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Environmental Audit Committee 

Oral evidence: Environmental principles and governance consultation, HC 1062

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 11 July 2018.

Watch the meeting 

Members present: Mary Creagh (Chair); Geraint Davies; Mr Robert Goodwill; Caroline Lucas; Kerry McCarthy; Anna McMorrin; John McNally; Dr Matthew Offord; Joan Ryan; Alex Sobel.

Questions 96 - 206


I: Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Examination of witness

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

Q96            Chair: Can I welcome the Secretary of State to our Committee meeting this morning? Very glad to see you. I understand you were indisposed for some of your meetings yesterday. Obviously it has been a pretty turbulent week, so thank you for taking the time out to be with us.

Michael Gove: It is always a pleasure to appear in front of you.

Q97            Chair: It is always a joy to have you in front of us. Can I begin by asking you about the Chequers agreement? I went to the briefing in Committee Room 12 on Monday, during which the Foreign Secretary resigned. During that briefing we heard about the common frameworks, the common rulebook applying to agri-foods, but—and I could be wrong here, so I would just like you to set the record straight if I am wrong—not on sanitary and phytosanitary checks.

Michael Gove: I fear—even Homer nods, and even on this occasion, if I follow your question correctly—you may have misinterpreted what was said. It is the intention that the common rulebook should cover sanitary and phytosanitary checks. The common rulebook applies to agri-foods, but only insofar as necessary to avoid border checks.

Q98            Chair: What does that mean?

Michael Gove: It means that we want to ensure frictionless access to the EU and for EU exporters to the UK, but it also means that when it comes to other aspects of food policy, and critically to the operation of the Common Agricultural Policy, we will be in control of food policy and we will be outside the CAP. The way in which we provide support for farmers, the way in which our food is grown, the decisions that we takefor example, on everything from higher animal welfare standards to the way in which we monitor compliance with our own rules for our own agricultural policyall of that will be a sovereign decision for the UK Government and the UK Parliament. But we do promise to uphold such policies as are necessary in order to avoid border checks, so that a border inspection post should not be necessary when you are exporting agri-foods products from the UK to the EU27.

Q99            Chair: So the sanitary and phytosanitary checks do apply to British exports to the EU and EU exports to the UK. Do they apply to third country imports into the UK?

Michael Gove: Again, and it may be in violent agreement or talking at cross-purposes, SPS policies will be in alignment, therefore checks should not be required at the border. Then of course the arrangement that we would have with any third country would depend on the nature of any free trade agreement or other arrangement that we have with that country. But of course it would be the case that before you could import food into this country from a third country, then it would have to meet the standards that we have in this country.

Q100       Chair: And by definition the EU, because we are following the same policies.

Michael Gove: We would have a common rulebook that applies to SPS checks.

Q101       Chair: Exactly, on SPS. Thank you for that clarification. The official that briefed us was also very clear that there would not be a common rulebook on environmental, consumer and social standards. Why not?

Michael Gove: We do not believe that it is necessary. It could be the case, for example, when it comes to environmental standards that non-regression clauses—and we have non-regression clauses, for example, in the free trade agreements that the EU has signed with countries like Canada—would be an appropriate way of both countries satisfying themselves that suitably high environmental standards would be met. Again, one of the things that this Committee has explored and that we have discussed is the ambition that the UK has in some areas to either enhance or to have a higher level of ambition in environmental standards.

EU law, as it currently exists with respect to the environment, is transposed into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and of course it will be the case—and I think we are going to go on to explore this—that the adherence to the principles that the European Union has evolved over time in order to govern the operation of environmental law will be policed and given effect by the environmental principles and Government legislation that we hope to put in place.

Q102       Chair: The EU are never going to accept that we have frictionless trade with agricultural and food products and we have potentially lower environmental standards. We are already missing our air pollution targets, we are set to miss our waste targets set by the EU and we are set to miss our water quality targets set by the EU. Why would we want to diverge from the EU’s environmental standards?

Michael Gove: The first thing to say is that you make a point about both water quality and air quality. There are a number of EU nations, most of the larger EU nations, which currently fall foul of EU law and yet they are still—

Q103       Chair: Not on waste. Lots of them are meeting their waste standards.

Michael Gove: But certainly when it comes to air quality and water quality, there are a number of countries that are failing to meet those standards and yet at the same time observably it is the case that trade is taking place across the EU28. Simply because a country is not yet meeting the legal standards to which it has committed itself, that is not in itself ipso facto a barrier to trade.

Q104       Chair: But it could lead to lower standards being set in this country in the future. The whole point is this is what the Leavers want, which is divergence on social, consumer and environmental standards, isn’t it?

Michael Gove: You make a window of men and women’s hearts, because you say, “This is what the Leavers want”. One of the members of the Committee—

Q105       Chair: It was certainly what they wanted when I was debating them two years ago. There was a thing about the freedom to be different.

Michael Gove: There is a natural belief in democracy, but being different can sometimes mean being better.

