HL Deb 14 May 1987 vol 487 cc807-9

8.20 p.m.

Lord Belstead rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 30th March be approved [17th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Sheep and Goats (Removal to Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 laid before the House on 30th March be approved. I apologise to your Lordships in that there is a typing error in the date on the Order Paper.

There are two main reasons for amending the 1983 regulations. First, to comply with the new Community obligations, the regulations need to be extended to include uncooked lamb products which are now subject to clawback. Community regulations which are directly applicable have made such products liable to a clawback charge when they are exported from Great Britain to other parts of the Community.

Customs and Excise already operate the procedures and have the necessary powers to collect the clawback charge in relation to exports to other member states. However, Customs and Excise have no locus when products are exported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Our draft amending regulations therefore make uncooked lamb products subject to the administrative arrangements which already exist to ensure that clawback would be imposed on any sheep or sheep meat exported to Northern Ireland.

Secondly, we see a need to extend the powers of the officers who enforce these regulations in Northern Ireland. The existing powers of the enforcement officers in relation to removals to Northern Ireland include powers of entry where there is a reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed. But there is no current power of entry for the purpose of actually ascertaining whether an offence has been committed. This means that the controls applicable are weaker than those exercised when sheep or their meat are exported to other member states where Customs and Excise operate comprehensive checks.

The amending regulations therefore seek to deal with this issue by granting powers of entry for the purpose of ascertaining whether the provisions of the principal regulations were or had been complied with. It must also be remembered that the regulations protect producers in Northern Ireland from supplies of sheep and sheep meat at prices which could undermine their market there, so providing them with the same protection as other producers in the Community who do not receive a variable premium. The regulations enable these controls to be exercised in Northern Ireland.

Having said all that, I must make it clear that the clawback arrangements on the Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade have never actually yet been applied. There has been no trade in sheep or sheep meat subject to clawback arrangements. At the outset in 1982 this was because Northern Ireland's special animal health status requirements effectively prevented trade, save for exports of pure-bred breeding animals, which do not fall within the clawback arrangements. But from September 1985, certain health requirements were relaxed in Northern Ireland and so trade in categories subject to clawback has now become at least a possibility. We therefore feel that these regulations are a sensible precaution. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 30th March be approved. [17th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord Carter

My Lords, it is tempting at the time of a general election to make facetious remarks about anything involving sheep and goats. However, I shall avoid that temptation. I am advised that the regulations as amended will be helpful to farmers and ancillary industries in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I am glad to give these regulations our support.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, when I first saw the Order Paper in the early days of this week, and noticed the rather sinister nomenclature of the Sheep and Goats (Removal to Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 1987, it brought back many unhappy memories. The thought that on the last day and in the dying hours of this Parliament the Government should try to press through such a controversial order is distressing. Why was it so necessary to do that on this day? There will be many people in Northern Ireland who will interpret the nomenclature of these regulations and their effect in an entirely different way from the meaning which is contained in the regulations.

We have heard of exclusion orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and of people who will be excluded from coming to Britain from Northern Ireland under an order. It will cause much discontent. I am perforce put into the position of asking whether there are no depths to which the Government will not stoop to gain re-election.

There are many people in Northern Ireland who will question the necessity for these regulations. Not living in Northern Ireland as I do, I have great reservations about the necessity and the urgency of these regulations. When we have heard of removals in previous Acts of Parliament, they required the sanction of the Home Secretary. I do not see that mentioned in these regulations. When we look at the nomenclature of these regulations, it is tantamount, as far as I am concerned, to an exclusion order.

It may be said by the Minister that there is unanimity on both sides of the House in relation to these regulations. But those who are likely to be affected by the regulations have not been asked for their opinion in any way. It is arrogant to take a decision in relation to people who are liable to be affected without having ascertained their opinion.

Therefore. I do not think that we should rush these regulations through the House. I think that the Minister should be given an opportunity to explain the very serious ramifications of the regulations in relation to Northern Ireland.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, no one can accuse the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, of rushing when he addresses your Lordships' House, although it is always a great pleasure to debate with him. In just a moment, I shall attempt to reply briefly to the points which the noble Lord has made.

Perhaps I may first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on what I believe is the first speech he has made from the Opposition Front Bench. I also congratulate the noble Lord on, in a few well-chosen words, supporting the Government on this particular occasion!

Lord Carter

It is the last time!

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. Making uncooked lamb products subject to clawback has an element of exclusion. However, it is all in the cause of protecting the sheep meat trade and the producers and consumers of Northern Ireland. I assure the noble Lord of that.

In addition, it gives Customs and Excise in Northern Ireland the responsibility of seeing that the new rules are being complied with by giving them powers of entry to make sure that the regulations are being complied with. They are regulations which I hope that the noble Lord, on reconsideration, may feel it right to support.

On Question, Motion agreed to.