The draft Plant Health and Diseases of Animals (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:45 am on 8th December 2020.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 10:45 am, 8th December 2020

I have been advised that junior Minister Lyons will move the motion on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister relaid the motion to facilitate that arrangement. A revised Order Paper was issued this morning.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I beg to move

That the draft Plant Health and Diseases of Animals (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 be approved.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Business Committee has agreed that there should be no time limit to the debate.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

The draft regulations are to be made under powers that were conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. They will ensure that Northern Ireland's primary legislation that governs plant health and animal health and welfare continues to operate effectively at the end of the transition period in a way that aligns with the Northern Ireland protocol.

The draft regulations are one of a number of SRs that will be laid before the Assembly over the coming weeks to ensure that Northern Ireland has a functioning statute book on and after 1 January 2021. As the draft regulations amend primary legislation, the 2018 Act requires that they are subject to the draft affirmative resolution procedure. That means that they cannot be made until the Assembly approves them.

The amendments that are made by the draft regulations are technical in nature. Before I explain what they do, it may assist Members if I provide a brief overview of the legislative background. In 2018 and 2019, a number of statutory instruments (SIs) were made at Westminster to ensure that domestic legislation could operate in the event that the UK left the European Union without an agreement. Some of those SIs amended Northern Ireland legislation for which the Department has responsibility. They were taken forward at Westminster to ensure transparency and scrutiny in the absence of a fully functioning Assembly and are due to come into operation at the end of the transition period.

While there are some provisions in those SIs that are still needed because they reflect the fact that the UK is no longer a member state of the European Union, some changes that are made in them do not take account of the Northern Ireland protocol. The draft regulations revoke some of those provisions. They also make some technical amendments to primary legislation relating to plant and animal health and welfare to ensure that it aligns with the Northern Ireland protocol. The draft regulations amend three separate pieces of primary legislation: the Plant Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967; the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1981; and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

I will now speak briefly to the amendments to be made to each of those pieces of primary legislation. I will turn first to the amendments to the Plant Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. Sections 2 and 3 of that Act currently provide the Department with powers to make legislation to prevent the introduction of plant pests to Northern Ireland and their spread within or from Northern Ireland. The Department can exercise those powers if it believes that it is necessary or because it is required to do so to implement an obligation under EU law, referred to in the 1967 Act as a "Community obligation". Following the end of the transition period, those EU laws relating to the spread of organisms that are harmful to plants or plant products specified in paragraph 41 of annex 2 to the Northern Ireland protocol will continue to apply here. It is, therefore, important that the Department continues to be able to exercise its powers to make legislation under the 1967 Act to implement any obligations that may arise under those EU laws. The draft regulations achieve that by making technical amendments to sections 2 and 3 of the 1967 Act. They replace the references to "Community obligation" in those provisions with a reference to:

"“retained EU law or relevant Protocol" obligation. For clarity, they also define what is meant by "relevant Protocol obligation". In a nutshell, the draft regulations ensure that, at the end of the transition period, the Department continues to have the powers necessary to fulfil its obligations.

The draft regulations make similar changes to the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. I will speak to those amendments together, as they are almost identical in nature. Article 46A of the 1981 order and section 28 of the 2011 Act provide powers for inspectors to enter premises to investigate alleged breaches of European Community obligations relating to animal health and animal welfare respectively. Following the end of the transition period, those EU laws relating to animal health and welfare listed in paragraphs 36 to 40 of annex 2 to the Northern Ireland protocol will continue to apply to Northern Ireland. The draft regulations ensure that the powers that inspectors need to investigate compliance with those EU laws can continue as they do now at the end of the transition period. Again, that is achieved by replacing the phrase "Community obligation" in the relevant legislative provisions with a reference to:

"“retained EU law or relevant Protocol" obligation. Given those changes, it is necessary to revoke some provisions in one of the no-deal statutory instruments that I mentioned earlier: the Animal Health and Welfare (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. The 2019 regulations amended article 46A of the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 and section 28 of the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 to reflect the UK's departure from the EU. They did not, however, take account of the Northern Ireland protocol. The amendments to the 1981 order and the 2011 Act, and these draft regulations, mean that the changes made by the no-deal SI are no longer needed.

