Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Debate

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Department: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Relevant document: 32nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to lead this debate today to discuss these regulations. The instrument makes operability changes to retained EU law and implements the Northern Ireland protocol in the context of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES. This will be done by making changes to the UK’s existing CITES regime, comprised primarily of retained EU law, in so far as it will operate in Great Britain, to ensure that the relevant EU regulations can continue to be properly implemented in Northern Ireland as required by the protocol.

Additionally, these regulations will consolidate previous instruments, making operability fixes to retained EU law so that the changes appear in one place. The regulations also make both further operability fixes in respect of more recent EU legislation that will become retained EU law and minor corrections to regulations that were not dealt with in earlier instruments.

CITES provides protection to more than 35,000 different species of endangered animals and plants. With its 183 parties, it is one of the conservation agreements with the largest global membership. The range of species covered by CITES is incredibly diverse, from zoo animals such as lions and giraffes, and household pets such as parrots and turtles, to corals, orchids and rosewood, commonly found in guitars. By regulating international trade in animals and plants and in their parts—such as fur, feathers and seeds—CITES aims to reduce the threat to these species in the wild.

CITES is implemented throughout the EU via the EU wildlife trade regulations, which are currently applicable in the UK. The EUWTR set out the controls for trade in specimens of endangered species of wild animals and plants to and from the EU, the UK and the rest of the world. Many UK businesses currently trade in CITES specimens. The relevant sectors are varied, including musical instrument makers and musicians, fashion, antiques, pharmaceuticals, floristry and businesses that trade in live animals for aquariums, zoos and pets. The UK is party to CITES in its own right and will continue to be bound by its obligations after the end of the transition period, regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the EU on the future relationship.

The UK is committed to supporting the work of CITES now and in future. At the CITES conference of parties in August 2019, the UK used its world-leading scientific and technical expertise to play a pivotal role in proceedings. As a result, 93 new species, including mako sharks, the spider-tailed horned viper, star and pancake tortoises, two species of swallowtail butterfly and several species of gecko and newt, will now benefit from enhanced protection under the convention. This is only one part of the Government’s continued commitment to tackling the catastrophic loss of biodiversity that we are now facing.

The primary purposes of this instrument are to make operability fixes to retained EU law and to implement the Northern Ireland protocol with regard to CITES. In doing so, we are consolidating amendments made by previous CITES exit SIs, which have not yet come into force, into one instrument.

In implementing the protocol, CITES documents and relevant checks will be required for CITES specimens travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in both directions. This will affect traders in Northern Ireland and traders in Great Britain who regularly move specimens in and out of Northern Ireland. This is to implement our convention obligations and the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

In addition to consolidating operability fixes made in previous instruments, this instrument will make operability fixes in respect of more recent EU legislation that will become retained EU law and minor corrections not included in those previous instruments. For example the instrument deals with a new suspensions regulation, which came into force in October 2019. That regulation provides for bans on imports of certain species needing additional protection. By consolidating changes made in previous instruments that have not yet come into force, this instrument will also serve to make the legislation clearer and more easily accessible to end users.

The instrument makes a number of amendments. The regulations make no changes to policy other than those necessitated by the Northern Ireland protocol. Part 2 of the instrument amends domestic regulations which provide for, among other things, enforcement powers with regards to CITES. Part 3 amends retained EU regulations on CITES to ensure that the regime is operable in Great Britain after the end of the transition period. The instrument was sent to the JCSI for pre-scrutiny and was returned with minor comments relating primarily to minor drafting issues.

This SI does not change policy other than as required by the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, so no consultation was undertaken. However, drafts of the instrument have been shared with the devolved Administrations during its development and drafting. In line with published guidance, there is no need to conduct an impact assessment for the instrument because there is no or no significant impact on the public, private or voluntary sectors.

The territorial extent of the instrument is the United Kingdom. The changes made by it, as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, will affect Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency as documentation which was previously required at the EU border will now be required at the UK border—Great Britain or Northern Ireland, as the case may be. APHA has increased staff numbers in anticipation of this increased workload.

The regulations will also result in new documentary requirements at checks at the border for certain traders, which will affect Border Force. Defra has been in communication with Border Force throughout the transition period, and Border Force has trained new staff to address this additional requirement.

