Several constituents have contacted me to express their thoughts on the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act and voice their concerns about the possible erosion of environmental protections.
As some of you may know, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 brought a large number of EU laws and regulation into our domestic law. This was called Retained EU Law (REUL), and had special status, reflecting the supremacy of EU law, European Court of Justice case law and EU legal principles. Now that it has become law, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act will abolish this special status and will enable the Government, through Parliament, to amend more easily, repeal and replace REUL.
I would like to assure constituents the Government remains fully committed to maintaining the UK’s environmental standards and Ministers have made clear assurances not to reduce environmental standards and protections. The Government has set stretching new targets under the Environment Act 2021, which together form one of the most ambitious environmental programmes in the world.
For instance, the Environmental Improvement Plan sets out in detail how the Government will deliver on its targets and duties. This includes measures such as the Species Survival Fund to create, enhance and restore habitats, as well as plans to support a transformation in the management of 70 per cent of our countryside through incentivising farmers to adopt nature friendly farming practices. The Government is also investing more than £750 million in tree planting and peatland restoration through the Nature for Climate Fund. I welcome all these efforts.
Furthermore, the Government has driven action to improve nature globally. At the UN Nature Summit, COP15, a new Global Biodiversity Framework was agreed, with 23 targets, including to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.
I am aware of several amendments which some constituents asked me to support. I will explain below why I did not support the main amendments:
- I did not support Lords Amendment 15, as this amendment would have created significant additional bureaucracy and could have caused legal uncertainty. The amendment would have also required the Government to consult on even the smallest technical policy change, adding months to the Government’s efforts to deliver on its environmental goals and incurring greater bureaucratic costs on the people of Mid Sussex. I also understood from my ministerial colleagues that this amendment had a broad range of stipulations and accepting these would have been highly resource intensive and would have had a severe impact on the ability of a Government Department to use a Bill to legislate and deliver on its environmental goals.
- I did not support Clause 16(1)(b) as the requirements could have enabled potential claimants to include non-compliance with international treaties in a domestic judicial review claim. The consequences of this were unclear but opening the door to judicial reviews for so many international treaties would have set an unhelpful precedent which, ultimately, could have impacted the UK’s flexibility in international negotiations. Further, I know that my ministerial colleagues were concerned about the legal uncertainty of these amendments. Clause 16(2) was unclear, as it did not specify that it applied only to REUL relating to the environment. It could have been held to apply more broadly, meaning that Departments may have needed to go through this process for any regulation to be reformed under REUL.
- Amendment 48 would have required that before making changes to environmental or food legislation under REUL, the Government would have had to consult those independent of it with expertise when making changes that related to the environment or certain aspects of food regulations; seek advice from the Office of Environmental Protection and Food Standards Agency; and also publish a report summarising how this advice has been considered. I concluded that this amendment was not needed to maintain our environmental protections and it would have created significant additional bureaucracy and delay to the Government being able to deliver on its environmental goals. Therefore, the Government did not support this amendment.
I hope this statement has provided you with reassurance that my ministerial colleagues and I are fully committed to maintaining our environmental standards.