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Environment and Wildlife (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, the instrument before your Lordships makes technical amendments to maintain the effectiveness and continuity of retained direct EU legislation that would otherwise be left partially inoperable, so that the law as of today will continue to function properly following exit. There are no policy changes made by this instrument.

The purpose of these regulations, in line with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, is to provide for public authorities in the UK to exercise a series of legislative functions currently conferred by EU legislation on the European Commission. In each case, the legislative function was conferred on the EU Commission so that it can interrogate the technical details of a specific EU regime and adapt them to changes without the frequent need to refer back to the EU Council and EU Parliament. These powers are clearly defined and strictly limited to technical and administrative matters. They are not the kind of matter for which we would generally, in the domestic context, require primary legislation. Rather, they would be suitable to be dealt with by secondary legislation or administratively.

Examples of these functions include specifying the forms to be used, amending technical annexes to reflect advances in scientific and technical knowledge, and updating annexes to reflect requirements under international agreements. We need the UK authorities to be able to continue to update such technical details for ongoing domestic purposes to ensure that the legislation can keep pace with change, including technological developments and our international commitments, without the need for primary legislation every time a change in such matters is required.

Parliaments and Assemblies in the UK have, until now, had little input into how these powers are exercised. In each case, these regulations set out the procedure for the exercise of these legislative functions in future. With two minor exceptions, the powers will be exercised through secondary legislation that will be subject to the scrutiny of our Parliaments.

This SI makes a number of adjustments. These represent no changes in policy, nor will they have any impact on businesses or the public.

Regulation 2 confers functions under the EU regulation on persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. These include a power to amend POPs waste concentration limits for the purpose of adapting to scientific and technical progress, and to ban, restrict or modify the use of POPs in accordance with international agreements.

Regulations 3 and 6 confer functions under the EU regulations on illegal timber and timber products. These include a power to recognise licensing schemes in partner countries to form the basis of licensing, and to amend the list of timber products to which the licensing scheme applies.

Regulation 4 confers functions under the EU regulation establishing a European pollutant release and transfer register. These include a power to take measures to initiate reporting on releases of relevant pollutants from diffuse sources where no data exists, and to adopt guidelines for the monitoring and reporting of emissions.

Regulation 5 confers functions under the EU regulation on transfrontier shipments of waste. These include a power to establish and amend technical and organisational requirements for the practical implementation of electronic data interchange for the submission of documents and information.

Regulation 7 confers functions under the EU regulation on the Nagoya protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. These include a power to establish and amend procedures for monitoring user compliance and for recognising best practice.

Regulation 8 confers functions under the EU regulation on mercury. These include a power to specify the forms to be used for export and import restrictions, and to set out technical requirements for the environmentally sound interim storage of mercury, mercury compounds and mixtures of mercury.

Regulation 9 confers one legislative function contained in an EU directive relating to industrial emissions. The power relates to determining best available techniques for preventing or minimising emissions from activities covered by the directive.

Regulations 10 and 11 confer functions under the EU regulations governing the use of leghold traps and the import of pelts and goods. These include a power to grant derogations from the ban on the import of pelts and other products, and to determine the appropriate forms for certification of imported goods incorporating pelts of listed species.

Regulation 12 confers functions under the EU regulation implementing CITES. These include a power to establish restrictions on the introduction into the UK of listed species, and to provide for derogations from certain provisions.

As I have explained, in future we will exercise these powers through laying statutory instruments before Parliament. However, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the two minor cases where administrative procedures will be used, rather than secondary legislation. These relate to POPs and leghold traps. In the first case, the administrative function being conferred concerns the determination of the format for the provision of information by the competent authority; in the second, it concerns the publication of model forms for use by importers.

In addition, the regulations also amend the retained direct EU legislation in the context of the provisions conferring these legislative functions where that is necessary to make it function properly after exit. An example of such an amendment is changing references from “Community legislation” to “retained EU law”.

