“Obligations and rights contained within the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty shall be recognised and available in domestic law on and after exit day, and shall be enforced and followed accordingly.”—(Caroline Lucas.)
This new clause seeks to transfer the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty into UK law, so that animals continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 60—Retention of principles of EU environmental law—
‘(1) On and after exit day the environmental principles of European Union law become principles of United Kingdom law in accordance with this section.
(2) The “environmental principles of EU law” are the principles set out in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (the precautionary principle; the principle that preventive action should be taken; the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay).
(3) A court or tribunal interpreting or applying an enactment must, so far as it is possible to do so, construe or apply the enactment in a manner that is compatible with the environmental principles of EU law.
(4) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have regard to the environmental principles of EU law.’
This new clause would ensure that after withdrawal from the EU, the environmental principles of EU law would be retained as part of UK law.
New clause 67—Environmental protection: principles under Article 191 of TFEU—
‘(1) Principles contained in Article 191 of TFEU in relation to environmental protection and listed in subsection (2) shall continue to be recognised and applied on and after exit day.
(2) The principles are—
(a) the precautionary principle as it relates to the environment,
(b) the principle that preventive action should be taken to avert environmental damage,
(c) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source, and
(d) the principle that the polluter should pay.’
This new clause would ensure that environmental principles under Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union would continue to apply in the UK after exit day.
Amendment 93, in clause 4, page 2, line 45, leave out sub-paragraph (b).
The test set out at Clause 4(1)(a), that such rights are available in domestic law immediately before exit day, is sufficient for those rights to continue to be available following the UK’s exit from the EU.
Amendment 70, page 2, line 47, at end insert—
‘(1A) Rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures under subsection (1) shall include directly effective rights contained in the following Articles of, and Protocols to, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union—
Amendment 148, page 2, line 47, at end insert—
‘(1A) Rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures under subsection (1) shall include directly effective rights and obligations contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
This amendment would seek to preserve after exit from the EU any rights or obligations arising from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which applied in UK domestic law by virtue of its membership of the European Union.
Amendment 94, page 3, line 4, leave out paragraph (b).
Clause 4(2)(b) excludes rights arising under EU directives which are not recognised by the courts. This Amendment would remove Clause 4(2)(b) so that rights arising under EU directives (but not yet adjudicated on by the courts) are protected and continue to be available in UK courts.
Amendment 95, page 3, line 9, at end insert—
‘(4) Where, following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, no specific provision has been made in respect of an aspect of EU law applying to the UK or any part of the United Kingdom immediately prior to the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, that aspect of EU law shall continue to be effective and enforceable in the United Kingdom with equivalent scope, purpose and effect as immediately before exit day.
(5) Where, following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, retained EU law is found to incorrectly or incompletely transpose the requirements of EU legislation in force on exit day, a Minister of the Crown shall make regulations made subject to an enhanced scrutiny procedure so as to ensure full transposition of the EU legislation.”
New subsection (4) deals with a situation where the UK has incorrectly implemented a directive. In cases of incorrect implementation, reliance on the EU directive may still be necessary. New subsection (5) would ensure that where the UK has not correctly or completely implemented EU law, prior to exit day, there will be a statutory obligation on Ministers to modify UK law to ensure that the relevant EU legislation is correctly and fully implemented.
Clause 4 stand part.
Amendment 149, in clause 7, page 6, line 18, at end insert—
“(g) make any provision which is not compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
This amendment would seek to bar Ministers from making regulations under Clause 7 which are not compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Amendment 350, page 6, line 18, at end insert—
“(g) fail to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings.”
This amendment holds Ministers to the animal welfare standards enshrined in Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Amendment 150, in clause 9, page 7, line 8, at end insert—
“(e) make any provision which is not compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
This amendment would seek to bar Ministers from making regulations under Clause 9 which are not compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
New clause 34—United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child—
‘(1) On exit day and on any day afterwards, a public authority must act in a way which is compatible with—
(a) Part I of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(b) the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC to which the UK is a signatory state.
(2) So far as it is possible to do so, on exit day and on any day afterwards, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with—
(a) Part I of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(b) the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC to which the UK is a signatory state.
(3) On exit day and on any day afterwards, a Minister of the Crown must, when exercising any function relating to children, have due regard to the requirements of—
(a) Part I of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(b) the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC to which the UK is a signatory state.
(4) A Minister of Crown shall undertake and publish a Child Rights Impact Assessment if the function relating to children under subsection (3) entails any of the following—
(a) formulation of a provision to be included in an enactment,
(b) formulation of a new policy, guidance or statement of practice, or
(c) change or review of an existing policy guidance or statement of practice.’
This new clause would require Ministers and public authorities, from exit day onwards, to act in such a way as to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the optional protocols to which the UK is a signatory state.
New clause 36—United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (No. 2)—
‘(1) On exit day and on any day afterwards, a public authority must act in a way which is compatible with—
(a) Part I of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(b) the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC to which the UK is a signatory state.
(2) So far as it is possible to do so, on exit day and on any day afterwards, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with—
(a) Part I of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(b) the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC to which the UK is a signatory state.
(3) On exit day and on any day afterwards, a Minister of the Crown must, when exercising any function relating to children, have due regard to the requirements of—
(a) Part I of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
(b) the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC to which the UK is a signatory state.’
This new clause would require Ministers and public authorities, from exit day onwards, to act in such a way as to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the optional protocols to which the UK is a signatory state.
New clause 28—General Environmental Principles—
‘(1) In carrying out their duties and functions arising by virtue of this Act, public authorities must have regard to and apply the principles set out in this section.
(2) Any duty or function conferred on a public authority must be construed and have effect in a way that is compatible with the principles in this section and the aim of achieving a high level of environmental protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.
(3) The principles in this section are—
(a) the need to promote sustainable development in the UK and overseas;
(b) the need to contribute to preserving, protecting and improving the environment;
(c) the need to contribute to prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources;
(d) the need to promote measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change;
(e) the precautionary principle as it relates to the environment;
(f) the principle that preventive action should be taken to avert environmental damage;
(g) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source;
(h) the polluter pays principle;
(i) the principle that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.
(j) the need to guarantee participatory rights including access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in relation to environmental matters.
(together the “environmental principles“).
(4) In carrying out their duties and functions, public authorities shall take account of—
(a) available scientific and technical data;
(b) environmental benefits and costs of action or lack of action; and
(c) economic and social development.
(5) Public authorities, shall when making proposals concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection policy, take as a base a ·high level of protection, taking account in particular of any new development based on scientific facts.
(6) Subsection (7) applies in any proceedings in which a court or tribunal determines whether a provision of primary or subordinate legislation is compatible with the environmental principles.
(7) If the court is satisfied that the provision is incompatible with the environmental principles, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility.
(8) In formulating and implementing agriculture, fisheries, transport, research and technological development and space policies, public authorities shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings, while respecting the administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.’
This new clause ensures that public authorities carrying out their duties arising by virtue of this act, must have regard to environmental principles currently enshrined in EU law.
I am pleased to speak in support of new clause 30, which is in my name and those of many other hon. Members, as well as new clause 60 and amendments 93 to 95. I am hopeful of finding support across the House for new clause 30, on animal sentience, because I do not think it should be controversial.
By way of background, in 1997—20 years ago—the UK Government, during their presidency of the EU, convinced the then 14 other member states that EU law should explicitly recognise that animals were sentient beings, and not simply agricultural goods like bags of potatoes that could be maltreated with impunity. In other words, it was a recognition that, like us, animals are aware of their surroundings; that they have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat and cold; and that they are aware of what is happening to them and of their interaction with other animals, including humans.
The resulting protocol, which came into force in 1999, changed how animals were regarded and ensured that future EU legislation was not implemented on the basis of the lowest standards of animal welfare, but that it took animal sentience into account. That understanding has since informed more than 20 pieces of EU law on animal welfare, including the ban on sealskin imports, the ban on conventional battery cages and the ban on cosmetics testing on animals.
In 2009, the original protocol was incorporated into the Lisbon treaty as article 13 of title II. The Government have rightly and commendably committed to transferring all existing EU law on animal welfare into UK law under the Bill, but because the text of the Lisbon treaty is not transferred by the Bill, the wording of article 13 on animal sentience will not explicitly be incorporated into UK law. As things stand, despite having one of the longest-standing animal welfare laws in the world—something of which we are rightly proud—the UK has no legal instrument other than article 13 of the Lisbon treaty to provide that animals are sentient beings.
EU laws on animal sentience have allowed Wales to lead the way on animal welfare. When Plaid Cymru was in government, for instance, we banned the use of electric shock collars on cats and dogs. Does the hon. Lady agree that as well as explicitly incorporating the wording of article 13 on animal sentience into UK law, the UK Government should not hinder or stifle any future progress on animal welfare in Wales by dictating what it can and cannot do in areas of devolved competence?
We in this country are of course well known throughout Europe as a nation of animal lovers. The hon. Lady was kind enough to say that we started off this whole process. Once we leave Europe, will she join us in ensuring that in our own laws we have the best animal welfare protection in the world?
As a passionate animal rights and animal welfare campaigner, I obviously want the best possible animal welfare laws in this country and in all countries, and I will not diminish my commitment to that.
I simply want to say that the omission in not transferring this bit of EU law into UK law—I understand why it cannot be transferred directly—is something that we could very easily rectify. As I say, I do not expect anyone to find any great controversy in doing so. New clause 30 is simply seeking to make sure that we close that gap. I am not for a moment suggesting that the result of our not closing it would be that we all suddenly went out and started murdering kittens—no one is suggesting such a thing—but I am saying that this is an important protocol. It was important enough for the British Government to use all their influence in the EU to have it included in the Lisbon treaty, and we should continue to have it in UK law.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, once we have left, we will be able to increase our animal welfare standards—for example, by stopping the live transportation of horses and other animals, which we are currently forbidden to do—
The hon. Gentleman asks about badgers. I have actually been leading some of the campaigning against culling badgers. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that we will have the ability to raise standards where we are currently forbidden to do so.
No one would be more delighted than me if we had the political will, which is as important as the political legalities, to make that happen. If there was the political will to secure higher animal welfare standards in this country, no one would be happier than me.
With new clause 30, I am simply suggesting that the principle of animal sentience is an important one. In a sense, it is almost by accident that the law will not be transposed. It has been very important in the development of animal welfare law in this country, and I therefore hope that there will be agreement across the House simply to close this loophole.
The hon. Lady is making a great speech. We completely agree with her and want to take her side on this issue. Does she agree that the reality is that high animal welfare standards sometimes mean higher input costs, and that in the big wide world, as we seek new deals with countries that perhaps have much lower animal welfare standards, there will be an economic temptation to lower our standards? That is why it is so important, as she says, to incorporate those welfare standards in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. He has anticipated what I was going to say, but he is exactly right. When it comes to such trade agreements, it will be even more important that our standards are absolutely enshrined in law, so that they cannot be bargained or negotiated away in the interests of getting a better deal.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that he believes this gap should be closed. I very much welcome his support, because this is an important ethical and practical issue. It is of great significance to the UK’s ability to trade freely with the EU27 in the future. As I have said, the UK was the original proposer of the protocol, so we surely have a responsibility to ensure that its provisions are not lost from UK law by our withdrawal from the EU.
On that very point, there cannot be a green group that the Secretary of State has not embraced or an animal welfare group he has not cuddled since he has been in post. Is this not a good test of whether the Government will turn their words into action? This new clause and other amendments need to be added to the Bill, otherwise it is just a case of warm words and no action.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is spot-on. This is exactly such an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that there is political will behind their words. Let us hope that, as a result of new clause 30 being on the amendment paper, we can agree it tonight, and then get on with many of the other big issues. I simply say that I am looking forward to the Minister’s response, but if it is not satisfactory, I very much hope to press the new clause to a vote.
The intervention by Dr Drew was a little unfair on the Secretary of State, because he is not just using warm words. There has been a flurry of activity and real commitment in the past four months, including banning neonicotinoids just a few days ago, placing CCTVs in every abattoir in the country, raising sentencing from six months to five years for those who engage in cruelty to animals, and banning the ivory trade. I could spend 10 minutes reeling off the Secretary of State’s achievements, promises, commitments and actions. We should celebrate that. It is extraordinary.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I agree with him—so far. There are still more tests to be applied to how far-reaching this Secretary of State is, but the commitments he has made so far have certainly been welcome. I hope that he will also take strong action on this Brexit Bill, in terms not only of NC30 but of the crucial issues of environmental governance and principles. To be honest, what I have heard so far is that different commitments will be put into national policy statements, but that is not good enough. They are not robust or rigorous enough. The jury is still out on some things, but I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in saying that the progress so far has been pretty extraordinary by the standards of previous Secretaries of State.
Does not what has just been said simply show that the Secretary of State can lift standards within the EU? The whole point about the EU is that it is not possible to push standards below a minimum threshold, but it is possible to do so outside the EU. In the future, therefore, if we are out, they can go up and down; but if we are in, they can go only up.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is not just about the fact that they can go only up; if we are in the EU, we can actually have an influence on the other 27 member states, as we have done on many issues, not least that under discussion, and make sure that animal welfare is improved not just in our own country but right across the EU28.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the ban on neonicotinoids would not have taken place were it not for years of sustained campaigning by environmental groups and scientific research by the European Commission? It stated that we should invoke the precautionary principle to protect our bees from those potentially toxic chemicals, but the precautionary principle will no longer be in place when the Bill is enacted.
The hon. Lady neatly brings me on to the next issue that I want to address. She is absolutely right to say that there is real concern about what will happen to those vital principles as a result of the Bill. Her new clause 60 aims to address precisely that by ensuring that, after withdrawal, the environmental principles embedded in EU law are fully retained as part of UK law. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has a planned consultation on the principles, but I am worried about the timescale, because we need the outcome to be meaningful and to know what it is before the Bill finishes its passage through both Houses of Parliament. I hope that the Secretary of State will be in listening mode, because so many people are deeply and rightly concerned about what will happen to those principles as a result of the Bill as it stands.
The environmental law that the Bill rightly sets out to transfer into UK law is composed of not only specific legal obligations such as the prohibition on certain chemicals, but a broad and comprehensive framework in which those obligations are embedded. That framework includes a number of environmental principles—including the precautionary principle, the “polluter pays” principle and sustainable development—and they underpin and aid the interpretation of those legal obligations. That assists Governments, agencies and courts to understand and correctly interpret the aims and objectives of EU environmental law.
