Forty Third Report Contents

Instruments of interest

Meat Preparations (Amendment and Transitory Modification) (England) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1666)

20.This instrument removes temporarily until 31 March 2021 the prohibition on importing chilled meat preparations, such as raw sausages, hamburgers, meatballs and peppered steak, from the European Economic Area (EEA), that would otherwise have applied to such imports from 1 January, when imports from the EEA became third-country imports. The instrument also removes temporarily the requirement for imports of meat preparations from the EEA to be deep frozen. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that the temporary measures mirror the phased approach to import checks, as detailed in the Border Operating Model,5 and give businesses time to prepare for new import requirements that will apply to Products of Animal Origin from April 2021.6 Defra says that without the temporary suspension there would be financial consequences for businesses and an adverse impact on food supplies, leading to limited product availability.

21.Asked for further information about this impact, Defra told us that it “will continue to work closely with representatives of the GB Food Industry to ensure that the potential impacts are fully understood and that importers have sufficient time to plan for the change in our import rules”. The Department confirmed that the current suspension could be extended or made permanent. However, given that the current suspension will expire in just over two months, we urge the Government to ensure that industry has all the information it needs to prepare for the new import rules from 1 April. We regret that the Explanatory Memorandum does not provide an assessment of the impact that the expiry of the temporary measures at the end of March may have on industry and consumers.

22.Defra told us that Scotland and Wales have made equivalent legislation, while Northern Ireland (NI) can continue to import chilled meat preparations from the EU as a result of the NI Protocol. In addition, a six-month grace period until 30 June 2021 has been agreed with the EU to allow the movement of ‘restricted and prohibited’ meat products, including chilled meat preparations, from Great Britain (GB) to NI.

23.According to Defra, the EU/EEA have not reciprocated the temporary measures introduced by this instrument: EU rules7 for third countries mean that certain goods, including chilled meat preparations such as raw sausages, cannot be exported from GB to the EU from 1 January 2021. Such meat preparations can be exported to the EU only if they are deep frozen to a temperature of minus 18 degrees. The prohibition does not apply to cooked meat products such as ham, cooked sausages or cooked burgers.

24.Asked whether the Government were seeking to agree improvements with the EU that would allow for trade in chilled meat preparations, Defra responded that the “UK Government’s long-term ambition is to have a risk-based system and prohibitions and restrictions will factor into that, applying appropriately to the EU as a third country. The UK government will continue to explore permanent reciprocal arrangements for the movement of these goods from GB to Northern Ireland.”

Whole of Government Accounts (Designation of Bodies) Order 2021 (SI 2021/6)

25.This Order updates the bodies that are to be included in the consolidated Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) for the year ending 31 March 2020. Designating these bodies in this way enables HM Treasury (HMT) to require them to provide the necessary audited financial information, in a specified form and to a specified timescale, for the preparation of the WGA. The Annex to the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) sets out which bodies have been added, removed or had their names changed. This Order is made annually. We asked HMT for further information on two issues referred to in the EM.

26.Firstly, HMT states that it “has chosen to exclude the Royal Bank of Scotland [RBS] on the basis that the inclusion of their figures would materially distort the position of the public sector”, and that “the intent is to hold them on a temporary basis”. Given that the Government have held a majority of RBS shares since 2008, we questioned whether this still qualified as temporary. HMT explained that the “government’s ownership of shares in RBS has been reduced since 2008 through sales, and as at March 2019 stood at 62%. As set out in the Budget 2020, the government intends to fully dispose of its Royal Bank of Scotland shareholding, subject to market conditions and achieving value for money for taxpayers. The government expects the programme of sales to be completed by 2024–25.” HMT added that the appendix to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) report in the 2018-19 WGA publication8 “outlines his support for the Treasury’s exclusion of RBS from the WGA “as its scale and the nature of its activities would distort the reflection of government’s core activities within the financial statements””.

27.Secondly, we asked about the progress HMT has made in removing the qualifications made by the C&AG for WGA 2018–19.9 In response, HMT listed a number of improvements made to qualifications made by the C&GA since 2012–13, for example in relation to the completeness and valuation of school assets, and told us that the “Treasury continues to work towards removing the remaining qualifications, though making progress in this area is challenging due in part to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on accounts production”.

Countryside Stewardship (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/42)

28.This instrument makes changes to the Countryside Stewardship grant scheme, including by introducing new activities that are eligible for funding. Countryside Stewardship is an agri-environment, forestry and woodland scheme that currently operates in England and provides funding for farmers, woodland owners and land managers to make environmental improvements.10

29.The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that this year marks the beginning of the transition away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy towards a domestic Environmental Land Management scheme. As part of this process, this instrument, amongst other changes, introduces two new capital funding activities to reduce ammonia emissions and allows applications for existing funding activities based on their air quality benefits. This is to help meet the targets in the Clean Air Strategy11 and the legally binding national emissions ceiling. The instrument also extents currently funded activities relating to wood pasture and makes it easier to transfer Countryside Stewardship agreements to a new land manager, for example when the land is sold.

30.We asked the Department whether additional funding was provided to reflect the wider activities that can now be supported. Defra responded that the new activities

“have been designed to complement the existing Countryside Stewardship offer and give land managers greater flexibility to choose activities that will best suit their land and environmental priorities. They are designed to make the scheme more attractive and to help deliver more environmental goals. We do not anticipate that there will be major budgetary implications associated with offering new activities because the changes support specific actions to create and maintain wood pasture in the uplands and improve air quality in high priority areas. Some Countryside Stewardship agreement holders will also re-apply for the scheme — this offers an opportunity for them to deliver a wider set of activities, alongside new applicants to the scheme.”

5 HM Government, Border Operating Model (13 July 2020): [accessed 21 January 2021].

6 See: Defra, ‘ Importing or moving live animals, animal products and high risk food and feed not of animal origin’ (31 December 2020): [accessed 21 January 2021].

7 See: Defra, ‘ Export or move composite food products’ (31 December 2020): [accessed 21 January 2021].

8 HM Treasury, Whole of Government Accounts: year ended 31 March 2019 (July 2020): [accessed 21 January 2021].

9 Ibid.

10 Activities that are supported include conserving and restoring wildlife habitats, managing flood risk, creating and managing woodland, reducing water pollution and encouraging educational access by hosting school visits.

11 See: HM Government, Clean Air Strategy 2019 (14 January 2019): [accessed 21 January 2021].

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