Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report from the European Union Committee Brexit: environment and climate change (12th Report, HL Paper 109).
My Lords, as Members depart or come in and Ministers shuffle their seats, I shall note that I am a board member of the Marine Management Organisation, which has responsibility for the marine environment that might be covered to some degree in this debate.
It is important for us to remember that all the reports from the European Union Committee are looking at not just the challenges but the opportunities of Brexit, the pluses and the minuses, the good things that can happen and the things that we have to beware of and look out for. In this report, there is probably more that we have to look out for than benefits. Some of the benefits on the environmental side are probably better described in the fisheries report that the House has already debated and in the report on the common agricultural policy, for which my committee has finished taking evidence but which has yet to be published. Both those areas have important environmental aspects. There are a number of positives and opportunities in those areas, and in this report as well.
I will concentrate on some of the areas where we have to be careful. As recognised in the Conservative Party manifesto, looking 25 years or even further ahead, the environment is key in our quality of life as a country and as a continent. Opinion polls suggest that the environment is an area on which British citizens think that Europe has an important role. It did not figure greatly in the referendum campaign, but citizens have generally understood and believed that working together as nations is important in protecting and enhancing the environment for the future.
Those on the side of leaving the European Union were right that European legislation on the environment dwarfs UK legislation in all sorts of ways. The estimate is that something like 80% of all our environmental regulations emanate from Europe. We have a strong base of environmental legislation that springs from European regulations and directives and European Court of Justice decisions. That creates a great challenge. When we wrote to Defra about a number of issues, part of the evidence it gave was that something like 1,100 instruments have to be translated into United Kingdom law. Over the next two years, the Minister is going to be very busy in effecting that.
The committee welcomed unreservedly the Government’s objective of making sure that environmental standards do not go down in the process of Brexit, but there are huge challenges ahead in achieving that. Just think of the breadth of the area that we are talking about. It covers climate change, energy efficiency, standards for chemicals, biodiversity, migrating species, biosecurity, clean seas, the atmosphere, wastewater and the circular economy—the list goes on. I shall not go any further but that gives noble Lords an idea of the huge spectrum of issues that are vital to our future which we are talking about.
I shall highlight and headline some of the key issues. A number of them were not ones that I or the committee expected to be at the top of the list when we started this report. The first issue I shall go into, on which I could speak for many minutes but shall not, is the great repeal Bill. We welcome the Government’s undertaking that they will transfer the current legislation into UK domestic law. One of the questions is what it includes. Findings and case law from the European Court of Justice have been particularly important in environmental legislation. I will be interested to hear from the Minister whether that case law will also be incorporated into how UK courts look at European environmental legislation post Brexit.
There are 1,100 instruments that need to be translated. One of the areas that particularly concerned us is that the Secretary of State said that one-third of environmental legislation is going to be quite difficult to bring into UK law. I welcome her candid openness about this. We pursued that further and asked her and her officials what that one-third is. We had a very flaky reply, which suggested to us that not only is that roughly one-third going to be difficult but we do not yet know what it is going to be. As in other areas, there is concern about how much will be in primary legislation or in secondary legislation, but I will leave that debate for other reports.
One of the strongest points that was made to the committee was that the key issue is not regulations or laws but implementation and enforcement. We can have lots of laws and lots of good intentions, but we have to have adequate enforcement. One of the key areas of success in environmental legislation in protecting and improving our environment has been that we have strong enforcement mechanisms. I am sure other members of the committee will talk about this. The Commission as an overseer of implementation and the European Court of Justice as a strong enforcement mechanism behind that legislation have meant that not only have Governments of all stripes been careful to make sure that environmental legislation is implemented but so have citizens and other organisations. There have been a number of instances where the UK has not been that keen on implementing environmental laws—I think back couple of decades ago on wastewater and more recently on clean air—and the role of the ECJ and the Commission has been particularly important. I know from experience that the threat of infraction by the Commission is a strong motivator for senior officials of departments and Ministers and Secretaries of State to make sure that European environmental law is implemented, as it is not only a reputational issue for the nation but a financial one. Infraction means fines, which can be considerable, and departments do not wish to lose their budgets because they have not performed. It was the very strong opinion of our witnesses that enforcement in the UK as it is at the moment would not be sufficient. There is judicial review and other areas, but this is key and one that other members of the committee will wish to discuss.
The other area which I have not really thought about quite enough, which also applies to the agricultural reports that are due to come out, is that of certainty. One thing relevant to the environment and indeed to agriculture is the acronym MAFF. We always think of MAFF as being the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but in this instance I am talking about the multiannual financial framework from Europe, which lasts for seven years and gives a degree of financial certainty to programmes that cannot be changed year on year, or in domestic terms, Budget to Budget. It is also quite difficult to change legislation and update laws throughout Europe. That can be negative, but it does provide certainty and time horizons in which investment can take place. In the environmental area, that is important for flood defences, clean energy and all sorts of other areas where investment takes a long time. The challenge is going from a seven-year financial framework—legislatively perhaps sometimes even longer—to a framework where we have annual Budgets, and laws that can change maybe year to year but certainly Parliament to Parliament. So we have that greater uncertainty.
There is even more uncertainty in financial areas and investment when it comes to the role of the European Investment Bank. This might seem not that important for the environment, but the figures show that something like €37 billion has been invested since 2000 in the environmental sector, particularly in energy. That is a huge sum. Since we have been a member of the European Union, particularly through the wastewater directive, some €12 billion has been invested in the water industry in the UK by the EIB. Yet we were unable to pinpoint where this sort of core foundation investment was going to come from in the future. Outside the EU, we are still entitled to European Investment Bank expenditure or investment, but it will be on a much lower scale than we have at the moment. So there are challenges there.
I will very quickly go through the other key areas. The first is trade and industry. We had a number of witnesses who I suspect we expected to say, “Great, let’s be buccaneering: let’s go ahead and deregulate and be successful without European red tape”. I am being perfectly objective in saying that that was not the case at all. Concerns were expressed that we should be able to enter the single market easily and that therefore our product standards needed to be the same, in terms of energy efficiency and similar areas. There was particular concern around chemicals, where there has been huge investment by companies that have had products approved by European agencies. There was a great fear of having to go through another process if we have a bespoke UK system, which would not only be expensive but would not necessarily allow access through equivalence into European markets. On trade and industry, there was a concern that we should keep equivalence when it comes to standards.
I will leave the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to talk about climate change. I conclude by saying there are two other elephants in the room, one of which is devolution. Like agriculture and fisheries, the environment is a devolved area of policy-making. How do we bring all of this legislation back into the UK and then distribute it among the nations and various parliamentary assemblies of the UK, while keeping some semblance of common ground within? That of course will also be the responsibility of Defra; given all the responsibilities that the noble Lord will have over the next two years, we are deeply concerned about Defra’s capacity and influence with the Brexit departments to make sure all this can be achieved. There is a huge and extremely challenging agenda here. It is regrettable in a way that we do not yet have Defra’s 25-year environmental plan, which we look forward to. We would also like to see this great repeal Bill and everything that needs to be done within that context. I would be interested to hear from the Minister when that will be produced.
The environment is one area where Brexit does not mean Brexit. We are inevitably tied to the European environment through our seas, our atmosphere, our migrating species and many other aspects. It is imperative that we continue to be strongly involved with our European neighbours. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how he would pursue, for the benefit of all our peoples, that co-operation into the future. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is my great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and to thank him and his committee for producing this worthwhile report, Brexit: Environment and Climate Change. I follow his introduction by making three points. First, yes, there are challenges but I believe there are opportunities as well. The second is on the width and the span of issues that the committee looked at. In a way, we are missing the agricultural aspect. I know the committee is looking at that at the moment, which will perhaps slightly overlap with some of my comments—I apologise to members of the committee if I touch on things that they are dealing with currently. The third thing is the two reports we are awaiting, which the noble Lord just spoke about. To take that a bit further with the Minister, these two reports should be looked at together. It is not a question of, “This is the environment, that is climate change and that is farming and food production”. They are inextricably intertwined and should not be separated.
In following the previous debate, moved by my noble friend Lord Selborne—that committee’s report is headed A Time for Boldness, and the same is true of this report—we are reminded of how the issues of science and technology and those in this report are linked. Good things are happening and investment in the UK is still very high in both technology and science, as we heard earlier today. One extra thing that I would stress in terms of both reports is that often we are full of ideas but do not necessarily see them through to the conclusion of a product. As a country, we are very good at the first part, but not so good at the final product.
Over the years, science and technology have transformed the way land is farmed. One example is GPS. Another is the technology which enables farmers to apply the relevant amount of dressing in different areas of a single field so that unnecessary applications are not made, which avoids spoiling soil quality. It is a win-win situation for the farmers themselves, but more importantly for the environment, as fields are not overdressed, avoiding the run-off and pollution that can otherwise result.
Caring for the environment should be at the heart of any farming business, and here I remind the House of our family farming interests in Suffolk, where we grow cereals but are also committed to enhancing the natural environment. The report, in its summary, rightly acknowledges that those seeking to preserve and invest in improving the environment require long-term stability in policy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred. The report states:
“EU environment and climate change laws do not stand alone”.
Their implementation, monitoring and enforcement by EU institutions, as has been mentioned already, have made a great impression so far. That is something we need to look at. The committee goes on to express concerns about what will happen post Brexit and questions the self-regulation that may be imposed by the Government, which it is a little concerned may not be adequate. Perhaps the Minister will come back to that later.
Later in the summary, the committee’s report states:
“The UK would need to comply with, or seek to adopt measures equivalent to, EU environmental standards in order to continue to trade freely with the EU”.
