Lord Gardiner of Kimble
My Lords, I am most grateful for a very thought-provoking debate on these matters. I emphasise that the amendments in this instrument are purely about technical changes to ensure that all the arrangements that are being brought over into our statute book are operable and so forth. A number of points were made; if I could run through them and then, if there are any others, I might receive some assistance.
Both my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to equivalent or higher standards. The Explanatory Memorandum states that:
“EU law regarding aquatic animal health set standards equivalent or higher than the international standards set by the … OIE”.
We want to ensure that we are able to trade with our European partners and others post Brexit. Therefore it is vital that our aquatic animal health status is at least of equivalent or a higher standard, to ensure that there are no barriers from a disease perspective. As I have explained, particularly in Northern Ireland, the health status is very high, and there are far fewer aquatic diseases in the island of Ireland. The UK, and Northern Ireland in particular, might want to diverge precisely to set higher standards. We will be able to do so, so that we remain focused on biosecurity and proactive in preventing disease. As I said in my opening remarks, with the far fewer fish diseases that there are on the island of Ireland, that is an absolute imperative.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned the single epidemiological unit. It will of course remain. It actually does not relate to Europe; this is an arrangement agreed by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly. As I hope I have outlined, it is absolutely essential if the two Administrations are to deal effectively with ensuring that there is a healthy status.
As I said, there is excellent co-operation and collaboration between DAERA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in aquatic animal health and aquaculture. That collaboration is regular and extensive. Both departments work closely with research institutes, such as the Marine Institute in Galway and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast on a range of fish health issues. Also, the north/south fisheries liaison group involves co-operation on operational issues relating to inland fisheries management. It was established by Inland Fisheries Ireland and its parent department, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the Republic of Ireland, DAERA in Northern Ireland and the Loughs Agency. That is important because, if I remember rightly, the five sea loughs are cross-border. The Loughs Agency is a cross-border implementation body, established under the Belfast Good Friday agreement. In addition, there is a north/south standing scientific committee for inland fisheries. I have many other examples of the intrinsic way both parts of the island of Ireland work on these matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked specifically what consultation there had been with the Irish Government. Of course, as a matter of courtesy, DAERA will inform them of these technical changes at the next bilateral, but there was no formal discussion because, with the continuum of all the fora I have described, this is how it will be operable in Northern Ireland. As a matter of courtesy, DAERA of course has extensive and regular dialogue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about buffer zones. The wording on buffer zones in this instrument is consistent across England, Wales and Scotland. There is no conferral of a legislative power. DAERA is not transposing article 49(2) of the 2006 directive, but merely ensuring that references to it in the principal regulations, or to provisions that cross-refer to it, operate properly by referring to “the competent authority” rather than “the member state”. The power for DAERA, as the competent authority, to establish buffer zones is precisely to prevent or to limit the spread of disease. The key point is that that is already conferred by Regulation 27 of the Aquatic Animal Health Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009, which transposes article 49 of Directive 2006/88/EC. I am sorry for what seems rather a considerable number of words, but they are to show that it is within DAERA as the competent authority to establish those buffer zones.
To my noble friend Lady McIntosh I say that, yes, this is a matter for a no-deal scenario but, whether the United Kingdom leaves with no deal or not—obviously, the Government are working extremely hard with others to secure a deal—clearly some of these technical operability points would have to be attended to at some point. I do not believe that a lot of our work would have to be attended to to get it into the prism of being UK or Northern Ireland-compliant. As the competent authority, DAERA will also continue to inspect all live fish imports. The FSA in Northern Ireland has a role in relation to products going for human consumption. The MSC is a certification body only—it does not have enforcement powers in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh also raised the question of crabs. Northern Ireland is a strong exporter of crabs landed in the Province, and they are largely sold to the EU, but this should not affect any crabs exported from the Faroe Islands. I was interested in the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the Faroe Islands, which, no doubt, will be a matter for further consideration and discussion.
The issue of tariffs is still under consideration by the Government, and the Secretary of State said yesterday at the NFU conference that it is matter on which there is considerable focus.
On the question of the export health certificates, the UK remains committed to not imposing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic under any circumstances. In a no-deal scenario, it is assumed that the EU will require an export health certificate for all exports of products of animal origin, which includes all fishery and aquaculture products. For live exports of aquatic animals, fish health certification will be required to meet EU standards—I conjecture that that would apply to Northern Ireland produce, for the reasons I have described. Consignments approved for export will have to be inspected by an official inspector before departure; that will be an increased imposition on current trading arrangements and will ultimately fall to DAERA resources.
I wonder whether there are any other points that I need to answer; if there are any, I will look again at Hansard. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that with Defra business I will use every endeavour to inform all interested noble Lords. Those who contacted the official on the telephone number found in the back of the Explanatory Memorandum—including, I think, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter—have said to me, “This is wonderful because it so rarely happens”. That is purpose of Defra being a helping hand and not a heavy one, so I encourage that. I informed a number of Northern Ireland Peers that the debate was happening, to say what it was about. They obviously thought the discussions were technical and on operability, but I am very keen that there is this dialogue in the Moses Room. A lot of detailed discussions can take place in the Moses Room. I am mindful of what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said about further discussions, but the truth is that all the noble Lords I would expect to see on an issue such as this, where there is a specialism and an interest, are here.
I will look at Hansard to see which areas I might not have precisely covered, but on the basis that I think I have covered as many as I can at the moment, I commend the regulations.