Leaving the EU: Environmental Standards

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th June 2018.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As the House will know, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill provides continuity and maintains high environmental and other standards as we leave the European Union. My Department is consulting on environmental principles and governance to ensure that we can have a world-leading body to hold the Government and others to account in order to maintain high environmental standards.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As ever, Mr Speaker, you anticipate my wishes with perfect clarity.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

The “polluter pays” principle underpins the EU’s approach to protecting the environment. Will the Secretary of State commit to the post-Brexit watchdog having legally enforceable powers to make sure the polluter still pays when it damages our land, air and sea, even if that is the UK Government breaking air pollution rules?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady makes three very good points. First, yes, the polluter pays principle is an important one to maintain. Secondly, we do need enforcement powers. Thirdly, of course, if the UK Government are in breach of air quality rules, it will be the case, as in the past, that they have to be held accountable.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

Yesterday’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report pointed to a notable lack of detail on post-Brexit agricultural plans. Those concerns are echoed by the National Farmers Union and UK farmers, who are now writing to their MPs asking whether they should be planting crops for next year. UK farmers simply cannot afford to continue watching the Government kick the can down the road, so will the Secretary of State commit today to publishing a detailed and credible strategy by the end of this month?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We do not believe in kicking cans down the road; we believe that a deposit return scheme is a very effective way of making sure those cans are recycled.

The UK Government have published a consultation paper, “Health and Harmony”, which outlines a post-common agricultural policy future for farmers in England. The Scottish Government have not yet done so. I have the highest regard for Fergus Ewing, the Minister responsible, but, energetic and talented though he is, the one thing he has not done is spell out his vision for the future.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

A planning application has been made in my constituency for a recycling plant that will produce dioxins. There is no such plant in the United Kingdom or, as I understand it, in the EU. By the time this process goes through, we will probably be out of the EU. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to meet me and members of RAID—Residents Against Inappropriate Development—who think the construction of a dioxin plant in my constituency, or anywhere in the UK, is unacceptable?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

The Secretary of State will be familiar with the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty and that, in common with other AONBs, it receives a support scheme for landscape protection and enhancement. Obviously, as a member of the European Union, we have to get derogations and permissions because of state aid restrictions. Can the Secretary of State assure me that support will continue after we have left the European Union? Will he give me an undertaking that he will use this added freedom to increase those funds and support for these valuable and precious areas of our countryside?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The Chilterns are blessed not only as an area of outstanding natural beauty, but with distinguished representatives in this House of all parties and none. One of the things I will seek to do is to work with the new reviewer of designated landscapes, Julian Glover, who is a distinguished writer and thinker, to ensure that the right protection and support are there not only for our existing national parks, but for our AONBs.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

The Secretary of State says that this new watchdog must have enforcement powers, but the watchdog he has proposed is completely toothless. It will be able to issue only advisory notices, not enforcement notices, and has no power to fine the Government. That has rightly been rejected by the other place. We expect an amendment from their lordships to come to this place next week. Will he table an amendment to his toothless watchdog, or should I do so?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am always grateful to the hon. Lady for all her suggestions, amendments and thoughts. We are consulting. We are asking the public exactly how many and what type of teeth this watchdog should have, but we are saying that the watchdog should start with enforcement powers, which include advisory notices. It is then open for discussion as to what additional powers the watchdog might have.

It is also the case that Back-Bench Conservative colleagues have tabled amendments, and we are considering those amendments. The hon. Lady makes a good point that the House of Lords made a case in good faith for how the watchdog could be strengthened, and I always listen to the other place with respect.