Last Wednesday a very significant debate and some votes took place which involved a significant number of MPs in the discussion. The only Sussex MP who took part was Caroline Lucas and it was very encouraging that she spoke several times. Sadly at the beginning of the debate she tried to speak twice and she was prevented from doing so by Nusrat Ghani who is also a Sussex MP. Nusrat is the Minister for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. On the second time she was prevented there was also a blockage for Hilary Benn. Other than these two people everyone else was allowed to speak. On the third attempt the response from Nusrat was
Nusrat: I will give way to the hon. Lady because she has been so patient.
Caroline: I am grateful to the Minister for finally giving way. She is suggesting that those of us who oppose the Bill are opposing it for some kind of ideological reason. I draw her attention to the words of the chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, who herself said:
“Worryingly, the Bill does not offer any safety net, there is no requirement to maintain existing levels of environmental protection”.
Not only that, there is actually a requirement not to go on and make the legislation stronger. That is written into the Bill. On the issue of certainty, I do not know how the Minister can stand there and pretend that this is about certainty when businesses have no idea which laws will be in or out and when she does not know how many laws are on her dashboard. On democracy, when we were in the European Union we at least had Members of the European Parliament who had a say over these things. When the laws come back here, we have no say over them at all; it is all with Ministers. Is that what she means when she says this is supposed to be a good Bill that is full of opportunities from Brexit?
Nusrat: The hon. Lady has got the meme for her Facebook page. Unfortunately, she wholly misrepresents what the Bill is doing. Environmental standards will be maintained or enhanced. At the moment, the laws that come down from Brussels on the environment and land cover everything from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. This Bill is a great opportunity to maintain, to enhance and to review what more we can do to make things better for our environment across the UK. We already have flagship legislation in place: the Environment Act 2021, the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Agriculture Act 2020. The Office for Environmental Protection has been fully established to enforce those elevated environmental rules and standards. The water framework directive covers our water. Instead of misrepresenting what the Bill does, why not take the opportunity to ensure that we enhance provision for what we are not maintaining?
Later in the debate the Labour Shadow Minister, Justin Madders was speaking and Caroline stood up
Caroline: The hon. Member is being generous and making a powerful case. Does he share my concern that, for all the rhetoric and green wash coming from the Government when they say that this is about keeping high standards, that is completely undermined by a clear clause in the Bill that states that, while Members can replace laws with alternative provisions, those cannot “increase the regulatory burden”. That is clear—it is in black and white. The Bill is an absolute ideological attack on safety and on environmental standards—on the things that keep us safe and our planet safe as well.
Justin: The hon. Member is right. I shall come back to that in a little while.
Later on in the debate another Labour who is the DeFRA Shadow Minister was contributing, it was Alex Sobel and again Caroline contributed.
Caroline: Is it not also the case that, as far as we are aware, the perception of environmental legislation held by the right hon. Member for North East Somerset tends to be very much a narrow thing about habitats, water and so forth? It does not include things like product standards, chemical regulation or efficiency standards, for example, all of which might not necessarily be dealt with by DEFRA but which absolutely affect us every day of our lives.
Alex: There is a point about REACH—the EU regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—which was mentioned in the Bill Committee, but I want to give other Members time to make their speeches, so I will take on the hon. Lady’s points and I am sure others will pick them up later in the debate.
It will be very helpful if our MPs and indeed the Government could provide information about this Bill. The debate is available here. Inevitably the Government was able to get the approval from Parliament because of the size of the Conservative Party – sadly that makes the need for them to communicate rather inadequate.