Chemicals regulations are highlighted, along with pesticides, greenhouse gases and many other aspects. I would have included GM and modern breeding techniques there as well.
Thirdly, the report reminds us that the environment is shared, referring to terrestrial, marine and atmospheric challenges. Finding a way forward will certainly require the UK’s devolved countries to come together in planning future policies. Nowhere will this be more challenging than within the common fishery policies, which we debated earlier this year. I would also throw into that how much the climate changes in our own nation in any case: there is a lot of rain on the west side of the country but we are very dry on the other side, in the east and south. So it is not just a pure question of the devolved countries themselves. At the end of the day, what matters for us as a country and for our environment is soil quality. That is the one item over which we have some form of control, and we need to give it greater thought. We cannot control the amount of water that falls, but looking after the soil is extremely important.
I turn now to some of the simple recommendations. Chapter 15 talks about shaping farm practices and the way the former CAP has included crop rotation and green payments. Paragraph 57 says that the Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, reflected to the Environmental Audit Committee that two-thirds of the existing legislation can be translated straight away, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, highlighted the other one-third that still has to be brought forward. Paragraph 64 says that each department has been challenged to review how the legislation in their policy areas will be affected by Brexit, to ensure that environmental protection is maintained. Chapter 7 is entitled “Influence”. Here I refer to formal influence and the way in which informally we can continue to influence what happens outside these shores, in the European Union and in a much broader way. Within that I would include many of the NGOs and those involved in wildlife trusts.
The report poses many questions. I would add my belief that we can all individually make a difference. We can waste less food and refrain from dropping litter both on land and in the sea; the pollution in our seas is just horrendous at the moment, and we must tackle the commercial dumping of waste in the countryside and in our cities. We can belong to wildlife groups, and many do. We can belong to areas where they help and support our rivers and engage in work in the countryside. All this brings benefits to us individually and generally to the environment. Ultimately, it is the farmer, the landowner, the tenant or the contractor who cares for 70% of our countryside. As former president of LEAF and now a patron, I can say that we see and practise good farm-management systems and better terms for wildlife, alongside quality crops and good food production. It is not perfect, but we should use best practice.
Farming is simply a business like any other. At the end of the day we need to ensure that farms make a profit. I do not think they should necessarily be supported in the way that they have been, but farms have to be profitable or in the long term they will simply go out of business. Areas of the UK where profit cannot be made—there I would look to quite a bit of our upland area or small farms, where that is not possible—the challenge following Brexit will be what will happen there. What the majority of farmers need, and I think this has been highlighted by the report, is some long-term commitment. Their investment is long term, and without it we cannot produce the food that we so need.
A balance has to be struck between food production, the environment and climate change. Others will talk about climate change. All I would say from our point of view is that the pattern of climate has changed. I will not go into great detail; others will. There is a lot that we as individuals, NGOs, farmers and people who purely love the countryside and go into it can do, but financial uncertainty blocks investment—although I have to point out that at the moment the bank loans that have been given to the farming community have some of the highest rates, so the banks believe that there is a long-term future there.
The report is a good one. I am sorry I was not able to be a member of the committee, having enjoyed being one formerly, but I congratulate it because it has been drawn in a fairly short time. I look forward to hearing other noble Lords’ contributions.
My Lords, I am speaking in what in the speakers list was my noble friend Lord Grantchester’s spot, and he is going to speak near the end of the debate. We have just been castigated by the Minister in the previous debate for being so gloomy, so I will try to make one or two non-gloomy remarks. This is the second important debate today on issues of science and technology as applied to the environment and climate change. I declare an interest as an emeritus professor of climate change at University College, a fellow of the Royal Society and chairman of a small company that works on the environment.
This debate is not only about science and technology but about legislation, regulation and finance. We face big issues in improving the environment and dealing with climate change. How will the UK continue to work and collaborate with other organisations across Europe as the UK leaves the EU? Some of the organisations currently present in Europe, and with very important roles, are intergovernmental—such as those for the regional seas, pollution and nuclear energy—while some are specifically European organisations, such as the European Environment Agency. An important point to understand is that, whether these organisations are intergovernmental or regional, many of them are involved in programmes with the European Commission. They use a lot of their research programmes to help provide guidance, decision-making and data. We are going to leave the EU, so what is going to happen to our cross-involvement in the UN, regional organisations and so on? The EU currently involves non-EC countries and areas such as Norway, Switzerland, Israel and north Africa, and they are very effective on some of these environmental programmes. It would be useful to hear from the Minister how he sees the strategy. There needs to be consultation with all sorts of organisations. The research and environmental organisations of Britain are deeply involved in all these environmental organisations, which are proving very effective.
The other important point is that we need to evaluate the benefits of the different levels of these organisations. Some of them are involved in UK Government standards, but we need to understand exactly how Brexit will affect that. One of the consequences is that the UK will no longer have to maintain environmental standards, even though we should recognise that they have steadily improved over the past 40 years—for example, cleaner beaches and higher air quality standards. I am afraid the standards provided by the UK Government may well come under some suspicion because there have been some dodgy practices with air quality in London in the last couple of years. It is very important that we have clear verification of what is being done when we start out on our own.
Having Europe-wide standards has been very important in enabling local authorities and the Government to keep saying, “This is the reference standard against which we are working”. How will this confidence be maintained in future? We should hear that from the Minister.
Another feature of the worrying future is the UK Government introducing standards and providing data which will be almost unchallenged. On what basis will those changes be made? Some standard analysis is necessary. We need to evaluate the economic, health and environmental factors in such studies.
The report reviews the EU climate change legislation and the EU Emissions Trading System, which currently guide UK investment in carbon and non-carbon energy systems. Even if the UK follows the EU and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreements on reducing carbon emissions, that does not tell us how the UK will develop its future policy. It may be working on existing policies, but many of the standards—those run by the UN and those run by the European Commission—will change.
The question is how the UK will find a partnership to work with European and other major emitting countries and their organisations. Although the Prime Minister assures us that the UK will be in Europe, this general assurance needs to be explained. Will the UK focus simply on the IPCC, or will it develop some ad hoc discussions in, for example, the G20, and therefore rely on UN agencies to provide the standards?
Importantly, we must also ensure that we have extremely high standards of multilateral climate change research programmes. The UK has substantial and well-respected climate change research laboratories and centres, such as the Hadley Centre, Scott Polar and other arctic institutions. What future arrangements are envisaged for how those UK research institutions will work towards these practical objectives with other countries? I assume that Her Majesty’s Government expect increasing involvement of the UK research institutions to guide them in their transition.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, just talked about standards in the countryside—for example, concerning rubbish—and how they are distributed. In Italy, there is widespread use of data on the state of the environment, and there is an excellent webpage called Q-cumber. There are a lot of innovative ways in which we can use IT, and we have a lot of interesting IT companies in Britain to help us monitor the environment much more closely, which will be an essential part of this new world in which the UK is out on its own.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Teverson for his expertise in chairing the committee as it took evidence and discussed the diverse issues raised. I also take this opportunity to thank the clerks for their unfailingly high standards.
I aim to restrict my remarks to the enforcement of environmental legislation, which will be crucial to the successful transfer of the EU approach to environmental protection back to one under the jurisdiction of the UK. The report notes the importance of EU membership to UK environmental protection, with no less than 80% of UK environmental legislation being shaped by the EU. The overwhelming majority of witnesses to the inquiry believed that the UK’s membership of the EU had improved the UK’s approach to environmental protection and ensured that the UK environment had been better protected.
During the referendum campaign, environmental issues did not feature large, but a national poll conducted by YouGov for Friends of the Earth found that support for the same or better environmental protection with high even among those who voted to leave the EU. The fact is that a majority of the British public remember and value the impact of our membership of the EU in cleaning up our beaches and our drinking water.
In its evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, National Parks England reported that most environmental professionals feel that EU legislation has proved to have more clout than UK laws. It stated:
“An important issue will be (if, as seems likely, the Habitats Directive no longer has to be applied) how the UK establishes equivalent fully independent administrative systems, to protect the most important wildlife sites. This seems likely to require some new legislative mechanisms if the current system for enforcing the Habitats Directive (ultimately, via the Commission and ECJ) becomes irrelevant”.
Although European law will be transposed to the UK, governance arrangements would not. We stand in danger of losing the stable policy environment that complex, well-enforced EU law has created—one that is resistant to change. The upshot of that has been higher investor confidence among businesses. This stability could be lost with the increased freedom of the UK to set its own laws.
The EU governance structure also allows the Government to be held accountable for their environmental actions—for example, through NGOs being able to challenge air quality policy in court. Professor Andrew Jordan told the committee that without the European Environment Agency, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, there was a risk of legislation becoming “zombie legislation”—either no longer enforced or no longer updated to the latest scientific understanding.
The European Commission is a key player in the current enforcement of environmental legislation. Professor Lee said that, as things currently stand, we have,
“obligations to report on how we intend to comply, then to report on how we did comply, and to explain how we will come into compliance if we fail to do so. We report to a well-resourced, well-informed, named body—the Commission”.
The Wildlife Trusts noted that the Commission,
“provides a great deal of support on environmental legislation, including sharing information, monitoring progress, facilitating reporting on progress across Member States, providing guidance and interpretation of legislation”.
None of that currently exists in the UK, and how will we continue to provide that level of expertise to organisations and businesses?
Environmental NGOs have welcomed the role of the European Court of Justice and its right to bring infraction proceedings against member states of they failed to comply with their obligations under EU law. This is a powerful adjunct to the role of the Commission. It has the clout to levy meaningful fines, and its rulings are attended to carefully by member states.