Currently, those environmental principles are set out in the EU treaties, and they have been instrumental in decisions such as the EU ban on imports of hormone-fed beef, the moratorium on neonic pesticides and the control of the release of genetically modified organisms in the EU. To give just one example of how that has benefited environmental protection in the UK, the “polluter pays” principle states that the polluter should bear the expense of carrying out pollution prevention and control measures. The EU’s water framework directive, which drives the sustainable management of the UK’s waterways, has led to enormous improvements in the quality of our drinking water and it is specifically based on the “polluter pays” principle.
The hon. Lady is making a valid point, but some of the EU’s principles are lower than ours. For example, it will not allow us to ban microbeads. We are very concerned about plastics in the water, so I look forward to being able to enhance our waterways by being able to ban microplastics.
I disagree with the hon. Lady. I do not think there is anything relating to the EU that is stopping us from banning microplastics. We have just done it, and in doing so we have demonstrated how the UK can show leadership. That is not just happening here in the UK. We have an influence we should be proud of, and we should be rather sad that we will probably lose it as a result of this whole process.
I was coming on to explain that, in accordance with that vital principle, the Environment Agency in England imposes fines on operators that are found to have caused pollution, and requires them to repair any damage and to invest in preventive measures. This year alone, six-figure fines have been imposed on two water companies: one for pumping raw sewage into a river; and another for a pollution incident that killed fish, birds and invertebrates. In addition, those companies were required to repair the damage caused and to invest to reduce the risk of breaches in the future. That not only ensures that clean-up and prevention costs are borne by the operator and not the taxpayer, but acts as a deterrent, because avoiding pollution usually costs less than removing pollutants from the environment.
Similarly, the precautionary principle aims at ensuring that environmental protection is increased through preventative decision making in the case of risk. It essentially provides that when there is a risk of causing serious or irreversible harm to the environment, there is a need to step back, stop, and take a path involving a less serious risk of harm. Importantly, that does not prevent or discourage innovation; on the contrary, it encourages it. By preventing dangerous actions and approaches, the precautionary principle creates a space for businesses and public bodies to innovate.
It is important to recognise that these principles are not simply guidance at present, as they are given legal effect in EU law. Article 11 of the TFEU states:
“Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.”
If those principles are to have equivalence on exit day, as we have been promised, they have to be placed in domestic legislation.
Earlier this month, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs appeared before the Environmental Audit Committee, which is chaired by Mary Creagh. The Secretary of State made the case that as court judgments in the UK have enshrined principles such as “polluter pays”, the fact that the principles are not incorporated into UK law will not mean that the enforcement mechanism no longer exists. That argument suggests that he does believe the principles should be enforceable after withdrawal from the EU, but it limits such enforceability to when those principles already exist in case law, and some existing case law has arisen only because it has been enforced by virtue of our membership of the EU. If the principles are to be enforceable in court when there is no pre-existing case law, as the Secretary of State himself appears to agree they should be, that is another argument for making sure that they are explicitly incorporated into UK law so that the courts can apply them universally after withdrawal from the EU.
Other EU countries, including France and Germany, have recognised the principles in statute and their constitutions. New clause 60 would put the UK on the same level playing field by explicitly incorporating the principles into our law, too. Indeed, I would argue that that is the only way of fulfilling the Prime Minister’s pledge that the
“same rules and laws will apply on the day after Brexit as they did before”,
thereby providing maximum certainty as we leave the EU. For that pledge to be genuinely kept, we need the environmental principles to apply in UK law in three different but closely related ways: first, in the interpretation of retained EU environmental law by the UK courts; secondly, in the challenging of environmentally damaging actions through the UK courts; and, thirdly, in the guiding of future decision making and policy making across Government and public bodies.
On a point of clarification, the hon. Lady said that she was not aware that we could not ban microbeads in plastics, but an independent report from the House of Commons Library warns that any attempt to impose a unilateral ban could break EU free trade laws because microbeads are in products. I think she will actually find that even though the Government wanted to ban them in July 2017, we were warned that we would be in breach of EU trade laws if we did so.
I really do not understand the hon. Lady, because we have done it—it has been done. All the fears that we might not be able to do it because of EU law have been absolutely shot down by the fact that we have done it. It has been recognised—done; over; finished; kaput.
The Environmental Audit Committee had a very interesting meeting this morning at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with its Under-Secretary, Dr Coffey, who is in the Chamber. We look forward to the statutory instrument that will ban the manufacture of microbeads from
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that helpful update. There are many myths about what the EU prevents us from doing, so it is useful to get that clarification.
I was just explaining the different areas in which we need these environmental principles to apply. My concern is that the Bill delivers on only the first: the interpretation of retained EU environmental law. Clause 6(3) states that general principles of EU law will be retained in UK law, and that the courts will be able to interpret EU-derived law in accordance with the retained general principles of EU law, but it is not yet clear whether the environmental principles will be considered to be general principles of EU law. Neither the ECJ nor the treaties have defined “general principles”. The concern is that if the Bill does not explicitly recognise environmental principles as general principles, they could be lost altogether. Even if they are retained, as they should be, the Bill explicitly limits how they could then be applied in two ways: first, UK courts will not be able to overturn decisions or challenge actions that do not conform to the principles; and, secondly, there will be no compulsion on public bodies or businesses to refer to the principles in future actions and decisions.
I agree. This country will be very interested in forming more free trade agreements as soon as possible, and under circumstances that might not necessarily be in the best interests of our own environment and standards. It therefore even more important that these things are enshrined in law, as the hon. Gentleman says.
Paragraph 3 of schedule 1 explicitly limits the legal remedies available when general principles are contravened. It will not be possible to take an action in court, or to challenge or quash any law or activity on the basis of the principles. The courts will be unable to overturn decisions, and individuals and non-governmental organisations will not be able to challenge decisions on the basis that they are not compatible with environmental principles such as sustainable development. In short, as the Bill stands, if a business or public body contravenes the principles of environmental law, it will not be possible to challenge that in court.
That is a clear departure from continuity, as the EU courts have strongly upheld the environmental principles, such as by overturning planning decisions that contravene the precautionary principle. The level of environmental protection after exit day will not therefore be as strong and rigorous as it was before exit day, unless we accept new clause 60 and do something right now to enshrine these principles in our law.
Is it not vital for air quality that we enshrine these principles in UK law, given that the Government have been told four times by the courts to improve air quality but failed to do so? It is essential that actions can be brought to enforce such really important things.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The role of the ECJ in applying fines has concentrated the minds of policy makers in the UK. It was only the threat of significant fines that led to the air being cleaned up in places such as London. One of the many things that worry me about the Brexit process is that, even in what the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said about closing the so-called governance gap, I have not heard any proposal from him for real sanctions to concentrate the minds of policy makers on bringing their laws into conformity.
In EU law, the environmental principles are forward looking and play a formative role in guiding not just day-to-day decisions, but future policy development. That role could be lost under the Bill as drafted. In the months and years ahead, the principles of environmental law should be applied to UK decision making in a number of high-risk areas, such as trade policy, chemicals, and infrastructure planning, but unless the Bill is amended, the legal force of the environmental principles to guide future policy and decision making will be lost.
I want to end with a few words about national policy statements. The Government have suggested several times that instead of enshrining the principles in UK law, they might instead consider using the NPS route. I have real concerns about that because an NPS is not a fixed, long-term commitment, and does not provide the long-term certainty of primary legislation. Such an approach would represent a serious step backwards from the current position.
The statutory framework for establishing an NPS limits its scope to planning matters, so we would need a new statutory instrument to have a much broader scope. Also, an NPS lacks the binding character of legislation. Courts could give little or no weight at all to policy statements so, essentially, the basic problem with an NPS is that a Secretary of State has a great deal of control over it, unlike with primary legislation. In a case in which a non-governmental organisation or an individual wanted to use an NPS to hold the Government and public bodies to account, there could be a serious temptation for the Government to amend the NPS precisely to make it less effective at holding them to account.
I want briefly to express my support for amendments 93 to 95, which Kerry McCarthy will no doubt speak to. Those amendments speak to the primary intention of the Bill as expressed by Ministers. Without them, it could not be said that the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before, as the Prime Minister has pledged. They are needed to ensure that our laws and our rights, and indeed the intent and purpose behind them, remain the same immediately after withdrawal from the EU. Any changes to those laws and rights, other than to ensure the faithful conversion of EU law into domestic law, should be made following our exit from the EU only through primary legislation, not by any other means. Those amendments therefore ask, in a sense, little of Ministers, and so, as with new clauses 30 and 60, I hope that the Minister will respond positively to them.
I have a large degree of agreement and sympathy with what Caroline Lucas has just said. So far as animal sentience is concerned, I suspect we may find that there is more on that already in UK law than she is allowing, but I wait to hear from the Government about that. However, I do agree that, one way or another, we need it to be present in UK law at the end of this, and I think the Secretary of State is probably pretty convinced of the same thing.
I want mainly to talk about the question of new clauses 60 and 67, or more precisely what they are aiming at and how best to achieve it, because the point at which I disagree with the hon. Lady is not one of ends but one of means. It is a rare thing to happen in the House of Commons, but I hope I might at least half-persuade her by the end of my remarks that it would be better for her to adopt a different view of the mechanics than she is suggesting.
Let me begin with this: I agree with the hon. Lady wholeheartedly that, in the light of schedule 1, we cannot possibly rely on clause 6—even as I hope it will subsequently be adjusted—and still less on clauses 2 and 3 to do the heavy lifting that she rightly wants to get the precautionary principle and other critical principles into UK law. She is absolutely right about that.
The question that the hon. Lady and I are both asking is, how best can we get over that problem and get to the position where the UK courts and the UK Administration as a whole—the Government and their agencies—carry on applying those principles in a sensible and serious way to our environmental protection over succeeding decades? This is obviously a matter not just of a minute or a day or a year, but of a long period over which we want a settled, continued policy being carried on by succeeding UK Governments of different persuasions.
If that is the question, clearly one route would be some variant of new clause 60, which was tabled by Mary Creagh, or new clause 67 or some other variant. I completely admit that that is a route, but I want first to explain why I do not think it is an optimal route and then to explain why what has been talked about by the Secretary of State is a better route.
The reason I do not think it is an optimal route is that—this has a slightly familiar ring from yesterday’s debate about clause 6—it puts in the hands of the courts a very uncharted set of decisions. I do not think it is a failure of drafting. In new clauses 60 and 67, as in the TFEU, where actually they are procedural principles—they are not actually drafted into a form that makes them ordinary law, so to speak—those general, vague principles leave courts very much in charge of how they will apply. That, of course, might be very good from the viewpoint of environmentally concerned people. It could be that the courts will—they sometimes have—judge that these principles are very powerful things, with very definite results that push our whole law towards protecting the environment better; but of course we cannot rely on that, because courts are courts, and they can do all sorts of things with general principles. At one time they might be going in a direction that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and I would both regard as constructive, but another time not. They may over-egg the pudding and create reactions, and although our judges are fine judges, and they are well protected—much better protected than the Members of this House—against public opinion and threats, and all the rest of what has happened to some of our Members, regrettably, in just the last few days, nevertheless actually judges are very sensitive to public opinion, and if there is a reaction we may find the courts swinging away and producing different kinds of judgment.
Is not one of the central problems of the Bill that the legislation is so broadly drafted that there is no effective means for the courts to exercise judicial review, and that the reason we need these principles in it is to enable the court to get a grasp, which would be much better than if there is nothing there at all? Otherwise, we would have to live with a hotch-potch of precedents, which the Secretary of State referred to in the Select Committee.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman asked that question, because more or less the whole of the rest of what I want to say answers that very point. I think there is a better structure available to us, which will enable Parliament to be much more certain that the courts will be enforcing a set of much more detailed principles in a much more concrete and much more certain manner. I think that would answer the hon. Gentleman’s point and reassure him, and I believe it would do better at achieving what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion wants to achieve than her own suggestions.
May I explain what I have in mind? I am more than willing to give way to the hon. Gentleman again if he does not agree as I go along.
The first point about a better structure is that it does indeed need to have a statutory base, but that need not be in this Bill. In fact, I think it is much better that it should be an environment Bill, because an environment Bill gives the scope and opportunity to determine these things in much more detail and much more carefully, and gives the House, rather than what we have now—two and a half hours, not all of which will be spent on this topic—days and weeks of consideration in both Houses. That is the right way to do long-term environmental legislation.
The Environmental Audit Committee recommended, after its inquiry into the future of the natural environment post Brexit, that the Government bring forward an environmental protection Bill in order to do just what the right hon. Gentleman says, but there is no sign that the Government are prepared to do so. In the absence of such legislation, does he not think that the second-best option would be to protect the environment by supporting new clauses 60, 67 and 28, which are on the table today?
Well, we must leave it to Ministers to speak for themselves, but I have to say that the discussions that I and others had with the Secretary of State, who, as people have remarked in this debate, is of a very different cast of mind from some previous Secretaries of State, suggest to me that actually there will be an environmental protection Bill coming forward. I think that is—[Interruption.] Ah! Maestro! With perfect timing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State comes into the Chamber, at just the right moment for him to signify with a nod, if nothing more, that the possibility of proper environmental legislation in the form of a new statute is on his mind.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that the two are mutually exclusive? Why could we not have the security of knowing that we have a provision in the Bill? We are delighted with the new Secretary of State, but how long will he stay? Who knows? Who might come next? We want the certainty of the Bill now, as well as the nice hope of the environment Act that so many of us have been requesting for such a long time.
First, I am confident that this Secretary of State will be here for rather longer than some other Secretaries of State have been recently. I welcome that, because I think he is a very, very fine Environment Secretary. Secondly, I am not saying that it is inconceivable that there could be two pieces of legislation, but I think it rather inelegant to legislate in a slightly awkward way, and then to repeal that legislation in a Bill that would probably start its passage before the passage of this Bill has been completed. I would prefer it to be done properly, although opinions may differ.
We have had three Environment Secretaries in two years, and we have all been waiting for the famed environment plan for two and a half years. A 25-year environment plan will be a 22-year environment plan by the time it is actually published. What gives the right hon. Gentleman the confidence to assume that an environment Act, which would have to be underpinned by the environment plan, will be in place by the time we leave the EU, especially if we end up leaving without a transitional deal and crashing out in March 2019?
What gives me the confidence is that I think it is perfectly doable, and I think the Secretary of State intends to do it. I am in a slightly odd position—the Secretary of State has to nod each time I say these things, because I cannot speak for him—but I assure the hon. Lady that I really am very confident about that. Let us proceed for a moment, however, on the assumption that that is indeed going to happen. That gives us a place in which to do things, although of course it does not solve all the problems.
