Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for what has been a constructive and interesting debate. If there are any points that time does not permit me to cover today, I will of course write to your Lordships.
I was struck by all the comments about biosecurity and why we are doing this. It is to protect plant biosecurity, as was made clear by my noble friend Lady Redfern and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. It is absolutely key that we embark on this in a very serious and important way. I was also struck by my noble friend Lady Redfern, absolutely rightly, referring to the importance of the safety of those working to deal with pests, disease and invasive non-native species, all of which impinge upon our biosecurity.
Given the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others, I thought it would be helpful to summarise the timetable for the introduction of checks and associated fees. On 1 January 2021, documentary, identity and physical checks were introduced on high-risk EU goods and carried out at places of destination. No fees are currently applied for these checks. On 1 June 2021, fees will be introduced for documentary, identity and physical checks on high-risk goods and for documentary checks on other goods. On 1 January 2022, physical inspections of high-risk goods will move to border control posts. On 1 March 2022, identity and physical checks on other goods will commence at border controls posts, with fees then applied for those checks.
The noble Baronesses on the Front Benches opposite raised the devolved Administrations. The Scottish and Welsh Governments are following the same phased approach as in England in terms of the timetable for inspecting EU consignments and applying fees to recover the costs of those inspections. In all parts of GB, fees will set to recover fully the cost of services provided, in line with the general Treasury principle on cost recovery. As services in Wales are provided by APHA on behalf of the Welsh Government, fees in Wales will mirror those in England. A different cost-base applies in Scotland, so there may be some differences to actual fees, but the same methodology and principles apply.
I give the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, my absolute assurance that the devolved Administrations are currently checking high-priority plants. We are working very closely and extensively with our devolved counterparts on operational readiness to ensure that our policies and plans are operable. For example, a UK plant health post-transition period operational readiness board—I am sorry, that is such a long phrase—has been established to discuss planning with devolved Administrations. This includes weekly meetings to consider policy issues, including fees. We have been working closely with officials from all the devolved Administrations to design future common frameworks where they are necessary, in line with principles on common frameworks.
I understand the point about working closely with industry. My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, raised this. We have maintained regular engagement with the industry—indeed, I have been at a number of the meetings, particularly with the Horticultural Trades Association—on post-transition planning with individual operators and through key stakeholder groups. This included an explanation of the planned charging regime for EU imports, which was followed up with details of the actual changes. Discussions were held through fora such as the plant health advisory forum, the tree health policy group and the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group. In addition, there was frequent bilateral engagement on EU imports with key stakeholders, such as the Horticultural Trades Association, the Fresh Produce Consortium, the National Farmers’ Union, the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association and—I declare my membership—the Royal Horticultural Society, which we have also been working with.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Hayman, my noble friend Lady McIntosh and others more generally raised the important point of how best we can support business with the changes that I think we have all agreed are desirable, given the interceptions that we have identified already, and before this new regime. We have been listening carefully to the concerns of industry to make sure that the new requirements are practical, proportionate and—importantly—risk-based. The import controls on EU-regulated goods are being phased in over 14 months. Regulated goods are not currently being held at the border for import checks in order to help trade flow. All EU high-priority goods may be checked at places of destination until January 2022, minimising that disruption at the border.
On a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the Government have invested £705 million to ensure that our border systems are functional from 1 January and will be fully operational in line with the phasing plan. Operating hours for plant health services have also been adjusted to service business needs, while ensuring that biosecurity standards continue to be maintained and strengthened in ways that support trade and the smooth flow of goods. I think it was my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes who made the point about the importance of biosecurity but also trade flows and supply.
So far as the financial costs raised in this debate, we have been clear that, in line with Treasury rules, the Animal & Plant Health Agency recovers the cost of delivering these services from businesses that use them. Low-risk goods will receive a lower frequency of checks; fees therefore need to be adapted to ensure that there is no over-recovery of costs.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised engagement with the EU. There is ongoing and active engagement with the EU on all these matters. She also raised the AIC report. We have regular contact and engagement with the AIC. She also mentioned FERA, which conducts seed testing to support imports and exports. The cost of seed inspections is £128.13 per consignment for a 100% inspection and £6.40 for a 5% inspection rate. Specific seeds are listed in the SI.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, asked about risks from Northern Ireland goods. The island of Ireland is of course a single epidemiological unit. It is really important that we respect both their biosecurity and ours. We have a risk-targeted surveillance programme, which monitors movement of plants from all origins. Again, it is important that we look at this constantly. She also raised the risks to woodlands. We review risks on a continuous basis through the UK plant health risk register and take action in response to new threats, including emergency regulations, such as those for Xylella.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised the definition of high-priority plants. High-priority plants are those that pose the greatest potential risk to GB biosecurity. This includes shrubs and plants for planting not intended for final users, host plants of Xylella—for instance, lavender and rosemary—and other plant material for propagation, such as seeds and cuttings. Fees are based on the actual cost and time that it takes to inspect different categories of material.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also raised costs. The methodology used to calculate these fees was fully consulted on in 2017 and has not changed. Fee income is carefully monitored to ensure that there is no over-recovery or under-recovery. Any discrepancy would normally be rectified in the following year. However, for this year, to ensure that there is no significant over-recovery of costs, APHA and Defra will monitor fee income on a monthly basis, which is important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, also raised Northern Ireland. In line with the principles of unfettered market access, there is no requirement for export phytosanitary certificates to accompany qualifying Northern Ireland goods moving from Northern Ireland to GB, so there are no associated fees. There will also be no import checks on those qualifying goods entering GB and no additional costs to trade as a result of plant health service delivery by APHA.
I am sorry if that was a very brisk description of some of the questions asked by the Committee. However, I commend this statutory instrument to your Lordships.