Finally, the draft regulations make a very minor amendment to a reference to the phrase, "other member States", in schedule 2 to the 1981 order to reflect the fact that the UK is no longer a member of the EU.

The Examiner of Statutory Rules has considered the draft regulations and has not raised any issue with them in her report. They have also been approved by the Office of the Legislative Counsel and were scrutinised by the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee on 22 October 2020. The Committee agreed that the regulations should proceed to the next legislative stage, which is the approval of the Chamber.

In conclusion, the changes contained in the draft regulations are technical and do not represent a change in policy. They ensure that the relevant legislation can continue to operate at the end of the transition period as it does now.

I commend the draft regulations to the Assembly.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

At the outset, I add my best wishes to those being sent to the Minister. Yesterday, I recorded my best wishes and was also in contact with him. I wish him well and commend Mr Lyons, who is looking very comfortable at the Dispatch Box as the replacement Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

I welcome the opportunity to outline the views of the Committee. Plant health and animal welfare fall under the protocol. Primary legislation in this jurisdiction is required to align with EU obligations in accordance with the protocol so that it can continue to operate effectively at the end of the transition period.

I want to be clear that the primary legislation that we are referring to is the Plant Health Act (NI) 1967, the Diseases of Animals (NI) Order 1981 and the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011. The AERA Committee considered a written briefing on an SL1, the draft Plant Health and Diseases of Animals (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (NI) 2020, at its meeting on 22 October. It is that statutory rule that is subject to debate now. At that meeting, the Committee indicated that it had no concerns or objections to the rule. The rule amends the primary legislation that I mentioned earlier relating to plant health and animal health and welfare to ensure that it aligns with the protocol. The Committee has been advised that the rule is technical and does not involve policy changes. It provides that investigations in respect of alleged breaches of animal health and welfare obligations arising under either retained EU law or the protocol can continue at the end of the transition period. It also provides that DAERA can continue to make legislation preventing the introduction or spread of plant pests into or within this jurisdiction as per the protocol.

Finally, the statutory rule amends the Diseases of Animals (NI) Order 1981 to reflect that the UK is no longer a member of the EU. The Committee considered the draft SR at its meeting on 3 December and was advised that, as the amendments contained in the rule are technical and do not involve policy changes, they have not been subject to public consultation.

A screening exercise was carried out, and no equality issues were identified. No regulatory impact assessment is required as there are no impacts on the private, voluntary or public sector as a result of the changes. A rural needs screening exercise was carried out on the statutory rule, and no impact was identified. There are no financial implications associated with the introduction of the rule.

A statutory rule does not have any human rights implications, nor is it incompatible with EU law. It therefore complies with the requirements of section 24 of the NI Act. The report of the Examiner of Statutory Rules has not identified any issues with 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 want to add a couple of comments as Sinn Féin spokesperson for agriculture and rural affairs. The legislative process that we have been engaged in marks, effectively, the legal separation of the North from the EU, which is against the democratic will of the people of the North.

We have been governed by the common agricultural policy for many decades. A huge regulatory and scrutiny burden has been placed on the Committee and the Department. I commend and echo what Patsy McGlone said in the previous debate: the legal separation has resulted in the Committee having to deal with over 50 statutory rules and instruments. In normal circumstances, that body of work could take years to do, but we have had to do it in weeks. Doing so has put officials in the Department and our Committee officials under huge stress. We on the Committee have held bumper meetings to deal with a huge load of scrutiny at pace. We find it very challenging and unacceptable, particularly given that it is not something that the people of the North consented to in the first place.