My second point is that, unlike the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, I think that a national policy statement is an ideal vehicle for the translation of these principles into something much more solid and much more determinate. A national policy statement is not just something that a Minister dreams up and issues like a piece of confetti. It comes before the House of Commons and is subject to resolution by the House of Commons, and it is therefore debated. It is exposed in draft, and it is discussed by the green groups.
There will of course be considerable debate about the exact terms of a national policy statement that seeks to turn those principles into something much more concrete, but I think there is ample scope for turning it into something of which we could be really proud. It would also have a huge advantage over mere principles when the courts came to judge the actions of the state and measure them against it—for that is exactly what would happen. A national policy statement is a policy statement by Ministers. If Ministers do not follow that policy, they are, by hypothesis, acting irrationally and in a Wednesbury unreasonable way, and can therefore be judicially reviewed. When they are judicially reviewed, the courts will look at the policy statement and compare it with their actions. If the policy statement is properly debated, properly exposed and properly expressed, those actions can be measured against it in a very determinate and careful way, and we can end up with a much more solid environmental protection than we would ever have got out of the principles.
The idea that judicial review will be an adequate recourse is misguided. Judicial review is about only the process, not the outcome. Moreover, it is becoming harder and harder for people to obtain the necessary funds: plenty of people would not know how to begin to do it. I also do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s confidence about the way in which a court will necessarily regard a national policy statement. An NPS does not have the same quality of judiciability as primary legislation.
Perhaps we will not reach agreement about this. I disagree with every part of what the hon. Lady has just said. First, judicial review has been a highly successful mechanism for environmental campaigners. It is, in fact, from judicial review that the clean air measures have arisen. Secondly, the reason why it is particularly effective in the case of a national policy statement is that a policy statement is a policy statement by Ministers and therefore creates a presumption of Wednesbury unreasonableness if it is departed from, so it is very easy to use as a tool for judicial review. Thirdly, judicial review is the mechanism that the principles in the new clause of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, or the Opposition new clause or the new clause of the hon. Member for Wakefield, would have to operate on. It is not the case that the courts in our country would simply take a set of principles and apply them to some set of cases. They would not know what to do with them. The Government would have to be judicially reviewed for failing to apply those principles in their policy.
I will give way in a moment.
It is much better to be in a position where we can take the Government to judicial review for failing to apply a much more detailed set of policies, which are the Government’s policies, as approved in the House of Commons by resolution, and which have been fully debated and where we then know whether the court is likely to find that the action is or is not in accordance.
I will give way to both hon. Ladies shortly, but first I want to come to a further point that is an important part of the architecture.
I do not personally believe that even the combination of an environmental protection Bill and an NPS emerging from it and under it would be sufficient. This exactly answers the last point of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. I accept that it is difficult for campaigners and others to use the vehicle of judicial review, which is why I and some of my hon. Friends have advocated what we have proposed, and why we have agreed with the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State is again nodding. That is why we have agreed that it is necessary under that same statute to create a body which is a prosecutorial authority, wholly independent of Government, along the lines of the Victims’ Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner, the Office for Budget Responsibility, or the Equality and Human Rights Commission—we can choose which model—and which is an entity that is small and lean but, like the Committee on Climate Change, very serious. It would be established under statute, and charged with a duty under statute to ensure that the NPS is observed. I advocated the CCC when I was first working with Tony Juniper to get what became the Climate Change Act accepted in this House, and at an early stage I came to believe that the combination of clarity of objective and a body wholly independent and staffed by serious experts was a powerful mechanism, and so I think it has proved to be.
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he proposing that the body he is describing would have the same power of sanction that currently—as we have been talking about—the ECJ has, in the ability to fine Governments, which is what finally made them conform to the air quality laws, for example? Will this body have the capacity to do something as strong as fining Government to make sure they put their house in order?
In a word, yes, because this body will be able to take the Government to court, and the courts have the power to injunct, and if the Government fail to observe an injunction, results follow. The body must have that capacity.
I am not envisaging—and I know the Secretary of State is not envisaging—anything remotely like the Environment Agency or Natural England, which are part of the DEFRA family—if I can put it that way. This agency will not be an agency of the state, carrying out the Government’s operational objectives; rather, it will be independent of the Government and will continuously be judging the Government’s actions, taking on board the complaints of others, and using the expertise.
Finally, before I give way again, let me say that I hope the hon. Lady will take some comfort from the fact that ever since I began to propose this with some of my hon. Friends, and started discussing it with the Secretary of State, those who most disagree with her and me about these things have been sticking pins in voodoo images of people like me, because they are afraid that this body might be very effective. I take some comfort from that, and hope the hon. Lady will, too.
I am interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman develop the ideas around this new body to fill the commission-shaped hole, which was what the Secretary of State described to our Committee, but I want to press the right hon. Gentleman on the point of remedy, because there is no such body. The CCC sets out goals, but does not have any remedy against Government if we fail to meet our targets; it only has the power of its authority in saying that we are missing the fourth carbon budget, or the fifth carbon budget, and so forth.
Secondly, on judicial review, the Ministry of Justice proposed to increase the fees charged to individuals and environmental groups in clear breach of the Aarhus convention, which guarantees access to environmental justice through European law for everybody and caps the costs. The only reason why that proposal was overturned was a judicial review brought by big charities such as the RSPB, not because the Government were aware of the principles.
The hon. Lady is actually making my point. If one looks at new clause 60 or new clause 67, they clearly do not create a right of action against an individual. They create the possibility of judicial review of Government, and I accept the good intention of doing so. Instead, we have the possibility of judicial review of Government not in the hands of some private charity, group, NGO or whatever, but through a taxpayer-funded, statutory body that can take the Government to court, where the Government will be measured against a precise policy statement that is authorised by this House. That is a much more powerful vehicle. In fact, it is the most powerful vehicle available to us for the control of Government. We know nothing higher than the Supreme Court as a means of holding Government to account in relation to their own policies, as approved by the House of Commons. It is an ironclad method of proceeding. I accept that we would of course have prolonged discussion of what was in the policy statement and further prolonged discussion of exactly how the body was structured. There is a basis for debate, but the fundamental structure is much more powerful than what is proposed in either of the new clauses.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on some nice blue-sky thinking about what could come in the future, but I do not see how that is mutually exclusive to the new clauses that we are debating. They relate to values that the UK has signed up to through, among other things, the Rio principles and the Aarhus convention that are currently underpinned in EU law to ensure that they are binding in British law. Leaving the EU would mean that there is no underpinning for our courts to rely on them. The new clauses would allow the courts to use them and rely on them in other judgments. If the right hon. Gentleman’s blue-sky thinking comes forward, it could happen then as well.
That was the subject of a previous intervention, and what I said in response then I will say again. The application of the principles in this Bill is a possible way to go and is not necessarily incompatible with later legislation, but it seems rather awkward to legislate inadequately and then to produce a good piece of legislation that repeals the inadequate legislation—we certainly would not want them to conflict—when it is extremely likely that the Bill in question will actually be marching through the Houses in parallel with the Bill that we are now discussing.
My second point is that Lloyd Russell-Moyle—this is part of the reason why we have a slight difference of view about the means—has far more faith in the current TFEU principles than is justified. They are principles of procedure that govern proceedings and hence have a big effect on the formulation of EU directives. Had they been part of EU law in a strict sense, they would of course have been incorporated into the Bill that we are discussing, and the problems that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and I agree exist about this Bill not carrying them into UK law would not exist.
At the moment, we have weak procedural principles, and new clauses 60 and 67 seek to take those weak procedural principles and turn them into a weak procedural principle of UK law. I am recommending, and I think the Secretary of State is happy to take forward, a solid statutory basis for a powerful body operating against a statutorily based national policy statement approved in this House in order to create a binding mechanism that is far more ironclad than what is currently on offer.
On adopting EU law into domestic law, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there is more than one legal jurisdiction in these isles. On that basis, does he believe the UK Government should be discussing and seeking agreement with the Scottish Government on how it should happen in Scotland?
I leave that to the Government, but it is noticeable that new clauses 60 and 67 would have UK application. I take it that we will be able, by one means or another, to ensure that such legislation as comes forward is so discussed with the devolved authorities that it, too, has some kind of UK application. The precise means of doing that I am neither competent nor desirous to discuss in the context of these amendments.
After Brexit, we all want to have the best environmental standards possible. Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will he return to new clause 30? If he reads new clause 30, he will see that it drives a coach and horses through the entire principle of the Bill, because in matters concerning animal welfare it would make, for all time, our courts and Supreme Court ultimately subject to the treaty of Lisbon. In that sense, new clause 30 is therefore a wrecking amendment.
I did not intend to return to new clause 30, which I did not table, but my hon. Friend may well be right. I am sure the Government will have something to say about sentience in UK domestic law.
I am under pressure from the Whips to end, and I certainly will end. [Interruption.] I am very sorry. I just express the hope that we can at least continue to discuss this. My hon. Friends and I, as well as the Secretary of State, have tried to discuss this in some detail with the environmental groups, and we should continue that discussion because there is a golden opportunity to do something very good for our country and for our environment.
Order. Thirteen colleagues, and possibly more, have caught my eye with 130 minutes to go before we conclude at 10 o’clock. You can do the maths, and it is not that great. Please be mindful of othe rs, and let us not have too many interventions. Let those who wish to speak, speak.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Oliver Letwin, and I welcome the fact that he thinks this is a debate about means not ends. The debate should continue in that constructive spirit. I am particularly interested in his ideas for an environment Bill, presumably to be introduced before exit day, and his ideas about governance, which we will be debating in Committee on a later day.
I rise to speak to new clause 67 because I have not been entirely convinced by the right hon. Gentleman. The aim of the clause is simple: to ensure that the environmental principles set out in article 191(2) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union—the precautionary principle, the principle that preventive action should be taken to avert environmental damage, the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source, and the polluter pays principle—continue to be recognised and applied after exit day, which is important. In that respect, new clause 67 is broadly similar in its intent to new clauses 60 and 28. If either of those new clauses is pressed to a vote, we would be minded to support them.
The environmental principles set out in article 191 of the TFEU form an essential component of environmental law; they are not unique to environmental law, but they are principles of environmental law in general. The principles are also found in a number of international environmental treaties to which the UK is a signatory, including the convention on biological diversity, the convention on climate change and the convention on the law of the sea. At present, the UK gives effect to those obligations through its membership of the EU, and particularly through the Lisbon treaty.
As Caroline Lucas and the right hon. Member for West Dorset said, the principles play three key roles: they are an aid to the interpretation of the law; they guide future decision making; and they are a basis for legal challenge in court.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion set out in great detail the wide range of areas in which the principles have led to tangible environment improvement benefits. As it stands, the Bill does not ensure that the environmental principles will be recognised and available in domestic law after exit, and as such does not retain those three key roles. The principles are not preserved by clause 4 because they do not confer directly effective rights on individuals. According to the legal advice that I have received, neither do they fall within the definition of the general principles of EU law that are to some extent preserved by the Bill, although the Minister may want to comment on that. Whereas the general principles apply across all EU law, by their very definition some environmental principles apply only to environmental law and policy.
If we are to retain the law we have, to be effective custodians of the environment and to be world leaders when it comes to environmental standards, it is imperative that we embed the principles in the way policy operates. To his credit, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recognised that. However, the Government have argued that environmental principles are interpretive principles, and that as such they should not form part of the law itself. I argue that the environmental principles are not simply guidance; as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion mentioned, they have been given effect in EU law. Article 11 of the TFEU states:
“Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.”
They are, therefore, a vital aid to understanding the role and function of existing legislation, as well as being an interpretative tool for decision makers and, if necessary, the courts.
For the principles to have equivalence on exit day, they must be placed in domestic legislation. I recognise that a consultation on this subject has been announced, but it will not report back before the Bill has progressed through this place. There is good reason to doubt that the direction of travel being signalled by the Government—namely, a reliance on UK case law, judicial review and some form of policy guidance—will do the job, even if all that operates alongside governance arrangements in the form of an as yet undefined watchdog, although the right hon. Member for West Dorset gave some valuable insight into what the Government are thinking in that respect.
UK case law is unlikely to retain and capture the effect of all the principles set out in article 191, as that would limit enforceability to where the principles already exist in case law. It is difficult to see how judicial review, which looks only at the legality of a decision or action rather than its scientific merits, will materially apply core environmental principles. Likewise, reliance on policy guidance—something explicitly referred to by the Secretary of State recently in evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee—is arguably an inadequate basis on which to proceed. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion noted, policy guidance is necessarily limited in scope, but there is a strong case for ensuring that environmental principles apply across Government, informing law as well as policy, to match the rigour of the treaty obligations.
Policy guidance also entails a weaker duty on public bodies: policy statements are only guidelines or material considerations for public bodies to consider, meaning that they are less likely to influence a decision than a strict duty to comply. Policy guidance is impermanent; it is prey to changes resulting from short-term political agendas—under different Ministers and different Governments—and so does not provide long-term certainty, and it lacks the binding character of statute. There should be a clear duty to comply with environmental principles in statute, to match the current strong legal obligation set out in the treaty, and the courts should be able to enforce such a duty.
With respect to compliance, does the hon. Gentleman recognise the importance of strong UK frameworks? Although we have different jurisdictions throughout the UK, we have to make sure that we have standards that maintain the integrity of our internal market and protect the UK and the Union that we all support.
I agree with that, and I would add that if the environmental principles are brought into UK law in the fashion that I am describing, they will of course inform the frameworks for the devolved legislatures.
The Minister may wish to comment on this, but there is also an argument to suggest that enshrining the principles in statute is necessary to ensure compliance with the UK’s international obligations, because although the principles are contained in EU treaties, including the TFEU, the UK is also obliged to comply with them in other international treaties, such as those I mentioned at the outset.
The UK’s duty to comply with the environmental principles does not fall away once we leave the EU, because they are contained in these other treaties, but our current method of compliance will. It is surely right, therefore, that we ensure that the principles are incorporated into legislation so that we are compliant with those treaties. There are clear precedents where principles and general duties have been incorporated into legislation. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states:
“It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”
The Countryside Act 1968 confers functions on the said agency
“to be exercised for the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.”
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 contains, “well-being goals” that are similar in nature to principles.
Environmental principles set out in article 191 of the TFEU form an essential component of environmental law. If the Government’s stated aim of achieving equivalence on day one of Brexit is to be achieved, the environmental principles need to be a part of domestic law on day one and the public should be able to rely on them, the courts able to apply them, and public bodies able to follow them—at the very least in respect to retained EU law.
