European Union Committee: Report on 2013-14 (EUC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:13 pm on 24th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Chair, EU Sub Committee D - Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy 6:13 pm, 24th July 2014

My Lords, I wish to focus my remarks on the work of Sub-Committee D, which I have had the honour to chair since May last year. This is not in any way to downplay the important work undertaken by the Select Committee itself. Our report into the role of national Parliaments is a timely and valuable contribution to a growing debate across Europe and reflects the leadership shown by my noble friend Lord Boswell, whom I thank for his personal support for my work. In my work on the sub-committee, I try very hard to reflect the principles outlined in the report on the role of national parliaments —namely, that of engagement with counterparts and officials from across the EU and looking at policy before it reaches its final legislative form.

Our work this year was dominated by the topic of food waste, to which I shall return in a moment. Some of our scrutiny work followed up on the excellent work undertaken by my predecessors, the noble Lords, Lord Carter of Coles and Lord Sewel, and it shows, I believe, the value of well considered inquiries undertaken early in the policy-making process. This is a hallmark of much of the work across the sub-committees and it is something that we do well.

In 2008, the committee published a report on reform of the common fisheries policy. Five years down the line, I am delighted to say that the work came to fruition. Regulations to reform the CFP were adopted that strongly reflected the key themes of our committee’s 2008 report, including the decentralisation of decision-making and the introduction of a discard ban. Last summer, when the deal was done, the committee turned to the practical implementation of these policies, particularly the discard ban. It remains one that we should be watching.

The second major dossier that reached its end point last year was the reform of the common agricultural policy—although, of course, it never reaches an end; it is like painting the Forth Bridge. Under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, the sub-committee had undertaken an inquiry into innovation in EU agriculture. Redirecting the juggernaut of the CAP is no small task, but incremental steps have been taken along the lines proposed by the committee in its report, and I am pleased to say that the committee continues to press the important themes of research and knowledge transfer as the process of implementation returns. It has also clearly become more of a priority for the Government because this week they have announced new investment in agricultural research.

One way in which we pressed those themes was through our recent report into the prevention of food waste in the EU. On-farm innovation is a very important element of tackling food waste at the initial stages of the food chain. The press and public interest that our report drew surprised even us; the press office tells me that it received more coverage than any House of Lords report it could ever remember. I want to trade anecdotes with my noble friend Lady O’Cathain and the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. The Independent described our committee as a “true adornment” of your Lordships’ House.

It is very important now for us to follow up this work. The European Commission recently produced amendments to its waste legislation that very strongly reflect the recommendations that we made in our report to have an aspirational food waste reduction target—not legislatively binding—and to work on standard definitions across the EU. We are awaiting more information from the Commission and a non-legislative communication from it in the autumn. We will also hold a seminar to look at the practical barriers to redistribution of surplus food. I am now constantly being briefed by organisations and businesses across the country and, indeed, Europe on the work that it is doing to reduce food waste. I think that demonstrates that we are regarded as leaders in this thinking.

I turn briefly to some other work. We are currently in the midst of a very intensive period of work, within the EU and internationally, on future approaches to energy and climate policy. It was very pleasing that messages in our report last year with regard to EU energy policy have been reflected in the Commission's proposed policy for energy and climate change through to 2030. This relates particularly to the importance of creating a stable environment to support long-term investment. I am also very pleased that, as the Energy Bill was making its way through this House, noble Lords made a number of references to the work that we had done in our committee. This shows that there is a crossover between the work that we do in the European scrutiny context and in the wider work of the House. Work on energy and climate change will be at the headlines of our next inquiry, into EU regional marine co-operation, which we launched at the beginning of this week. We are trying to bring a number of these things together, such as fisheries, energy interconnectivity and knowledge transfer. I hope that what I have said gives a sense of the work that we have been doing and that we plan to do, and demonstrates that we continue to seek to build and follow up on previous work.

There is a further point that I wish to make. It is a matter not for the Government but for this House. The new rotation rules that have now been introduced for the European committees will result in a two-thirds change of membership of my committee and that of a number of others next year. I suggest that a two-thirds change really runs completely counter to the principles of gathering experience and ensuring the effective running of the committee. As if that were not bad enough, after I had thought about it, I realised that the changes will mean that, every third year, two-thirds of the committee will disappear. I hope that the House will rethink that because it will make our work very difficult indeed.

I am grateful to all members of my committee, who are a joy to work with. They contribute a huge amount of their time, their experience, their expertise and, above all, their enthusiasm to make us successful. I should like to pay particular tribute this evening to Lord Lewis of Newnham, who died earlier this month after a long illness. His interest in all aspects of our work, coupled with his immense knowledge of chemistry, made his contribution invaluable. We miss his deceptively gentle, incisive questioning and his kindness.

Finally, we would not be so effective if it were not for the work of our staff. I put on record my thanks to our committee assistant Mark Gladwell, our clerk Patrick Milner, his predecessor Aaron Speer and our policy analyst Alistair Dillon, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the range of work we cover is always truly astonishing.