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Environment and Wildlife (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour 8:15 pm, 12th February 2019

My Lords, these regulations will allow UK authorities to exercise legislative functions in the UK after exit day in a range of areas, including, as has already been outlined, persistent organic pollutants, importation of timber products and derogations from certain CITES provisions.

The Explanatory Memorandum says that this statutory instrument does not make any substantive policy changes, but the UK public authorities exercising these newly transferred functions could immediately make changes that would have significant environmental impacts. So these regulations open up the way for significant policy changes. In view of the scale and importance of the powers being transferred to the appropriate public authority, can the Minister give assurances on the following concerns?

Will these powers remain with the Secretary of State and the equivalent in the devolved Administrations and not be delegated further? Bearing in mind the comments made during the debate on a previous SI, on the governance gap and the lack of an oversight and sanctioning body, how will these public authorities be held accountable? How will complaints against their operation of these new powers be handled?

The SI does not include mechanisms for enabling access to the necessary expert and technical advice. Do the appropriate public authorities have access to sufficient expert or technical input, and will that be sought and published on every change proposed? How do the Government intend to access the wealth of scientific and technical expertise and data available across the EU which might not be replicable within the UK? What access will the UK have, during the implementation period and after EU exit, to the EU’s systems for tracking and sharing relevant data?

Turning to the issue of consultation, what commitment will the Government make for consultation on the future exercise of these powers and proposals for changes by the appropriate public authority? The statutory instrument lays out, at Regulation 9(10), limited consultation arrangements in one specific area under the powers to make decisions on best available technique—BAT—but not on any other powers. Can the Minister assure the House that wide consultation will be the norm, with stakeholders, NGOs and the public?

I now turn to devolution. These amending regulations, as the Minister has explained, cover legislation in areas where all four nations are currently bound by the same EU requirements. The Minister very kindly at his briefing session assured us that the regulations have been discussed and agreed with the devolved Administrations, and the degree of devolution in transferring the powers to an appropriate public body has been designed on the basis of whether the matters are reserved matters. That was fine where the policy framework and the standards were EU-wide while implementation was devolved to the four nations. In the future, when policy and implementation are devolved to the nations, divergence in standards could happen quite quickly. This would have an impact on businesses operating across the four nations and on their ability to trade with our EU neighbours.

Let me give an example from Part 3 of the statutory instrument. BAT—best available technique—is one of the foundations of environmental regulation covering industrial emissions and is the basis of the regulation of things like cement plants, steel works, power stations and chemical works that create emissions. If we have four different versions, potentially, of best available technique across the four nations, how would UK-wide regulated companies cope? How would they trade their technologies to our European neighbours, which might be regulating against a fifth version of best available technology? This cannot be sensible. That is only one example of how diverging standards across the four nations would not be good for British business and possibly not good for the environment as well.

I welcome the confirmation from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 28 January in the other place of the Government’s,

“intention to work towards a common framework for a number of different regulations”.—[Delegated Legislation Committee, 28/1/19; cols. 7-8.].">Official Report, Commons, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 28/1/19; cols. 7-8.].

Can the Minister tell the House when this common framework will be published and when it will come into effect? What regulations will it cover?