There are many other areas of relevance and many other challenges in the North of Ireland to do with rural affairs, such as COVID, TB and the ammonia action plan. There are loads of other issues that we want to look at, and that has placed our Committee, and the officials in particular, under huge pressure. It is really important that we pay tribute to the work of the officials. Occasionally, they do not get the information that they need in decent time from DEFRA in order to process it all for the Department and the Committee. I pay tribute to them for all the work that they have been doing. I also place on record my thanks to my colleagues on the Committee. As I said, we are trying our best to scrutinise a massive volume of work, which is the legal fallout from the separation that we did not consent to in the first place.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 11:00 am, 8th December 2020

As with the previous motion, this is a legislative necessity around plant health and diseases of animals. Again, the time pressure is clear to avoid moving past the 1 January 2021 deadline without the necessary legislative powers in place. As was also the case with the previous motion, it is essential that legislative protection be provided. That is the nature of the motion.

As I often say publicly, the body of our current animal health and welfare regulations enables our produce to be elevated to an enviable biosecurity, welfare and, ultimately, taste and marketability position. I encourage the Department and the Minister to ensure that high animal welfare standards are maintained and protected, given the immense effort of our producers to create that high level of traceability and those high welfare standards. Farmers often refer to the amount of red tape around food traceability. As a farmer myself, I am only too aware of the burden that that places on the producer. That having been said, however, it is an important aspect of production that has many benefits, which must be protected as we move into 2021.

As of today, there is still much uncertainty around the terms of the trade deal and the outworkings of the negotiations that will continue throughout this week. I am interested to know what role the UK animal health and welfare common framework will play in designing future policy in that area and what engagement will take place with the industry on that. Engagement is essential across our agri-food and horticulture industries. It is also most important to know whether, in any trade deal that is arrived at, protections will be included in the UK Internal Market Bill so that we have a high degree of clarity for local businesses and our consumer base in order that our industry is best prepared for the changes that lie ahead. I support the motion.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

The SDLP accepts the amendment to the regulations on plant health and diseases of animals. The amendment regulations are some of the many that are required by Brexit that the Assembly has had to scrutinise in a limited period. The Chairperson outlined the detail of that.

I, too, place on record my thanks to the departmental officials for their endurance, as they had to put up with all that on this side. They have been placed in a really awful position because of the lack of flow of information from DEFRA. Indeed, in some circumstances, as we found out in the Committee, there was no flow of information from DEFRA, which led to statutory instruments not being discussed as scheduled at the Committee given the limited information that was provided to us from the other side. Again, that is one of the fallouts from Brexit, and we do not need to rehearse those matters because they are being rehearsed elsewhere today, I hope.

The regulations align legislation with the terms of the Ireland protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. They will allow for investigations into alleged breaches of obligations under either retained EU law or the protocol. I specifically welcome that, as the Minister outlined, the regulations will allow inspectors to retain the ability and the legal wherewithal to enter premises and examine not only animal health issues but animal welfare issues, which are crucial to us all. We have had motions in the Assembly about that, so it is vital that that power is retained and, indeed, built on.

As a result, the Department will also be able to make legislation to prevent the introduction of pests as required by obligations arising under the Ireland protocol. The protocol is an important safeguard, whether a trade deal emerges from the ongoing negotiations between the British Government and the EU. It is essential that the Assembly is able to meet its responsibilities in maintaining the protocol. The SDLP will hold the Minister and the Executive accountable for meeting those responsibilities.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

The purpose of the statutory rule is to amend primary legislation relating to plant health and animal health and welfare and to ensure that domestic legislation could operate in the event of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. The rule allows for investigations into alleged breaches of animal health and welfare obligations arising under retained EU law. It allows the Department to continue to make legislation in Northern Ireland in order to prevent the introduction and spread of plant pests and animal diseases. The high welfare standards that we have here in Northern Ireland need to be protected as we move forward into the world market. The UUP supports the SR.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Speaking first as a member of the AERA Committee, I will say that I am aware that these matters were laid before the Committee for approval and that it considered them and was content with the merits of the policies. DAERA stated that there were no changes to policy since the information was submitted to the Committee.