New clause 67 is part of a package of amendments relating to the environment, including, for example, amendment 334, which seeks to ensure that the UK maintains existing air quality standards and protections. We shall return again and again to those issues to ensure that, no matter what the outcome of the negotiations is, we secure a world class environment for future generations.
I wish briefly to turn to some of the other new clauses and amendments in this group. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and others have spoken about new clause 30. Amendment 350 is closely associated with it: its purpose is to ensure that Ministers pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings as set out in article 13 of the TFEU, specifically when exercising the delegated powers in this Bill.
The hon. Lady made a powerful and detailed case for the recognition and availability of the obligations and rights set out in article 13 after exit day and we support her new clause. I do not want to detain the Committee for long on this subject other than to say that we believe that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way and to ensure their welfare. The previous Labour Government achieved much to end the cruel and unnecessary suffering of animals and that is a legacy of which I and my colleagues are very proud. We feel that we need to build on that legacy rather than put it at risk.
As is the case with the environmental principles, clause 4 will not ensure the preservation of article 13 of the TFEU. Lord Gardiner, Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been very clear on that point. There is widespread support from British farmers and animal welfare organisations for proposals to ensure that the provisions are preserved in UK law after exit day. I urge Ministers to give serious consideration to ensuring that the obligations and rights set out in article 13 are incorporated into UK law.
Finally, I turn to amendments 93, 94 and 95 and also to amendments 148, 149, 150 and new clause 34 in the name of my hon. Friend Kate Green. I have already touched several times on clause 4 as it contains some unnecessary and inexplicable restrictions in subsections l(b) and 2(b) which could mean that important obligations of environmental law, including crucial reporting and reviewing obligations, are lost. We believe that this issue should be addressed and, as such, we support amendments 93, 94 and 95 in the name of my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy and others.
Similarly, we support amendments 148, 149, 150 and new clause 34, which would remedy the deficiencies in the Bill with respect to the rights of children—
Has the hon. Gentleman given any consideration to what the words
“enforced, allowed, and followed accordingly” are supposed to mean? I confess that, on reading clause 4 1(b), I found it very difficult to understand what the Government intended.
That point is very well made. I expect that other hon. Members will touch on that in more detail when they speak to amendments 93 to 95.
We support amendments 148 to 150 and new clause 34—the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston to remedy deficiencies in the Bill with respect to the rights of children. Her amendments are designed to preserve in domestic law any rights or obligations arising from the UN convention on the rights of the child, to ensure that Ministers act in such a way as to comply with that convention, and to protect from the delegated powers in the Bill the rights and obligations that flow from the convention.
The two strategic objectives of the Bill are to take back democratic control over our laws, and to do so in a way that ensures a smooth Brexit. Clause 4 helps us to deliver on both aims. Before talking about the amendments and the application of that clause, it is worth briefly explaining the value of clause 4, which is a sweeper provision. Clause 2 retains UK implementing legislation deriving from EU instruments, and clause 3 incorporates direct EU legislation. Clause 4 picks up the other obligations, rights and remedies that would currently have the force of UK law under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. In particular, it will ensure that we retain, on day one of exit, general principles of EU law and all directly effective rights. That means rights deriving from EU treaties that are sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional that they do not require separate bespoke implementing legislation. Instead, to date, they are relied on as national law without reference to any separate implementing legislation.
I am going to make a little progress; I am mindful of your strictures, Mr Streeter. I will take interventions on the amendments, but let me just explain the relevance of clause 4.
I will give just a flavour of the kinds of rights or obligations captured, which would include the EU-derived rights to equal pay and non-discrimination on grounds of nationality. In the context of something like competition law, it would include the prohibition on the abuse of a dominant position. The explanatory memorandum gives further illustrations. Ultimately, given that the criteria for directly effective rights is determined judicially, the scope of such rights must be for UK courts to determine. That is why it would not be right for us to draft our own definition or definitive list.
Clause 4 only converts rights as they exist and are recognised immediately before the date of exit. It serves as a snapshot of EU law on the date of exit, and guarantees a smooth legal transition out of the EU—in respect of everything of value, importance and significance—for businesses and citizens up and down the country.
That brings me neatly to the question as to what it means that a right should be “allowed” immediately before exit day. It seems that that word particularly, of those three, “enforced, allowed and followed”, is astonishingly opaque.
I will come to the precise application shortly, but I am happy to take another intervention if my right hon. and learned Friend does not think I have answered his question sufficiently by the end.
Mr Grieve has raised this point: the rubber does not hit the road in this clause when it comes to procedures, such as when we legislate for chemicals. There is no body in this country that legislates, monitors and enforces chemicals; it is all done at a European level. There is no body extant in this country to do that on exit day.
There are bodies that deal with these kinds of things, such as the Health and Safety Executive, but I will come to that when I deal with the sector-specific applications of this principle.
I am going to make some headway because I am mindful, Mr Streeter, of your guidance about interventions. I want to ensure that those who tabled the amendments get a chance to make interventions about their amendments.
I want to turn now to the amendments themselves. We certainly support the sentiment behind new clause 30 and the related amendments, but I am afraid we cannot accept it. Let me briefly try to explain why.
Article 13 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union places an obligation on the European Union when developing certain EU policies and on member states when developing and implementing those EU policies to have full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. The intention of the new clause is to replicate—I am not sure whether it is replicate or duplicate—that obligation in domestic law when we leave the EU.
The reference to animals as sentient beings is, effectively, a statement of fact in article 13, but even though it is, in effect, declaratory, I can reassure Caroline Lucas that it is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering, it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under that Act.
We have made it clear that we intend to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and, indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made clear, to enhance them. The vehicle of this legislation will convert the existing body of EU animal welfare law into UK law. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.
In this country—we should be proud to say this—we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we intend to remain a world leader in the future. Leaving the EU will not prevent us from further maintaining such standards; in fact, it will free us in some regards to develop our own gold-standard protections on animal welfare. Animals will continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law, in the way I have described. We will consider how we might explicitly reflect that sentience principle in wider UK legislation.
To tack on to the Bill the hon. Lady’s new clause, which simply refers to article 13, would add nothing, however, and she was fairly honest in her speech about the limited practical impact it would have. Given that it is ultimately fairly superfluous, it risks creating legal confusion. Obviously, if she wants to propose improvements to wider UK legislation—I am sure she will, knowing her tenacity—she is free to do so, but this new clause is unnecessary, and it is liable only to generate legal uncertainty. Having addressed some of her concerns, I hope that she will withdraw the new clause, having powerfully and eloquently made her point.
I want to turn now to new clause 60, in the name of Mary Creagh, who is the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, to new clause 67, in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and to the related amendments dealing with environmental principles.
The UK has always had a strong legal framework for enforcing environmental protections, and that will continue after we leave the EU. The Bill—this legislative vehicle—will convert the existing body of EU environmental law into UK law, making sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after exit.
The Bill will directly preserve these important environmental principles, because they are hardwired into existing directly applicable EU environmental regulations and case law. Just to take two examples, the precautionary principle is included in the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals regulation of 2006 and the invasive alien species regulation of 2014, so it will be preserved by the Bill. I hope that I have gone some way to reassuring the hon. Lady, given what she said earlier.
With the inclusion of judgments on the application of the precautionary principle, EU case law on chemicals, waste and habitats, for example, will also continue to apply and will be preserved by the Bill as a matter of UK law.
I am thrilled the Minister has come back to chemicals, because we spent about three months of our lives looking into the issue. The point is not whether these things exist in our law; the point is that the body that enacts the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals will not exist on exit day, and the registrations that British companies will have paid a quarter of a billion pounds for will fall. That is one of the big problems.
The Chair of the Select Committee makes her point powerfully, and she draws quite an important distinction, which has infused some of the debates today and yesterday—the distinction between copying, pasting and preserving the substantive law and having the institutional framework. If she will allow me, I will shortly address that point squarely.
On the substantive law, I want to make the wider point that, beyond the EU framework, the Government remain committed to the internationally recognised environmental principles set out, for example, in the 1992 Rio declaration, but also in the many other multilateral environmental agreements to which the UK is a party. These include the precautionary principle and the “polluter pays” principle. We also continue to be a party to the Aarhus convention on access to information and decision making on environmental matters, which was referred to earlier. Leaving the EU will not diminish our commitment—
I am going to make a little progress, again mindful of the guidance that I have received.
Leaving the EU will not diminish our commitment to environmental principles. Indeed, it is an opportunity to reinforce them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who was here earlier and I am sure is coming back, announced only last week our intention to publish a new comprehensive national policy statement setting out the environmental principles driving UK policy, drawing on the EU’s current principles and underpinning future policy making. The point about its relative significance, value and status was very well made by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. I ally myself with his remarks. We will consult on it early next year. This is not just blue-sky thinking—it is coming imminently.
Critically—this touches on the point made by the Chair of the Select Committee—the Secretary of State has also set out plans to consult on a new independent statutory body to hold the Government to account for upholding environmental standards. I hope that that addresses concerns that some hon. Members may have not just about the substantive law but about the institutional checks and oversight that we definitely need to make sure we continue when Britain leaves the EU. I hope that addresses the point that hon. Lady made, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion.
Turning to amendments 60, 67 and 28, I certainly understand their intention, but they are unnecessary because of the snapshot of all EU environmental principles that we are already taking at exit day under this Bill. Furthermore, the amendments would alter existing EU principles, at least to some extent—for example, in the way that they apply to public authorities. Given that the Bill’s purpose is to bring into effect the law we have currently, the amendments risk generating a measure of uncertainty and a degree of confusion about the legal position. I hope that I have addressed some of the concerns on the environment, and I urge hon. Members to not to press the relevant amendments.
I turn to amendment 93 in the name of Kerry McCarthy. Many hon. Members have been eloquent in outlining the need to ensure that treaty rights and other provisions falling outside clauses 2 and 3 are still retained in UK domestic law. Clause 4, as I have said, is a broad sweeper provision. It will ensure that as a starting point, all existing rights available in domestic law immediately before exit day as a result of section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 will continue after exit to be recognised and available in our domestic law to the extent that they were before exit day. Clause 4(1) deliberately mirrors the language in the European Communities Act, which for our period of membership of the EU has been used to determine what and how EU law is accurately reflected in UK law. Clause 4 goes no further than section 2(1) of the ECA currently does. It is not intended to capture a narrower set of rights or obligations, or somehow to trim back. It does not make any changes as to how those rights or obligations are enforced in our courts. Deleting clause 4(1)(b) would mean that clause 4 no longer mirrors the ECA.
I understand why the hon. Lady has tabled the amendment, but it would be a rather curious, if not perverse, outcome if what counted as EU law after we depart the Union was expanded to be wider than when we were a member—yet that would be the direct result of her amendment. Perhaps even more importantly, for individuals, businesses, courts and practitioners up and down the country, by changing and inflating the test for what counts as EU law just as we are leaving, the amendment would in practice lead to significant legal confusion after exit with regard to the scope of rights retained. I know that that was not the intention of her amendment, and I hope that she can be persuaded not to press it.
It may well be that this comes from the European Communities Act, but I still find the word “allowed” very difficult to understand in this context, in view of the plain meaning of subsection (1)(a). As one of the questions that we have perpetually raised is that our own domestic courts will have to sort this tangle out, I am concerned about any form of drafting that appears to have an ambiguity in it. It is very hard to understand what paragraph (b) adds, and my hon. Friend has not actually explained that.
I have endeavoured to explain that the aim—and, I believe, the fact—of the Bill and the clause is to reflect and replicate the device used in the ECA. I always listen to what my right hon. and learned Friend says, but if that device has worked reasonably tolerably until now, I question why it cannot continue to serve the same purpose on exit. As ever, if he has a better formulation, I am very happy to look at that with him between now and Report to see whether there is a better way of doing this.
Let us be clear about the intention of clause 4. It is a sweeper provision to make sure that we have an accurate snapshot of EU law reflected in UK law on the date of exit.
That is enormously kind of the Minister, particularly since the Solicitor General earlier this afternoon persuaded me that his colleague would answer the question that I raised with him in an intervention. Before we are asked to agree to clause 4 standing part of the Bill, will the Minister kindly explain clause 4(3)? It states that all of clause 4 is subject not only to clause 5 but, more importantly, to schedule 1, which, as the Minister knows, stops the general principles at midnight on exit day. We listened to a lot of debate and argument yesterday about clarity and certainty for the courts. There is no definition of the general principles of EU law. Why is that, and what does the provision mean in clause 4?
I am glad that the hon. Lady made that intervention. Clauses 2, 3 and 4 are subject to the savings and the caveats in clause 5 and schedule 1. The point about schedule 1 is not that no EU principles will apply after the date of exit, but that that date is the cut-off point for recognising EU principles as reflected in UK law. New principles that may evolve after that point do not become part of UK law; only the ones that arose before that point do. That is the clear intention schedule 1(2). I hope that that gives the hon. Lady some reassurance, but we will come on to talk about the savings in clause 5 and schedule 1 on a separate day next week, when I will be happy to return to that point if she has any outstanding concerns.
Perhaps shortly, but I am going to make some progress now, because I am hearing censorious noises from the Chair and I want to respond very obediently to them.
I turn to amendment 70, in the name of Ian Blackford. I think the sentiment behind the amendment is laudable, but I reassure the House that the amendment is unnecessary for the protection of rights. In fact, it is potentially counterproductive. Clause 4 will save all the directly effective rights that arise under the EU treaties to the extent that they are available now; that is the point that I wanted to get across to Lady Hermon. We have deliberately not included a list of those directly effective rights in clause 4 or in the rest of the Bill, because there is no single, comprehensive and reliable list of all directly effective rights in the EU treaties. They are not set out in legislation—UK, EU or otherwise—but they are determined by the courts. Our approach is therefore based on procedural as well as substantive legal continuity.
The explanatory notes to the Bill set out a list of the articles from the treaty on the functioning of the European Union that the Government consider to contain directly effective rights, which will remain available in domestic law following our departure from the EU. That list, which includes article 157 on the right to equal pay, is intended to be illustrative of some of the rights that will continue to be available under clause 4. If we were to define a single list—especially if it was a non-exhaustive one—and legislate for it, we would inevitably run a significant risk of inadvertently omitting or mis-stating rights that individuals and businesses rely on, or suggesting to the courts that those rights were supposed to have a special status beyond the ones that were not listed.
We can reasonably expect individuals and businesses to want to rely on any list that we produced. Quite reasonably, they may not realise that they can rely on a wider set of rights that are not on any such list. The effect of amendment 70 would be at best to create legal uncertainty, and at worst—this is my concern—to mislead people about the rights available to them. The Government do not want that to happen, and I hope that I have persuaded Neil Gray not to press the amendment.
