76.These Regulations make extensive amendments to retained EU food and drink legislation, mainly in relation to rules on wine and spirit drinks and specifically concerning geographical indication (GI) schemes. The amendments reflect recent changes to EU law in this area, introduce tribunal procedure rules on wine and spirit GI decisions by the Secretary of State, and introduce transitional recognition of certain types of bottled natural mineral water in Northern Ireland. The instrument has been laid under the urgent “made affirmative” procedure to ensure that the changes come into effect in time for EU exit. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) explains that, building on earlier EU exit instruments, the instrument converts the EU’s GI schemes for spirit drinks and wine into equivalent UK schemes and enables appeals to be made to the First-tier Tribunal when GI decisions are made under the new UK schemes. The instrument also removes an obligation on UK producers of agri-foods to use EU GI logos in the UK after exit. Defra says that it plans to lay a further instrument in December to introduce new UK GI logos which are to become compulsory after a three-year transition period. The Committee has asked the Department for additional information about the transition to the new UK GI schemes and the expected impact on industry and the public sector which we are publishing at Appendix 2. The Committee notes that the Minster’s description of the instrument as “predominantly technical in nature” is a somewhat elastic use of the expression and does not properly reflect the significance of some of the changes, such as empowering the Secretary of State to make decisions on UK GI applications regarding wines and spirit drinks.
77.These two sets of Regulations amend retained EU law on the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Organisation of Agricultural Markets (CMO). The instruments have been laid with a shared Explanatory Memorandum (EM) and under the urgent “made affirmative” procedure to ensure that retained EU law in these areas can operate effectively in a UK domestic policy context after EU exit. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) explains that, amongst other changes, SI 2019/1344 ensures that the EU’s financial discipline mechanism can continue to operate. Under this mechanism, farmers are reimbursed for contributions made towards an EU crisis reserve which is funded annually through a mandatory deduction to direct payments recipients in receipt of over €2,000. This deduction is then reimbursed the following year if unspent, to eligible direct payments recipients. While the Devolved Administrations will not continue this mechanism, Defra has chosen to retain it for England. The EM does not provide information about the size of the reimbursement fund, but Defra told the Committee that the UK fund amounted to €39.6 million in 2018, of which €25.9 million was allocated to England. SI 2019/1343, amongst other changes, introduces transitional arrangements to allow EU wine to enter the UK without third country wine import certificates after exit. Alternative forms of documentation will be allowed if the Secretary of State considers that the EU wine meets UK marketing standards. According to Defra, this is to avoid any risk of disruption to wine supplies after EU exit. The Department says that EU wines represent around half of wines sold in the UK. Without the changes there would be a “high risk that any disruption would impact […] particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises including importers, restaurants, off licences and others” and a “significant adverse effect on Government revenues from excise returns, and consumer choice in wine”. Defra told the Committee that the transitional arrangements will be in place for nine months. We have asked the Department to revise the EM to reflect the additional information provided to the Committee.
78.A Northern Ireland Executive has not yet been appointed following the Northern Ireland Assembly election on 2 March 2017. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 (“the 2018 Act”) specified a period during which Northern Ireland Ministers could be appointed, but, once the “period for Executive formation” ends, the Secretary of State will be required to propose a date for an Assembly election. A previous instrument extended the period for Executive formation to 21 October 2019; the current instrument further extends it to 13 January 2020. As a result, Northern Ireland departments will also continue to exercise their functions in accordance with section 3 of the 2018 Act until that date. The Regulations were made on 21 October 2019 using the made affirmative procedure, which has immediate effect but must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament within 28 days, beginning on the day the Regulations were made. The Explanatory Memorandum notes that the Secretary of State did not make the Regulations earlier as he has been engaging with the Northern Ireland political parties and the Irish Government in talks to enable an Executive to form. He considered that to make Regulations to extend the period pre-emptively could have compromised that process and been prejudicial to the discussions.
79.Sanctions, or reductions in the amount of benefit paid to a claimant, are imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions if a claimant fails to take up an offer of paid work, ceases paid work for no good reason, or fails to comply with work-related activity. Currently, the sanctions in the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 and the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 2013 are: 13 weeks for a first failure; 26 weeks for a second failure and 156 weeks (three years) for third and subsequent failures. In Northern Ireland the highest-level sanction is 78 weeks. These instruments reduce the sanction for third and subsequent failures to six months (26 weeks) throughout the UK. These instruments also contain transitional provisions so that those currently subject to a higher-level sanction will have it terminated after 26 weeks or immediately if the person’s award has already been reduced for longer than that.
14 Product names can be granted with a ‘geographical indication’ (GI) if they have a specific link to the place where they are made. GI recognition aims to enable consumers to trust and distinguish quality products while also helping producers to market their products better.
15 This period can be extended for periods of dissolution, prorogation or adjournment for more than four days.