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Leaving the EU: Environmental Standards Regulations

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 20 April 2017

3. Whether it is her policy to (a) retain and (b) strengthen existing environmental standards regulations after the UK has left the EU. (909659)

The great repeal Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in UK law. Over time, we will have the opportunity to ensure that our legislative framework is outcome-driven and delivers on our overall commitment to improve the environment within a generation. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to uphold our obligations under international environmental treaties, champion high standards in environmental protection and continue to seek to influence other countries to do so.

Ensuring that environmental regulations are introduced in the great repeal Bill is fine: that is very important. At least as important, however, is ensuring that those regulations are permanent. Will the Government commit themselves to placing no limit on the timeframe within which regulations will remain in place to protect our health?

The country decided to leave the European Union last year. We are trying to provide as much certainty as possible to ensure that regulations continue to exist as part of UK law, and, as a consequence, that will be the case. It concerns me that the hon. Gentleman thinks we are somehow going to rip up the rule book, because that is far from being the outcome. We want a better environment for our future generations, and that is what the Government will deliver.

The Minister knows very well that the EU environmental regulations have been very helpful to people like me—and you, Mr Speaker—in holding the feet of HS2 to the fire when it comes to protecting our environment. Will she undertake not to allow any diminution in the protections that are afforded to areas of outstanding natural beauty, and to ensure that our exiting of the European Union does not hand HS2 a blank cheque enabling it to ride roughshod through our countryside?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have already committed themselves to upholding the highest environmental standards—standards that we cherish—in developing HS2, and, indeed, other infrastructure.

May I echo the call from my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for a national framework rather than ad hoc local decision making, especially given that emissions are currently declining? Will the Minister bear that in mind while she is working on the EU air quality regulations? In drawing up the framework, will she take account of all causes of air pollution, properly cost the alternatives—I am thinking particularly of the costs to drivers and the taxpayer—and urge the Government to stop demonising diesel drivers?

I think it fair to say—and we have said it at this Dispatch Box before—that when we are tackling air quality issues we must work with local communities, because the solutions will vary and there must be targeted interventions. I am afraid—well, I am not afraid—that our Government are not demonising diesel drivers at all. It was the Labour Government who introduced incentives for people to start using diesel. It happens to have been the current Mayor of London who stood at the Dispatch Box in his last year in the Brown Government and said that Euro V emission standards would solve the problem. We know that that is not the case, but we are clearing up the mess. Together, we can work across party lines to ensure that we have cleaner air for the people whom we all represent.

One of the environmental standards that we can improve outside the European Union as much as inside relates to the state of the oceans. As the Minister knows, a massive amount of dumping of plastics is damaging sea life and coral wellbeing. A huge United Nations conference will take place between 5 and 9 June. Ministers will be busy doing other things, but what will this Minister do to ensure that the British voice is properly heard to ensure that something is done to clean up our oceans?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we launched our litter strategy recently. We know that a great deal of the litter that ends up in the marine environment comes from the land, and we must proceed with our work on that, because marine conservation is particularly important to us. We have continued to extend our blue belt, not only around the this country’s coastline but in overseas territories. As my hon. Friend pointed out, a general election will take place in the middle of the oceans conference, but I can assure him that the interests of the United Kingdom in providing global leadership will be well represented.

While the great repeal Bill may bring short-term stability and a working statute book when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it remains to be seen whether this Government, or indeed future Governments, will take any action to erode the UK’s existing environmental policies. What assurances can the Minister give the constituents who have written to me expressing deep concern about environmental protections post-Brexit?

I can only continue to try to assure the House, and the hon. Lady’s constituents, that we made it very clear in the manifesto on which we stood in 2015 that we wanted to be the first Government to leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it, and that is what we will do.

On 24 November 2015, the then Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), announced that the UK Government would ban lion trophy imports by the end of 2017. What progress has been made in that regard, and what reductions in trophy lion hunting does the Minister expect to be made following the review of international treaties when the UK has left the EU?

I did not quite catch the opening of the hon. Gentleman’s question, when he referred to something from 2015, but I assure him that all these imports are undertaken on a case-by-case basis and that we continue to work with other countries to ensure that we conserve important species throughout the world. It is a key issue in which the UK is a global leader. We will continue to work with other countries and to have an influence.