I want to turn as briefly as possible—I will not take any further interventions to allow others to speak—to amendment 148, in the name of Kate Green, who is in her place. It is important that the issue of children’s rights has been raised through the amendment, and I hope I can give her some reassurance. Most importantly, I want to reassure the Committee that the UK’s commitment to children’s rights and the UN convention on the rights of the child is and will remain unwavering. Our ability to support and safeguard children’s rights will not be affected by UK withdrawal from the EU.
Domestically, the rights and best interests of the child are protected in England primarily through the Children Act 1989 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002, as well as in other legislative measures. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own measures for the protection of children’s rights, in accordance with the UN convention on the rights of the child.
The UK will of course continue to be a party to the UN convention, but amendment 148 is flawed in seeking to apply an EU principle of direct effect to a global UN treaty, which is of course governed by general principles of international treaty interpretation under the Vienna convention and customary international law. I am afraid that that is a recipe for legal confusion.
In any event, we already give effect to all our international obligations under the UN convention. For example, the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 set out a range of duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In 2013, we issued statutory guidance to directors of children’s services, which requires them to have regard to the general principles of the convention and ensure that children and young people are involved in the development and delivery of local services. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 is a further example of how we constantly seek to make sure that we not only protect children’s rights but enhance them.
The Minister says that we already have a number of vehicles to ensure that we give effect to our obligations under the UN convention, but does he not accept that we have had cases in this country of decisions by the courts saying that legislation that is not compatible with the convention is, none the less, not unlawful?
As I have said, we continue to keep these matters under review. If there is a court decision, we will obviously comply with it, whatever it is. I suggest that her amendment would not meaningfully or practically enhance such rights. If what she wants to do is outside the scope of this vehicle—the snapshot that we are taking of EU law and reproducing in UK law—she should make the case for further innovations. She is of course at liberty to do so, and I would expect her to do so.
No, I will make some progress, otherwise I will be in serious trouble. I have taken several interventions.
I must turn to amendment 94, in the name of the hon. Member for Bristol East, who has also tabled amendment 95. I will address the two amendments as briefly as I can. Amendment 94 is intended to include within the scope of clause 4 rights that might arise under EU directives, but which have not yet been recognised by the European Court or the domestic courts, and might only be recognised many years after we have left the EU.
There are three basic objections to amendment 94, notwithstanding the commendable spirit in which the hon. Lady has introduced her amendments. First, amendment 94 is at odds with EU law. It conflicts not just with the UK’s approach, but with the EU’s approach to what counts as—or what the definition is of—a directly effective right. By definition, such rights need to be sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional, and they must be recognised as such by UK courts or the European Court at the date of exit. The effect of her amendment would be to inflate the definition of what counts as EU law at the very moment that we are departing from the EU, which cannot be right.
The second objection is that the amendment would not provide the accurate snapshot of the law that we are seeking to take on departure. From a practical point of view, that would risk confusion for anyone trying to glean the true legal position with any reliability.
The third persuasive argument is that the fact that we are leaving the EU means that we are taking back democratic control of our laws. With that in mind, it would not be right, as the amendment envisages, to retain an ability for thousands of directives—parts of EU law that we are not incorporating—to continue to produce new legal effects long after we have left the EU. That would run in direct conflict with the objective of clause 4 and, indeed, the whole Bill. Given the number of EU directives in force, newly found directly effective rights would have a hugely disruptive effect on UK law.
Finally, amendment 95 would impose an obligation on Ministers to make regulations in the event of finding an incorrect or incomplete implementation, so that the relevant legislation is fully transposed into domestic law. Obviously, the starting point is that the Bill will not convert directives themselves into domestic law. They are not part of our domestic law now and they will not be part of it after exit. Instead, the Bill will save the domestic measures that implement those directives under clause 2, so it is not necessary to convert the directives themselves. The wider ability to rely on the direct effect of directives will also not be retained, and we think that strikes the right balance.
The Bill already contains powers to correct any mistakes in the process of retaining EU law, and we will come on to those amendments later in Committee. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol East would in practice require us to retain the direct effective directives, putting Ministers under a continuing duty to implement directives to which we are no longer subject. Unlike clauses 7 and 9, the amendment is not even sunsetted. Indeed, its relationship to clause 7 is not clear, which would give rise to more confusion, not less, in relation to the legal position.
Thank you for your patience, Mr Streeter. I hope that I have addressed not only all the amendments in the group but, more importantly, the underlying concerns. I hope that all hon. Members will agree to clause 4 standing part of the Bill unamended.
It is a pleasure to have this unexpected opportunity to take part in the debate and to speak to amendment 70, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford and other hon. Friends. I will, of course, be brief. It is also a pleasure to follow the Minister. He was incredibly thorough in setting out his interpretation of the argument, but I disagree with him.
This group of amendments and new clauses focuses on the retention of rights in existing European law. Some people have taken the Government’s word that they want to transfer and protect existing rights derived from the EU and that this Bill will ensure that that happens. However, the Government are giving themselves unprecedented powers through secondary legislation, meaning that, as things stand, all aspects of our rights and law derived from the EU will be subject to swift future revision by the Government. Amendment 70 would set out in the Bill those areas of existing rights and law that we want to protect. The Government say that they have no intention of changing those things, so our amendment challenges the Government to back up their own rhetoric and ensure that existing law and rights are protected.
If the Committee agrees to amendment 70, those areas will be individually written into the Bill, and therefore protected from future change through secondary legislation. The fact that primary legislation would be required make an alteration would mean that it would be more difficult for the Government to bring about the bonfire of red tape for which prominent Brexiteers so desperately clamour, as was hinted at earlier today.
While we sit in this Parliament of minorities, this issue is more important than ever. We have already seen how beholden the UK Government are to the Brexiteer wing of the Tory party, which has succeeded in getting the Government to table the potentially disastrous amendment 381, which would write the day and hour for Brexit into the Bill. I seriously hope that the Government accept the calls from Members on both sides of the Committee to not press that amendment to a vote at a later date.
As we consider amendment 70, it is important that we note the way in which the Government have caved in. If the Government can have their arm twisted into tabling an amendment that hamstrings their own negotiating position, the Brexiteer group could also twist their arm on these areas after Brexit. Those on that wing of the Tory party could immediately put pressure on the Government to slash away at these fundamental rights, and if they are subject to change by secondary rather than primary legislation, those rights are incredibly vulnerable.
Should the Government vote down amendment 70, it will leave their actions short of their rhetoric. It would be a hint to everyone that there actually is a plan to use these unprecedented powers through secondary legislation to weaken rights further down the line.
What rights am I talking about? Among others, I am talking about the right to equal pay, and rights of free movement and residence, as well as the protection of citizen’s rights. May I just say that it is an absolute disgrace—a moral outrage and an act of economic self-harm—that 16 months after the Brexit referendum we still have no clarity over the existing rights of EU nationals living and working in these isles? These are EU nationals who are working and advancing our public services. They are EU nationals who contribute billions to the economy and are desperately relied on for their skills in crucial industries. Most importantly, they are EU nationals who have chosen to live and work here. They have established their family life here but are now in a position of limbo. The Government can and should guarantee their right to remain now.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about EU nationals. While the UK has been in deficit since 2001, the only part of the population that has been paying its own way and standing on its own two feet are EU nationals. They are in surplus to the tune of £2 billion or £3 billion. We see what happens when they start to become scarce. It is happening in Cornwall, with crops unpicked. We need these people and there should be a Government apology for the 16 months of uncertainty that they have had to go through.
My hon. Friend makes very salient points. He represents a constituency that relies on those skills and labour.
If the UK Government are serious about their apparent respect for the Scottish Government’s role in this process—undermined, of course, by them voting down yesterday the devolved Parliaments’ legislative consent-enabling amendment 79 in the name of my hon. Friend Hywel Williams, which Labour, with the honourable exception of Albert Owen, shamefully abstained on—and want to give some integrity to their claim of respecting the role of the devolved Administrations, perhaps the Minister will provide clarity now on whether, given Scotland’s different legal jurisdiction, the UK Government have discussed and consulted on clause 4 with Holyrood. This is important because the clause is about how laws will be transposed and interpreted domestically. The UK Government must recognise that Scotland has an entirely separate legal system, even if the Leader of the Opposition is not aware of the separate existence of Scots law.
We support new clause 30, which was tabled by Caroline Lucas. It deals with important animal rights, specifically to ensure that animals continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law. We will vote with her in the Lobby, should the new clause be pressed to a vote.
The hon. Gentleman is making very good points. I want to just draw two issues together. He talks about animal welfare protection and a moment ago he referred to EU nationals who work here. I am sure that he is aware that about 90% of the vets in UK abattoirs are from elsewhere in the European Union. The loss of their services massively challenges and threatens animal welfare, does it not?
Absolutely. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s very good point.
We support new clause 67, which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which would protect environmental provisions. This is linked to a constituency concern that I have. Last week, I visited the Tarmac quarry at Cairneyhill, near Caldercruix in my constituency. It provides 30 good jobs and some of its staff have worked there for decades. Aggregate industry businesses such as Tarmac are energy and carbon-intensive, but they are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint as responsible operators. The EU emissions trading system has underpinned the UK’s carbon reduction commitments for many years and provided a basis from which companies such as Tarmac operate. They need to know whether we will be in or out of the EU ETS. If we are out, what will the new rules be? Will they be linked to the EU ETS or to schemes such as the one in California? How will that be paid for? Who will police the rules?
It is simply not good enough for the UK Government just to say, as they have so far, that this is subject to the negotiations, and here is why: businesses such as Tarmac make very long-term investment decisions that are based on their certainty of legislation and regulation. At my visit last week, we talked about Tarmac’s plans for the Cairneyhill site 20 years down the line. It is not just for its own business’s benefit that it does this; it is to protect the supply chain for infrastructure projects commissioned by Governments across these isles. Will the Minister guarantee that EU ETS allowances issued to UK operators for 2018 will be accepted for compliance purposes at the end of the EU ETS accounting year? Without such a guarantee, UK companies will face a bill that might run into millions. This uncertainty and lack of detail is concerning businesses and stakeholders across industry and civic life, especially with the ramping up of the Government’s nonsensical no-deal rhetoric.
We have before us a mess of a Bill, but that is little wonder given that, from the start of the process, the Government have made a mess of Brexit. From taking the electorate for granted before the referendum to assuming they did not need to plan for a leave vote, triggering article 50 before they were prepared, and calling a snap election to strengthen their position but in fact creating chaos, they have made a mess of Brexit. Our amendments would provide certainty in areas of confusion, confirming our existing rights and protecting them from those who wish to sweep them away, and would finally lift EU nationals living here from their tortuous limbo. We must give them protection and the lifeline assurance of the right to remain that the Government have disgracefully denied them. I commend amendment 70 to the Committee.
I know that that was not quite what the hon. Lady said, but I have the scars on my back. When Hilary Benn was Environment Secretary, he rightly made Britain stand up for the conservation of the seas by opposing the over-fishing of tuna in the Atlantic. The first thing sitting in my in-tray when I arrived at DEFRA in 2010, however, was a very big infraction fine against the UK for going against the EU’s direction to fish unsustainably. I also remember working with organisations such as the International Whaling Commission and sitting for hours in a meeting of the EU co-ordination body before putting our case for better whale and cetacean conservation, only to have Britain’s pro-environmental polices watered down. We have an opportunity, if we can get this right, to be more ambitious than that.
On Second Reading, I looked for measures that would secure for the long term the environmental protections we have learned to value—I entirely agree with the hon. Lady and others that measures such as the water framework directive need to be transposed into UK provision—and for a replacement mechanism following the loss of infraction. Infraction keeps Ministers awake at night, but what is the position for a sovereign nation on its own, outside a pan-national body? I have looked for an alternative, and I was tempted by her new clause, and by the Leader of the Opposition’s new clause, because I thought they might tie future Governments. However, after consultation with my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin and my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, we looked for another mechanism.
Working with the Environment Secretary has been a textbook lesson in how to improve law. He and the Government recognise that there is a governance gap that we have to fill. One suggestion is the belt-and-braces but perhaps over-complicated arrangement that the hon. Lady and others have suggested, but there is an alternative that I find intensely attractive. When we took the issue to the Secretary of State, he listened and then asked questions—the process was rather like a university tutorial—and he then asked us back to tell us what he had done. His suggestion, which has been backed up by the Minister today, is something that green groups such as Greener UK and the Green Alliance have been asking for: a proposal that really locks in these measures.
The Secretary of State first suggested that we set up this new body. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is absolutely right, because we need, through this consultation, to ensure that the body is independent, that we know its remit, that its sanctions are in place, and that it has the level of independence of the Children’s Commissioner, for example. The Secretary of State seems determined that that is what it should be, so I think we have the offer of a very good measure, because it will secure the vital ingredient, which is the national policy statement.
I do not share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and others about national policy statements. I think they are, and can be made, binding and robust in how a Government seek to protect and enhance the environment. Yes, life will be more complicated for green organisations and, indeed, those of us who are passionate about our environment, because we will have to pound away at every Government of whatever colour to ensure that their national policy statement is ambitious and wants to deliver an environment that is better than that which we found. That applies to all the other statements that this Government—and future Governments, I am sure—will try to secure. I honestly feel that there is a desire in the country and the House for that process to be robust, and it will require a hard-fought democratic process to ensure that a national policy statement is what it sets out to be.
The crucial point is how the new body can take a future Government to court when they fail to live up to their commitments in a national policy statement. That is why the hon. Lady’s pessimism about judicial review is wrong. I have spent enough time in Brussels to know that green groups in other European countries are envious of the power of bodies in this country to take the Government to court, especially if that is backed up by statute, and this body must be a creature of statute, as must its laws.
I have worked hard with the Secretary of State and others. I am working with green groups and I feel that this is the best route to follow. I am grateful to the Minister for coming here today to set that out. We have a lot of work to do not only during our consideration of the Bill, but in the coming weeks and months, to make this new body and its remit, and a future national policy statement, absolutely rock solid. That is the way to proceed because it is the best thing for the environment.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Benyon, who is very committed to protecting the environment and did an excellent job as a Minister. On a future day, we might consider a new clause tabled by Caroline Lucas that specifically deals with the governance gap. I hope that when we debate it we hear more from the Government about exactly how this agency will work, because at the moment it is only a vague proposition. It looks to be heading in the right direction, but I have a lot of questions about how it will work.