This is the crux of the matter. The European Court of Justice has the resources and information at its fingertips to bring member states to book. Following Brexit, it would be for the domestic courts to enforce public authorities’ and Ministers’ compliance with environmental legislation, typically by means of judicial review. However, we heard evidence from Professor McCrory and Mr Andrews of ClientEarth that the cost of a judicial review could be prohibitive, as could its time-consuming nature. It was also pointed out that although the Commission can fine, the Supreme Court does not.
At the moment, the Government, spurred on by the Commission, drives a lot of thinking about how not to be infracted. Ms Mukherjee raised this fundamental question:
“If it is not the Government but a sector, or the Environment Agency in the any of the four UK Administrations that raises the question, would there be that impetus and that brainpower behind assuring an avoidance of infraction?”.
To conclude, the Committee found the Government’s confidence in its ability to hold themselves to account was at odds with the concern expressed by the large majority of witnesses. I therefore strongly endorse the words found in paragraph 84 of the report that,
“an effective and independent domestic enforcement mechanism will be necessary, in order to fill the vacuum left by the European Commission”.
I shall leave noble Lords with the words of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust:
“There is little use in having good legislation if there is limited means to enforce it”.
My Lords, I should first crave the House’s indulgence for my delayed arrival this afternoon, and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for missing the first few minutes of his speech. As his excellent report makes clear, we learn a great deal about the earth’s climate and environment by monitoring it from space, and I should like to comment on the highly sophisticated pan-European Copernicus programme, in which this country has a big stake.
We have become aware in recent months of unsuspected extra downsides to Brexit—those stemming from the EU’s pervasive involvement in high-tech activities that can be handled only on an integrated European level. For instance, there has been a disconcerting realisation that our membership of Euratom would lapse after Brexit, necessitating the hassle of somehow ensuring continuity in its essential activities.
Many had thought that our involvement in space activities would be unperturbed, because the European Space Agency—ESA—is governed by a separate convention, and we will remain part of it. That is fortunately true of the scientific parts of ESA’s programme, but it is not true of other space activities. The EU and ESA have a joint European space strategy and the EU is the biggest financial contributor to ESA’s budget. In consequence, our participation in Galileo, the European counterpart of GPS, will need some renegotiation. However, what is relevant to today’s debate is that the same is true for the Copernicus programme—a very ambitious European suite of satellites, important for monitoring many aspects of the environment and climate. Copernicus promises to be the world’s pre-eminent earth observation system.
Outside the EU, the UK will have a weaker voice in Copernicus programmes, and in Galileo’s too. It is unlikely that significant infrastructure related to these programmes will be located in this country. The UK has so far invested around €860 million in the Copernicus programme—initially via ESA but latterly via our membership of the EU—through strong alliances with other EU member states, especially France and Germany. We have shared the costs of a system that would be unaffordable by any one country.
Copernicus has been enthusiastically utilised in the public and private sectors across the UK. Its use is growing rapidly, and it is highly diverse. For example, radar data from one of the Sentinel satellites are hugely important in cloudy countries such as the UK because it allows crop and habitat mapping and monitoring where optical data are often limited by clouds. The Copernicus programme is ambitious and wide-ranging. It provides data relevant to air-quality forecasting, flood warnings, early detection of drought and desertification, warnings of severe weather, oil-spill detection and drift, oil-slick predictions, seawater quality, crop analysis, forest monitoring, land-use change and so forth.
Scientists and engineers based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire have made major contributions to building and testing satellites for the Copernicus programme. The most recent was launched just this month. It will beam back images capable of tracking iceberg movements, illegal logging, and water pollution. The system is also designed to allow real-time monitoring of areas hit by natural disasters.
The current Copernicus programme provides data from four Sentinel satellites of three different types. The fleet will reach an operational state of eight satellites by 2020. Despite the UK’s involvement in building the hardware and its great interest in the programme, it is now unclear what access British teams will have to Copernicus’s observations if the UK loses its status as a full collaborator, which it now has through EU membership.
Before Brexit, UK industry was expected to win contracts for satellite manufacturers and providers of downstream services, valued at €350 million during the current programme and, we hope, adding up to €l billion for the period up to 2027. All such pan-European projects will be in jeopardy, especially if we are not in the single market. So an exit from the Copernicus programme without mitigating measures would be damaging to UK industry and environmental projects—both the satellite construction industry and business operating in downstream services. Our scientific and industrial capacity has grown as a result of these investments and contracts. If the private sector is to continue investing, it needs long-term guarantees of data availability. But, of course—and this is what is most relevant to today’s debate—it threatens the UK’s full participation in a world-leading programme of huge benefit to our environmental and climate policies.
The Copernicus data policy will be reviewed by 2020. Optimists would bank on the current free and open data policy continuing, thereby allowing continuing basic data access to most UK users, but this cannot be taken for granted. Constraints on the data portals and pipelines could render data and some instruments hard to access, or the relevant data may no longer be collected over the UK in the first place. We may, as it were, go to the back of the queue. Even if data access continues, the UK would have less influence over the future evolution of the programme, and lose the ability to tune the satellites or services to our needs. This would inhibit our efforts to manage environmental issues, as well as eroding the benefits from the investments we have already made.
As I have emphasised, UK scientists and politicians have played important parts in developing Copernicus. This is a world-leading project that has given Europe a strong voice in international fora that address how we manage our planet better. This lead will be even more crucial if the Trump Administration carry through their threatened cuts to parallel efforts in the United States. The UK cannot do projects on this scale alone. If we leave the EU, some alliance with our European partners that allows continuing full participation in Copernicus will be needed if we are to foster our own environmental interests, and if our voice is to be heard in global environmental and climatic policy. Therefore, it would be welcome if the Minister could give some assurance that these concerns will be prominent on the radar when negotiations begin.
My Lords, a number of questions have already been posed, and I pity the Minister for having to go through them in some detail. We heard earlier that we in this Chamber tend to be gloomy, and now we should be cheerful. I am neither; I am just puzzled—which is not a new experience.
From reading the report, which is a model of clarity, as are most of the Brexit reports that come from the various committees, it seems that, as we peel back the layers of the onion, we end up with more layers. I realise that that sounds paradoxical, but it seems to get more and more complex. The other night in the debate on Brexit and Gibraltar I tried to ask some questions about stress testing, to which I got no answer. So I shall try again, focusing very briefly on just one or two questions.
Is any stress testing going on in varying scenarios in relation to what happens when the legal and regulatory costs come away from the EU and have to be borne by the UK—for example, after the European Commission has lost its role and the European Court of Justice is out of the picture? Do we have to create other bodies? I ask the question because I do not know the answer—maybe everybody else does. Have these things been costed and, if so, what are the options for us likely to be?
If I were to press one point it would be derived from experience in my own diocese, which comprises the whole of West Yorkshire, a slice of South Yorkshire and a big chunk of North Yorkshire—particularly those upland areas and farming communities that were referred to earlier. Not only do they face challenges in relation to farming and the effective financing of that, but the problem of second homes, where local people can no longer afford to buy and the children of local people cannot afford to live in the same communities. Rural schools are being closed because the Government’s definition of what constitutes a small school is about three times the size of many of the schools in that part of my diocese. There are also areas within the diocese where broadband access is non-existent—so that is another challenge of top of those challenges.
When the common agricultural policy ceases to apply, what will be the impact on the land and on the countryside management that is so essential? You cannot just have farms closing down and abandoning territory. What happens to land management? Who will replace the subsidies that allow many of these farming communities to survive, if not thrive? There is an assumption among some farmers to whom I have spoken that the Government have promised to replace what is taken away. I am not sure that I have heard that—but maybe it is in addition to the £350 million that is going to go to the NHS. Is someone going to inform the farmers? As I also pointed out in the debate the other day, it seems that we get a lot of bland statements of optimism, and I keep asking myself in my puzzlement where all the realism is in this. It might be that the department is facing those questions, but it seems to me that those of us also involved in those communities need them to be addressed fairly soon.
We have heard that there needs to be policy stability, but I identified in the report a distinction that I thought was very helpful between technical and political questions. If some of the decision-making is being politically driven, what happens to the prioritising of the technical questions? This seems to add enormously to the complexity that we have already described. We have heard in a number of these debates that we need to be ambitious and to raise our ambition in the light of Brexit. This leads me to ask: will our ambition be diluted under the weight of the complexity that is being revealed as we go into the detail of these matters?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, and I thank him for leading Prayers today on such a poignant occasion; it was very appropriate indeed. I declare my interests as listed in the register: I give advice on the environment and work particularly closely with the water regulator of Scotland, the Water Industry Commission for Scotland, I am a member of the Rural Affairs Committee of the Church of England Synod, and I am honorary vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities. I particularly welcome the report before us today and warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—I consider him my noble friend; we had the honour to serve together in the European Parliament—and his committee on the report and on securing this debate today.
I will focus my remarks on the impact of a changing environment, extreme weather events and climate change, in particular on farming. I have been closely associated with farming, originally in the Vale of York and latterly in Thirsk and Malton. I grew up in Teesdale, where I think farm incomes are probably the lowest in the country—they are often quoted as that. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Byford regarding hardship; I know that many farmers are turning to welfare groups on a scale that we have not seen for a number of years. We should set the debate in that context. I am mindful also that farming and fisheries are the two most dangerous industries, where people are working in significant peril.
