All 1 Lord Gardiner of Kimble contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020

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Wed 15th Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to support this cross-party amendment in its entirety, but particularly to cover the issues I raised on Monday at Second Reading and, if I may, to have the right of reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, who made reference to my speech from earlier in the debate in his closing remarks. He said:

“The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred to animal welfare. At the moment, we cannot prohibit the movement of live animals because of EU law. But when we leave, let us hope that we can address that, because we have expressed an intention to do so.”—[Official Report, 13/1/20; col. 556.]

That is factually correct and I entirely applaud the Government’s intention of doing something about that important issue. However, with the deepest respect for the noble and learned Lord, that is completely irrelevant to the point I made. There is nothing in a non-regression clause which stops the Government raising standards. What it does do, as other noble Lords have rightly said, is ensure that standards are not lowered. That is the issue we are collectively concerned about as we face the worrying prospect of these free trade agreements, with all bar one of the countries proposed having lower welfare standards than ourselves.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville talked about chicken legs and breasts. I want to talk a little about eggs because, as it stands at the moment, the United States of America has no standards whatever on the welfare of hens used for laying eggs. Therefore, if we allow the American market access to ours, we will face eggs coming in to be used in food products with standards far lower than those produced by British farmers. Our farmers will rightly argue that their welfare and production standards are higher and cost more and that they are therefore at a competitive disadvantage. They will press the Government to reopen the battery cage directive, which has been with us for so long as part of our membership of the European Union and guarantees higher farm welfare standards.

If the Government were to lower those standards, I would like to ask the Minister whether my understanding of the following is correct. Given that we have gone through this process of nationalising all this EU legislation through statutory instruments, sitting through hours and hours in the Moses Room, is it correct that, if the Government were to lower our animal welfare standards for battery hens, for example, the Government would need only to introduce a statutory instrument and would not require primary legislation? That is my understanding. It is a real worry to those of us right across this Chamber who have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, just said, fought so hard and for so long for high animal welfare standards that those could be lost by a simple statutory instrument.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is not in his place, spoke movingly, in the debate on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the Government needing to set out their vision for Britain in the post-Brexit world. He articulated it very well. What is the Government’s vision for Britain? If they want Britain to be a world leader in animal welfare, they have to demonstrably deliver that through all their legislation, trade deals and marketing. Look at the example of New Zealand, which has said that it wants to be a world leader and is a world leader—it has done just that. This is in every piece of legislation and every trade deal and it is in their marketing strategy.

This is the first piece of legislation of the new Government which mentions animal welfare and yet, by not accepting a non-regression clause, they are basically saying that standards could be lowered as a result of trade deals in the future. Therefore, it begs the question: how will the Government guarantee that animals will not suffer lives compromised by lower animal welfare standards if the Government will not accept a non-regression clause in the withdrawal Bill?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords for raising issues which come within Defra’s responsibility. I entirely respect the sincerity of all the points that have been made by noble Lords.

The UK has a long and proud history of high standards for environmental protection, including chemicals, food standards and animal welfare. It is of the utmost importance that these are maintained as we leave the EU. The Government have been clear that we will not weaken protections in these areas when we leave, but rather we will maintain and enhance our already high standards.

This Bill is focused on putting the withdrawal agreement into domestic law. This amendment is about what happens to our environmental policy and others after our exit from the EU. We do not believe that that is appropriate for this Bill.

These matters were debated extensively in the passage of the 2018 Act, when the Government were clear that the regression of the type the noble Baroness fears would not be within scope of the key Section 8 power of the 2018 Act. Those Section 8 powers can be used only for the purposes of correcting deficiencies that arise as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The 2018 Act does not provide a power to change laws simply because the Government did not like them before exit. The Government cannot use the powers for the purposes of simply rolling back standards and protections.

Where substantive policy change is required, appropriate legislation will be brought forward. I underline this when I say that, if a Government were to introduce legislation to reduce protections, Parliament would be able to have its say at that point. This would allow for more effective and tailored scrutiny. In any case, I want to assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have spoken—as I have done many times from this Dispatch Box—that this Government have absolutely no intention of introducing legislation that would have that regressive effect.

As I have said, the UK has this long and proud history of environmental protection. The UK was the first country in the world to introduce legally binding emission reduction targets. In 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to set a legally binding target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The UK is also the top performer in the EU on resource efficiency and is demonstrating leadership on the circular economy and smart taxes to reduce landfill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, was absolutely right in talking about the world’s fragility, and I think we are absolutely seized of that imperative. That is why the Government will shortly introduce the environment Bill—I say this specifically to my noble friend Lord Randall but also to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—which is about strengthening environmental protections. That Bill will enshrine environmental principles in law and will also include measures to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats. I should say, going off script, that we may have been subject to all sorts of EU directives and regulations, but we, the EU and the world have to do a great deal more. The point about that Bill is that it will create legally binding environmental improvement targets and establish a new independent office for environmental protection to hold the Government to account.

