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House of Commons Hansard
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Exiting the European Union (Environmental Protection)
08 October 2019
Volume 664

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I beg to move,

That the draft Environment and Wildlife (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 24 July, be approved.

The convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES—provides protection for more than 35,000 species of endangered animals and plants, from pangolins to parrots, through to guitars made from rosewood. By regulating international trade in live animals and plants and in parts such as fur, feathers and seeds, the convention aims to reduce the threat to those species in the wild. The UK is completely committed to supporting the work of CITES. At the recent CITES conference of parties in August, the UK used its world-leading scientific and technical expertise to play a pivotal role in proceedings. As a result of those interventions, 93 new species, including giraffes, mako sharks, sea cucumbers and several species of otter, lizard, spider and box turtle have enhanced protection under the convention.

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. This is the first time I have taken part in a debate when he has been at the Dispatch Box. There have been reports about some of this country’s traditional species either disappearing or dropping in number. What are we doing to encourage the growth of those species, given climate change? They are naturally species for the climate of this country.

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The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the collapse in biodiversity in this country, which is mirrored across the world. The purpose of the regulations is to deal with CITES specifically in relation to the import and export of endangered species from abroad, but he is absolutely right to raise the issue. We are completely committed to bringing in an environment Bill—we hope in a matter of weeks—which will set us on a course to reversing the biodiversity loss we are experiencing in this country. We could debate for hours what that involves. I do not think that this is the time for that, but it has my commitment—I am sure my colleague on the Front Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), would make the same commitment—to do everything we can, for as long as we are in the Government, to play our role in turning around the extinction crisis we are experiencing in this country.

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While the Minister is on this subject and while you are allowing us to go into these areas, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is critically important that we plant more native species for exactly the reasons offered. Ash dieback is a good example, there is the disease affecting oak trees, and we know that horse chestnuts have suffered too in recent years, yet Network Rail and local authorities continue to decimate our tree population. To compensate for just that, the Government need a planting scheme of unprecedented proportions. I want millions more trees planted and there is no better Minister than this one, who has been such a champion of the environment throughout his political career, to be the spearhead to take that forward.

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I thank my right hon. Friend very much for his kind words and his intervention. He is absolutely right. We need a hugely ambitious tree planting programme for this country. We do have an ambitious tree planting programme, but my view is that we need to step it up even further. We are certainly planning to do so and there will be, I can tell him tantalisingly, some announcements soon to that effect. It is not just about planting trees; it is also about ecosystems and encouraging wildlife in all its forms. As he knows, one of the advantages of leaving the European Union is that we can change the common agricultural policy to a system that, instead of paying people simply for owning land—effectively, simply for being wealthy—we will be paying them subsidies in return for providing public goods like improving biodiversity, flood prevention and so on. This is one of the great Brexit bonuses that I am looking forward to.

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I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Further to his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), we now have an opportunity, with a new agricultural policy, to plant the right kind of trees. We need the right advice to plant trees in the right place so they do not get diseases and are not destroyed later. We have a real opportunity to make practical changes, moving on from the common agricultural policy, that work in different parts of the country. Different trees may need to be planted in different climatic conditions.

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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and all the work he has done on these and associated issues. I could not agree with him more. I look forward to the publication of our tree strategy in a couple of months. From what I have seen so far, it will address those concerns head-on.

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The Minister will be aware that my constituency will be included in the northern forest, which we are very excited about. I know he is very busy, but I invite him to come to North Lincolnshire where, in a couple of weeks’ time, North Lincolnshire Council will be launching its own new environmental strategy to ensure that the resources it has, be they grass verges or open green spaces, are better utilised to increase the amount of habitat available. We will be launching that very shortly and he is welcome to visit at any time.

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I thank my hon. Friend very much. I have heard a bit about what his council is doing and it does sound inspired. I would love to take him up on his very kind invitation. We will talk later. Now I am going to make some progress.