Speaking as the chair and a member of the new Assembly all-party group on animal welfare, I note that the SR provides that investigations into alleged breaches of animal health and welfare obligations arising under either retained EU law or the protocol can continue at the end of the transition period as they do now. In light of that, as we face more uncertainty on EU exit in the coming days and weeks, I appeal for animal welfare issues to remain a high priority in that regard and for the Department to keep those matters under continual review.

On behalf of Alliance, I will say that, as the amendments are technical and do not involve policy changes, I am happy to support them.

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

I thank the junior Minister. I wish to make a few brief remarks on the draft regulations that are before the House. First, it must be noted that the draft Marketing of Plant and Propagating Material Regulations and the draft Plant Health and Diseases of Animals Regulations are necessary alterations to existing domestic legislation.

The regulations are being made through powers that were conferred on the Department by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and are necessary for our exit from the European Union at the conclusion of the transition period on 31 December. As such, there is an urgency for the approval of those regulations and others that have come before the House in recent days as we prepare for our exiting of the European Union. Both sets of regulations are technical and do not involve any changes to current policy.

The first of the draft regulations relating to propagating material involves the transfer of some additional legislative powers to DAERA. That will give the devolved Executive powers in relation to the setting of conditions with which ornamental and vegetable plant material must comply, for instance, as well as the setting of labelling and documentary requirements for plant material. It is, therefore, anticipated that there would be an ability to build greater flexibility into the system in respect of those conditions in order to be as contextually aware as possible. Such flexibility may be required in relation to derogations in the event of temporary supply difficulties, for instance.

The regulations are designed to be compliant with annex 2 of the NI protocol, namely to ensure that we can operate effectively after the end of the transition period. My party's position on the NI protocol is well documented, and we have been consistent from its inception. We opposed the Commons Bill, on three occasions, and we continue to believe that the protocol is undemocratic and will be economically and constitutionally damaging for this region of the United Kingdom. That having been said, there is a duty on us to provide as much certainty and clarity as possible for businesses, individuals, producers and consumers. Not to introduce the regulations, regardless of opinion on the protocol, would leave the Department bereft of control in these areas and would not have a positive effect.

As for future travel in these areas, I look forward to the Department updating the Agriculture Committee on the outworkings of the policies and what input the UK animal health and welfare common frameworks will have in the design of future policy. Whilst EU and UK rules remain the same, that cannot be guaranteed, moving forward. Regulated areas, such as labelling, are at particular risk of divergence, and we will need to bear that in mind, post-transition. In the meantime, for the reasons that I have outlined, I support the motion.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I have grave concerns about this, but I am going to bow to the much greater knowledge of EU issues of Mr Jim Allister QC, who had the privilege of representing Northern Ireland in the European Parliament and who is across these issues. I share his concerns about what is happening here today.

What we are doing has significant implications. It begs the question of why we are doing it, given that, hopefully, Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union on 31 December, when many of us will be rejoicing that we will no longer be under its bondage and control. The United Kingdom will become a free and independent state that will be able to make its own decisions on plant health, the importation of seeds, and animal welfare. The United Kingdom Government will be able to set standards that are even higher than those at present stipulated by the European Union. Therefore our product, as Mr Irwin says, will be able to be sold on the world market as having the highest possible standards in respect of inputs, the treatment of animals, the use of hormones and many other issues that are of concern to consumers throughout the world. Our products will be based on quality, rather than the lowest common denominator, and people will be able to buy food, particularly from Northern Ireland, with the confidence that the standards are some of the highest in the world.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

First, I will touch on the statutory rule, and, secondly, with your permission, Mr Speaker, I might stray into some broader issues in relation to Brexit, given what I said earlier, and the fact that Mr Wells has just done the same. Before I do that, I join others in wishing the Agriculture Minister all the best and a speedy recovery.

