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House of Commons Hansard

Leaving the EU: Environmental Standards

07 June 2018
Volume 642

  • 5. What plans he has to ensure that environmental standards are maintained after the UK leaves the EU. [905709]

  • As the House will know, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill provides continuity and maintains high environmental and other standards as we leave the European Union. My Department is consulting on environmental principles and governance to ensure that we can have a world-leading body to hold the Government and others to account in order to maintain high environmental standards.

  • I think that the Secretary of State is seeking to group this Question with that of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands).

  • As ever, Mr Speaker, you anticipate my wishes with perfect clarity.

  • The “polluter pays” principle underpins the EU’s approach to protecting the environment. Will the Secretary of State commit to the post-Brexit watchdog having legally enforceable powers to make sure the polluter still pays when it damages our land, air and sea, even if that is the UK Government breaking air pollution rules?

  • The hon. Lady makes three very good points. First, yes, the polluter pays principle is an important one to maintain. Secondly, we do need enforcement powers. Thirdly, of course, if the UK Government are in breach of air quality rules, it will be the case, as in the past, that they have to be held accountable.

  • 9. Yesterday’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report pointed to a notable lack of detail on post-Brexit agricultural plans. Those concerns are echoed by the National Farmers Union and UK farmers, who are now writing to their MPs asking whether they should be planting crops for next year. UK farmers simply cannot afford to continue watching the Government kick the can down the road, so will the Secretary of State commit today to publishing a detailed and credible strategy by the end of this month? [905715]

  • We do not believe in kicking cans down the road; we believe that a deposit return scheme is a very effective way of making sure those cans are recycled.

    The UK Government have published a consultation paper, “Health and Harmony”, which outlines a post-common agricultural policy future for farmers in England. The Scottish Government have not yet done so. I have the highest regard for Fergus Ewing, the Minister responsible, but, energetic and talented though he is, the one thing he has not done is spell out his vision for the future.

  • A planning application has been made in my constituency for a recycling plant that will produce dioxins. There is no such plant in the United Kingdom or, as I understand it, in the EU. By the time this process goes through, we will probably be out of the EU. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to meet me and members of RAID—Residents Against Inappropriate Development—who think the construction of a dioxin plant in my constituency, or anywhere in the UK, is unacceptable?

  • I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue.

  • The Secretary of State will be familiar with the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty and that, in common with other AONBs, it receives a support scheme for landscape protection and enhancement. Obviously, as a member of the European Union, we have to get derogations and permissions because of state aid restrictions. Can the Secretary of State assure me that support will continue after we have left the European Union? Will he give me an undertaking that he will use this added freedom to increase those funds and support for these valuable and precious areas of our countryside?

  • My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The Chilterns are blessed not only as an area of outstanding natural beauty, but with distinguished representatives in this House of all parties and none. One of the things I will seek to do is to work with the new reviewer of designated landscapes, Julian Glover, who is a distinguished writer and thinker, to ensure that the right protection and support are there not only for our existing national parks, but for our AONBs.

  • The Secretary of State says that this new watchdog must have enforcement powers, but the watchdog he has proposed is completely toothless. It will be able to issue only advisory notices, not enforcement notices, and has no power to fine the Government. That has rightly been rejected by the other place. We expect an amendment from their lordships to come to this place next week. Will he table an amendment to his toothless watchdog, or should I do so?

  • I am always grateful to the hon. Lady for all her suggestions, amendments and thoughts. We are consulting. We are asking the public exactly how many and what type of teeth this watchdog should have, but we are saying that the watchdog should start with enforcement powers, which include advisory notices. It is then open for discussion as to what additional powers the watchdog might have.

    It is also the case that Back-Bench Conservative colleagues have tabled amendments, and we are considering those amendments. The hon. Lady makes a good point that the House of Lords made a case in good faith for how the watchdog could be strengthened, and I always listen to the other place with respect.

  • I hope that colleagues now feel enlightened about the teeth situation.