Responsibility for damage to the environment, as my noble friend Lady Byford said, including run-off and even nitrates in the soil, is often pinned on farming practices whereas, in reality, farmers have a very positive role to play in shaping the environment and reducing the potential impact of climate change through adaptation and mitigation. Currently—we know that the moneys will be secure until 2019-20—farmers benefit through Countryside Stewardship and other schemes; they are reimbursed for the public good that they do, particularly through water management and flood alleviation schemes. It would be helpful to know from the Minister how this might continue in the future.
I will share with him and the House today one of the most imaginative schemes that I have heard about, which came from the Tenant Farmers Association, which argues for a flat rate of, say, £25,000 a year for all active farmers. I know that that would be significantly less than many of the larger farmers have earned, but it is significantly more than some of the graziers and smaller farmers in the uplands have received.
I also echo my noble friend Lady Byford on the very strong arguments in favour of having one 25-year plan, focusing on the mutual interests of farming and the environment. Famers produce food and we all need to eat. Farmers in the hills and uplands play a very special role in food production. Ideally, eating more home-produced food could be one of the benefits which flow from Brexit. It could benefit the environment, make the UK more self-sufficient in food and boost food security. The Vale of York is home to one of the largest livestock producers in the land. If the hills and uplands were taken out of production in North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumbria, the Welsh hills and the Scottish hills, it begs the question of what would replace that. So it would be appropriate for the Government to consider merging these two programmes going forward. What impacts on the environment also impacts on farming and agriculture. Running them in parallel rather than as one is, I believe, a missed opportunity.
We have to give farmers and landowners the chance to plan their business at least two or three years ahead. They need to plan what crops to grow and what animals to stock on the land. Currently, many EU directives and regulations are policed by the Commission—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, set out. This is a strand running throughout the report. Any breaches are resolved on referral to the European Court of Justice. That begs the question: if we remove ourselves from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and from policing by the Commission, what body will police any infringements committed in this country, and what dispute resolution mechanism will there be in those circumstances?
I will share with the House an example of the success of European environmental policy: namely, acid rain, which respected no boundaries and blew over from parts of central and eastern Europe, and probably the Soviet Union at the time as well, and wafted over parts of Scandinavia and Australia, and came close to our shores as well. The way that all the European Union member states came together to defeat acid rain was a great success story. So European environmental policy, with Britain’s contribution, has revolutionised the UK. Far from being the dirty man of Europe, as we were in the 1980s, we have now come to a stage where we have some of the cleanest rivers and beaches. Great steps are being taken to improve air quality but more needs to be done on that and to ensure that our water and our environment remain as clean as they are at present.
I would like to pose a number of questions to the Minister. As I have already mentioned, who will police the environmental acquis going forward? What will the dispute resolution system be if we remove ourselves from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice? The Minister will be aware that many of the current directives are undergoing revision, notably the mother directive—the water framework directive—the drinking water directive, the bathing water directive and the urban wastewater directive. These will all be concluded exactly at the time that we leave the EU in 2019. So the question to the Minister is: will we sign up to and abide by those directives, as revised, or will we simply transpose them? Obviously, we cannot do that through the great repeal Bill as they are not in place at this time.
I echo other noble Lords’ remarks about the role of the European Investment Bank. Water companies are less reliant on that at the moment because it is cheap to borrow money, but what will the capacity be for water companies or other firms involved in the environment to borrow or seek grants from the EIB post 2019? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds asked whether any economic or regulatory impact assessment had taken place. If no such economic impact assessment has taken place, it would be a matter of great regret as it would be the first time that such a major issue for the country had been addressed without the backdrop of an economic assessment to inform the House and others.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that the department will have sufficient staff and resources to undertake all the work that we are asking it to do between now and 2019? I echo the importance of ongoing partnerships with others and to seek an assurance from the Minister that there will be scope for bodies such as the NFU to work with Copa Cogeca, and for water companies to work with the water regulatory association—WAREG—going forward.
We have had a wonderful opportunity to debate these issues today. I know that we will have other occasions to do so in the context of the great repeal Bill and the primary legislation that we anticipate with great interest.
My Lords, that was a very important and searching speech. I hope that the Minister and others will take it very seriously indeed. I am very glad that the noble Baroness mentioned the European Investment Bank, as did the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and what will replace it. I am also glad that she mentioned the European Court of Justice because I believe there has been tremendous rhetoric and prejudice about that court. However, it is not only in this sphere that its validity is becoming obvious. I serve on the Justice sub-committee. In the sphere of commercial and family law, given that there is so much trans-border activity, it is very worrying indeed to know what the final authority will be when we lose the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
I declare an interest as I am vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks and I have been for a number of years president of Friends of the Lake District, of which I am now patron.
This excellent report—for which the members, and indeed the clerk and staff, of the committee deserve real praise and thanks from us all—brings home very clearly that we are flat-earthing if we believe we can have a future on our own. We live in a totally interdependent world in so many ways, and that interdependence starts very immediately with our relationship with our European neighbours. This is becoming very obvious in the issues that are raised in the report, and in so many other issues. We need some convincing evidence from the Government about the real, practical arrangements that are going to be put in place which face up to that interdependence. We cannot avoid it. The demand is there. In the interests of our people, it is absolutely essential to know what the practical arrangements necessary in an interdependent situation will be.
This is true of so many aspects of food production, but it is also true of fisheries. It is terribly important to have conservation in fisheries. It is terribly important to have sanity between close and adjacent neighbours in Europe about how they raise those issues. This is very obvious in the context of climate change: how on earth are we going to deal with the consequences of climate change on our own? It is just madness. We have to work together with others. So what will be the practical arrangements for working with others? We have yet to see any evidence of practical arrangements being put in place. Of course, this is true on the environment as a whole.
Some environmentalists recently put it very well when they said that clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas are essential for humanity. I endorse that conclusion warmly. We certainly need clean drinking water. Here, again, the reality—as against prejudice and rhetoric—is that our drinking water left a great deal to be desired and our membership of Europe has done a great deal to improve it. Indeed, on swimming in the sea, our membership of the Community has enabled us to see much more clearly how far short we are of the standards that we should have around our coasts.
Whatever happens in all this—and I cannot stress too strongly the need for evidence of what is going to be put in place; how can we come to a conclusion until we see that?—we are going to need, for the future of our society, the continued revitalisation of our countryside. We have to recognise the importance for the future of our nation of the relationship between farming and the countryside. That is very obvious in the area in which I live, in the Lake District, where all the joys, scenically and the rest, of Cumbria are intimately connected—as are farming and the countryside. This produces the character that we all appreciate so much. It will be essential to have arrangements to support farming and farmers and, indeed, the wider rural communities of which they are a key part. There is a great deal of rural poverty in our country, which we are not beginning to face up to and deal with as we should.
All these things are going to be as pressing as ever. We keep telling the world how wonderful our countryside is. We all know how vital it is to our own values but how will we sustain that countryside without the arrangements that have been increasingly put in place within the European Economic Community? It is the evidence of what will really be there that is needed.
I conclude by applauding what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. It is absolutely clear that our involvement with Europe and our dependency on that relationship with Europe are so great that it would be the height of irresponsibility if we did not stop using oversimplified, negative rhetoric. Instead, we must start to face up to the challenge of how we have continuing close co-operation with Europe, without which we cannot have a decent future.
My Lords, as a member of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his excellent chairmanship of the committee and of this report, and I thank our clerks for their excellent hard work in producing it.
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union sets out, very early on, the objectives for its environmental policy. The main bullet points are:
“—preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment,
—protecting human health,
—prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources,
—promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change”.
I am sure that we would all agree that those are excellent aspirations. So it is no surprise that a huge proportion of our environmental improvements, brought about by the legislation underpinning them, has emanated from the EU, which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to in his introduction—some 80% of legislation. That is not to say that, irrespective of the EU, we might not have done these things ourselves—who knows?
However, the fact is that, according to Defra, there are something like 1,100 core pieces of EU legislation relevant to Defra, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, previously referred. These comprise regulations, directives and decisions, but also guidance and case law. Therefore not only are there a large number of measures but a diverse range, comprising the EU acquis in this area. While the great repeal Bill will convert EU law into domestic law, the complexity of this environmental legislation—the number of different instruments involved—will present considerable challenges. As one of our witnesses said:
“There is a question over whether it will be, literally, all EU law, Treaties, Regulations, Decisions and Directives, or whether it is just EU law that currently finds its home in the domestic system through secondary legislation. If we do not do all EU law, then there will be an enormous gap because we will miss everything that has not already been put into secondary legislation”.
A second issue to consider is the long-term stability of environmental policy and regulation. Environmental policy is a long game—there needs to be consistency and stability in policy and execution which, it has to be acknowledged, the EU has provided. Once the custody of our environment is entrusted to a single Government with a five-year time horizon, there is intrinsically rather less long-term certainty. So there are challenges relating to transposition of EU legislation in its broadest sense into UK law, and challenges to the stability of environmental policy and law.
However, my major point concerns what I call the “governance gap”, which, without using that term, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, have referred to briefly. Many witnesses expressed concern to us about the fact that, post Brexit, we will lose the oversight and enforcement potential of the EU Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Much maligned as they have been in UK public opinion, these bodies have provided an independent refereeing system to reassure us citizens that the environmental improvements proposed and agreed by EU member states are indeed being enacted. They have had the power to hold member state Governments to account and to fine them for infringements. The loss of that potent external governance role is a matter that we need to consider carefully going forward.
It has been suggested that the UK courts can adequately fulfil this role, typically by judicial review, but I understand that there are limitations to the potential of the application of judicial review, particularly related to its costs. There are also limits to the power of our UK courts. Notably, as one of the witnesses commented,
“The Commission can fine. The Supreme Court does not fine.”