The statutory rule amends primary legislation to ensure that our statute book is in some kind of order as we approach the end of the transition period and that it aligns with the Ireland protocol. It provides that investigations into alleged breaches of animal health and welfare obligations arising under retained EU law can continue largely as they do now until the end of the transition period.

It also provides that the Department can continue to make any legislation pursuant to EU requirements under the protocol that prevents the introduction into or spread within Northern Ireland of plant pests and implement other obligations. That is welcome and sensible.

However, as with lots of these statutory rules that have come before us in relation to Brexit, they come with limited time and extremely abbreviated opportunity for scrutiny. Whatever one's perspective on leaving or remaining in the European Union or whatever one's perspective on the protocol, it cannot be right that we have had such limited time to debate the implications of this secondary legislation. The Chairman of the Agriculture Committee described clearly the pressure that not just the members but the clerical and support staff of that Committee have been under in scrutinising statutory regulations. We can only imagine the level of stress and demand that there has been on civil servants in the Department to prepare for these extremely novel arrangements.

Let us not forget that the reason why they are being scrutinised at such a hurried pace, in extremis and in such extraordinary circumstances, is because of the refusal of Boris Johnson's Government to extend the transition period in the middle of the biggest pandemic — the biggest global health crisis — certainly in a century, possibly even longer than that. It is, frankly, unconscionable that that has happened.

Let us take a step back and think about this. We have not been able to meet properly as an Assembly since March. We were only a few weeks into the return of these institutions when the biggest public health crisis in a century struck. Consequent to that, there occurred an enormous, unprecedented economic crisis. We are going to be dealing with the consequences of that for years, if not decades. It has completely transformed the way of life of the communities that we serve. It has taken over, in large part, the business of this Assembly and Executive. I am sure that it has filled up the inboxes of every MLA here, not just with routine casework but the most extraordinary and difficult requests from constituents for support, in extreme economic distress, and concern and anxiety about public health. It is extraordinary, immoral and unconscionable that the transition period has not been extended in those circumstances. That is why we are having to debate this legislation in such an extraordinarily compressed time.

It is also why small businesses across Northern Ireland, the UK, Ireland and these islands are having to process so rapidly the change that is going to come upon them in a few weeks. Many of them, as we heard clearly last night from businesses and civil society, simply will not be ready at the end of this year. There is no circumstance in which they can do the necessary legal and preparatory work to be ready.

First and foremost, therefore, let us put on the record today as we pass this statutory rule, which, as my colleague Patsy McGlone said, we have no specific objection to, that it is immoral and unacceptable that not just this Assembly — we are MLAs and it is our job to scrutinise legislation — but the businesses, communities and people we serve have been put under this extraordinary stress in this year of all years. It is wrong and should not have happened. The transition period should have been extended, and it is unconscionable, as I said, that it was not.

I will talk briefly about the broader issues around Brexit and the upheaval that we will face in a few weeks' time.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 11:15 am, 8th December 2020

I am sorry, but the Member needs to stick to the statutory rule that we are debating.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will stick to the statutory rule, Mr Speaker, because the statutory rule is, in a sense, connected to the broader issue that we will face in the next few days. I will say briefly that, though the statutory rule does a largely technical job, it is part of a bigger picture. It is part of the extraordinary disruption that we face at the end of this year as a result of Brexit. As several Members said, we still do not know the outcome of that negotiation. We will probably not find out for at least a couple of days. Whatever your perspective on Brexit or the protocol, the next 48 hours are critical to businesses, communities and the people that we serve.