I shall speak to amendments 93, 94 and 95, and new clause 28, which stand in my name. The new clause covers similar ground to new clauses 60 and 67, on environmental principles, but I want first to speak to the amendments.
I am grateful to the Minister for thoroughly demolishing my arguments in advance of my having the chance to make them. It is not my intention to press the amendments to the vote, and I will reflect on what he said and consult with the lawyers I have been working with on the amendments, but I will outline my understanding of what the Bill means and what the amendments would improve.
The White Paper assured us that the Bill means that the whole body of existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in UK law, and the Prime Minister promised us that the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before, but that is simply not the case, because the Bill does not properly capture and convert all EU environmental law into stand-alone domestic law.
There are legal obligations that will not be retained because they can be found only in EU directives and not in the domestic legislation that transposed those directives. Sometimes, that is because the directives have been incorrectly or incompletely transposed. There is also an issue in that the preambles to directives, which can be important in setting out their purpose and linking them with overarching legal principles and international obligations, will not have been transposed into UK law either, so they will not come over with the conversion.
Clause 4 may appear to deal with transposition but, as has been said, because of the inexplicable and unnecessary restrictions in subsection (1)(a) and (b), important aspects of environmental law would be lost. I was reassured to hear that Mr Grieve was struggling to get his head round some of the language in clause 4. He is a far more distinguished lawyer than I ever was, and I hope that between us all we can perhaps bring some clarity to it by the end of this process. I am sure that if we do not succeed in doing so here, those in the other place will have something to say.
The aspects of environmental law that could be lost include reporting and reviewing obligations that are crucial in ensuring that the law is complied with and up to date. Without reported data, for example, ClientEarth would not have been able to hold the Government to account on air pollution. We would also lose obligations on the Government to meet various energy performance targets.
There are various different aspects to what right we will have to pursue court cases and judicial review once this law comes into effect. We discussed some of those when we talked about the role of the European Court of Justice, the governance gap and the fact that if breaches of the law are not enforced, monitored and measured, it can be very difficult to bring court cases as well.
There is real concern about how the Government are restricting legal aid for environmental judicial review cases. Community groups really rely on this law—it is not just for groups such as ClientEarth, which is well supported and has been able to take the Government to court on air pollution three times and has instigated other proceedings. There is also a real issue about what this means for local people who want to challenge the Government—we may cover that in a different debate.
We heard in the Environmental Audit Committee session with the Ministry of Justice officials that the number of cases brought since the cap on costs was removed has fallen from 16 to 11 cases a month. The change is happening before we have even left the EU.
My hon. Friend is quite right. It is about the removal of the cap on costs as well, and the fact that local people bringing these cases might find themselves liable to a huge financial burden if they are not successful.
“enforced, allowed and followed accordingly”.
Amendment 94 removes clause 4(2)(b), which excludes rights arising under EU directives that have not been adjudicated by the courts before exit day. There is no explanation as to why only rights that have been litigated on or enforced are carried over. The Minister may dispute this, but my interpretation is that the result will be that contentious aspects of law will be retained, but those that have never been litigated, perhaps because they are really obvious and incontrovertible and no one has seen the need to challenge them—the ones that everyone accepts—will be the ones at risk, which seems a little bizarre.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Lady’s amendment 93. I hope she would agree that it would be helpful if the Minister responded to her amendment and the points that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve made by explaining what would be lost if paragraph (b), which is as clear as mud to many of us, were left out and paragraph (a), which is blissfully clear, were in place.
I can only invite the Minister to intervene on me at some point before I finish this speech and give a bit more clarity. I am glad that another superior intellect is as baffled as I was by that provision.
Amendment 95 adds wording that attempts to deal with the poor transposition of EU law, so that if retained law is found to have been incorrectly or incompletely transposed, there would be a statutory obligation on Ministers to make the necessary modifications to correct that. It says that until that piece of EU law is fully and correctly transposed, the EU directive itself can still be relied on. There are some clear examples of where we have not correctly transposed EU directives. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds points to article 10 of the birds directive in relation to the marine environment, which requires Governments to carry out research and other works to inform our efforts to protect wild birds. That goes back to what I was saying earlier—that it is not possible to enforce environmental protections properly without monitoring to ascertain the scale of the problem. The requirement to carry out research has not been transposed into domestic legislation, which means that, for instance, a new seabird census is long overdue. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was able to take that as a complaint to the European Commission, but there will clearly be a different scenario after Brexit.
New clause 28 concerns the enshrining of domestic principles in domestic law, which was referred to by my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook and with which I am sure my hon. Friend Mary Creagh will deal shortly.
When the Government say that the Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing environmental law continues to have effect, that should mean not just specific substantive obligations but the broad and comprehensive framework in which those obligations are embedded, including the principles that underpin and aid the interpretation of environmental laws—such as the “polluter pays” principle, which states that those responsible for damaging our environment must pay, and the precautionary principle, which states that if there is a suspected risk that a policy could cause severe harm to public health or the environment, we should not proceed with it. Those principles are currently part of the body of EU environmental law in the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, and are also contained in a wide range of legal agreements to which the UK is party. They guide decision making, and provide a basis for legal challenge in court. Richard Benwell of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust has said:
“Take out principles like precaution and polluter pays and you rip out the heart out of environmental law.”
NC28 would ensure that public authorities carrying out their duties must have regard to environmental principles that are currently enshrined in EU law. Schedule 1 states—the Minister touched on this—that
“There is no right of action in domestic law” post-exit
“based on a failure to comply with”
EU “general principles” , other than those that have been litigated on by the European Court. That creates a problem. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify another issue that was mentioned earlier by Lady Hermon. “General principles” seem to specifically exclude environmental principles.
When the Environment Secretary gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee last week, he said that the principles could best be enshrined in UK law through guidance. Although we know that, in some cases, the precautionary principle has been enforced in the UK courts in relation to planning issues, that does not mean that it would apply more broadly than it does now. What we currently have is not simply guidance. For the principles to have equivalence on exit day, they must be placed in domestic legislation. Laws are binding, but guidance is only guidance. Public authorities must take it into account, but they need not follow it if it conflicts with other priorities.
I am about to finish my speech.
Guidance is much easier to change at the whim of the Government or, indeed, the Secretary of State. The courts are much less likely to uphold guidance. There is much more deference from the courts to the authority or organisation whose decision is brought under review. It is difficult to see how guidance would enhance observance of the principles above EU standard. We do not see our domestic courts doing that at present. The Environment Secretary talks of an ambition to raise standards rather than sticking to those that we currently have, and I should be grateful for that clarity in that regard.
The purpose of new clause 28 is to transfer vital principles into domestic law, from the need to promote sustainable development in the UK and overseas to the “polluter pays” principle and the precautionary principle. I believe that only by enshrining those principles in UK law can we give the public confidence that they will be upheld.
It is a pleasure to follow Kerry McCarthy. Her commitment to environmental issues is beyond question, and it has been a pleasure to work with her on a range of them during the years in which I have been a Member of Parliament. It is also a huge pleasure to follow my right hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and for Newbury (Richard Benyon). Given that they said so much of what I wanted to say, I am now tempted simply to say, “What he said.” It was a joy to listen to both speeches, because they were absolutely brilliant.
On Second Reading of the Bill, I placed great emphasis on the opportunities in Brexit not only to maintain the status quo, but to go much further. The obvious example, on which I went into some detail, is the regime that will replace the common agricultural policy. The CAP has in many respects been a disaster, and we will have an opportunity to do something very exciting with that same resource-package that we will repatriate when we leave the EU. However, tempting though the idea is of repeating what I said before, as it is one the most exciting environmental stories, I will not do so because it is somewhat ancillary to the issues we are talking about today.
Our starting point today in the context of the Bill has to be the need to protect those EU environmental laws that have undoubtedly helped us to clean up our environment. No one in their right mind would deny that that has been the case. No one can deny that our rivers and beaches are in a better condition today than they would have been without those regulations.
The Bill incorporates those EU environmental laws into British law, and that is a great thing. It gives a lot of people—a lot of my constituents, certainly—real reassurance, but on its own, as we have heard from almost every contributor, that is not enough. Indeed, the Secretary of State, who was in his place earlier, has acknowledged that as we transfer those laws from European law into British law there will still nevertheless be a governance gap; those are the terms he used. Existing agencies, such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, can take action against private bodies, but they do not have the power or independence to stand up to Government and hold Government to account. The Secretary of State has recognised that.
The other gap, which has been described in detail by many Members today, relates to the protections underpinned by the principles of environmental law—the principles of the polluter pays and the precautionary principle, and so on. They do not exist in UK law.
The amendments, including some which are in the books but are not being debated, collectively amount to an attempt to fill that gap. Many of them have been drafted by, or at least with the help of, a grand new coalition of green groups called Greener UK. I suspect every Member of this House has received letters either from constituents on behalf of Greener UK or from Greener UK itself. In fact, I see sitting up in the Gallery one of the brilliant Greener UK staff, Isabella Gornall, an ambassador for Greener UK, who I had the pleasure of working with for many years in my own office.
Alongside the drafting of the amendments, which has taken some time, there have been, as we heard from my right hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset and for Newbury, in-depth discussions between Conservative Members, the Secretary of State and key representatives of that green coalition, and those discussions have not just been half an hour here and there.
With that mind, why are the Government even contemplating a free trade deal with the US, which at a stroke would undermine our welfare standards and probably put our exports with the EU at risk?
There are huge assumptions in that intervention. We could of course organise a rubbish free trade agreement with the US which involves lowering all of our standards to the lowest possible level, but that would not be acceptable to my constituents or the hon. Gentleman’s, and the Government are not proposing that. The example that keeps on being given in relation to the lowering of standards is chlorination of chicken, and the Secretary of State answered that question beautifully.
There are many examples. I have spoken out about hormones in beef often in this House—bovine growth hormones, chlorination of chicken and the use of chemicals that we do not allow in this country, or indeed in the EU. But this will come down to the quality of the negotiations that we engage in, and it is the job of this House to ensure that the agreements we reach honour and respect the standards expected by our constituents.
There is no reason to believe that we will not be able to do that. We have had absolute reassurances and some wonderful statements from the Secretary of State, and long may he avoid promotion—I hope he does not mind me saying so—because I do not want to see him move. Like Caroline Lucas, I do not want to see the Secretary of State bumped upstairs into a bigger job, not that he could not do it; he is doing such a good job where he is at the moment that I want him to stay there, and I have absolute confidence in him.
I applaud my hon. Friend’s passion and expertise in this subject. Does he agree that the world-leading environmental body that is proposed for when we leave the EU is a great opportunity that Britain can grasp to take the lead on environmental standards?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. In one of his interventions, the Secretary of State said that nature by definition does not have a voice and that it is our job to give nature a voice. That is what we will do if we create an appropriate institution. I am absolutely committed, as my hon. Friend is and as many Members on both sides of the Committee are, to work together to get a world-class body to ensure that nature has a voice and that the Government can be held to account. That is what we must do and that is what we will do.
Returning to the possible trade deal with the US, the Americans have already said that a condition of doing a trade deal with the UK is that we do not sign up to the EU’s animal welfare standards.
I will answer the intervention but, with respect, I do not think that that is directly relevant to the points that we are making. We will engage in talks on a free trade agreement with the United States, and there will be argy-bargy and give and take. My view and—I am so happy to say— that of the Secretary of State is that that will not involve lowering animal welfare standards or environmental standards. Another point to make is that we do not just sign up to European animal welfare standards; our standards are higher in many respects than those applied throughout the rest of the European Union. Our pig standards, for example, are higher than any other country in Europe, and that does come with problems.
My right hon. Friend is correct. While we apply higher standards on our own food producers, we are accepting lower quality imports from other countries, so we are exporting cruelty to those countries, which is a problem. However, there is no question about the commitment of this Government or, indeed, of any party in our politics today—our collective commitment—to maintaining high animal welfare standards. The first campaign that I engaged in, aged four, involved persuading neighbours to let their birds out of their cages, because I could not bear the idea of the cruelty. Few people here are more committed to animal welfare than I am, but I have no concerns in this area, partly because of the assurances from Government and partly because there is a consensus in this place on the issue.
The hon. Gentleman talks about environment law and the Government’s so-called commitment to the environment, but does he agree that on air quality we cannot trust a Government that refuse even to consider introducing a scrappage scheme to address nitrogen oxide and particulates? They have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on defending the case that ClientEarth brought against them.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am a fan of ClientEarth, but I am sure that many in this place are not. In fact, I was one of the people who helped to set it up when it came to this country, and I am proud of the small role that I played in ensuring that it is able to do its job. I will not defend the Government’s record on clean air over the past seven years, because we could and should have done all kinds of things and today’s figures are astronomical. Some 40,000 people a year are dying early as a consequence of air pollution, which is not a million miles away from the number of people who died during the smog that led to the Clean Air Act 1956. We need to bring those policies together under the umbrella of a clean air Act, which is a point that I have made many times and continue to make. However, I do not doubt the Government’s commitment to tackling such issues.
I shall move on, because I will otherwise fail to address the key issues that I wish to address. Before I first gave way, I was talking about the discussions between Government Members, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State’s advisers and the Greener UK representatives. Those discussions were meaningful—in some cases they lasted a long time—and they led to a broad agreement on a solution. I am delighted to say that that is the solution the Secretary of State has presented in the past few days.
The Committee has heard most of the details already, but my right hon. Friend has committed not only to creating a strong, independent body with teeth that can hold the Government and their successor Governments to account on the environment, but a policy statement—the policy statement we have already been debating—that will set out and define those key environmental principles.
There is a hierarchy of national policy statements. They are not all the same, and some have sharper teeth than others. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury knows more about that than I do, and I invite him to intervene.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. The marine policy statement that came as part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009—Hilary Benn will feel extremely proprietorial about this—is a good example of how Government can set policy, and of the tortuous discussions about how Government can adhere to that policy. It is a good model to take forward as part of this policy statement.
My right hon. Friend has a closer experience of this issue than I do.
The solution presented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reflects a consensus reached between parliamentary colleagues and between his Department and the main representatives of Greener UK, who by and large have publicly welcomed the policy. I invite Members to look through the Twitter accounts of some of this country’s leading environmental campaigners and lawyers to see that, generally speaking, there is a high level of enthusiasm for the Secretary of State’s promises.
I agree very strongly with the sentiments behind many of the amendments that have been tabled, and to which hon. Members have already spoken. I am delighted the amendments were tabled, because they have had the effect of sharpening and focusing minds. I found them useful in my discussions with the Secretary of State, but I hope it will at least be acknowledged, particularly by Opposition Members, as it has been by the key pressure groups, that the amendments have already done their job.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not in his place at the moment but, if he is listening, I put on record my very sincere thanks to him for stepping up and giving nature the voice that it so badly needs.