The Government’s support for CITES is just one part of a much bigger and wider commitment to tackling the catastrophic loss of biodiversity we are now facing. At the UN General Assembly a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced a new £220 million international biodiversity fund to protect and restore biodiversity. The new fund will provide support for, among other things, a new biodiverse landscapes initiative, substantial uplifts to the world-renowned Darwin fund, and work to combat the illegal wildlife trade, including for the IWT Challenge Fund. He also announced a doubling of international climate finance to £11.6 billion. That will provide for a massive scaling up of nature-based solutions to climate change, which are vital if we are serious about averting the threat not only of mass extinctions, but of climate change. The proposed legislation makes sure that after we leave the European Union, the regulations implementing CITES will work in the UK.

CITES is currently implemented in the EU through a number of regulations known as the EU wildlife trade regulations. Those EU regulations will become retained EU law on exit day. We have already made various EU exit regulations to make the legislation work in the UK. This statutory instrument corrects the drafting in one of the previous EU exit instruments.

The EU regulations put in place a system of permits and certificates for cross-border movement of specimens of endangered species. The main EU regulation, No. 338/97, contains a number of derogations—exceptions—from the permitting regime. Further detailed provisions on derogations are then set out in a subsidiary, implementing regulation, No. 865/2006. The main regulation gives the European Commission powers to legislate and set out these rules in subsidiary legislation.

We are talking here about specific provisions. The main regulation contains derogations in articles 7(1) to 7(3). These relate to specimens of species born and bred in captivity or artificially propagated, specimens in transit, and specimens that are personal and household effects. Article 7 currently gives the European Commission legislative powers to make further detailed provisions on these derogations, and that has been done in subsidiary legislation—EU regulation No. 865/2006.

These derogations cover, for example, the process by which someone may be able to import certain artificially propagated orchid hybrids without the normally required CITES paperwork and checks, recognising the low conservation risk that that trade has. They also govern how someone might be able to move a piece of rosewood furniture when a family moves from one country to another.

This SI ensures that the Secretary of State has the necessary legislative powers to amend detailed provisions on key derogations in retained EU law. It corrects the drafting in a previous SI, the Environment and Wildlife (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019—henceforth referred to as SI 2019/473—which will in turn amend CITES-related retained EU law on exit day. SI 2019/473 provides for the Secretary of State to carry out functions currently performed by the European Commission and for her to set out the detailed provisions on the relevant article 7 derogations “in writing”.

This proposed SI makes two amendments. The first corrects a drafting error, so that the Secretary of State can set out the regulatory detail of the derogations “in regulations”, as opposed to “in writing”. That will ensure that the Secretary of State has the legislative power to amend the retained EU law provisions after exit. This ensures that we can, for example, amend the detailed derogation provisions to strengthen the controls that we have in line with our oft-stated policy aims. The second amendment provides that regulations made by the Secretary of State in respect of these derogations will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the negative resolution procedure.

The Government have made it clear that the intention is to raise the bar for environmental standards when we leave the European Union. This includes our efforts to protect endangered species and our commitment to CITES.

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When Ministers are outlining what is going to happen in the House, it is also important that the regional devolved Administrations, whether they are in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, are under the same rules and regulations. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case—that what he is bringing before the House tonight on environmental protection will also apply to Northern Ireland, which I represent?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. This instrument deals with entirely reserved matters. A draft of it has been shared with the devolved Administrations, but for information, the answer is that it will apply across the board.

These changes have been made because they are necessary to make it clear that the Secretary of State has the power not simply to take administrative action, but to legislate and amend retained EU law in respect of these key derogations. This will ensure that retained EU law is operable on exit.

In conclusion, I reiterate that this instrument will ensure that the Secretary of State can amend detailed provisions on key derogations in the regime implementing CITES. It provides for regulations made by the Secretary of State in respect of those derogations to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the negative resolution procedure. This instrument is thus necessary to ensure the full operability of retained EU law after we leave the EU. For those reasons, I therefore commend this legislation to the House.

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I am afraid we are here again, for the second SI in a row, correcting mistakes in previous statutory instruments that the Government rushed through. Just as before, the Opposition will not oppose this SI, because there was a mistake in a previous SI that the Government pushed through, but we did at the time highlight that there could be errors, given the speed.

