EU Referendum: Energy and Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:59 pm on 12th July 2016.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 1:59 pm, 12th July 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Syms.

We have heard today that environmental problems do not respect borders. I would like to posit an alternative argument to the one just advanced by the hon. Gentleman, who said that everything was pretty much okay. I say that things are not that okay and that Britain’s membership of the EU has been instrumental and crucial to the improvement of UK air quality, the cleaning up of water pollution, the management of waste, and the protection and enhancement of biodiversity. It has also given us a global platform on which we can show global leadership in tackling climate change.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair—I can see several colleagues from it dotted around the Chamber here today—carried out an inquiry into the effects of EU membership on UK environmental protection. We heard from a wide variety of witnesses, including business people, academics, politicians and non-governmental organisations. The overwhelming majority told us that the environment was better protected as a result of our EU membership.

We do not have to look too far to find examples of that protection. In the 1970s, the Thames was biologically dead. It may not look any cleaner from the Palace of Westminster than it did in the ‘70s, but it serves as a great reminder of how EU membership has cleaned up our environment. We can now see seals and dolphins—I have yet to see one from my window. Otters are now in the high end of the Thames. That success story has been repeated up and down the country, as once dead rivers have been brought back to life. Where once it was dangerous to swim, now it is safe for people and wildlife alike. The EU water framework directive has cleaned up our beaches and our rivers, and the marine strategy directive has encouraged us to set out that ecologically coherent network of marine protection zones. It has not been an easy task and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rory Stewart, for his work in this area.