Debates between Lord Krebs and Countess of Mar during the 2017-2019 Parliament

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Countess of Mar
Wednesday 7th March 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to move Amendments 112 and 113, which are in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Byford, and my noble friend Lady Brown of Cambridge.

Countess of Mar Portrait The Countess of Mar (CB)
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My Lords, I hate to interrupt my noble friend but he is not moving his amendment now; he is speaking to it. The same applies to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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I thank my noble friend Lady Mar for that correction. As well as speaking to my amendment, I shall be supporting Amendments 66 and 108, with which my name is associated and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has already spoken.

It was very encouraging to hear the Prime Minister reaffirm in her Mansion House speech on Friday that:

“As we leave the EU we will uphold environmental standards and go further to protect our shared natural heritage”.

As the Chief Medical Officer for England made clear in her annual report published last week, our own health is intimately dependent on the health of our environment. We all recognise that the improvements over past decades in the UK’s environmental standards have been driven primarily by EU laws that cover roughly 80% of environmental legislation in this country, and a key part of that has been enforcement. There is no point in having high aspirations unless you have an effective mechanism to ensure that you deliver. As a member of the European Union, we have been subject to scrutiny and enforcement by the Commission, ultimately through infraction notices. As I pointed out at Second Reading, 46% of the judgments handed down by the European Court of Justice on UK infringements since 2003 related to the environment.

The Government have accepted that after Brexit there will be a governance gap and that therefore a new green watchdog will be required to hold the Government to account on their environmental performance. The purpose of Amendments 112 and 113 is to ensure that this new green watchdog is in place by exit day and that it will mirror as closely as possible the current arrangements that we have as a member of the EU.

When the Energy and Environment Sub-Committee of the EU Select Committee, of which I am a member, took evidence on this, the very strong view was that a new watchdog would be essential. I quote from our report:

“The importance of the role of EU institutions in ensuring effective enforcement of environmental protection and standards, underpinned as it is by the power to take infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom or against any other Member State, cannot be overstated ... The evidence we have heard strongly suggests that an effective and independent domestic enforcement mechanism will be necessary, in order to fill the vacuum left by the European Commission in ensuring the compliance of the Government and public authorities with environmental obligations ... It will be important for any effective domestic enforcement mechanism to have both regular oversight of the Government’s progress towards its environmental objectives, and the ability, through the courts, to sanction non-compliance as necessary”.

I can imagine that in his reply at the end of this debate the Minister will say that we are going out to consultation on a new green watchdog. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already indicated that there will be a consultation on a new statutory body early in 2018. Just checking my clock, “early” is moving quickly beyond us. In the Committee debate in the other place, Dominic Raab said on 15 November 2017 that the consultation was “coming imminently”. If one of my students at Oxford said that her essay would arrive imminently but nearly four months later it had not appeared, it would be a case for disciplinary action. Monsieur Barnier has repeatedly said that the clock is ticking, so can the Minister assure the Committee that the new green watchdog will be in place on a statutory basis by exit day?

Amendments 112 and 113 set out a number of key requirements for the new watchdog. First, as I have already said, it should be in place by exit day. Secondly—this resonates with what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just said—the UK Government and the devolved Administrations should work together to ensure that the watchdog functions apply to the whole of the UK. If there are different watchdogs for the four countries of the UK, they should operate according to the same principles and should be established jointly and in the same timescale. Thirdly, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the Government should consult on incorporating EU environmental principles into primary legislation, support decision-making by the watchdog or watchdogs and ensure that the principles inform decision-making more broadly. Fourthly, there should be absolute transparency about the environmental governance functions that are transferred to the new watchdog or watchdogs by creating a publicly available register of functions.