Although this vulnerability—this governance gap—may extend to all EU laws and their transposition into UK law in lots of areas, the environment is particularly vulnerable because, as one of our witnesses, Professor Macrory, told us, there is,
“no clear economic owner to protect it”.
Ministers reassured us that they want to leave a better environment than they inherited, and that is an undoubtedly sincere and commendable aspiration, but of course the current Government may not be the Government in five, 10 or 15 years’ time. We need to ensure that there are systems and mechanisms in place so that, whatever the ephemeral policies of different Governments dictate, they will protect our environment for future generations.
What are the responses to these challenges—to the governance gap? It has been argued that the electorate can hold Governments to account, and indeed this gives me some personal confidence that our current standards will be maintained and improved. We have in the UK a very high level of awareness of the status of our environment. We have very influential NGOs and charities, such as the RSPB, the Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and so on. They are very active lobbyists and their role in the future will be hugely important. We also have within Parliament the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Select Committee, which maintain scrutiny of the Government to hold them to account on environmental matters.
Notwithstanding that, given the governance gap that will follow Brexit, I suggest that there is a case for further strengthening the monitoring of the actions of future Governments in environmental matters, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, suggested. Perhaps this is an area where this House could play a valuable role, given the remarkable range of expertise that we have here. Ultimately, there will not be a need in the post-Brexit era for our EU Select Committee and its sub-committees, but maybe we should consider one or two new committees to deal with the regulatory deficits—the governance gap—that will arise post Brexit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee for this report, but I would add how disappointed I am at the timing of this debate. We had a debate in October on exactly this subject and not much has changed since then. I am sure that the assurances that the Minister gave at that time have been implemented within the department, but I suggest that what we needed before we had this debate was the Government’s 25-year plans. Those would have given us an idea and a focus for this debate, because there has not been much that is new over the last six months on which we can hang our hats. On those 25-year plans, I commend the speech of my noble friend Lady Byford. She is absolutely right that you cannot separate the environment and farming. Those two 25-year reports have to mesh into one report for the whole of our environment.
I agree with much of what the committee says. It will be difficult to transfer all the legislation from EU into UK law. It will be by no means impossible, although it may very well take longer than we thought. I agree with it on the enforcement of the environmental order that is mentioned in paragraph 85. It is right to suggest that there should be some sort of independent body as there is in Europe now; that would be very helpful. I agree that environmental pollution is no respecter of national boundaries, but that argues that we should be working at the world level and not an EU level—there is nothing to stop the pollution coming over the EU national boundary. We are members of certain world organisations and we have a very important role to play in the future of that. On air quality, we have been far too slow. It is a subject that I suggested the committee should write a report on some six years ago when I was a member. However, I was overruled, and we did another worthwhile report instead.
On the other hand, I cannot given unanimous backing to the report. We have been in the EU for so long that we think it is the holy grail of environmental legislation. When the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, introduced the debate, he said that there are difficulties and opportunities. However, the opportunities outlined in the report are as scarce as teeth on hens. It is a very negative report and, having read it, I came away very gloomy thinking that things are really bad.
I voted to remain in the EU, and one of the reasons for that was the environment. But then I asked myself how we managed when we were outside the EU, and started to look at what we have done. There is the Public Health Act 1845. That was to do with the environment and predates the formation of Germany and Italy as national states. We have been at this for a very long time, as the Acts of 1866, 1875 and 1936 show. In 1907, we set up the National Trust without the help of the EU. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, in her speech mentioned how important the habitats directive is. But in 1949, even before the European Coal and Steel Community, this House passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. In 2015, we created the world’s largest marine nature reserve in Pitcairn—without the help of the EU. Yes, we can do it by ourselves; we did do it by ourselves; and I have no doubt that life will be pretty good in the future.
Let me use a personal experience to make a point. In 1988-89, when I was Minister for the Environment, I was very involved with work on the ozone layer. It was British scientific advice from the Antarctic Survey that convinced Mrs Thatcher that something ought to be done for the ozone layer. She was very good with the environment because she acted on scientific advice. She said to Nicholas Ridley and me, “This is so important, we have to have a world conference”. So we organised a world conference in 1989, and we did that without the help of the EU, but the EU clung on to our coat-tails and came trundling along very rapidly behind. Just before we had the conference, the EU voted unanimously to phase out CFCs, not 100%, by 2000. We had a very successful London conference: 20 countries signed up to the Montreal Protocol and a further 14, including China, committed to sign up. What did the European Commission do? It decided to bring forward the date that we had just agreed, from 2000 to 1996. Mrs Thatcher gave exactly the right answer: it depends on innovation in science and the ability of industries to create the alternatives.
That proved one thing to me: it is terribly easy for countries in the EU to sign up to resolutions and directives when they have no industries that are going to be involved. As a developed, industrial country, we did have difficulties. It also proved to me that much of what the European legislation was about was emotion and capturing the public mood, rather than proper scientific innovation. That has not changed; it remains the situation. The impact on the environment and how we handle it is not down to some European regulation but to innovation, trade and planning rules. When we are outside the EU, we will be able to move much faster in those areas. I commend the previous debate today on science. We have to look forward and seize these opportunities, and Britain can be very good at that.
In 2000, the EU announced that its Lisbon strategy would make the EU the world’s most advanced knowledge-based economy by 2010. What a load of rubbish. It has totally failed to do that. It is a sadness that the EU, far from being the leader and the important world player it was 20 years ago—when 30% of the world’s economy was transacted in the EU; it is down to 15% now—has become a drag because it does not innovate and cannot respond quickly.
I could wax lyrical about that, but I shall move on quickly to two other matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, the environment is international, national and local. I firmly believe that the environment is best protected at local level. If local people are involved in their environment, they will help look after it, especially farmers and people who live in the countryside. However, if you take away that responsibility for the environment and give it to a third party in a different country, the incentive to look after your home patch is diminished. We are lucky. We are an island nation and all our rivers are in our own country and we cannot blame pollution on anyone else. Unlike Holland, we cannot say that the pollution comes from Germany or, in the case of the Danube, that it comes from another country. We have responsibility for our own rivers, water catchment areas and water pollution, so let us do it ourselves.
I conclude with the issue of money. The environment comes down to money. The report refers to resources and how much we depend on Europe. Is that accurate? No. When we leave, the EU budget will be cut by 12%, so what will happen to some of this EU funding? The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is right that no one country can fund a lot of this itself. When you take 12% out of the EU budget, many of its programmes will have to be massively cut and the incentive for it to work with Britain, with its financial strength, will be hugely increased. The EU will need our expertise in science and our funds in order to maintain its own programmes.
Who will win with Brexit? Both the EU and Britain will be losers to one extent, but it is far from all gloom for us.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his excellent chairmanship of our committee. I am a member of the EU sub-committee whose report we are debating today. I pay tribute to our specialist adviser and our committee clerk. As my noble friend Lord Trees once commented, the committee clerk, in effect, writes a PhD thesis every week. She has an extraordinary facility.
As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has already hinted, I will say a few words about climate change and in doing so I declare an interest in that for eight years I was a member of the Climate Change Committee and chaired the Adaptation Sub-Committee. I stepped down from those roles at the end of January this year.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the Climate Change Act 2008 which passed through this House with all-party support. It commits us as a nation to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. As noble Lords will know, the role of the Climate Change Committee is to advise the Government on the cost-effective path to 2050 through a series of five-yearly carbon budgets and to report to Parliament annually on the progress that the Government have made towards those budgets. The first five carbon budgets have been legislated for, taking us up to the early 2030s.
In its 2016 annual report, the Climate Change Committee stated that so far the Government are on track to meet their legally binding commitments. Emissions in 2015 were 38% below 1990 levels. This appears to be a good news story, and in some ways it is, but the good news has been achieved by a mixture of genuine progress through, for example, investment in offshore wind. The UK now has 40% of the world’s offshore wind capacity, making us the global leader. It is also partly through plucking the low-hanging fruit and in part as the result of the by-products of changes in the country that are not to do with climate change policy, such as the decrease in livestock farming and the offshoring of some heavy industries.
However, when we look to the future, the picture is not quite as rosy. In order to continue to meet the legislated carbon budgets into the 2020s and beyond, significant new policies will be required. According to the Climate Change Committee, by the mid-2020s, about half of the required emissions reductions do not yet have any policies in place to achieve them. Furthermore—this brings me to Brexit—many of the existing and future policies are dependent on European legislation. The Climate Change Committee estimates that more than half of the policy space through the 2020s is dependent on EU legislation. I shall outline some of the key areas: energy-efficient product standards for household appliances, buildings and so on; vehicle fuel efficiency standards; controls on waste and F-gases; policy on biofuels; investment in R&D to develop the technologies to transition us to a low-carbon economy; the EU Emissions Trading System, which allows us to meet some of our emissions reduction targets by buying allowances, and the EU electricity market, which enables us to purchase electricity at the best price on any particular day.
Brexit will pose substantial challenges for this country in meeting its legally binding climate targets through the 2020s and beyond. I hope that in his response, the Minister will give us some indication of how the Government intend to meet this challenge. One answer might be that the great repeal Bill will ensure that all the relevant EU legislation is translated into UK law, but as we have heard, the Secretary of State for Defra has indicated that around a third of the legislation which relates to the environment cannot be translated in a straightforward manner. We also heard evidence from an expert in environmental law, Professor Richard Macrory—about whom we have heard quite a bit in the debate and with whom I play tennis in Oxford; I declare another interest—who noted that the words “as far as practicable” have been used by the Secretary of State and could be an escape clause. I look forward to the Minister reassuring us on these points.