These regulations extend and apply to the whole of the UK and deal with both reserved and devolved matters. In the case of reserved matters, the legislative function is conferred on the Secretary of State to exercise on behalf of the whole of the UK. We have consulted extensively with the devolved Administrations on legislative functions that relate to devolved matters and, where appropriate, they have consented to our proceeding by means of these regulations. Where matters are devolved, functions are conferred on the Secretary of State and Ministers for the devolved Administrations. The default position is that each Administration will be able to exercise a function separately. However, where devolved Administrations consent on a case-by-case basis, the Secretary of State will be able to exercise functions on their behalf.

The amendments in these regulations ensure that UK law will continue to operate smoothly. They are the minimum required to achieve their objective and make no changes in substantive policy content. To the extent that they affect devolved matters, the devolved Administrations have given their consent to both the policy and wording of the regulations. I beg to move.

My Lords, this SI introduces to us a number of important protections which we are presently receiving from the European Union. It is very encouraging that the Government are maintaining parliamentary scrutiny through the majority of SIs. However, I would like just to pick up on the issue of leghold traps.

Can the Minister be a bit clearer, and give a bit more detail, about why we will not be going down the route of parliamentary scrutiny on this issue, which is quite controversial? I appreciate that there may be administrative reasons, but if you look at all the pieces of legislation where it is being suggested that we will be maintaining parliamentary scrutiny, leghold traps are an issue that I think that the public would have a particular interest in. They may know very little about mercury or POPs, important though they are, but quite a few people have a view on leghold traps. They might want to know in a little more detail why they will not be getting the treatment of parliamentary scrutiny through secondary legislation.

The other point I wish to make on this SI, which seems entirely proportionate, is that it brings to the fore the issue of how we are going to align our policies with our partners in future. I particularly cite the issue of CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—where it is critical that we have an alignment of regulation, given the huge issue of wildlife crime, to which I know the Government have made some very welcome commitments. I am sure there is nothing in this SI in terms of changing the regulations about how the Government wish to manage that, but it affords me the opportunity to raise the issue of how the Government are going to maintain a very clear alignment with our colleagues in Europe on particularly important issues around wildlife crime.

My Lords, these regulations will allow UK authorities to exercise legislative functions in the UK after exit day in a range of areas, including, as has already been outlined, persistent organic pollutants, importation of timber products and derogations from certain CITES provisions.

The Explanatory Memorandum says that this statutory instrument does not make any substantive policy changes, but the UK public authorities exercising these newly transferred functions could immediately make changes that would have significant environmental impacts. So these regulations open up the way for significant policy changes. In view of the scale and importance of the powers being transferred to the appropriate public authority, can the Minister give assurances on the following concerns?

Will these powers remain with the Secretary of State and the equivalent in the devolved Administrations and not be delegated further? Bearing in mind the comments made during the debate on a previous SI, on the governance gap and the lack of an oversight and sanctioning body, how will these public authorities be held accountable? How will complaints against their operation of these new powers be handled?

The SI does not include mechanisms for enabling access to the necessary expert and technical advice. Do the appropriate public authorities have access to sufficient expert or technical input, and will that be sought and published on every change proposed? How do the Government intend to access the wealth of scientific and technical expertise and data available across the EU which might not be replicable within the UK? What access will the UK have, during the implementation period and after EU exit, to the EU’s systems for tracking and sharing relevant data?

Turning to the issue of consultation, what commitment will the Government make for consultation on the future exercise of these powers and proposals for changes by the appropriate public authority? The statutory instrument lays out, at Regulation 9(10), limited consultation arrangements in one specific area under the powers to make decisions on best available technique—BAT—but not on any other powers. Can the Minister assure the House that wide consultation will be the norm, with stakeholders, NGOs and the public?

I now turn to devolution. These amending regulations, as the Minister has explained, cover legislation in areas where all four nations are currently bound by the same EU requirements. The Minister very kindly at his briefing session assured us that the regulations have been discussed and agreed with the devolved Administrations, and the degree of devolution in transferring the powers to an appropriate public body has been designed on the basis of whether the matters are reserved matters. That was fine where the policy framework and the standards were EU-wide while implementation was devolved to the four nations. In the future, when policy and implementation are devolved to the nations, divergence in standards could happen quite quickly. This would have an impact on businesses operating across the four nations and on their ability to trade with our EU neighbours.