I welcome the new Minister to his place in the main Chamber, having already done so in a debate in Westminster Hall. I am grateful to him for setting out that this SI corrects the drafting in a previous SI. The rest of his speech was very nice, but it concerned an SI we have already passed. The only thing this SI does is allow the Minister to make regulations. In error, the previous SI said he could only make them in writing, which meant administrative actions which do not carry the same weight as regulatory actions in relation to CITES and other wildlife protection legislation.

There is cross-party agreement that that legislation is very important, and some of the interventions the Minister took were on topics that were also very important, if nothing to do with the SI. The only thing this SI does is correct the mistake of the Minister’s predecessor. I do feel for him a wee bit in that respect because he had to say a lot of nice words before he got to the meat of it, which was: “Here’s another mistake we’ve made, and we’re going to correct it.”

I am grateful to the Whips for putting this in the main Chamber, rather than a Committee. Had it been in Committee, no one would have known that the Government had yet again made a mistake in their statutory instruments. Instead, they have given us a platform for all the countless people who like watching SIs on parliamentlive.tv to watch one in the Chamber.

I have high hopes for the Minister. I hope that his insurgent and provocative manner on the Back Benches to drive change from the Government on animal welfare in particular will pay dividends. In the past, we have had lots of soundbites, promises and consultations, but very little action—[Interruption.] And many Ministers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) says. I have high hopes that he will not accept the rum deal that his predecessors were putting out.

As with the Minister in the previous debate, I know that this Minister will be robust in this regard, and I hope this will be the last time that either has to come to the House to correct an SI that has been pushed through too fast without proper scrutiny or work. I suspect other errors will be found, however, particularly in the surge of SIs around February and March. This is not the first, the second or the third time the House has had to correct a drafting error in an SI.

I politely say to the Minister that a piece of work could usefully be done by DEFRA officials, who, to be fair, have had the most SIs to get through. Though no blame is being attached to them, the speed at which the SIs were reviewed will inevitably have let through some gremlins, such as this one. This was an important one to catch because the powers in article 7 that he set out are important. We need to make sure the Secretary of State has the ability to correct and make regulations, rather than just make administrative pronouncements.

I encourage the Minister not to accept any such errors and to make sure there is a robust process in place, because I suspect that this will not be last time he has to stand at the Dispatch Box to correct an SI that has gone wrong. That said, I also encourage him to carry on fighting the good fight, because there is lots to be done on animal welfare and climate change in his Department. The Opposition wish him well in that. There is cross-party support for more robust animal welfare action, and, as we have seen from the protestors outside, more robust action on climate change.

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I, too, welcome the Minister to his position and acknowledge his understanding of the subject. It has just occurred to me that the Environmental Audit Committee has been a magnificent educator of MPs. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who is not in her place, is to be congratulated on her drive. Maybe I will assume a similar role some time in an independent Scotland.

We in the SNP, regardless of our opposition in principle and in its entirety to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, fully understand that continuity is important and that SIs are necessary to preserve the framework around the status quo. The UK Government have now stated their intention to diverge from current EU regulation in a range of areas, including environmental standards. That is a backward step towards the UK’s once again becoming known as the dirty man of Europe.

How ridiculous it is that Chamber time is again being taken up by discussion of what are largely technical amendments. It is simply a demonstration of how chaotic the Government have become and of the crippling ongoing uncertainty that the Tory party has caused across the UK to individuals, families, small and medium-sized enterprises and larger businesses alike. This is a shameful state of affairs.

Let me say, as a member of the very effective Environmental Audit Committee, that our eyes were opened to the variety and the range of invasive species from which we are at risk. One of the greatest threats to biodiversity worldwide is posed by invasive non-native species, and that threat is particularly pronounced in relation to fragile island ecosystems.

Scotland has led the way in the UK and is often praised at our Committee meetings. Indeed, no less a person than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said:

“I have to be honest, there are things that both the Scottish and Welsh Administrations have done that have been admirable and in advance of what has been done in England, so they have set the standard for the UK.”

