Saturday, 11 January 2020

Some debate from yesterday re environmental issues.  they all tak a good talk but any action...????

Yesterday the Lords debated various aspects of the Queen’s speech, including on defence, foreign affairs, climate and the environment. I’ve summarised the main points of interest for the Environment Bill and picked up some other points on the way. Overall, the key points raised in our briefing (OEP, standards, targets) got a pretty good airing. Full Hansard here and here:

·        Defra Minister L Gardiner of Kimble opened the debate for the government:
o   In all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards
o   A new system of farm payments will reward farmers and land managers for their work delivering public goods
o   The fisheries bill will invigorate our vital coastal communities by taking back control of our waters so that we can manage our marine environments in a sustainable way
o   By embedding environmental ambition at the heart of government policy-making at every level, we will help everyone to tackle the greatest environmental priorities of our time
o   We will include ambitious legislative measures in our newly strengthened (trying to get some intel on what these words mean!) environment bill to improve air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency, water resource management in a changing climate, and establish a new, world-leading independent office for environmental protection
o   L Collins of Highbury opened the debate for Labour, quoting directly from our briefing: the expected reintroduction of the environment bill hints at a bold agenda, including through a framework for setting legally binding targets on air, nature, water and waste, yet the Bill still falls short, with current standards at risk and existing protections set to be weaker. It should include a legally binding commitment to maintain existing standards and prevent backsliding on environmental standards after Brexit. We need to ensure that the office for environmental protection is genuinely independent of government and equipped with the necessary resources and powers to hold government and public authorities to account
·        B Ritchie of Downpatrick (Un-affiliated and former SDLP Leader) gave her maiden speech in the debate. She emailed to say thanks for the briefing and that she’d like to meet to discuss environmental governance in NI
·        Bp Oxford also gave his maiden speech in which he said we are living through an environmental catastrophe and said there is a moral imperative to act for the sake of the earth and for the sake of the poorest. He said this is one of those “very rare moments when to do the right thing ethically is also doing the right thing for the economic prosperity of the country and our place in the world”
·        B Sheehan (LD) commented on the PM’s domestic environmental ambitions and queried whether his proposed legislation give real teeth to its enforcer? Will the enforcement body be independent of government and accountable to Parliament? Will it operate openly? She said the answers to these questions will shed much light on this government’s direction of travel
·        B Young of Old Scone (Lab) raised some of the points in our briefing including the absence of a legal commitment to maintain standards, a strong, independent watchdog and the need for toucher provisions on targets
·        L Krebs (CB) also referred to the OEP - for it to be effective, it will need real teeth, be genuinely independent and be properly funded. As a minimum, it should have powers equivalent to the current EU system of imposing court fines on national governments for failure to comply with legally binding standards
·        L Randall of Uxbridge (Con) said that enshrining the 25-year environment plan will be paramount for the country. “We must not let this opportunity pass. We must make it a real, meaningful change to the way we treat our nature, which we all enjoy and depend on for our very lives in so many ways”. He said real, meaningful funding for both Natural England and the Environment Agency is of “paramount importance”
·        B Byford (Con) totally agreed with L Krebs on the setting up of the OEP: it must be independent, must be financed properly and must have teeth, for without that, it will fail. She hoped that the four bills will give us the opportunity to rethink the ways in which we tackle six additional issues: waste, especially food waste; packaging; plastics; fly-tipping; recycling; and renewable energy projects
·        B Bennett of Manor Castle (Green) called for the school climate strikers to have representation in Parliament
·        B Northover closed the debate for the Lib Dems, stressing the importance of a watchdog with teeth
·        L Stevenson of Balmacara closed the debate for Labour and said the proof of the pudding will come when we see the actual text of the Bills which will carry forward the government’s plans and get a sense of whether, in this Parliament, the government is prepared to work with this House on amendments which will improve what it is wishing to do
·        Defence Minister B Goldie closed the debate for the government. She repeated the government mantra for the environment bill: through the environment bill we are embedding environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government through legislative measures to improve air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency and water resource management in a changing climate

Ruth Chambers

GUK’s non-regression amendment (NC27) was selected and briefly debated this evening in the Commons during the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill:

·        Debbie Abrahams spoke to NC27, drawing heavily on the notes that Sarah drafted. Caroline Lucas indicated her support for it through a brief intervention
·        Conservative backbencher Philip Dunne made a broadly helpful intervention in which he had “considerable sympathy with the spirit and principles underlying the new clause” and asked the Minister to indicate how the government intended to take account of that spirit and intent in future legislation and specifically to “explain the extent to which the protections sought in new clause 27 are likely to be enshrined in it”
·        However, he did then go on to say he found the territorial jurisdiction of the amendment flawed as environmental protection is primarily a devolved matter and even expressed surprise that the SNP had not raised that point (sounds like a point fed to him by the whips)
·        Layla Moran referred to environmental standards and expressed concern that the environment bill, which the government says will replace EU legislation, does not operate on the stronger precautionary principle to which the EU’s environmental standards currently operate
·        DExEU Minister James Duddridge responded for the government but did not commit to including a specific provision in the Environment Bill so I think we can justifiably follow this up in the Lords:
o   We will maintain and uphold high standards for workers, consumers and the environment. We do not have to follow EU rules to achieve that; we can do it on our own. We have made that clear in the revised political declaration and through our commitment to introduce legislation that will enshrine those high standards in our laws
o   …the underlying point is that there will be no regression. We have committed to environmental rights, and I will go into more detail on how we will move ahead of what the EU is currently doing and of what it proposes to do.
·        In response to an intervention from Debbie on whether the principles of NC27 will be included in the environment bill if they are not to be included in this Bill, the Minister responded that the answer, in spirit, is yes, but I do not want to give a resounding yes, just in case there is one comma in one part of the hon. Lady’s amendment that deviates from what we are doing. He then obviously found his note from the bill manager and went on to say:
o   New clause 27 addresses further environmental issues. Sadly, the Government cannot support the new clause; I shall go into some detail on why. The UK is an advanced modern economy with a long history of environmental protections supported by strong legal frameworks that in some cases predate the EU. We will shortly bring forward an environment Bill that will set ambitious new domestic frameworks for environmental governance, including—crucially—the establishment of the office for environmental protection. The legislation will build on the 25-year environmental plan, which we are part-way through—admittedly, it is early on in the 25-year plan—and provide the assurances that will be upheld
·        In response to a challenge from Caroline Lucas on the weakness of the OEP he said:
o   There ain’t no point in having one of these things if it does not have teeth and if it does not bark and have a bit of bite, so I can commit the Government on all those points. The Government are committed to remaining a world-leader in environmental protection once we have left the UK. Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to put the environment front and centre in our policy making
·        New clause 6 on parliamentary approval of the future relationship was also debated. This would have ensured that MPs had a guaranteed vote with an amendable motion on the EU-UK Future Relationship and negotiating objectives. MPs voted against this by 347 votes to 251. We explicitly asked Debbie not to seek a division on new clause 27

Best wishes


Llinos Price

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