Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Parminter
Wednesday 6th March 2019

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. This statutory instrument brings over legislation from the nature directives, which have been the bedrock of nature protection in Europe and the UK for many years. We know that species resident on sites protected by the habitats directive are recovering more strongly than species on sites that are not covered by it. The nature directives are the bedrock of protection and are important for species such as the bittern, which has recovered far more strongly by virtue of the habitats directive.

I shall give credit where credit is due. As the Minister rightly said, this statutory instrument was removed and relaid after concerns were raised by the RSPB and other environmental stakeholders. That is a model of how such matters should be treated. I commend the department on that, and I will not be opposing this statutory instrument.

I shall touch on a particular issue the Minister raised. He did not quite address it to my satisfaction, so I shall press him a little further. It is about reporting under these regulations. The Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the reporting requirements will be carried across, and I pay tribute to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee which teased out a bit more from the department on that matter to make sure that there was greater clarity about the format of those reports. The formats for reporting are very clear under the directives, but they are not clear in the statutory instrument or the Explanatory Memorandum. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee got the department to put on record that the formats for reporting will be agreed with statutory agencies and the devolved Administrations. That is to be welcomed. However, there is no clarity on the provision for reviewing those reports and highlighting any failures for action. The Government say that they will meet their international obligations, which is welcome, but there is no guarantee that that reporting will be timely or at a pace that will allow failures to be rectified speedily. At the moment, the EU has the power to enforce action for failures. Is there any sufficient capacity to enforce, including by fines for breaches of the regulations?

When he sums up, will the Minister say a bit more about how the Government see these vital reporting requirements being reviewed and how we can be sure that transgressions against them are speedily rectified? I am sure the Minister will talk about the office for environmental protection, which we hope will be forthcoming in due course, but it will not be truly independent since the Government will appoint its board and will be responsible for its budget. Discussion so far suggests that there will be insufficient enforcement mechanisms. For example, there is no power to call the Government to hearings or, as a last resort, to levy fines. We do not have the office for environmental protection yet, so what will happen to reporting in the meantime? If the Minister could offer us some reassurances on how reporting will be reviewed and how we will rectify any failures, I would appreciate it.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I welcome and appreciate the Minister’s introduction. Overall, what he said is reassuring. In addition to the point that has already been made, I want to pick up on scientific input, which was mentioned in the Minister’s introduction. Will he clarify in a little more detail the point that changes will be allowed only due to “technical and scientific progress”? The statutory instrument does not specify where the expert input will come from and whether it will involve the statutory nature conservation advisers. Will the Minister elaborate a little on the nature of the scientific input, how it will be taken into account, the degree of transparency in the publication of any scientific advice and how it will work across the four nations of the United Kingdom?