European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Richard BenyonMain Page: Richard Benyon (Conservative) - Newbury)
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(2 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
Absolutely. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s very good point.
We support new clause 67, which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which would protect environmental provisions. This is linked to a constituency concern that I have. Last week, I visited the Tarmac quarry at Cairneyhill, near Caldercruix in my constituency. It provides 30 good jobs and some of its staff have worked there for decades. Aggregate industry businesses such as Tarmac are energy and carbon-intensive, but they are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint as responsible operators. The EU emissions trading system has underpinned the UK’s carbon reduction commitments for many years and provided a basis from which companies such as Tarmac operate. They need to know whether we will be in or out of the EU ETS. If we are out, what will the new rules be? Will they be linked to the EU ETS or to schemes such as the one in California? How will that be paid for? Who will police the rules?
It is simply not good enough for the UK Government just to say, as they have so far, that this is subject to the negotiations, and here is why: businesses such as Tarmac make very long-term investment decisions that are based on their certainty of legislation and regulation. At my visit last week, we talked about Tarmac’s plans for the Cairneyhill site 20 years down the line. It is not just for its own business’s benefit that it does this; it is to protect the supply chain for infrastructure projects commissioned by Governments across these isles. Will the Minister guarantee that EU ETS allowances issued to UK operators for 2018 will be accepted for compliance purposes at the end of the EU ETS accounting year? Without such a guarantee, UK companies will face a bill that might run into millions. This uncertainty and lack of detail is concerning businesses and stakeholders across industry and civic life, especially with the ramping up of the Government’s nonsensical no-deal rhetoric.
We have before us a mess of a Bill, but that is little wonder given that, from the start of the process, the Government have made a mess of Brexit. From taking the electorate for granted before the referendum to assuming they did not need to plan for a leave vote, triggering article 50 before they were prepared, and calling a snap election to strengthen their position but in fact creating chaos, they have made a mess of Brexit. Our amendments would provide certainty in areas of confusion, confirming our existing rights and protecting them from those who wish to sweep them away, and would finally lift EU nationals living here from their tortuous limbo. We must give them protection and the lifeline assurance of the right to remain that the Government have disgracefully denied them. I commend amendment 70 to the Committee.
I do not share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and others about national policy statements. I think they are, and can be made, binding and robust in how a Government seek to protect and enhance the environment. Yes, life will be more complicated for green organisations and, indeed, those of us who are passionate about our environment, because we will have to pound away at every Government of whatever colour to ensure that their national policy statement is ambitious and wants to deliver an environment that is better than that which we found. That applies to all the other statements that this Government—and future Governments, I am sure—will try to secure. I honestly feel that there is a desire in the country and the House for that process to be robust, and it will require a hard-fought democratic process to ensure that a national policy statement is what it sets out to be.
Break in Debate
I shall move on, because I will otherwise fail to address the key issues that I wish to address. Before I first gave way, I was talking about the discussions between Government Members, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State’s advisers and the Greener UK representatives. Those discussions were meaningful—in some cases they lasted a long time—and they led to a broad agreement on a solution. I am delighted to say that that is the solution the Secretary of State has presented in the past few days.
The Committee has heard most of the details already, but my right hon. Friend has committed not only to creating a strong, independent body with teeth that can hold the Government and their successor Governments to account on the environment, but a policy statement—the policy statement we have already been debating—that will set out and define those key environmental principles.
There is a hierarchy of national policy statements. They are not all the same, and some have sharper teeth than others. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury knows more about that than I do, and I invite him to intervene.
My right hon. Friend has a closer experience of this issue than I do.
The solution presented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reflects a consensus reached between parliamentary colleagues and between his Department and the main representatives of Greener UK, who by and large have publicly welcomed the policy. I invite Members to look through the Twitter accounts of some of this country’s leading environmental campaigners and lawyers to see that, generally speaking, there is a high level of enthusiasm for the Secretary of State’s promises.
I agree very strongly with the sentiments behind many of the amendments that have been tabled, and to which hon. Members have already spoken. I am delighted the amendments were tabled, because they have had the effect of sharpening and focusing minds. I found them useful in my discussions with the Secretary of State, but I hope it will at least be acknowledged, particularly by Opposition Members, as it has been by the key pressure groups, that the amendments have already done their job.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not in his place at the moment but, if he is listening, I put on record my very sincere thanks to him for stepping up and giving nature the voice that it so badly needs.