18.This instrument aims to maintain existing public health standards by liaison with the Devolved Administrations to coordinate data sharing, epidemiological surveillance and their approach to the prevention and control of serious cross-border health threats (defined in regulation 5). Following discussion under the common frameworks initiative, regulation 4 of this instrument establishes the UK Health Protection Committee, which will consist of one member for each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland representing a relevant Minister and one member representing each of the four UK public health agencies.
19.It also implements article 702 of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement on health security to establish Public Health England temporarily as the UK focal point for coordination with the EU on health threats and epidemiological surveillance; for example, to liaise with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The new system is intended to take effect from 1 September 2021. Once the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) becomes fully operational in October 2021, it will, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, be wearing “two hats”: it will be the public health agency for England, and it will also take over as the UK’s designated focal point for receiving alerts from the UK’s public health agencies and for coordination with the EU.
20.Although the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) provided is full of information on future EU-relations, it does perhaps overestimate the average reader’s knowledge of the UK’s plans. We therefore had to ask a number of questions to ensure we understood which entity had which function and how they are intended to operate. That additional information is published at Appendix 1. Because of the pandemic, coordination of health surveillance is more important than usually, and an EM needs to make it absolutely clear to the House what it is being asked to agree to.
21.This instrument implements an obligation arising from the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol, specifically aspects of an EU Regulation on Market Surveillance and Compliance (MSC) which will come into force in NI on 16 July 2021. MSC is part of the EU’s regulatory framework for goods and replaces the market surveillance provisions of another EU Regulation on Accreditation and Market Surveillance (RAMS). The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) explains that while most provisions of MSC will be directly applicable in NI, certain provisions require further implementation to take effect. This instrument therefore proposes changes in relation to market surveillance for the products placed on the NI market.
22.The provisions include, for example, a requirement for economic operators, such as manufacturers and importers, to have a person established in the EU responsible for compliance activities when placing certain products on the EU/NI market. The instrument also sets out the responsibilities for authorities in charge of the control of products at the border when products first enter the EU/NI market, the procedures to be followed in assessing the risk presented by those products, and the steps to be taken when considering its release from customs procedures. While BEIS states in the Explanatory Memorandum that the Government’s approach is to ensure that the implementation of EU obligations under the NI Protocol minimises the impact on UK traders and regulators, we asked for further information about the practical impact of the changes on businesses and relevant public authorities. We are publishing the Department’s response at Appendix 2.
23.BEIS told us that “the UK will continue to take an intelligence led and risk-based approach to checks, with the same proportionate and pragmatic approach that has guided the implementation of the Protocol to date”, and that the “low risk profile of goods from [Great Britain] means that they will not routinely be subject to inspection”. Given the different interpretations of the requirements of the NI Protocol and the sensitivities around its implementation, the House may wish to ask the Minister to what extent this approach has been agreed with the EU.