As a result of the protocol, as mentioned previously, documentation will be required for movement of CITES specimens between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This will require additional enforcement by Border Force at ports of entry and exit between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Border Force has increased staff numbers in order to address this increase and is well prepared for these additional checks from the end of the transition period. I beg to move.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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Before I call the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I want to highlight that a few noble Lords have withdrawn so that those online can be ready. The noble Lords, Lord Clark of Windermere, Lord Bowness and Lord Bhatia, have withdrawn and the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is not in the Room, so after the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Loomba.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. In order to prepare for the end of the transition period, it is essential that we have the right legislation in place to continue to protect endangered species, in accordance with our international obligations, and ensure that trade does not threaten the survival of these species in the wild.

A wide range of questions and suggestions was put forward in this debate and I will do my best to address them all. I will start with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who acknowledged that this was not a major piece of legislation but raised concerns more generally about the future of government policy in relation to biodiversity and broader environmental issues. I would simply say to him that if you judge this Government on the basis of what has happened even in just the last year, it is very clear which direction we are heading in. The Prime Minister at last year’s UNGA, about a year ago, committed to doubling our international climate finance but also made the commitment, just as importantly in my view, that a big chunk of the uplift would be spent on nature-based solutions—which would of course have huge ramifications for reversing biodiversity loss. If you invest in nature to tackle climate change—which in fact is a prerequisite of tackling climate change—you are dealing with many other problems at the same time, not least biodiversity loss: 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, for example, lives in the world’s forests, which are being cut down at a rate of 30 football pitches per minute.

Looking at the decisions that have flowed since that announcement, we see that we have committed to greatly increasing funding for the world-renowned Darwin Initiative, which was set up in 1992 and has already backed 1,220 projects in 159 countries, spanning the continents of Africa, Asia and central and South America. We have greatly increased the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Prime Minister announced a major uplift and already it has spent £26 million on 85 projects since 2014, covering a wide range of issues, with campaigns from ranger training in vulnerable countries to supporting demand-reduction campaigns in those countries and areas where the demand for the illegal wildlife trade is acute, in particular in the Far East.

The Prime Minister has also announced a new International Biodiversity Fund of £220 million. Partly from that—although it comes from other sources as well—we have created and are due to launch a new £100 million Biodiverse Landscapes Fund, which I think is a world first and is designed to create links between existing protected or threatened areas on a trans-boundary basis, providing safe travel for threatened species and also jobs for those people living in and around them. I recognise that we do not have that long, but there are many other examples of what we do. So the direction of travel is clear and, much as I appreciate his kind words about my involvement in government, I am absolutely not a lone voice on our appetite to do whatever we can, because much heavy lifting is necessary to try to reverse the catastrophic trends we have seen in relation to biodiversity loss.

The last two points I will make relate to comments by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Just a few weeks ago the United Kingdom, through the Prime Minister, announced that 32 countries have signed up to the Global Ocean Alliance that we have set up. It is an alliance of countries committed to protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. On the back of our record on biodiversity, we have now been invited to join the high-ambition coalition of countries, led by Costa Rica, which probably does more on these issues than any other country, and France, which also has a good track record on biodiversity. We are very happy to have joined. As part of the coalition we are pushing for the 30% target for the oceans to apply equally to land.

We also had probably the most important role to play in crafting the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which has been signed by 75 countries and is undoubtedly the strongest such declaration that exists. That is a direct consequence of extremely hard work by my colleagues in both the FCDO and Defra. We really transformed that document from platitudes to something that is very much more concrete, radical and ambitious.

The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, asked about consultations and impact assessments. In fact, he answered his own question. The reason these were not undertaken was that the SI does not lead to any kind of substantive change. It really is a tidying-up exercise, tailoring a piece of legislation to accommodate the Northern Ireland protocol and also changes in the European Union, in relation, for example, to species which have since been suspended, that have happened since we introduced the last CITES SIs.

The position that the Government have taken is right and I would also say that it is not really a choice. We have to do this SI. Not proceeding with this would prevent proper implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in so far as it relates to CITES and it would be confusing to both traders and regulators, because we would have a conflict in the legislation between EU provisions and UK provisions. It would also likely render the CITES regime inoperable in the UK, which could, and probably would, disrupt a number of industries, undermining the UK’s record on biodiversity, which I have already covered, and potentially increasing the risk of the illegal wildlife trade. So it is necessary that we are doing what we are doing, and it is appropriate that there was no consultation or impact assessment in the manner in which the noble Lord suggested.

