The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of EU environmental and animal welfare law into United Kingdom law. The Government have made it clear that we intend, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of environmental and animal welfare once we have left the EU. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and I intend us to remain world leading in the future.
In Chelmsford during the recent election, more constituents wrote to me about animal welfare issues than about all other issues put together. People care, and British farm standards on animal welfare are world leading. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that British farm standards are not undermined by cheaper, less welfare friendly products from other parts of the world after we leave the EU?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election in Chelmsford and also thank her for her dedicated work in the European Parliament on many of these issues. I, like her, received many representations from constituents about these issues, and my commitment is clear: while we want to lead the world in free trade, we also want to remain a world leader in animal welfare. There will be no compromise on our standards as we seek to ensure that we pilot a better position for British farming and British trade in the future.
15. Fine words, but our bee population requires more as the research published in the peer review journal Science demonstrated just a few weeks ago. Will the Secretary of State today pledge to end the use of neonicotinoids in the UK and tell us whether the precautionary principle adopted by the European Union will be transposed into UK law? (900600)
I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to ensure that our bee population and our pollinators are protected. I pay close attention to the science in that report, and we will ensure that our policy on neonicotinoids follows existing EU protections and is enhanced in line with the science.
Absolutely. Before we entered the European Union, we recognised in our own legislation that animals were sentient beings. I am an animal; we are all animals, and therefore I care—[Interruption.] I am predominantly herbivorous, I should add. It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place and thank him for his visit to Wakefield during the recent election. He can rest easy in the knowledge that he played some small part in my return to this place.
The UK’s participation in the EU’s registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals, or REACH, regulation system allows us to protect the environment and human health, and allows UK businesses to sell exports worth £14 billion to the EU each year. It is our second biggest export after cars. The Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the future of chemical regulation heard that the legislation cannot be cut and pasted. There are severe concerns about market supply chain freeze and regulatory disruption. How will the Secretary of State regulate chemicals when we leave?
I do not envy the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the task of transcribing legislation, because 80% of what it deals with is at a European level. However, is it not the case that there are important stakeholders, such as the water industry, that are quite clear that they want the whole canon of legislation to be transcribed as it is into national law?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. She was an outstanding Secretary of State in this Department, and the leadership that she continues to show in this area is outstanding, too. She is absolutely right: we want to transcribe and read across existing protections, including the precautionary principle, and then enhance them as and when appropriate.
We need to be aware that there are always forces that will lead some small farmers occasionally to want to co-operate with others—to meet capital investment requirements, for example. One thing is clear: I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country. The future for British farming is in quality and provenance, maintaining high environmental and animal welfare standards. We have a world-leading reputation based on doing things better, and that will not be compromised while I am in this Department.