More generally, can the Minister tell us how far his department—along with others because climate change policy cuts across departments—has got in deciding how the Government will meet their legally binding targets post Brexit? Will we retain the same environmental standards for products? Will we remain in the EU ETS? Will we replace lost EU funding for R&D? Will we continue to retain strict controls on waste? One can imagine pressure from some industry players to lower standards, so it would be useful to hear that the Government are committed to adhering to their own climate targets and that they will be completely clear about standards so that there is a level playing field both within the UK and between the UK and the European Union.
I turn finally to the UK’s position as a global leader on climate action. We were the first country in the world to pass a law requiring us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, we have been seen as a leader both in Europe and globally. A number of witnesses told us that our influencing role as a global leader could be weakened after Brexit because we will no longer be part of the EU negotiating bloc for international treaties. The Minister, Dr Jesse Norman, told us that he intended the UK to remain a global leader, but that it was premature to speculate how this might be achieved. I wonder whether it is still too premature or whether the Minister might tell us how government thinking has developed in the intervening months.
At the previous President of the United States said:
“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it”.
We should be proud of the fact that the UK has been a leader in formulating policies to do something about it. Brexit will pose new challenges for us. I seek reassurance that the Government are ready and willing to meet these challenges.
It is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who really made my role redundant as he has said everything I would wish to say. On Brexit, of which I am sure it is clear I am not a great fan, I think of the phrase, “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time”. This is obviously the environment and climate change bit. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Teverson and the committee on beginning its gargantuan task identifying and categorising the issues and actions needed even to begin to address extracting ourselves from the EU in this regard. I sometimes think that everyone who works on this, whether a remainer or leaver, must have at some point thought, “Wow, it would be much easier to stay”—at least, that is what I hope they think.
I hope and trust that much of what we are about to do will be to recreate what currently exists. My particular portfolio is energy and climate change. I will confine myself to those aspects of the report and perhaps look at some of the compensatory actions that we will need to take. The report rightly says that we have established in UK law our commitment to those measures contained within the Climate Change Act, including the carbon budgets and of course the well-respected Climate Change Committee—thank goodness. As I said, I thought the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, covered beautifully all the aspects of climate change policy that need to come into play. But while the Climate Change Act protects us to a degree it goes only so far.
The Government have stated on many occasions, in this House and in the other place, that they will uphold their agreements, standards, targets, commitments et cetera, but I confess that I lack confidence in the Government. When we are not held to those standards or targets, when we are no longer monitored by the EU institutions and fail standards enforced by the EU, I fear we will not meet our targets. I fear a decline and a rush to deregulation. I was a Minister in the coalition. I cannot forget those occasions when the Conservative part of the coalition went on and on about deregulation. It was almost a religion with them. Statements made on becoming a virtual tax haven and other comments in that direction do not encourage confidence in the maintenance of standards.
The emissions reduction plan was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I ask the Minister: where is it? Is it ever disappearing into the future? Although I understand that the Government believe they can hold themselves to account, I do not share that optimism. Sadly, I prefer supranational oversight in this regard. We will need to set up new institutions to deal with compliance, infraction and additional enforcement. There will need to be biting sanctions on non-compliance. If we adopt EU regulations on energy efficiency into our own law, as I think we should, and if we keep up fuel standards for land vehicles and product standards for appliances, we will surely have to comply in order to trade. We need that alignment of standards. The report rightly says that the emissions trading scheme is not super-effective but it is very important. How and with whom will we trade emissions? What will happen about updates to EU regulations? They do not stand still, so even if we adopt them as they are, we will very quickly fall behind on, for example, the energy efficiency directive.
I do not want to just go through the report: it lays out well the areas and issues of importance. I trust that we will work towards reconstituting literally all of this. If this is the opportunity that we are encouraged and enjoined to support, then we have not only to reconstitute outside the EU what we subscribed to and benefited from in the EU but to go further. We need to change gear. There is no sense of urgency currently from the Government about meeting our targets or taking new actions and producing new policies to help us reach the level of emissions reductions that the Paris agreement committed us to. That was not an EU commitment but a world commitment. If the argument that there is a big, wonderful world out there with which to trade is to hold water, we need to capitalise on the economic opportunity that the clean economy offers us. We need to act faster and more urgently to make it clarion clear to the rest of the world that we are open for clean business and completely committed to decarbonisation.
Our future prosperity is going to depend on developing an economy that is innovative, entrepreneurial, internationally open and environmentally sustainable, and one where the benefits of growth are shared fairly across the country and with future generations. Our membership of the EU guaranteed our commitments to the climate change agenda and was a safeguard against this Government or any Government undermining our ability to deliver on our legally binding targets. Will the Minister say, outside the EU, what our guarantor of delivery will be?
We must improve the efficiency of resource use and decarbonise the economy. That will help create high skills and high value-added industries able to compete in the new global markets for low-carbon and resource-efficient products, technologies and services and create jobs throughout the country. It is really as plain as the nose on your face that with the Paris agreement and the sustainable development goals, low-carbon products and services are the future, and that future is worth trillions to this country.
I have to say that the industrial strategy offered by the Government was virtually mute on climate change. We need to establish a clear and consistent commitment to policies that create long-term demand for low-carbon transport and energy efficiency, thus giving investors the confidence they need. And boy, do they need confidence, because thus far this Government have done their best to undermine investor confidence by changing the goalposts. They have taken away from wind and solar subsidies that everyone would agree were necessary to remove in the long term but which, done at a stroke, undermined all business plans—let alone the removal of the £1 billion carbon capture and storage manifesto pledge.
The Government need to strengthen their support for clean innovation and encourage the creation of clean financial products to bring consumer capital into these clean industries. As I am at seven minutes, I will simply thank my noble friend Lord Teverson and the committee for the vital work that they have done. I reiterate, however, that although reconstituting must be mandatory, it is but the minimum needed to drive both our economy and a clean planet forward.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee for producing such a timely and authoritative report. It made the point clearly that the threads of EU environmental policy are woven through many aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Not only did environmental policy play little part in the referendum campaign; I would hazard that no one made the environmental case for leaving the EU. However, I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, stressed that we must have the confidence to press ahead.
The report is not a very comfortable read. In every aspect of withdrawal from the EU that the committee considered, the challenges and pitfalls remain as daunting as initially feared. Since Britain was branded as the dirty man of Europe, participation in the EU has produced a comprehensive framework that Britain has embraced and improved upon to bring about favourable environmental impacts across our daily lives. Leaving the EU will affect nearly every aspect of the UK’s environmental policy. That interdependence was highlighted by my noble friend Lord Judd, who asked several questions about what practical arrangements will come forward.
What is clear is that two years to resolve these daunting challenges is not very long if we are to provide answers on future policy direction and resources. It is also clear that Defra has had nearly nine months since the referendum and has not really laid out its thinking and approach to the task—other than to promise the great repeal Bill and underline certain fundamental basics, such as that the UK’s climate goals have not changed. The Secretary of State has explained that her department has eight different work-streams in its EU exit programme and is carrying out detailed analysis, ranging from market access and labour to trade and agricultural land use policy. She has also promised two Green Papers, on the future of food and farming and on the environment.
Perhaps the Minister can move forward from this position tonight and clarify at the outset the progress of this mapping exercise, when it will be finalised and whether it will be published. Has Defra been given the resources to deliver this and follow it through, with all its legislative implications, given that its budget was slashed by 30% by the previous Chancellor and it has been tasked with finding further savings of 15% by 2020? Has the Minister made any further request to the Treasury, beyond the meagre recruitment of 30 new posts?
If I have any criticism of the report, it is that it has been light on two important points: agriculture and climate change. However, I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that agriculture will be the subject of a separate report, while the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, also referred to the interrelationship between farming and the environment. Paragraph 24 of the report mentions agriculture and fisheries in relation to the substantial environmental elements and significant cash-flow expenditure, signified in one bullet point in box 2 at paragraph 18. I draw attention to the significant role farming plays in managing the environment. After all, it has to look after its land resource for future generations. I declare my interest in a dairy enterprise in Cheshire which is in receipt of EU funds.
Agriculture is best placed to cherish the landscape and implement national priorities. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised the importance of countryside stewardship in this regard. To do this, however, agriculture must be profitable. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has come forward with its industrial strategy, which was recently debated in your Lordships’ House. Yet in that strategy document, there is no mention of agriculture. Can the Minister underline tonight the Government’s commitment, beyond the statement that there is rural-proofing across all government departments?
I would also mention the importance of better regulation—not to be confused with deregulation—which will need to be constantly under consideration. My noble friend Lord Hunt spoke about all the organisations that need to co-ordinate and maintain standards through better regulation, while the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, also spoke strongly on regulation, especially in regard to energy considerations.
I mentioned that agriculture must be profitable, and I need not remind the Minister that much of agriculture would become uneconomic without subsidy. The Government have not yet come forward with proposals for funding agriculture post-exit, around 2019, a point underlined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. This will be fundamental to food policy, the food chain and the food industry, which accounts for 6.8% of GVA and is the UK’s fourth-largest exporting sector. Funding and food prices are intrinsically linked. Volatility in finance and extreme weather patterns were the subject of an interesting Global Food Security report on the resilience of the global food system and environmental tipping points. I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, given his perspective as chair of the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change. At the heart of the EU’s environmental policy is the precautionary principle. When this is repatriated into UK law, the Government will face the challenge of whether it is to remain hazard-based or become risk-based. On this will depend the outcome of the great royal debate about whether the genetic modification of organisms will be permitted. This will have a significant impact on the environment regarding what sprays will be permitted and whether they can be incorporated into seed to save the environment altogether.