The last point that the noble Lord raised was to ask whether our approach would be reviewed in a timely manner. CITES is a continuously evolving process. As a full and very enthusiastic member of CITES—and not just enthusiastic but very active—our approach will necessarily evolve, along with decisions made by scientists. I have seen myself things that I would not have seen had I not been a Minister: behind the scenes, our officials, round the clock, over 24 hours in some cases, negotiating for important changes—and delivering them.

One example of that is the recent ruling against the trade in live elephants, away from countries where they naturally have a home to countries where elephants do not exist. This is something that I think is supported by most people in this country. We pushed for such a ban, against huge resistance across the board. It was a long shot, but my colleagues in Defra decided that it was worth expending particular energy and effort in that regard—and they succeeded. As a consequence, a law was passed which I can absolutely guarantee would not have been passed had it not been for the intervention of the UK. So we are not a reluctant member of CITES; we are a very active and enthusiastic member and that will continue, regardless of who occupies my post.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the Aichi targets. This is a hugely important issue. The Aichi targets are pretty good. If every country did what countries were supposed to do, having signed up to the Aichi targets, we would probably be having a very different discussion today and the world would be in better shape than it is. But, as we have seen, the trends have continued, and in some cases accelerated, in the wrong direction. Every country failed to meet its Aichi targets, including the United Kingdom. On the whole they were ignored.

One reason for that is that there is no national pegging of those targets. There is no NDC equivalent for nature that countries can put together to show how they are going to meet the targets, and against which they can be measured and judged. That is one of the things that the UK is bringing to the table in the CBD. We are not hosting the CBD—it is being hosted by China in Kunming next year—but one of the things that we are absolutely committed to doing, and in which I sincerely hope we will succeed, although obviously it is not entirely up to us, is to do everything we can to ensure not only that we will we have agreed ambitious, meaningful targets but that there will be mechanisms within the agreement to allow countries to be held properly to account and make it harder for countries to ignore their obligations, in the same way that we have seen in relation to carbon. There is lots more to do on reducing carbon emissions, but there is no doubt that we are now on the right trajectory politically. We have seen in the last few weeks some really big interventions by China, Korea, Japan and so on. I very much take the noble Baroness’s point on that.

The noble Baroness mentioned an article in Nature Communications. I have not read the article. It is about the lack of regulations in relation to reptiles. She mentioned that 35% of the reptiles are sold online and that three-quarters of the reptiles sold are not covered by regulations. She mentioned that a very large proportion of them—she gave a number, but I am afraid that I did not have time to write it down—are taken from the wild. What she conveyed to me was extremely worrying. I will read the article and make sure that my colleagues in Defra do as well. If we need to act on the back of it and change our position in any respect, or add our voice to a particular call, I will give the noble Baroness my commitment that that is what we will do—and I will be very happy to take that conversation offline as well if she thinks that that would be useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, was very kind to describe me as a nature champion. He has long been a champion of the natural world, and I wish that there were more of his sort in politics today—he has shown massive commitment. He mentioned a number of different issues, including our willingness to be led by the science. He talked about the Scientific Review Group and the Enforcement Group. The answer is that, as we have left the EU, we will no longer participate directly and be bound by those EU structures, including the Scientific Review Group, under our CITES regulations. The scientific authorities that we have here at our disposal—the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned, for fauna, and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew for flora, will continue to provide advice on a wide range of CITES matters and we will continue to collaborate internationally, as you would expect us to, with other CITES scientific authorities, as appropriate. I do not believe that there will be a knowledge gap there. We do not live in a bubble—we have plenty of friends in the context of CITES; information is often shared on a regular basis, and that informs good policy and helps us to develop the positions that we eventually take.

Implied in the question was a concern that we might end up moving to a position of weakening our approach through CITES; that concern was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. As a party to CITES in our own right, we will continue to meet our obligations and commitments under the convention. We are committed to ensuring that no species becomes extinct as the result of unsustainable trade; that is where we need to get to. As I hope I conveyed to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, at the beginning of this debate, we are absolutely committed to playing the biggest possible role that we can internationally in trying to reverse the trends that we are unfortunately seeing. We are retaining EU protections in UK law, which in some instances go further than CITES requires. For example, birds of prey are given the highest level of protection despite the fact that they are not all listed in appendix 1, and in other areas, we will always be willing to go further than the CITES rules require of us. As I hope I have conveyed, the appetite is very much there.

