European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Crossbench 3:18 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I had been intending to talk exclusively about the impact of this Bill on the environment and climate change, but earlier the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds reminded us that the process that this Bill supports is about a broader matter than translating legislation and instrumental processes. It is about what kind of country we want this to be and what kind of Europe we want to see in the future.

I hope noble Lords will indulge me for a moment if I recount a piece of my family history. My father was a refugee from Nazi Germany, who came here in 1933 and was lucky he survived—many of his relatives did not. One individual in the family who survived, remarkably, was his sister, who survived throughout the war in Germany and still lives there. I went to see her just before Christmas and we had a conversation about Brexit. I asked, “What do you think of what our Government are doing?”. She looked at me and said, “In March 1945, my mother and I hid in the cellar of our home because there was an allied bombing raid. We came up in the morning, our house had disappeared completely, the street had vanished completely, the centre of our city had vanished completely”. She went on to describe how, in the subsequent weeks, she and her mother tried to move across Germany with no transport—no railways, no roads, no petrol, nothing. Even to get a bar of soap, she had to sell the carcass of her pet dog. She said to me, “Any Government who want to begin to take apart the structure that we put in place to prevent this happening again must be mad”.

I shall switch now from a broader issue to the rather narrow issue of environmental legislation. We are told that the Bill is about continuity. It is to enable things to operate as they did before on the day after Brexit. As noble Lords will be aware, almost all the legislation that protects our environment, including air quality, marine and freshwater quality, protection of species and habitats, waste disposal, noise pollution and soil quality, comes from the European Union. Defra estimates that there are more than 1,100 pieces of EU legislation within its ambit. At the moment, the enforcement of environmental law is overseen at European level and it is acknowledged, including by the Government, that after Brexit there will be a governance gap.

Take our beaches as an example. Under the bathing water directive, the UK originally designated fewer areas as bathing waters clean enough to bathe in than did Luxembourg. Even Blackpool beach did not make it on to the UK’s list. As a result of Commission enforcement, the UK has increased the number of bathing waters designated from 27 in 1987 to 362 today. The Institute for Government reports that some 29 of the 63 judgments—that is 46%—handed down by the ECJ on UK infringements since 2003 related to the environment. So enforcement by the European Commission and the ECJ has been crucial to our transition from the dirty man of Europe to the place that we are today.

The Government, as I say, have recognised this governance gap and are consulting on the nature of a new body to ensure that environmental standards are maintained and enforced after Brexit. Yesterday, we had a very good debate in this House in which the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, said that this would be a statutory body, which I think we all very much welcomed. I hope that that will be confirmed by the Minister at the end of this debate. The crucial thing for this Bill is that the new statutory body will be in place, ready to take action, immediately after Brexit. We do not want to say that it is six months or a year until it comes into place; it has to be there on the day we leave.

Other concerns need to be explored in Committee, and I do not intend to elaborate on those now. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said earlier that it is not clear in the current drafting that all EU law will be fully transposed. Clause 2 saves transposed directives; Clause 3 converts regulations; and Clause 4 saves other rights and obligations if they have been recognised by case law. We need some explanation of what the implications of that are. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, the principles of environmental law such as sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle may be lost, as these are currently in the preambles; they should be retained. If they are not, future decision-making by public bodies or by government may result in weaker protection of the environment.

In closing, I turn to energy and climate change. We have our own national legislation on climate change, the Climate Change Act 2008; nevertheless, some of our energy security and decarbonisation depend on our relationship with the rest of Europe, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the internal energy market. As far as I can see, these are not covered by the withdrawal Bill. In fact, in the Select Committee that I sit on—excellently chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—the Energy Minister told us recently that, although we were going to leave the internal energy market,

“our top priority is to be as near as possible to the current arrangements”.

That makes you wonder whether the simplest way to achieve this is not to leave in the first place.