Richard Benyon contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Wed 15th November 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Committee: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
9 interactions (613 words)

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Richard Benyon Excerpts
Wednesday 15th November 2017

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Attorney General
Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 8:37 p.m.

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.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con) Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 8:40 p.m.

I say to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and others, perhaps as one remainer to another, that to suggest everything EU for the environment good; everything outside—

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 8:41 p.m.

indicated dissent.

Richard Benyon Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 8:41 p.m.

I know that that was not quite what the hon. Lady said, but I have the scars on my back. When the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) was Environment Secretary, he rightly made Britain stand up for the conservation of the seas by opposing the over-fishing of tuna in the Atlantic. The first thing sitting in my in-tray when I arrived at DEFRA in 2010, however, was a very big infraction fine against the UK for going against the EU’s direction to fish unsustainably. I also remember working with organisations such as the International Whaling Commission and sitting for hours in a meeting of the EU co-ordination body before putting our case for better whale and cetacean conservation, only to have Britain’s pro-environmental polices watered down. We have an opportunity, if we can get this right, to be more ambitious than that.

On Second Reading, I looked for measures that would secure for the long term the environmental protections we have learned to value—I entirely agree with the hon. Lady and others that measures such as the water framework directive need to be transposed into UK provision—and for a replacement mechanism following the loss of infraction. Infraction keeps Ministers awake at night, but what is the position for a sovereign nation on its own, outside a pan-national body? I have looked for an alternative, and I was tempted by her new clause, and by the Leader of the Opposition’s new clause, because I thought they might tie future Governments. However, after consultation with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), we looked for another mechanism.

Working with the Environment Secretary has been a textbook lesson in how to improve law. He and the Government recognise that there is a governance gap that we have to fill. One suggestion is the belt-and-braces but perhaps over-complicated arrangement that the hon. Lady and others have suggested, but there is an alternative that I find intensely attractive. When we took the issue to the Secretary of State, he listened and then asked questions—the process was rather like a university tutorial—and he then asked us back to tell us what he had done. His suggestion, which has been backed up by the Minister today, is something that green groups such as Greener UK and the Green Alliance have been asking for: a proposal that really locks in these measures.

The Secretary of State first suggested that we set up this new body. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is absolutely right, because we need, through this consultation, to ensure that the body is independent, that we know its remit, that its sanctions are in place, and that it has the level of independence of the Children’s Commissioner, for example. The Secretary of State seems determined that that is what it should be, so I think we have the offer of a very good measure, because it will secure the vital ingredient, which is the national policy statement.

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

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Zac Goldsmith - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 9:09 p.m.

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.

Richard Benyon Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 9:10 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. The marine policy statement that came as part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009—the right hon. Member for Leeds Central will feel extremely proprietorial about this—is a good example of how Government can set policy, and of the tortuous discussions about how Government can adhere to that policy. It is a good model to take forward as part of this policy statement.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Zac Goldsmith - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 9:12 p.m.

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.