I underline the critical importance of climate change and its impact. Although it is mentioned in chapter 6 of the report, it is only really examined in paragraphs 134 and 135 with regard to the EU ETS. While the report is correct to underline that climate change is a global issue that transcends the EU and that the UK is a party to international agreements, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will appreciate that there are doubts about whether the UK is on track to meet the sixth carbon budget and the EU renewables energy directive, which requires the UK to reach an overall target that includes transport and heat as well as electricity. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, also spoke eloquently on the challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, will remember that it proved extremely difficult to get the Government to set a decarbonisation target for 2030.
The debate this afternoon has highlighted the many concerns raised in the report. The Minister will know that there is widespread concern about the process of consolidation into the great repeal Bill. The House of Commons Library has identified 922 agriculture, 1,122 fisheries and 527 environmental instruments, regulations and laws which will need to be consolidated. Two questions arise. First, how will the Government define what is practical and appropriate and will this test be applied separately to each regulation? Several speakers have drawn attention to this in the debate. Secondly, as Labour has continually emphasised, the great repeal Bill is not a substitute for proper accountability and scrutiny, so will the Government commit to provide draft versions of the Bill as negotiations progress, so that we can be assured that current levels of environmental protection are at least being maintained?
The determination to pin the Government down on this issue sadly arises because they have not always lived up to their rhetoric on environmental issues. Their mantra is that they will leave the environment in better shape than they found it, but on issues such as air quality, they have failed to act, despite two court judgments. As a result, people being forced to breathe dirty air has led to an estimated 40,000 early deaths. The UK is still expected to have illegally high nitrogen dioxide levels in many areas in 2020. The Government still have some convincing to do regarding their real commitment to environmental improvements. Leaving the EU could give Ministers leeway to set more lenient targets.
Our second area of concern is the weakening of enforcement mechanisms in UK law. Currently, as the report identifies, the EU Commission enforces the environmental legislation through its many functions, including by monitoring progress, providing guidance and interpreting legislation. A whole range of accountability mechanisms are potentially at risk as we leave the EU. Historically, both the Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union have had a strong impact in ensuring the UK’s compliance with EU legislation that affects environmental protection. Earlier this week, the Environment Agency brought a successful prosecution through Aylesbury Crown Court against Thames Water, resulting in a record fine of £20 million for six pollution incidents. Can the Minister say whether this sets any precedents for dealing with more general environmental issues? More importantly, will the Government, who are sometimes at fault rather than a company, face a similar course of action if they fail to meet their responsibilities? Does the Minister accept that the Government will need additional enforcement mechanisms to fill the gap left by the Commission? Does he accept that a clear framework has to be set while negotiations are ongoing to ensure that the UK’s environmental standards are maintained?
The effectiveness of the EU regulatory regime is due in no small part to the deterrent effect of the power of the EU institutions to hold member states to account and to levy fines for non-compliance. In addition, every year, Defra faces challenges of disallowance and even infraction should it not implement the policies correctly. An effective and independent domestic mechanism will be necessary to ensure compliance by government, public authorities and farmers in undertaking their environmental obligations. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, underlined these concerns in her remarks, which were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Trees.
Our third concern is the future funding of environmental and climate change initiatives and institutions. Although the Government have committed to continuing research funding until 2020, this is a short-term commitment in research planning terms, and so far there has been less of a guarantee of continued funding beyond 2019 for other crucial projects. There is a real danger that bids for government funding post Brexit will be competing for a shrinking pot and that the environment will not be deemed to be a priority. There is a real concern that Defra will not have a seat at the top table when some of these difficult choices are being made. I hope the Minister can confirm that Defra will establish clear objectives for future environmental protection in the UK and will be determined and committed to delivering the level of resources necessary to deliver this. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, made a powerful speech on the Copernicus programme and the UK’s continuing participation in it.
Fourthly, the report identifies the complexities of managing future environmental planning in the context of the devolved Administrations within the UK. Currently, there are differences in environmental and climate change policies between them: for example the Administrations have either legislated their own climate change targets or created their own Act. This difference is likely to increase once we have officially left the EU, and the requirement to act in conformity with EU law is lifted. It is therefore vital that the devolved Administrations and the Government should achieve an appropriate level of policy co-ordination, while still allowing for some distinction to reflect local or regional circumstances. Can the Minister reassure us of the department’s intentions to meet with the devolved bodies frequently during the Brexit negotiations to ensure that the demands of each devolved Administration are properly reflected?
Finally—your Lordships will be glad I have said that word at this late time, and I am sorry I have taken so long—it is crucial that we have a coherent plan to combat climate change once we leave the EU. Up till now, the UK’s contribution to the global debate has predominantly been as an EU member, and historically the EU has provided leadership in shaping the mechanisms that it has introduced to meet collective targets. The report rightly recognised that we will lose our place in the EU negotiating team, and we run the risk of being sidelined unless we can ally with a new bloc.
Several questions arise as the UK will no longer be required to meet all the EU’s targets for renewable energy. Once outside the EU, the UK will not be compelled to report to it on its annual emissions or to submit plans to the EU for corrective action if the UK misses the 2020 targets for reducing emissions. The withdrawal process will need to establish the UK’s obligations under international law, separate from the EU. Can the Minister outline what the Government’s intentions are in this respect?
The election of President Trump has raised the stakes on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, has argued that the UK needs to find a way to play a continuing role of influence. While the US Administration have yet to provide clear policies on climate change, the President has threatened to remove the US from all international climate treaties. This puts a renewed onus on the UK to set out clear policies and be a leader in combating climate change. I would be most grateful if the Minister could outline how the Government intend to respond to this challenge.
This has been a very well-informed debate. It has highlighted the importance of certainty and consistency for institutions, businesses and investors. It is clear that there is a great deal of interest in the progress of discussions both inside and outside this House. Parliament will want to continue to play its part in shaping the outcome. I hope the Minister is able to confirm that all sides of the House will have a full and meaningful role as negotiations commence. I look forward to hearing how he thinks this will best be achieved.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the sub-committee for holding this inquiry, and for the opportunity for this thought-provoking debate today. Although this has predominantly been an environment and climate change debate, I should declare my farming interests as set out in the register. There have been a number of questions that I would like to reflect upon and, given the hour, write a more detailed reply to. Any questions that I am not in a position to attend to, I shall of course respond to in writing to your Lordships.
The committee highlights the scale and complexity of repatriating environmental policy as we exit the EU. This is not something that the Government underestimate—and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, elaborated on the range of issues at large. As the committee’s report indicates, it is of vital importance that policy stability is provided as we leave the EU and that no legislative gaps or uncertainties are created. To provide this stability, as noble Lords know, the Government have set out our plans for a repeal Bill that will convert current EU law into domestic law. We will ensure that the environment is properly protected in law and that—I emphasise this—the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to be given effect in the law of our country, either as it stands or in a manner that ensures that it works as a UK regime.
The department is continuing its work on the operability assessment of EU legislation following exit. This is a matter of process—and I understand the issue, which has arisen before, about one-third and two-thirds. I emphasise that this work is to ensure that the whole body of EU environmental law continues to be given effect in the law of the UK. As I say, it is about ensuring the manner in which it works as a UK regime.
This is also in conjunction with our manifesto pledge to leave the natural environment of this country in a better state than we found it. We want to design an effective approach to driving environmental improvement, tailored to the needs of our country. We will continue to explore the scope for new approaches to regulation which deliver better environmental outcomes, in the context of our commitment to developing a 25-year plan for the environment.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson—and perhaps the majority of your Lordships—found this more a challenge than an opportunity, but I do think that there are opportunities that we should grasp. We should be positive about our joint determination to improve the environment of this country. That is a great opportunity for us all to work on.
The committee considered the role played by EU institutions in ensuring effective enforcement of environmental protection and standards—I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, said—but the UK has always had a strong legal framework for environmental protection which predates our membership of the EU and the oversight provided by its institutions. I was going to refer to the Clean Air Act 1956 as a first example, but my noble friend Lord Caithness took us as far back as the 19th century, when we gave a lead.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, in particular, that we were the first country in the world to introduce legally binding emission reduction targets through the Climate Change Act 2008. Our commitment to the environment can be seen through our action in extending the blue belt: 23 new areas were designated as marine conservation zones only last year. The blue belt now covers more than 20% of English waters, and our record for waters around our overseas territories is also impressive.
In considering the future enforcement mechanism for environmental law, we should recognise the fundamental roles of Parliament, the UK courts and, indeed, the electorate. Parliament is the UK’s supreme law-making body. As we have seen, particularly in this Chamber, it holds Governments to account by questioning and challenging the laws they seek to make and amend. Parliament in turn is accountable to the electorate. Our system of judicial review and its body of public law enables any interested party to challenge the decisions and actions of the Government through the UK courts.
I very much regret the lack of confidence of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, in what I believe are our exceptional UK institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to the Thames Water case and the fine of £20 million. I listened very carefully to the commentary of the Environment Agency spokesperson. It shows exactly that such environmental issues are taken with extreme seriousness and rigour in our domestic courts.
Countries that are not EU members are well capable of driving environmental improvements in their countries. Many countries around the world with strong environmental records would think it extraordinary if we were to say to them, “By the way, you need a supranational body and court to ensure that you behave yourself”. They would feel extremely insulted. I will give way, but time is short.
My view was that I prefer the supranational authority to our Government here; I was not referring to other countries. Sadly, my confidence is lacking in this Government.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not have confidence in our institutions, our Parliament and our courts, because that is in effect what she is saying. She is saying that other countries around the world are well able to look after their own environment. In fact, in many cases, as I have described, we are already leading and are recognised as a leader of the world.
