireland to transpose EU law into domestic legislation and ensure that the UK fulfils its obligations. It deals with regulations for the marketing of ornamental plants and propagating material and the marketing of vegetable-propagating and plant material other than seed. The SR does not introduce new policy. Therefore, the Ulster Unionist Party supports it.
I thank the junior Minister for laying out the detail of what is before us. I will speak initially as a member of the AERA Committee.
As has been explained, the statutory rule was laid before the Committee. It was content with the merits of the policy and agreed that it should move to the next legislative stage. The SR contains provisions relating to the marketing of ornamental plants and propagating material and vegetable-propagating material other than seed.
The statutory instrument will allow DAERA, as the appropriate authority in Northern Ireland, to exercise legislative functions in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. It sets out DAERA's powers to set conditions with which ornamental plant material must comply, including set labelling and document requirements for plant material. It also modifies the regulated species of vegetable plant material, sets conditions with which vegetable plant material must comply and allows the Department to derogate in the event of temporary supply difficulties.
The statutory rule is mainly technical; nevertheless, in the run-up to Christmas, it is a useful opportunity to thank DAERA officials for all the work that they have done on our behalf to make legislative preparation for the EU exit process, often in the face of much uncertainty.
In closure, speaking on behalf of the Alliance Party, I have no objections to the rules or regulations.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I thank Members for considering the motion. It appears that the House is in broad agreement with what has been proposed, and I do not intend to go over the points that have been made. To summarise, the regulations will transfer legislative powers to DAERA and do not make any policy changes. It is important that the SR be made before the implementation period ends to ensure that the Department takes powers to make and amend legislation in that policy area. I commend the motion to the Assembly and ask it to approve the draft Marketing of Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That the draft Marketing of Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 be approved.