Exiting the European Union (Environmental Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment) 4:33 pm, 8th October 2019

I, too, welcome the Minister to his position and acknowledge his understanding of the subject. It has just occurred to me that the Environmental Audit Committee has been a magnificent educator of MPs. Mary Creagh, who is not in her place, is to be congratulated on her drive. Maybe I will assume a similar role some time in an independent Scotland.

We in the SNP, regardless of our opposition in principle and in its entirety to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, fully understand that continuity is important and that SIs are necessary to preserve the framework around the status quo. The UK Government have now stated their intention to diverge from current EU regulation in a range of areas, including environmental standards. That is a backward step towards the UK’s once again becoming known as the dirty man of Europe.

How ridiculous it is that Chamber time is again being taken up by discussion of what are largely technical amendments. It is simply a demonstration of how chaotic the Government have become and of the crippling ongoing uncertainty that the Tory party has caused across the UK to individuals, families, small and medium-sized enterprises and larger businesses alike. This is a shameful state of affairs.

Let me say, as a member of the very effective Environmental Audit Committee, that our eyes were opened to the variety and the range of invasive species from which we are at risk. One of the greatest threats to biodiversity worldwide is posed by invasive non-native species, and that threat is particularly pronounced in relation to fragile island ecosystems.

Scotland has led the way in the UK and is often praised at our Committee meetings. Indeed, no less a person than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said:

“I have to be honest, there are things that both the Scottish and Welsh Administrations have done that have been admirable and in advance of what has been done in England, so they have set the standard for the UK.”

Is it any wonder therefore that Scotland takes the environment very seriously and that we as a country remain concerned about any power grab back to Westminster and the threat of any deterioration in standards?

The EU created a statutory framework to prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species. The European Union’s 2015 regulation to address the problem on an EU scale will help to protect the British Isles from the introduction of invasive species, including those from mainland Europe, and will thus contribute to our efforts to adhere to the internationally adopted approach to non-native species, which prioritises the prevention of introduction over intervention post-introduction. It is very much a case of an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure.

Imposing a UK-wide framework for the environment risks undermining the significant progress that Scotland has made. We have grave concerns about the UK Government’s Brexit power grab, particularly in relation to environmental protections. We are not opposed to UK-wide frameworks when they are in Scotland’s interests, but they must be agreed and not imposed. That must also happen in a manner that respects and recognises devolution. The First Minister has made it clear that any threat to Scotland’s distinctive and ambitious approach to environmental standards and climate change is completely unacceptable.

Imposing UK frameworks could do substantial damage to work done by the Scottish Government. For instance, we used EU rules to ban genetically modified crops in Scotland to protect our environment and to support Scottish agriculture. There is no such ban in England. A UK-wide framework could see the ban lifted, threatening Scotland’s clean, green brand and placing the future of its £14 billion food and drink sector under a needless and avoidable threat.

Scotland has gained international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy, and make no mistake: that worldwide recognition will be protected by Scottish National party MPs. Scotland has already halved emissions. Net zero emissions will require different and more difficult choices than have been made to date, but we will make those difficult decisions and have those difficult conversations. Furthermore, in direct response to the Paris agreement, the Scottish Government’s climate change Bill will maintain our legislation as the most stringent in the world.

It seems appropriate for me to end by quoting what was said by a Minister in the Scottish Government about frameworks. We should be mindful of her words. She said:

“Imposing a UK-wide framework for the environment risks undermining the significant progress Scotland has made, which has seen us win international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy.

We are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas but this must be through agreement—not imposition.

Protecting devolution will allow us to drive forward our ambitious work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance environmental standards and create a cleaner, greener Scotland for everyone.”