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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 23rd April 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Brown of Cambridge Baroness Brown of Cambridge Crossbench 8:15 pm, 23rd April 2018

My Lords, I move this amendment on behalf of the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Inglewood, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and myself. The protection and improvement of our environment is critical to our health and well-being, to our economic growth and for future generations. The Government recognise the importance of this, as we have been reminded on several occasions during the Bill. The Prime Minister has stated that this will be the first Government to leave the environment in a better state. The Environment Secretary, the right honourable Michael Gove MP, has announced a consultation, first some months ago and repeated subsequently, on the establishment of a world-leading environmental watchdog to replace and indeed improve on the current EU role in compliance. The intent is clear, and very welcome.

However, nothing has happened, so the risk is growing that on exit day there will be a serious environmental governance gap. There are two major elements of this gap. The first is that the Bill does not adequately retain the key roles of EU environmental principles—that is, interpreting the law, guiding decision-making and as a basis for legal challenge, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, highlighted on Amendment 12 last Wednesday. The second is that the Bill does not provide a replacement for the role of the EU in holding the Government to account on environmental issues—for example, when key air or water quality targets are missed.

Action to address the governance gap is needed urgently, because exit day is less than a year away; because the implementation period is not yet a certainty; because consultation can be delayed, especially when, as it appears, some departments, including the Department for Transport and the Treasury, would not welcome an independent environmental watchdog to hold the Government to account; and because establishing a new watchdog in law and appointing its members will not be quick.

The amendment aims to reduce the risk for the Government that leaving the EU will lead to failure to achieve their stated goal—that of maintaining and improving the environment. To this end, it requires the Secretary of State to publish proposals to establish before exit day an independent environmental watchdog; proposals for primary legislation establishing a duty on public authorities to apply EU environmental principles in the exercise of relevant functions after exit day; and a list of functions currently exercised by EU bodies that must be retained or replicated in UK law. This is urgent, so it requires the Secretary of State to publish this within three months of the date of this Act being passed.

The amendment reduces the risk to our environment of EU exit and helps the Government to deliver on their strong and welcome environmental commitments. I beg to move.