We are planning for the OEP to be operational from 1 January 2021. That may slightly answer the question the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, posed in an earlier debate. I want to emphasise that there will be no governance gap. This will collectively ensure that environmental ambition is at the heart of government once we leave. I am in absolutely no doubt that all of your Lordships who have spoken—and many more—will take much interest in that Bill, and I think that is tremendously important.

Regarding the UK’s effective regulatory system for management and control of chemicals, as mentioned in the amendment, this is partly based on the REACH regulation, which is widely seen as a gold standard worldwide. The environment Bill will have provision to amend REACH to make sure our chemicals management remains fully up to date. Any change must remain consistent with the fundamental aims and principles of REACH, including the precautionary principle. There will also be a series of protective provisions that cannot be changed, such as the last-resort principle on animal testing—I think that is a matter the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has expressed concern about before, so it is important to say that.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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I am grateful for everything the Minister has said. I did ask—I do not know whether he specifically addressed this point—whether there will be a general non-regression clause in the environment Bill. He has talked about there being legally binding targets for improvements in some areas. I understand all of that—the Government will have improvements on air or water quality or whatever it might be—but the great advantage of a generalised principle of non-regression is that it applies to everything: not just the Government’s priorities today but the things that are not sexy today and that might be on the back burner. It encompasses everything, and I am not sure whether the Minister has given me that reassurance. Maybe it was buried away in his script, but it would be helpful if he could say it again.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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The environment Bill has not been published yet, but it will not be long. I am not in a position to start talking about the detail of some of the clauses tonight, but that is why I spent some time on this. I say directly that I cannot start suggesting what the clauses of the Bill will be about, because I am not in a position to do so.

As I have tried to set out in this explanation, I obviously understand the points that have been made, but I am not sure I agree with all that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, may have said about some of these matters. Yes, of course we should endorse the work of the past, but I sometimes sense a determination that either this Government or the party I represent would find it impossible to be positive and strengthening about the subjects we are discussing. I would regret that, because the whole focus of what I have tried to explain in detail—it is why I was asked to deal with this amendment—is precisely to show that this department and the Government are absolutely committed to maintaining and enhancing our already high standards, including through the legislation which will come forward very shortly.

As regards any Section 8 regulations made under the withdrawal Act, noble Lords already have the ability to scrutinise any changes which those regulations might make to retained EU law. This Bill is a vehicle to implement the withdrawal agreement, not, in our view, to legislate for environmental policy.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to all noble Lords for this important debate. I have gone on rather longer than I think I was requested to because I felt it important to set out some detail on the measures that the Government will bring forward, and to highlight what is a clear direction of travel. Our intention is to move forward. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords will accept my firm commitment on behalf of the Government and the department, and that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of our amendment. I should say at the outset that the Minister will know, as we have said before, that he is held in high regard by this Chamber. We obviously do not doubt his intentions and commitment on many of the things he talked about. A lot of our concerns arise not from the intentions of Defra, or even perhaps the intentions in a future environment Bill, but through the pressures which will come from elsewhere. We can only anticipate or guess those pressures at this stage—from future trade Bills and future deals that might be wanted done.

Our anxiety is not about the Minister’s good intentions; we can see what is in the Conservative manifesto and the good words that have been written about all this. Many of us have worked on a number of the animal welfare issues that the Minister talked about, so, again, we do not doubt his good intentions or his record on all that. But we are going into an uncertain future, and deals will have to be made outside our immediate remit. I suppose that is where our concern comes from.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for sticking his neck out on this issue, even if he back-tracked slightly. I had intended this to be slightly more than a probing amendment, and we have had a good debate as a result of it. We want to believe in the Government’s commitments in the way that he described.

Our particular concern about non-regression, which I know that the Minister felt he could not really respond to in the detail that we would have liked, was that it would give us that underlying safety net when everything else is moving around quickly, as it will be in the next year. I am still sorry that we were not able to go as far as we would have liked on that issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was absolutely right: these progresses in policy that we have made over the years are hard fought for and hard won, and we all hold them very dear.

I have gone as far as I can at this point in the evening in probing the Minister. We are looking forward to the environment Bill. If it is anything like the draft we have already seen, it will be a long tome and we will spend many happy hours debating it all. I hope that we will see in writing the legal commitments that the Minister implied we will get at that point, so I look forward to the publication of and debate on that Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.