I rise to speak to new clause 60, which was tabled in my name, and to support the amendments tabled by other right hon. and hon. colleagues.
I voted against the Bill on Second Reading because it puts sweeping powers in the hands of Ministers, sidelines Parliament and waters down our legal rights and protections, particularly environmental rights and protections. When we were asked to vote in the EU referendum, nobody voted for dirtier beaches or dirtier air.
The Environmental Audit Committee has undertaken three inquiries into the effect of leaving the EU on the UK’s environmental policy. We found that our membership of the EU has been overwhelmingly positive for our environment. We went from being the dirty man of Europe in the 1970s to bathing on cleaner beaches, driving more fuel efficient cars and, as colleagues have said, holding the Government to account on air pollution. I do not subscribe to the Panglossian view of the world that says everything will be awesome when we leave. Everything is not awesome, most particularly in the case of air pollution and seabird censuses. We are still a member of the EU and we are not meeting the laws to which we have collectively contributed and collectively signed up under successive Governments.
Eighty per cent. of UK domestic environmental laws are shaped by Brussels, so few areas of policy will be more affected by the decision to leave. Fully one quarter of the EU acquis, which the Bill is trying to cut and paste into UK law, is related to DEFRA—our beaches, rivers, coastlines and marine reserves. We have talked about the gaps in the Bill, and my amendment seeks to close those gaps because with this Bill we are running a risk that environmental law will no longer be monitored, enforced or updated and that on exit day we will be left with zombie legislation.
What we have heard from Ministers today has not reassured me, because they have outlined a path of managed divergence, which is very bad news when it comes to giving certainty to Government, businesses or investors looking to invest in this country. That is why my Committee called for a new environmental protection Act before we leave the EU. The laws are effective only if we have strong institutions to enforce them. As the Secretary of State said when he gave evidence to the Select Committee two weeks ago, there is currently a Commission-shaped hole in the Bill’s proposals.
The UK chemical industry is desperate for certainty on the future of chemical regulation. The Chemical Business Association told my Committee that one in five of its members are considering registering in other European capitals to mitigate the risk that the Government’s regulatory uncertainty has created. They are not waiting for us to debate it or for whatever fills that Commission-shaped hole; they are just upping sticks and creating businesses in other countries, taking their money and investment outside this country.
The Committee is just beginning an inquiry into the regulation of fluorinated gases—powerful greenhouse gases 14,000 more destructive than carbon dioxide. The UK’s reduction targets are currently set and monitored by the EU. We have said that we are going to reduce those gases over the next 20 years, but our progress towards our targets involves working through the EU. We have no idea how we are going to make that progress once we have left, or who will ensure that the Government meet the targets. That is one tiny introduction.
We have heard a lot about the environmental principles—the precautionary principles—that are the bedrock of environmental law. As colleagues have said, they are not unique to EU law; they are general principles found in a number of international environmental treaties to which the UK is currently a signatory and to which we will remain a signatory outside the EU. The Government promised that the Bill would ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continued to have effect in UK law, but that is wrong—it simply does not do that. The Bill cuts and pastes a limited, watered-down version of the general principles of EU law. Paragraph 3 of schedule 1 will limit the legal remedies available to complainants and prevent courts from being able to quash any decision, rule or action as unlawful because it is incompatible with the principles. The general principles are carried over, but the legal remedies are not.
The second problem with this cutting and pasting is that the EU’s environmental principles are not included in the general principles, so there is a kind of double bind on the cut-and-paste approach to the acquis in this policy area. We have a problem in the UK: we have certain pieces of environmental legislation, but there is no general statement in UK law. This is a conscious decision by the Government: when the Select Committee asked the Secretary of State on
The Bill will remove the rights of citizens to challenge decisions taken by the Government or public bodies that violate environmental principles, and will thereby strip people of rights that they currently enjoy. Those rights are the cornerstones of wildlife and habitat protection, they are guidelines for courts, businesses, public bodies and Government decision making, and they provide a legal backstop. We know that over the past 40 years EU institutions have been bolder on enforcing the principles than UK courts. There is a rich body of case law around the principles: it is set out in the Lisbon treaty, developed in communications from the Commission, and it has been reviewed and applied by the European Court of Justice. It covers everything from chemicals regulation to food safety standards. It is anchored in a treaty, it is updated by communication and it evolves through jurisprudence, so it is a triple lock—a powerful backstop—for environmental protection. Contrast that with the precautionary principle in the UK courts. Case law shows that the principle is less onerous in the UK and, crucially, more deferential to the Executive. We need the principles to be enshrined in primary UK legislation, with clear legal remedies and penalties for the Government when they are violated—because violated they will be.
I wish to say something about chemicals, because I do not think people understand that those need to be registered, evaluated and authorised by the European Chemicals Agency before they can go into the single market. The Minister said that we will have REACH—the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals—and that it has directly applicable effect. It is directly applicable, but there is no body in this country that applies it, because we set up that excellent body though the European Chemicals Agency. The Government will have to create and set up a whole new regulatory framework and a new regulator.
We are going to leave a system that we helped to create. By March 2019, British businesses will have spent £250 million registering their chemicals. Civil servants have told us that we are going to spend tens of millions of pounds to set up a carbon copy regulator. That, for me, is the height of absurdity. If we are to be world leaders in high environmental standards, we must retain those principles, make sure that polluters pay for their polluting activities and not put dangerous chemicals authorised for use on the market while we are still unsure of their effects.
I want to talk briefly about the Environment Secretary. He waved away our concerns about those principles. He said that it is not appropriate to put them on a statutory basis, but he gave us no explanation as to why. He said that he wants to embed the principles in policy guidance, but, while this debate has been going on, I have had a quick google on the matter. I found that policy statements need to be anchored in primary legislation. Therefore, all of his solutions require an environmental protection Act, as we said in January this year, but we are no further forward on that. We are still waiting for the environment plan. The policy statements raise a whole set of new questions. Are the Government bound to act according to the principles? If those principles are contravened, can the Government be taken to court? If they can, will acting contrary to the principles be material to the case? I am afraid that it looks like the answer is no.
We have just had a session with the Ministry of Justice. I know that the Minister of State could not be there because he was preparing for the debate yesterday. Government policy guidance says that all the refurbishment projects in our prisons and courts must be BREEAM—Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method—excellent. Two thirds of those building projects over the past seven years have not had any BREEAM assessment or certification at all. Therefore, the Department charged with upholding the law is in breach of Government guidance, and there is nothing that we as a Committee or Parliament can do to hold the Ministry to account. There is no sanction. If a future Secretary of State wants to change or abolish the policy statement, what recourse will Parliament have to prevent them from doing so? Consigning these principles to guidance just weakens things, fails to create legal certainty, and fails to give a legal remedy for people who suffer.
In the summer, the Government talked about keeping all EU law, but the mask of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has slipped once before. During his statement on the White Paper, he said:
“This is about reversing—well, not reversing but amending—and dealing with 40 years’ accumulated policy and law.”—[Official Report,
I always listen to what Dr Freud said. When the Secretary of State talks about reversing, that is what I am concerned about.
Now the Secretary of State says that he wants to incorporate all “relevant” EU law, but who decides what is relevant? It is this sovereign Parliament that decides. Eight hundred to 1,000 statutory instruments will be drawn up under this Bill, but we know that our environmental protections will be weaker. That gives Ministers the power to drop key protections at the stroke of a pen; it strips people of their legal rights and remedies and risks the UK’s status as a world leader on environmental standards. This is no solution from the Secretary of State, and I hope that we will press the amendment to a vote.
Order. There is very little time left and many people still want to speak. I cannot regulate the length of speeches, but hon. Members can do so if they do not want to incur the wrath of their colleagues who will not get a chance to speak if speeches are too long.
I will try to be brief, Mrs Laing. I wish to address some of the constitutional implications of this extraordinarily important Bill. I suppose that this is the most important constitutional Bill that this House has considered in many years. It is difficult to think of a Bill as important as this one, certainly since 1972.
This is not the first time that this task has been accomplished by sovereign nations. Provisions such as clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 are to be found, in a simpler form, in the constitutions of a number of Commonwealth countries to which this country granted independence after the second world war. Invariably, those constitutions contained provisions that seek to preserve the laws as at the date that those nations became independent.
Now, they are simpler provisions because the complexity of our laws and the European Union’s laws, with the legal federalism that the EU implies, is much higher. But the essential task that those nations faced was not dissimilar from that which we face. When they became independent and the legal source of their laws changed from being the Queen in Parliament to a constitution, the task that the courts faced was not dissimilar in that, while retaining the body of the law that had existed up to the date of independence, they then became free to interpret those provisions and principles in the light of the new constitutional fact of their independence. And that will be the case for our own Supreme Court. The Bill intends to preserve continuity up to the point of exit day, and to allow the Supreme Court, under clause 6, to diverge where it thinks appropriate and to develop its own jurisprudence over successive years.
I have sat and listened throughout the debates yesterday and today, and it seems to me that we have done something of an injustice to the draftsmen of the Bill. Some very careful thinking has gone into the way in which the provisions have been balanced. I am not saying to Government Front Benchers that it is not possible to tighten some of those provisions and to provide greater safeguards, particularly in respect of the width of the powers permitted under clauses 7 and 17. But I can quite understand the policy and principle behind those provisions in the manner in which they are thus expressed.
Clause 4—we are speaking to the question of whether clause 4 stands part—is obviously an important provision, which seeks to mirror the wording of section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve asked what the word “allowed” meant in clause 4(1)(b) of the Bill. I would propose that, under that clause, the word means to admit, acknowledge or accept into our law. The word “allow” does not only mean to permit. It also carries the connotation of acceptance or admission; it certainly did in 1972. It seems obvious what clause 4 is intended to achieve: to ensure that a law that was enforced, available, recognised and allowed continues beyond exit day, in so far as that has not already been provided for by clauses 2 and 3.
I suggest to the Committee that the provisions introduced by clauses 2 to 4 are sensible, coherent and logical measures. I am not saying to the Government Front Bench that they cannot be improved, but I certainly understand their import. It is under section 2(1) of the European Communities Act that all the case law, the general principles and the decisions of the European Court of Justice on the interpretation of treaty provisions become admissible and admitted into our law. I take it that clause 4 is intended to achieve precisely that.
Although I accept the need for, perhaps, some tightening, I do not accept that the Bill is as wanting or as deficient as has been suggested. For example, I do not think that clause 7, which we will come to debate at a later stage, is as broad an invitation to the Executive to abuse their discretion as some right hon. and hon. Members have suggested. It is governed by three critical factors. The first is the fact that there has to be a deficiency caused by the withdrawal from the European Union. Now, if the power of the Government is limited by the fact that they have to be curing a deficiency caused by the withdrawal from the EU, it is difficult to see how they thereby gain a licence to interfere with fundamental rights or rights that have been acquired over many years in the decision making of the European Court of Justice.
My general point to those on the Front Bench is this: some parts of the Bill would benefit from some tightening, and perhaps some expression of the limitations on the discretion that is being conferred on the Executive, but I do not accept—I say this to my right hon. and hon. Friends—some of the more exaggerated and, frankly, hysterical analyses of the Bill. It seems to be a reasonably well-judged, measured and balanced set of provisions. Yes, it allows a lot of legal points to be taken, but, frankly, when a legal order is being changed to the extent that this one is, it is not surprising if lawyers are likely to have a field day.
I rise to speak to amendment 148 and the other amendments and new clauses in my name, which relate to the rights and interests of children. Most of the debate this evening has not concentrated on that important group of people, who will be affected significantly by this legislation, and many hon. Members will share my deep concern at the shockingly limited amount of time we have been given over the debates on the Bill to attend to such vital matters.
The decision to leave the European Union and the manner in which it is done could not be of more importance for our children and young people. They are the generation who will live with the consequences of our decisions, yet they did not get a say in them, so we have a special responsibility in this place to make sure that we put their interests at the heart of this legislation.
My amendments and new clauses seek to place that responsibility on a statutory footing and to remedy the constitutional gap that will otherwise arise in relation to children’s rights when we leave the EU. They take as their basis our existing commitments as a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child, which is itself the basis of the EU law and rights framework that applies to children.
The Government said that rights and obligations in the UK should, where possible, be the same after we have left the EU as they were immediately before we leave. I heard what the Minister said, and I will reflect on it: he believes that other provisions in UK domestic law will serve to continue the protection that is currently in place through EU law and its relationship to the UN convention. However, I do have concerns, and although I do not intend to press my amendments and new clauses to a vote tonight while I consider the Minister’s position, I hope that he will consider some of those concerns, particularly in relation to the Henry VIII powers. Those powers mean that amendments could be made in future to the rights currently enjoyed by children and that those rights would not necessarily be properly protected, as they are now, by the UN convention.
We have seen a number of EU instruments enacted that have conveyed direct entitlement for children on a whole range of issues, from migration, child protection, health and safety, medicine, and access to social and economic rights, to family breakdown. Some of those rights have been conferred under directives that have been partly implemented and incorporated into UK law. Nevertheless, the missing bits of the directives can be automatically accessed by children because of our membership of the EU and because the constitutional underpinning to the EU rights framework for children is that the UNCRC is followed in EU law. We see that in the treaty on European Union and in the charter of fundamental rights, which impose a constitutional obligation on member states to adhere to children’s rights standards when implementing EU law.
The position in the UK, however, is somewhat different. Although the UK has ratified the UNCRC and therefore remains bound by it, the UNCRC is viewed merely as an interpretive tool for other human rights instruments and the common law, which are directly justiciable in the UK. There is no explicit constitutional commitment to children’s rights in the UK at central Government level. Instead, our children’s rights framework relies on a combination of domestic legislation, as the Minister said, of directly applicable EU law and regulations, and of interpretation of those measures in the light of our obligations under the UNCRC and other treaties.
That gives rise to a number of concerns about the protection of children’s rights post Brexit. Unlike the Court of Justice of the European Union, the UK courts and tribunals, particularly at first instance, are largely resistant to drawing on the UNCRC or the EU charter to interpret domestic obligations. All evidence to date reveals patchy compliance with the provisions of the convention, and the UK’s human rights instruments, such as the Human Rights Act 1998, do not provide full protection for children—as we saw, for example, in the recent Supreme Court case of SG, where it was found that, despite being in breach of the UN convention, national law could breach children’s rights and still not be unlawful.