Last night, civil society and businesses from across this place came together and said that they need a deal between the UK and the EU. Hopefully, that deal will be done in the next couple of days, but, if the UK Government or Boris Johnson are listening — perhaps he is — let us be absolutely clear: Members and the people, communities and businesses that we serve absolutely need a deal.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I ask the Member to wind.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

We also need time to prepare for —

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Sorry, Mr O'Toole. I will have to ask you to resume your seat if you continue to move away from the statutory rule. I have given you plenty of latitude.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Speaker, I will come back to the statutory rule. This statutory rule is important. It is a small technical statutory rule to clean up the statute book and keep us in line ahead of the end of the transition period. However, let us be absolutely clear: it is part of an enormous upheaval that people and businesses will face at the end of the year. We need a deal. To anyone who still thinks that we can get by without a deal at the end of the year: do not do this to people and businesses in Northern Ireland. We need a deal and we need goodwill from the UK and the EU to make the new arrangements work. Let us be absolutely clear and let the Assembly send that message to everyone: we need a deal, and we need to make it work on the basis on goodwill.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

This statutory instrument marks a seminal moment in the Assembly. For me, it is a most disturbing moment, which should, frankly, be equally disturbing to anyone with any fidelity to the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Contrary to what some unionist Members read from their weekly paper press release, this is not a statutory instrument that is merely technical and makes no policy change. It signals a fundamental change in the manner in which we are to be governed because it amends the statutes of the United Kingdom in these subject matters to require the Minister to make such orders as are "necessary" by the relevant protocol. In other words, what we are doing in the statutory instrument is surrendering the power of the devolved Assembly to make our own laws that touch on these issues and intend instead to commit ourselves irreversibly to imposing the laws that are in the protocol: laws that we do not make, that we cannot change and into which we have absolutely no input. Yet the statutory instrument enslaves the House to not one, not 10 but 45 EU directives and regulations. It commits us to the unquestioning adherence to and implementation of each and every one of those.

Under the Plant Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, we unalterably impose 11 EU directives and regulations. Under the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, we enslave ourselves to 32 EU directives and regulations that we cannot change. Under the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, we subject ourselves to two EU directives that we can never change. Therefore, let no one mislead the House or the public by pretending that this is only a technical measure that involves no change of policy. This involves the most fundamental change to the manner in which we are governed in decades, and, of course, it says to us that no longer will this House or a Minister of this House decide what legislation governs these subjects. We will be bound and chained to 45 EU directives and regulations that we cannot change. That is the seriousness of what this statutory instrument does, and it is most disappointing to me that a DUP Minister is here in the House urging and advocating that enslavement.

We were told — we were promised — that Brexit was about making our own laws. The iniquitous protocol sets Northern Ireland apart as a place that will not make its own laws, and here we have Members of the House meekly and limply advocating that we enslave ourselves in that very way. I am not prepared to consent to that, so, when the opportunity arises, I will seek to give the House the opportunity to vote against this enslavement. To me, it is an utterly retrograde and appalling measure that separates us from the United Kingdom and deprives us of the right to make our own laws on these subjects. It underwrites the annexation of Northern Ireland into the orbit of the EU by subjecting us, under annex 2 of the protocol, to these 45 directives, of which there are many more scores to come. Under annex 2, the protocol binds Northern Ireland to over 300 EU directives and regulations, leaving us unable to ever change them and obliged to follow whatever changes Brussels makes to them without any consultation or input from us.

This is a shameful day for our legislative Assembly. We are being asked to surrender the right to legislate according to our own needs and to have that right suborned to the diktat of EU regulations and directives. Strip away all the fancy words, and that is what this statutory instrument is about. It puts upon the people of Northern Ireland 45 EU directives and regulations that we can never change. I do not and will not consent to that, and I am very sad that some who should know better — I wonder whether they even read the regulations — will endorse the very enslavement of this place to EU rules.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate. I will briefly comment on some of the remarks made. First, I will refer to the remarks of the Chairman of the Committee. Before that, I extend my thanks to those who have been working so hard to make sure that we are prepared for what is coming in the months and years ahead. I also thank the Committee members for their diligence in carrying out their work.