I will move around a bit, but I want to comment on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who implied that we have an opportunity in this SI to go further than we are currently going. I agree with her completely that we need to go further in every regard regarding biodiversity, that we could be doing much more in relation to the illegal wildlife trade, that our ambitions in relation to the CBD need to be fulfilled and realised, and that we need to be able to make our voices heard in lots of different fora.

However, this is just a technical SI that amends the relevant CITES EU law to make sure that it operates properly at the end of the transition period. That is all it exists to do, and to make the regulations stricter would go beyond the scope of the powers in the Act. Having said that, just like the European Union, we will always be able to go further than the convention minimums based on the scientific advice that we receive; in many cases, we have done just that. I will return to some of the points raised by the noble Baroness but I want to try to make sure that I answer as many of these questions as possible.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in relation to the movement of goods. The answer is that there will be no checks between them. There will be checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and vice versa but not between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. She also raised a concern about having two separate regimes after the transition period. Criminal offences for the breach of regulations are fairly substantial; I can confirm that those offences are under review and will be kept under review permanently, as is appropriate.

In response to my noble friend’s question about the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—I think she said that we were a bit dismissive—nothing is black and white; it is neither entirely good nor entirely bad that we are leaving the European Union. In my view, there is a significant net benefit, but that does not mean that there are not areas where co-operation would be beneficial. Having left the EU, we will no longer be part of the SRG; we will have to work particularly hard to ensure that we benefit from some of the work that is done in the European Union on CITES to ensure that we are as close as possible. There is no real difference except on certain areas in certain countries in Europe; there is a common commitment to tackling these issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, mentioned pet passports. I am afraid that we do not have the answer to that yet. I will update her on the latest answer that we have but I do not think that it will satisfy her questions, so I will have to come back to her in due course with the best I can. She may have to be patient; I apologise for that. She also asked about the border in the North Sea after the transition period; I am grateful to her for saying that she supports the SI. Northern Ireland imports hardly any CITES specimens but we do not yet know what will happen with trade patterns; obviously, the future is hard to predict. However, our ports have received additional investment and we will have 29 ports of entry and exit for the movement of CITES goods designated by the end of this year. The full list of designations is listed on GOV.UK, and Belfast is to be designated—that question was asked by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones.

I keep confusing my Baroness Joneses, but I turn now to the Green one—I cannot remember her geographical location. She is a wonderful, inspiring figure and a champion of nature. She made the point that the Government require an element of humility and should always be willing to improve and take advice. She is of course right. I enjoy being lobbied by those who lobby with good faith and who genuinely want better outcomes. Where I can improve our approach, that is what I exist to do in both Defra and the FCDO.

As I mentioned in response to a question from the other noble Baroness, Lady Jones, this is a narrow statutory instrument that has a particular job to do: ensure that the laws work post transition period. There is plenty more that we can do. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, pointed out, CITES is just one of the tools that we have at our disposal; there are many others and our job is to try to make use of all the tools available to us.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, from the Green Party—I am so sorry for breaking all the protocols. Where is she from? Oh, Moulsecoomb. I apologise to her if she is listening; I am sure that she is. She asked about the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Defra and the Home Office play a part in this. Defra has committed to continuing to provide the funding needed—as has the Home Office, I believe, although I do not want to say this as a matter of fact in case I am wrong. I commit to the noble Baroness that if that is not the case and what I have just said is wrong, I will do all I can in my capacity as a Minister to ensure that the National Wildlife Crime Unit has the resources and funding that it needs. It is an extraordinarily important piece of the puzzle. If it is not properly resourced, it makes honouring our commitments under CITES, and others relating to the illegal wildlife trade, much harder. I will get back to her with, I hope, proper reassurance. If not, I assure her that I will do all that I can to ensure that the NWCU has the resources it needs.

My opposite number, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned the Scientific Review Group. As I mentioned earlier, as we have left the EU, we will no longer participate in or be bound by those structures. However, our own authorities are world renowned and provide good advice on a regular basis. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, which I had the honour of representing for 10 years as its local MP, will continue to provide whatever advice and information we need.

I am confident that we will have the information, knowledge, tools and capacity not just to maintain our existing commitments and activities in this area but to improve them. That is the Government’s ambition and my ambition as a Minister; I will certainly do all that I can to ensure that that is the case. I hope that I have answered all the key questions.

Motion agreed.