This incomplete coverage calls children’s rights into question in future when EU law is either not fully transposed or where the Bill will enable the Government to modify legislation post Brexit. That is a concern, for example, where national law is silent on the implementation of specific positive obligations, and where the absence of comprehensive protection for children across UK domestic law means that children will face gaps in their rights. Even if transposition is complete, the Bill will allow the Government to modify legislation in ways that might not conform with international obligations, without further scrutiny.
This is also a concern in relation to trade deals. Under current EU law, the free circulation of goods and services between member states has to be balanced against the need to subject such goods and services to sufficient scrutiny with a view to protecting the welfare of children who may be exposed to them. As the UK embarks on new trade deals, particularly if it withdraws from the customs union, we will need a comparable mechanism to ensure that any new trade deal includes sufficient safeguards for children who will be exposed to foreign products and services.
There are questions in relation to children’s residence and citizenship status. EU law requires that any decisions on residence and status must take into account the best interests of the child. The continuing lack of clarity in relation to the position of EU citizens, including EU child citizens, in this country is deeply troubling. Serving the best interests of children should not mean that their rights are dependent on the rights of their parents, but without a clear instrument for protecting children’s rights and interests post Brexit, they could be so dependent.
Given the range of potential gaps in the domestic legal framework for children’s rights, direct incorporation of the UNCRC into domestic law would provide sturdier protection against any diminution in children’s rights under EU laws following Brexit. Amendment 148 therefore seeks to preserve after our withdrawal from the EU any rights or obligations arising from the UNCRC. It would ensure that the rights that children have previously been able to rely on before the CJEU do not become illusory in the absence of an explicit UK constitutional commitment to children’s rights in future.
Amendment 149 would ensure that new legislation introduced by Ministers to deal with deficiencies arising from withdrawal would have to be UNCRC-compliant. Amendment 150 makes a similar provision in relation to regulations introduced by Ministers for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement. New clauses 34 and 36 would require public authorities to act compatibly with the UNCRC after exit day. New clause 34 would also require a child rights impact assessment to be conducted.
In summary, my amendments would ensure that additional powers afforded to Ministers in this Bill do not contravene our international obligations. They would place on a statutory footing the Government’s undertaking to protect the same rights that children have on leaving the EU as they have before we leave. They demonstrate that the UK fully recognises the importance of children’s rights and the seriousness with which we take them.
New clauses 60 and 66, while I do not support them, demonstrate that there is a real consensus across the Committee about the requirement to maintain EU environmental standards beyond Brexit. Those standards are a good thing and they have done good things for our environment. Colleagues on both sides of the House have been very thoroughly briefed by, among others, Greener UK. I can report that the response to that briefing among Conservative Members was very enthusiastic, as I am sure it was among Opposition Members. The disagreement is not about what we are trying to achieve but exactly how it is to be achieved. There is no doubt that the Bill will not provide the environmental protections that we would wish, but that does not necessarily mean that there is a requirement for amending it.
The Government are already demonstrating great credentials on the environment. I hope that the ban on microbeads, the consultation on single-use plastics and the clear action plan on clean air will reassure colleagues on both sides of the House that the Government have a clear commitment to raising environmental standards in the UK, not just because we are subject to EU laws but because we seek to create the very best environmental conditions for our country. I understand the Opposition’s cynicism and perhaps scepticism and therefore why amending the Bill seems so appealing. In reality, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has indicated that legislation for environmental protection is forthcoming, and I think that that resolves the matter somewhat.
I support keenly the proposal by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin for a national policy statement, at the suggestion of which the Secretary of State nodded enthusiastically when he was in the Chamber. The NPS will expand on and explain in a UK context the principles committed to in article 191 of the Lisbon treaty, and it will clearly set out the Government’s policy on those matters. It is a good way to proceed, and it arguably provides more than the amendments would do, if we accepted them.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset that there must be an independent body to enforce those principles, and I was heartened to see the Secretary of State nodding enthusiastically when my right hon. Friend talked about the need for such an enforcer. Such a statutory body—independent, funded and with teeth—which could to take the Government and others to court, would be most welcome and exactly what we need.
We have gained a great deal from being subject to EU environmental law. It has raised standards and made our beaches, coastlines and rivers far cleaner than they used to be. In my constituency, it was announced yesterday that the bathing water quality in Burnham-on-Sea had again fallen just short of the EU standard. Although some people in my constituency might argue that that is an excuse to leave the EU, abandon those standards and say that they are no longer an issue, I disagree. We should expect to have the cleanest possible beaches. We have been set those standards, and we should seek not only to achieve them but to exceed them.
We should remind ourselves that just because we are leaving the EU does not mean that we are turning our back on the standards that have led to such environmental improvements while we have been in it. Given the Government’s success in pursuing an exciting environmental agenda right now, we can be enthusiastic—thanks to the national policy statement and the support of a body that will help to hold the Government to account for their delivery of environmental principles—about the fact that we will be able to do far better than the EU standards when we set those standards for ourselves.
James Heappey mentioned consensus, and the Prime Minister said in the summer that she sought a greater degree of consensus about Brexit. I gently say to the Government that it would have been helpful if we had seen more signs of that in our debate and consideration so far. It does not help, as we heard yesterday, when a new amendment is tabled and Members who attempt to vote against it are told:
“We will not tolerate attempts from any quarter to use the process of amendments to this Bill…to try to block the democratic wishes of the British people”.
That does not help to create consensus. The front page of The Daily Telegraph does not help to create consensus. After all, MPs are simply seeking to do their job in scrutinising the legislation, and we would not be doing our job if we did not.
I want briefly to refer to new clause 67, the precautionary principle and article 191 of the treaty. The Minister argued that the precautionary principle is carried forward in some of the EU legislation that we are bringing across. That is correct, but it is not a sufficient answer to the argument that article 191 should be included in the illustrative list that is contained in the explanatory notes. If the Government think, and they do, that article 120 of the treaty—it begins:
“Member States shall conduct their economic policies with a view to contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the Union”— contains directly effective rights that would be converted into domestic law as a result of clause 4, why on earth is article 191 missing from the illustrative list?
I take the point that the Minister made when he argued that he does not want inadvertently to give the impression that it is a definitive list, so I am not trying to impinge on his desire to keep the list illustrative. To remind hon. Members, the principles are the precautionary principle, preventive action, rectification of damage and the polluter pays, on which I suspect there is consensus in the Committee. If those principles are important and the Government are prepared to put all the other items into the illustrative list, why have they deliberately decided not to include article 191?
This problem can be remedied very simply: either Ministers can indicate that they will now add article 191 to the illustrative list, or we can vote for new clause 67 when we get a chance in a few minutes’ time.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is intended to bring existing EU legislation into UK law. As we do so, we must ensure that the fundamental rights of children are not diluted.
With our exit from the EU, the UK plans no longer to be party to the EU charter of fundamental rights, so it will not automatically benefit from the protections of children’s rights that exist within the EU legal framework. The treaty of Lisbon introduced an objective for the EU to promote the protection of the rights of children, and the charter of fundamental rights guarantees the protection of the rights of the child by EU institutions, as well as by EU countries when they implement EU law.
The best way to ensure that those rights are maintained after Brexit is to enshrine the UN convention on the rights of the child in UK law. Although the UK is a signatory to that convention, it is not enshrined in domestic law. The Bill removes from UK law the European charter of fundamental rights, proposing that fundamental rights and principles are considered in place of that charter when implementing case law or legislation that refers to it directly after exit day. The Children’s Society has rightly raised its concerns that there is no further information on what these fundamental rights would be, or any clarity about whether the development of children’s rights envisaged in EU law would be considered to be fundamental rights and principles. That is why, in the absence of any clear definition, further integration of the UN convention on the rights of the child in UK law would provide the framework for these fundamental rights for children.
I speak in support of new clauses 28, 30, 60 and 67.
As it stands, this Bill is fatally flawed. It puts huge power into Ministers’ hands without accountability, sidelines Parliament and the devolved Administrations, and puts crucial rights and protections at risk. The Bill also imposes new restrictions on the devolved Administrations. It risks eroding basic human rights and could prevent a transitional deal on the same basic terms that we currently enjoy, including those applying within the single market and the customs union. Such an extreme Brexit was not voted for in the referendum.
It is important that we safeguard the role the EU has played in strengthening and underpinning environmental rights and protections. Most of the UK’s environmental protections stem from EU law and offer us strong safeguards. Safeguarding and protecting the environment lies at the heart of the EU, and these core principles are reflected in its policy and law. I think we know that that is not the case for this Government.
In its current state, the Bill risks leaving dangerous gaps in environmental law. It contains flaws that will leave our natural environment less protected than at present. I want an assurance from the Government that the Bill will convert the entire body of environmental law into domestic law without any watering down, and provide for new governance arrangements so that there is effective implementation of environmental standards, whatever the UK’s future relationship with EU institutions. I want the Bill to restrict the use of secondary legislation before and after Brexit, and to create processes for the robust parliamentary scrutiny of any changes made through secondary legislation during the conversion of EU law. Finally, I want it to ensure that it will be up to devolved Administrations to make their own decisions and laws on those areas that are currently devolved.
I am particularly concerned about the loss of environmental principles. European environmental policy rests on the principles of precaution, prevention and rectifying pollution at its source, as well as that of “polluter pays”. Many of the strongest protections and international commitments to which the UK has signed up are underpinned by general principles of environmental law that are enshrined in EU treaties, but these are all at risk.
Let us put this in perspective by examining what is at stake. We have seen the decline of bees, with 20 bee species lost since 1900 and a further 35 at risk. EU laws on pesticides seek to ensure that potential risks are investigated, but what will happen to that scrutiny?
We must also ensure that the polluter pays. That fundamental principle has led to the improvement of our drinking water and to fines being imposed on operators that are found to have caused pollution, requiring them to repair any damage and to invest in preventive measures. Such laws and principles go a long way in helping to protect and enhance our natural environment. Will the Government continue to issue those fines, or will they bow to the pressure of lobbyists and trade deals? Where is the scrutiny? And where is the precautionary principle, which is also vital to safeguarding our food standards? Will chlorinated chicken from the US enter the UK market? The Bill must ensure at the very least that there will be equivalent provision for environmental standards—[Interruption.]
Order. There are a lot of conversations going on and I cannot hear the hon. Lady. She might be saying something important and the Committee ought to listen.
Thank you, Mrs Laing. I was saying that the Bill must ensure at the very least that there will be equivalent provision for environmental standards and protections, and access to justice, if the UK ends its relationship with EU institutions.
What will the new body look like? The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced the creation of a Commission-like body post Brexit to uphold environmental standards, but he could not say whether it would be able to issue fines or demand change when or if the Government fail to uphold environmental standards. The EU Commission can currently fine the UK when the ECJ finds that it does not uphold environmental standards. Would there be a separate Commission-like body for the devolved Administrations, who make their own laws and should be able to continue to do so? The Secretary of State told the Environmental Audit Committee that he saw distinct bodies for the devolved Administrations, so how will they be funded?
What safeguards are in the Bill to provide that environmental standards will not get even worse? There are none. The Bill takes away the rights and freedoms that we currently enjoy, and once it is in force, it will be impossible to challenge an action in court. The Bill denies us our environmental rights, so I call on the UK Government not to compromise them. I ask them to work collaboratively with our devolved Governments to be ambitious, to commit to stronger environmental protection, and to support new clauses 28, 30, 60 and 67.
I regret the fact that I am rising to speak on this subject, but it is a matter of enormous public concern about which I have received dozens of representations from my constituents. It is an enormous shame that this debate has been delayed to such an extent that we have such a short time to discuss a matter of national importance about which our constituents are so concerned.
I want first to focus on animal welfare. We have heard Ministers say many times—we heard it again today—that animal welfare will be non-negotiable in our trade deals post Brexit. However, for those looking from the outside, it jars—perhaps that is the appropriate word—to hear the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs making those commitments after the Secretary of State for International Trade has suggested that chlorinated chicken could be defended. Provisions need to be hardwired and applied to the whole of Government, and that can occur only through primary legislation.
I served as a Labour MEP for three years. In that role, I was very aware that EU legislation was not perfect, as many Members have pointed out, particularly when it came to live animal exports. I was also aware that Britain went further than many other European countries in areas such as animal testing. It remains the case, however, as so many people have said, that about 80% of British animal welfare and environmental legislation comes from the EU.
Amendment 350 proposes transposing article 13 of the TFEU into UK law to recognise the sentience of animals. If we look at the words of the Environment Secretary, the Government seem to have changed their position. They appeared to give a commitment to transpose the provision back in July. I do not understand why expert groups such as the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare or Wildlife and Countryside Link would be suggesting that we need a separate provision if it already existed in existing animal welfare legislation. They are the experts on this, and I am listening to them. I point out that even under EU law, Britain is not a beacon in this regard. A constituent of mine, Mr Peter Tutt, has done a huge amount to raise awareness of the fact that much marine life that is recognised as sentient in other countries is not recognised as such in the UK.
Sir Oliver Letwin says he believes that legislation of this type should come forward separately, but Opposition Members have made many persuasive objections to that. I would add that a core element of the leave campaign was that environmental and animal welfare protections would be preserved after Brexit, so it is absolutely correct that they should be part of our approach and set out very clearly in this Bill. Furthermore, we cannot rely on a consultation, as its outcome is unclear and it will not be calibrated with the progress of this Bill. I will end now, because I see that Mrs Laing is asking me to do so.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for what has been an interesting and good debate, albeit sadly too short.
I am disappointed by the Minister’s response to new clause 30. It is not good enough to claim that animal sentience is already covered by UK law by virtue of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 since the protocol is not even explicitly included or referred to in that Act and the word “sentience” does not appear anywhere in it. The Act applies only to companion animals—domestic pets. It does not apply to farm animals, wildlife or laboratory animals. For those reasons, I intend to press new clause 30 to a Division.
On the environmental principles, Sir Oliver Letwin made very interesting and exciting points. I have long called for an environment Act, but I still do not see why that has to be at the expense of getting something in this Bill. That is important, because essentially the protections need to be in law from day one of Brexit. My worry is that I do not share his optimism about how quickly we could get an environment Act through the House. I would love to think we could do it in that time, but I am not convinced we will. I shall therefore press new clause 30 to a vote.
On a point of order, Mrs Laing. We have had insufficient time for the debate, certainly to hear from me and others who wanted to speak at greater length about these very important constitutional and environmental issues.
Order. That is not a point of order. We have had three hours on this group and I did beg the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues not to speak for so long so that he could have a chance. I do not know why they spoke as they did in order to stop him.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 295, Noes 313.
Question accordingly negatived.
More than eight hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order,
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
New Clause 67