The committee is also anxious—rightly—for the Government to make clear what a free trade agreement with the EU will entail, arguing that this will have implications for future environmental policy. We will negotiate for an ambitious free trade agreement that allows the freest possible trade in goods and services with the EU. Trade and environmental considerations are closely related.
We want to ensure economic growth. Development and environmental protection go hand in hand. More trade does not have to come at the expense of the environment, and a healthy environment is in everyone’s interests. We will explore all options in the design of future bilateral trade and investment agreements, including environmental provisions within them.
In respect of the committee’s specific recommendations to review and evaluate the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, I can assure your Lordships that we are assessing all the opportunities for agriculture and fisheries outside the EU. A number of noble Lords raised this, including my noble friend Lady Byford, who particularly raised the importance of a successful agricultural sector, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. It is absolutely clear that a successful agricultural sector in this country is compatible and has traditionally, in so many parts of our country, been compatible with a good environment.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has always been not only an outstanding champion of Cumbria but also of the national parks, for which it is my great privilege to be responsible at the moment. Farming, landscape, environment, and the agricultural system of the Lake District are absolutely hand in hand and entwined. It has been created by generations of farmers, and it is that agricultural system that has enabled the very designation that we granted to that wonderful part of our countryside.
There is much on which the Government will be working. I would say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds that it is my privilege to sit on the ministerial taskforce on broadband and we are absolutely clear about the need for increasing the rate of superfast broadband in rural areas. We have deliberately trialled the free childcare of 30 hours in rural areas, specifically because we think it is important that everyone in this country has those advantages. We are absolutely clear that, as I say, a great and improved environment and a strong agricultural sector are compatible with each other.
The committee points out a shared interest in maintaining cross-border trade with the EU. The Government agree with that. It highlights the need to co-operate with the EU on environmental pollution—of course, due to its transboundary nature. It is our neighbour and our friend and we should do this.
The committee also expressed some concern that withdrawal from the EU may impact on achieving climate change targets. I can assure noble Lords that we will continue to work closely with EU member states and international partners to tackle environmental issues which demand multilateral co-ordinated action. We will continue to co-operate with the EU on those policy areas where it is important for us to do so, including those issues which have effects across borders.
In relation to achieving carbon targets, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that the Government remain committed to tackling climate change and to low-carbon, secure and affordable energy and clean growth. While we cannot know at this stage what our precise future participation in EU climate measures may be post-exit, the EU will remain an important partner and we are considering how best to continue to work together.
The committee also urged the Government to engage fully in negotiating and influencing EU environmental proposals for the full term of its membership. It expressed concern about the UK’s influence post-exit at both EU and international level. It also stressed the importance of ensuring that the UK adheres to its international commitments. As long as we remain a member of the EU we will continue to play a full part in its activities and to represent the interests of the British people. My ministerial colleagues and officials continue to play an active role in the EU institutions.
I want to emphasise, particularly because it has been emphasised by three noble Lords—the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton—that, after our exit, the UK will continue to honour its international commitments. We are party to multilateral environmental and climate change agreements and are bound by their obligations.
We are signatories, for instance, to: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris agreement, which set binding emissions targets; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; the Montreal protocol, with its ban on most ozone-depleting substances and requirements to reduce hydrofluorocarbons—I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for reminding your Lordships of the London conference, and the advances and all that followed on from that conference; the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Berne convention; the OSPAR Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic; and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, with their restrictions on the movement of hazardous waste and commitments relating to chemicals.
More than just honouring our international commitments, the UK will remain an active country at a global level. The UK has always played a significant role at the international level, whether this be in combating acid rain, or the role that we played last year in extending the Montreal protocol. We have led Europe on issues of environmental protection, let us remember. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provided protection in UK law for vulnerable species more than a decade before the EU introduced the habitats directive. The committee—I particularly draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to this—acknowledged, I believe rightly, the UK’s position as a global leader on climate change. The UK’s acknowledged skills and expertise have been a major factor in developing our influence in international climate and environmental policies. These skills and expertise will stand us in good stead for continuing to influence environmental policies. We will not step back from the international leadership that we have given on climate change.
My noble friend Lord Deben, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, are all Members of your Lordships’ House who have been keen leaders in ensuring that, through all our efforts, we are better with our mitigation and our adaptation. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who has recently handed over to his very worthy successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, the chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and we will continue to remain a very strong partner in that. We are now considering how best to take forward that continued engagement. The UK remains committed to international efforts to tackle climate change, and working with the EU will remain as important as ever. We will also continue to strengthen our relationship with other partner countries and work through multilateral groupings such as the G7, G20 and the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, referred to the Copernicus project; I think that this country has had a proud history of leading and supporting cutting-edge research, and the noble Lord knows more about that than almost anyone. As we exit the EU, Her Majesty’s Government welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science research and technology, so this is very much on the radar as we move into the negotiations.
A number of your Lordships, including the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked about resources, particularly for my department. The committee identified the resource pressures associated with maintaining environmental legislation. The Government are absolutely aware of the implications of EU exit for, in particular, my own department’s work programmes. I can assure your Lordships that Defra’s work programmes and recruitment plans are kept continually under review to ensure that we are staffed to deal with the tasks at hand. We have set up an EU exit programme to help co-ordinate, plan and assist several key work streams and are identifying and filling vacancies on a rolling basis—it has been my privilege to work with many of the officials; their commitment has been 110%, they are working extremely hard and effectively, and I congratulate and thank them.
The committee also raised concerns about the potential risk of divergent approaches to environmental regulation across the United Kingdom. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and all your Lordships that it is absolutely clear that Defra must work closely with the devolved Administrations, as it is doing. We will work in partnership with the devolved Administrations as we form our negotiating strategy for exiting the EU. It will be important to ensure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our union are created. That means maintaining the necessary common standards and frameworks for our own domestic market, empowering the UK as an open, trading nation to strike the best trade deals around the world and protecting the common resources of our islands.
A number of questions were raised. Time is pressing but I wish to respond to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who mentioned the EIB. The Government are in the process of assessing the contribution that the EIB makes. However, we are clear that the future relations between the UK and the EIB will be a matter for the Article 50 negotiations. Again, this is very much on the radar. The actual form of a dispute resolution in future relationships with the EU will also be a matter for the negotiations as they proceed.
A number of other points were raised and I will need to reflect on a considerable number of them and get back to your Lordships. I look forward to the debate on agriculture when your Lordships’ committee brings that forward. However, we have made sure that the current levels of funding for farmers are assured until 2020. Existing environmental stewardship and countryside stewardship agreements are fully funded for their duration. Clearly, we will have a major task in bringing forward our proposals for ensuring that our farmers have a vibrant future in an enhanced environment.
I hope that this has not been an unnecessarily pessimistic debate and wish to emphasise some of the significant gains that this country has achieved in improving its environment. The water environment is in its healthiest state for 25 years, with otter, salmon, sea trout and other wildlife returned to many rivers for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. We have had successful reintroductions of species such as the large blue butterfly, the red kite and the short-haired bumble-bee. We have seen many declining species such as cirl bunting, stone curlew, chough and bittern start to recover, although clearly there is very much more to do. We have an opportunity to develop an environmental policy that is bespoke to our country. We must grasp that opportunity, whatever our opinion of what happened last June. We can unleash the full potential of this country and develop innovative and efficient policies that will enable us to continue working globally on environmental protection.
I again commend the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee on producing this report. It will continue to be of great value as we proceed in securing our objective to enhance the natural environment of our country and leave it in a better state than the one in which we found it. Working together—I emphasise “together”—let us ensure that there is a better environment for all. We should address with clear purpose the adaptation and mitigation of climate change—causes on which we can all unite.
I wish to comment on the remarks about enforcement. This is a very important area. The Minister mentioned the Clean Air Act 1956. I remind the House that that was enacted on the back of the great smog—the catastrophic pollution event in London. Going back to the 19th century, in 1858, London had the great stink, when Parliament had to be evacuated as the sewage that had been dumped in the Thames stank so much. That event led to the London sewerage system being built. My point is that we must be mindful that we have to interfere in a timely manner and we cannot, judging by the events here, wait far too long before it is necessary to act.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I will be as brief as I can. I will not be long. The right reverend Prelate referred to this as an onion. The more the committee looked at this, the bigger and more complex the challenge was. I say to the Minister: the report is not meant to be pessimistic. It is supposed to help find a way through to the other side, and to show what a challenge that is. We are very concerned that the Government have the resources to do it. The Minister’s reassurances tell us that they do.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for adding an element of opposition to the debate. Yes, we are leaders and that is one of the things we say. As the Minister said, Britain has been a leader on climate change. In fact, our concern is that the rest of Europe might backslide without us being there, to our prejudice. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for time-sharing with me in looking after the climate change side.
I will just say something about the institutional side. The point here is that Lords committees get evidence from as wide a range of people as possible, who are not nutters and do not have a single agenda. The biggest message that came through was about how the ECJ and the Commission do not have a role at the moment. We may not like that but that is the message that was given to the committee. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, however good the wish of the present Government—I believe completely in their environment side—that is not necessarily true of future Governments. It would be great if somehow we could solve this institutional thing with the present Government to make sure that future Governments also have to pursue that agenda properly.
I thank everybody for their contributions. I particularly thank Celia Stenderup-Petersen, our clerk; Jennifer Mills, our policy analyst; and David Baldock, our special adviser. We have had an hors d’oeuvre for the agricultural debate that we will have in due course. We look forward to that. Yes, agriculture is integrated but so are energy and transport in terms of the environment; I am sorry we could not do the whole thing.