Is it any wonder therefore that Scotland takes the environment very seriously and that we as a country remain concerned about any power grab back to Westminster and the threat of any deterioration in standards?

The EU created a statutory framework to prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species. The European Union’s 2015 regulation to address the problem on an EU scale will help to protect the British Isles from the introduction of invasive species, including those from mainland Europe, and will thus contribute to our efforts to adhere to the internationally adopted approach to non-native species, which prioritises the prevention of introduction over intervention post-introduction. It is very much a case of an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure.

Imposing a UK-wide framework for the environment risks undermining the significant progress that Scotland has made. We have grave concerns about the UK Government’s Brexit power grab, particularly in relation to environmental protections. We are not opposed to UK-wide frameworks when they are in Scotland’s interests, but they must be agreed and not imposed. That must also happen in a manner that respects and recognises devolution. The First Minister has made it clear that any threat to Scotland’s distinctive and ambitious approach to environmental standards and climate change is completely unacceptable.

Imposing UK frameworks could do substantial damage to work done by the Scottish Government. For instance, we used EU rules to ban genetically modified crops in Scotland to protect our environment and to support Scottish agriculture. There is no such ban in England. A UK-wide framework could see the ban lifted, threatening Scotland’s clean, green brand and placing the future of its £14 billion food and drink sector under a needless and avoidable threat.

Scotland has gained international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy, and make no mistake: that worldwide recognition will be protected by Scottish National party MPs. Scotland has already halved emissions. Net zero emissions will require different and more difficult choices than have been made to date, but we will make those difficult decisions and have those difficult conversations. Furthermore, in direct response to the Paris agreement, the Scottish Government’s climate change Bill will maintain our legislation as the most stringent in the world.

It seems appropriate for me to end by quoting what was said by a Minister in the Scottish Government about frameworks. We should be mindful of her words. She said:

“Imposing a UK-wide framework for the environment risks undermining the significant progress Scotland has made, which has seen us win international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy.

We are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas but this must be through agreement—not imposition.

Protecting devolution will allow us to drive forward our ambitious work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance environmental standards and create a cleaner, greener Scotland for everyone.”

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I had not intended to contribute to this brief debate until I heard the contribution from the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally). I simply wish to point out, partly for his benefit and partly for the House’s edification, the two fundamental contradictions in his argument. The first was that he felt that this matter should not be debated on the Floor of the House. Yet, time and again, we hear Opposition speakers argue—the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), was happy enough to acknowledge this—that we should be debating things on the Floor of the House, that they should not be debated upstairs in a Committee Room and that they should be debated in a way that allows as many Members as possible to participate.

The second irony at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s argument was that he made a case for devolution of power to Scotland on the grounds of particularity, yet he does not seem to want devolution from the European Union to here, which is what these regulations are about. The regulations are clear that they transfer powers currently held by the European Commission to this House, allowing us to make more sensitive decisions in tune with the needs of this kingdom—this country. I thought it extraordinarily ironic that the hon. Gentleman should make a case for the very particularity that these regulations afford this House and this Government.

My brief contribution was designed to help the hon. Gentleman to refine his future contributions. I know that he will welcome that help.

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I will be quick, because there is an important debate coming up.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this afternoon’s debate. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for the tone of his contribution. I have no doubt—indeed, I know—that he is very serious about taking on the challenges that we have been discussing today. I appreciate the manner in which he engages on this issue. I note his comments and absolutely accept his challenge. The insurgency will continue.

I also thank the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally). I believe that his concerns about standards dropping after Brexit are unfounded. With every week that passes and every piece of legislation that the Government introduce, we will demonstrate that he is wrong. No doubt, he will be happy to be proven wrong on that point.

The UK remains committed to effectively regulating trade in endangered species to ensure that that trade does not threaten the survival of those species in the wild. These regulations will ensure the operability of retained EU law implementing CITES after we leave the EU, specifically by ensuring that detailed provisions on key derogations can be amended by the Secretary of State.

Question put and agreed to.