The Chairman talked about the legal separation that has taken place between the UK and the EU. That is the outworking of the withdrawal agreement. There is opposition to at least some parts of that agreement from almost everybody in the House. It is the situation in which we currently find ourselves, however.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Stalford] in the Chair)

Mr Irwin urged that there be no change to welfare standards in Northern Ireland following the end of the transition period, and I can confirm that we will continue with the standards that are in place. That is important, because we do have high welfare standards here in Northern Ireland. It is one of our strongest selling points when it comes to our produce.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

It is important that that continue to be the case. I will give way to Mr Wells.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

The Minister makes a point about animal welfare standards. As a long-term vegetarian of 37 years and someone who has a keen interest in animal welfare, I support him on that. It is interesting, however, that he is binding us to a set of animal welfare standards that does not give us in the Northern Ireland Assembly the power, for instance, to ban foie gras, which involves one of the most cruel forms of animal food production in the world. If we, as the United Kingdom and as Northern Ireland, bind ourselves to those rules, we will not be able to go further and enhance our animal welfare standards, because we are bound to EU diktat. Several times, Members have brought up that very cruel form of food production. We do not carry it out in Northern Ireland, but we cannot ban the import of that horrendously cruel product because we are bound to EU regulations.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I do not know the particulars of the circumstance that Mr Wells mentions, but, yes, we are going to be bound to EU regulations in many ways by the protocol. As the Member will be aware, that is of disappointment to me as well. He will be aware of the position of my party in arguing and voting against the protocol. In fact, it was Members of this House, many of whom were so concerned about a border on the island of Ireland that was never going to happen, who are responsible for what is now happening as a result of the protocol. There will still be levers for us on animal welfare and food standards, because, in many ways, it is a minimum requirement for us, and there will be the possibility for us to go above and beyond.

Mr Irwin talked about the common framework. The Department will have the same powers available to it after the end of the transition period as it has now. I have been informed that the UK animal health and welfare common framework will be supported through concordats agreed between the four UK Administrations rather than through legislation, and I hope that that is of help to him.

I did note the concerns and wider issues that Mr Wells raised. We are doing this to ensure that we have that fully functioning statute book following the end of the transition period. It is important that, for the retained EU law from the directives that are currently in place, inspectors will be able to carry out the work on those laws and directives that have broad support across this place. That is what this legislation will allow us to do.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I will give way to Mr Allister.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Is it not utterly fatuous to say that we could not have inspectors if we do not pass the statutory instrument? This statutory instrument is about robbing the Minister of any discretion. It is amending each relevant section in each of the current Acts to state that the Minister will make such orders as are called upon by the protocol. Without the protocol, the Minister could make whatever directions he wants about inspections, but, with the protocol, he can make only those that EU directives require him to make, and that is something that he can never, ever change. It is enslavement, and the Minister well knows that. Shame on him for trying to put it upon this House.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

The Member has made his views known in his contributions. I do not think that there is anything that I will be able to say that will change his point of view. He has placed it well on the record.

Mr O'Toole put a number of his concerns on the record. None of them was particularly relevant to the SR. The Member is well aware that they had nothing to do with the SR, but he made his points. I referred to Mr Allister already. I thank Mrs Barton for her support. At this stage, I commend the motion to the Assembly.

Question put.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Clear the Lobbies. The Question will be put in three minutes. I remind Members that we should continue to uphold social distancing and that Members who have proxy voting arrangements in place should not come to the Chamber.

Members, please resume your seats. Before I put the Question again, I remind Members that, if possible, it would be preferable to avoid a Division.

Question put a second time.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Before the Assembly divides, I remind Members that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I also remind Members that social distancing will continue to be observed while the Division is taking place. Please be patient at all times and follow the instructions of the Lobby Clerks.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 81; Noes 2

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Ms Anderson, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Mrs Dodds, Ms Dolan, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Ms Ennis, Ms Flynn, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gildernew, Mr Givan, Ms Hargey, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Ms Hunter, Mr Irwin, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyons, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Miss McIlveen, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Middleton, Mr Muir, Ms Mullan, Mr Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Brogan, Mr McGuigan

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mr Wells

Question accordingly agreed to. Resolved:

That the draft Plant Health and Diseases of Animals (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 be approved.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I ask Members to take their ease for a few seconds to allow the Minister of Justice to take her place.