Debates between Lord Krebs and Lord Wigley during the 2017-2019 Parliament

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Wigley
Wednesday 7th March 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 317 in this group. Before I do so, I warmly endorse the comments that have already been made on the importance of getting the environmental dimensions right as we leave the European Union, if we have to.

Amendment 317 proposes a new clause on common frameworks for environmental protection, touching on a number of matters that have already been discussed. I hope that the Minister, when responding to this group of amendments, will see Amendment 317 as a constructive proposal for a possible way forward as we have to change our relationships as we move out of Europe. This amendment goes to the very heart of why I am both a Welsh nationalist and a European federalist, and those two attachments are in no way incompatible. I believe that every community should make as many decisions as possible that affect them for themselves, and where they cannot, for practical reasons—where, by their nature, some decisions have to be taken on a broader basis—those communities should have an effective voice in that wider decision-taking process The environment is one such issue.

Environmental protection is a devolved matter. However, while the UK is a European Union member state, most environmental law in the four countries of the UK is guided by common frameworks set at EU level. This amendment would require the four Governments to work together on proposals to establish minimum common environmental objectives and standards. As such, I hope it will appeal to all parts of the House. UK-wide frameworks will be needed to establish areas of common policy across the UK, even in areas of devolved competence. Crucially, this amendment would insist that devolved legislatures are equal stakeholders in the forming of those common policy areas. I will cover the principle of UK-wide frameworks, and my major concerns about Clause 11, when we get to that point of the Bill. Today, I will focus on the substantive relevance of this issue to the environment.

First, I will say a word about why common frameworks are needed. No area of policy will be more affected by the outcome of the common frameworks debate than the environment. According to analysis by the Institute for Government, there are more than 140 distinct policy areas where EU law intersects with devolved powers. The greatest number of these relate to the environment, which is unsurprising given that the EU frameworks have been widely created for environmental policy purposes.

Approximately 80% of environmental laws in the UK, including in the devolved nations, have some basis in EU legislation. Transboundary co-operation and common standards are widely recognised as important for the effective protection of the environment and the prevention of unfair regulatory competition. There are persuasive reasons for seeking to maintain common standards across the four nations of these islands post Brexit. Such frameworks would provide a set of minimum common standards and should be jointly agreed between the UK and devolved Governments. They will be important in a range of areas, such as the conservation of wildlife on land and at sea, environmental assessment and the co-ordination of action to address air and water pollution.

I shall give some examples of common frameworks. EU legislation relating to the natural environment—including the birds and habitats directives—currently helps to underpin effective environmental action by providing minimum common standards for site and species protection across the four nations. This facilitates the creation of a more ecologically coherent network of protected sites than would otherwise be the case. Such an approach will still be needed for the UK outside the EU, helping to ensure that actions in one jurisdiction complement, and do not counteract, conservation outcomes across these islands.

Similarly, the common frameworks provided by EU legislation—relating to the assessment of the likely environmental impacts of plans, programmes and projects—mean that consistent mechanisms are in place for assessing transboundary effects as well as allowing for public participation and transparency in decision-making across the four nations. Co-operation and joint agreement on common frameworks that provide minimum standards and shared high-level objectives are therefore needed.

I now turn to the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee. Most environmental issues are transboundary in nature and represent a shared concern across the four nations. In a welcome sign of progress, the UK and devolved Governments reached an agreement in October 2017, via the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, to develop and agree common frameworks in some of these areas post Brexit—to ensure the effective management of common resources that cross boundaries between the four nations.

For the sake of our shared environment, failure to recognise the importance of agreeing a set of common frameworks in these areas would be of great concern. We urgently need the UK and devolved Governments to commit to working more openly and transparently together, to secure the best possible system of environmental governance across the four nations following the UK’s exit from the EU. This should be informed by a robust assessment of the environmental implications and a transparent process that allows for public consultation and input from stakeholders across the UK.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister to accept that, in the absence of a replacement set of jointly agreed frameworks, environmental co-operation across the four nations would be undermined. Secondly, I ask the Minister to confirm that the views of the JMC will be subject to public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. Finally, will the Minister provide clarity as to what will be the process with respect to pursuing common frameworks once the JMC analysis is published?

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.