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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 Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 8:15 pm, 23rd April 2018

My Lords, the Government have been very clear in their promises, and this has helped many in their consideration of the Bill. I know that the Minister and I do not always agree, but I must say that I have been very impressed by the way the Secretary of State for Defra, with whom I also do not agree on the subject of the European Union, has been determined to ensure that our exit from the European Union will not mean that the protections we now have for the environment would be lessened. He has made that clear again and again.

I am indebted to a noble friend who pointed out that the Secretary of State nodded vigorously when the right honourable Sir Oliver Letwin said in the House of Commons:

“I am now confident that the Government will bring forward proper new primary legislation to create an independent body outside the House with prosecutorial powers that will replace the Commission as the independent arbiter to enforce environmental rules and to ensure that the Government are taken to task in court without the need for the expense of class action lawsuits”.

I think the whole House can accept that, wherever else we may disagree, we have come to the conclusion that the Government are serious in their intention in this area.

As chairman of the climate change committee, I have been very happy to celebrate recent decisions by the Government about the environment. The request for us to advise on how we might implement the decisions of the Paris agreement to move towards the goal of 1.5 degrees is welcome to all of us. I therefore want to see the promises made by the Secretary of State for Defra and the Government as a whole carried through. I am sure my noble friend understands why we have tabled the amendment: because of the urgency and uncertainty to which the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, referred.

Sir Oliver Letwin was very clear about this. He said:

“I am delighted to say that we have talked sufficiently to Ministers to be confident that they will be bringing forward both the consultation and the legislation in time to ensure that it is in place before we exit the EU. Of course, I would also want to wait until January to see the consultation to ensure that that engagement is fulfilled, and I am sure that the other place will want to look at what is said in the consultation and to assure itself that the new statute is coming forward before it consented to allow this Bill to proceed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/17; col. 227.]

That is why we have tabled the amendment. I know that my noble friend will accept that it contains only what the Government have said they wanted to do. It has done so in a way that, as nearly as possible, reflects the Climate Change Act, which has been so successful, and which the Government have been foremost in celebrating in this, the 10th year of it having been passed. What we want is to engage the Government in their own assertion. In this, I have to say that we have been supported right across the House. The Liberal Democrats, for example, have done a great deal to press this. The Cross-Benchers, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have united in seeing this, as have Brexiteers and non-Brexiteers. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Spicer is not in his place, but this is no plot of remainers; it is only a reflection of what the Government have promised to do.

I finish by saying to my noble friend that the reason we want this in the Bill is that it is crucial for people concerned about the environment to know in detail that this is protected. The problem with the environment, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood said, is that its protection is often not in individual laws but in the acceptance of the precautionary principle that we should not do anything that damages the environment. It is those things that make the difference.

I was converted to all this as a very young man when I first read Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. It reminds us that there was a time when people ignored all this. They did not think about it or believe that it mattered. We have moved from that to a point at which these principles are accepted. If we leave the European Union, there will be no way in which that is included within our legislation because the protocols, preambles and indeed, the generalised acceptances, are removed from this Bill.

This therefore is a reflection of what the Government say they want and adds nothing to it. I very much hope that they will feel that this is a moment when, however different we may be—I have sometimes been rather tough on the Government’s views—this at least is something that can be wholly accepted because it will carry through what the Government themselves said they would do.