Let me give an example from Part 3 of the statutory instrument. BAT—best available technique—is one of the foundations of environmental regulation covering industrial emissions and is the basis of the regulation of things such as cement plants, steel works, power stations and chemical works that create emissions. If we have four different versions, potentially, of best available technique across the four nations, how would UK-wide regulated companies cope? How would they trade their technologies to our European neighbours, which might be regulating against a fifth version of best available technology? This cannot be sensible. That is only one example of how diverging standards across the four nations would not be good for British business and possibly not good for the environment as well.

I welcome the confirmation from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 28 January in the other place of the Government’s,

“intention to work towards a common framework for a number of different regulations”.—[Official Report, Commons, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 28/1/19; cols. 7-8.].

Can the Minister tell the House when this common framework will be published and when it will come into effect? What regulations will it cover?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses for their contributions to this debate.

I hope that I can clarify immediately for the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, the issue of leghold traps. Perhaps I should have referred to it, but in my opening remarks I said that Regulations 10 and 11 confer functions under the EU regulations governing the use of leghold traps and the import of pelts. I went on then to talk about the distinct two elements, which are in effect about forms and the format of forms. By way of reassurance, it is not that there will be no requirement for statutory instruments on leghold traps but that, candidly—proportionately—most people would think it unreasonable to have a statutory instrument on the format of a form. I hope that I can immediately take that concern out of the way.

On CITES, we are considered a very strong participant in CITES and we take our international obligations extremely seriously. I was at the conference in London during the passage of the Ivory Bill and many countries there recognised what our country is doing. We are a party to CITES in our own right. We have higher protections than mandated by that convention, and we will comply with all international decisions made at the CITES meeting in May this year. Clearly, it is important that there is alignment not only among us in Europe but across the world to ensure the importance of looking after wildlife around the world. Certainly, our commitment in terms of our international obligations is very strong. Whatever arrangements there are, we will want to work very closely with partners in the EU and internationally.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, if this statutory instrument is passed today, we will be in a position through statutory instruments to make changes. These are distinct technical areas that we are taking forward, but more generally I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness and noble Lords that we wish to enhance rather than retreat. There may be changes, but this particular statutory instrument deals with those technical points that we are drawing back.

The issue of expertise is hugely important. The Government rely on the best experts available. We will use our consultation principles requiring relevant expert advice to be sought where appropriate, and those affected by any policy must be properly consulted. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that, in the case of these regulations, Regulation 9(10) explicitly requires the Secretary of State, or DA Ministers as appropriate, to consult bodies and persons likely to be affected. Of course, many of the obligations relevant to these regulations derive from our participation in international conventions such as the Stockholm convention on POPs and the CITES convention and will continue to involve us directly in multilateral expert dialogues. But the noble Baroness is right. Clearly in this area we will want to seek the views of experts and we will want to consult.

Access to EU systems will clearly be a matter for negotiation. We are all working for a deal, but I very much hope that, in terms of access, the importance of mutuality across the continent will mean that we continue to work collaboratively together.

I do not have in front of me a precise note of timings on the common framework, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The discussions that we have had with the devolved Administrations on this matter and others show that, for all the political knockabout, it makes sense in so much of this to work together on a UK basis. That is why, although some of the matters are devolved, we have worked extremely collaboratively and productively with the devolved Administrations. The whole purpose of the common framework is to acknowledge exactly what the noble Baroness said. We all agree mutually that any divergence should be the exception in something like this because I am sure that we all—in England in the UK Government and in the devolved Administrations—want to work positively for the environment. As soon as I am in a position to clarify anything further about the common framework I will, but all I can say is that I hear very positive signs of what I think we would all suggest was a common-sense way forward on such important matters.

I will study Hansard and if there are any particular points that I have not covered, I will of course write. In the meantime, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.