Q106       Chair: But we are not better on the environment, are we? The concern is that given that we are already failing before we leave, if we do leave, that we end up just stopping the efforts in that area.

Michael Gove: Two of the most articulate advocates for leaving the European Union, one a member of this Committee, Zac Goldsmith, and of course Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, argued that we should leave the European Union in order have higher environmental standards.

Q107       Chair: Yes, but saying it does not make it happen. If it does not happen when you have a legal court enforcing fines, then when does it happen?

Michael Gove: Yes, but I am dealing with each part of the set of propositions that you put forward. Your first proposition was that Leavers wanted automatically to diverge in order to lower standards. I mentioned two—I could invoke many others—who took a different view, writers like Paul Kingsnorth, who no one could accuse of wanting lower environmental standards. First, the simple fact that someone wanted to leave does not mean that they necessarily wanted to have lower standards.

The second argument that I would make, and it is a discussion that we have had before, is that there are countries that are outside the European Union that do have higher environmental standards; Norway is a critical test case of that.

The third thing is we have had a discussion in this Committee and elsewhere about some of the means by which we can give effect to that, because you understandably say, “That is all very well, but how are you going to live up to those aspirations?” We seek to do so through the legislative changes that we are going to bring about and some of the legislation indeed that we propose to keep.

Chair: We will come on to the details of that legislation, but I have a question first of all from Geraint on this specific issue on Chequers.

Q108       Geraint Davies: As you have just said, Secretary of State, it is possible that these standards can go up or down, but you seem to be suggesting that you want them to go up or stay the same. Will you give an undertaking that you will ensure, through the Trade Bill or otherwise, that in future standards simply will not go down?

Michael Gove: We want to use every means available to provide that guarantee and to provide that reassurance, but I mentioned non-regression clauses in the context of CETA.

Q109       Geraint Davies: Yes, exactly. The non-regression principle of Michel Barnier. Why aren’t you agreeing with that?

Michael Gove: I think it is implicit in what we are talking about something similar to a non-regression clause may well be the best means of providing appropriate reassurance. I should say broadly, with most trade agreements, there is an acceptance that country A and country B or group of countries A and country B agree that in order to avoid what each might consider to be unfair competition that they agree certain common principles and certain common standards. If there is any suggestion that one side or the other is reneging on that commitment, then an arbitral body will decide whether or not it is appropriate for action to be taken and for one side or the other to have an appropriate trade remedy. In that sense, across the globe there are a network of agreements which countries have entered into as sovereign parties in which they commit, in order to advance free trade, to maintain certain principles and standards and a non-regression clause might very well be one means of doing that.

Q110       Geraint Davies: Would you give an undertaking to build in, for instance, to the Trade Bill that we will continue to have standards that the EU adopt in all our future trade agreements? Because at the moment obviously it is open door for third party trade arrangements to undermine environmental, consumer, social and other standards.

Michael Gove: One of the things about the Trade Bill, as I understand it, is that it ensures that the UK can have an appropriate trade remedies regime so that, for the sake of argument, if we enter into a trade agreement with another country and that other country then decides to lower its environmental standards, then we might be able to take appropriate remedies as a result. One of the arguments that I think will be made about the Trade Bill, one of the discussions that will be had when it comes back to the House of Commons, is whether or not, for example, in order to properly protect British industry and the high standards to which we adhere, those remedies should be available to the UK. I think that is one of the reasons why the Secretary of State for International Trade is so anxious to secure agreement across the House of Commons.

Q111       Geraint Davies: Do you agree therefore that if there is a third party negotiation with a third party country we currently trade with and they try to change their standards, that proposal should be made open to all MPs, that there should not be secret negotiations whereby we end up with a renegotiated deal with lower environmental standards and we should have parliamentary scrutiny? Would you support such an amendment to the Trade Bill?

Michael Gove: I would have to have a look at the amendment and I would have to discuss with my colleague, Dr Fox, exactly what the effect of the legislation might be, because I know myself that it is sometimes the case that legislation framed in good faith, with honest intent, may not necessarily achieve that which it is hoped that it should achieve. I absolutely understand and respect the intent behind your question and your offer, but without having had a chance to look at the proposed amendment and having had a chance to get a lawyer’s opinion on what impact it might have, I wouldn’t want to commit to that at the moment.

Q112       Geraint Davies: No, but in principle, would you be happy that environmental standards should not undermined without Parliament seeing that?

Michael Gove: I do believe that our environmental standards shouldn’t be undermined and I would want to make sure that there were appropriate safeguards. What the best way of ensuring those safeguards were, again I would not want to commit now without having appropriate policy and legal advice.

Q113       Chair: This is something that is going to happen next week, isn’t it? This is the problem: we have had two years to get a three-pager out, which two Government Ministers have resigned over. We have legislation coming before the House next week, where none of this is clear and where we could end up seeing our environmental and social rights being voted off down the Swanee in future trade deals. This is the problem with all of this, isn’t it? It is all big picture, it is all going to be great, but when we get down to the detail, there is nothing there.

Michael Gove: I think it is indeed when we get down to the detail that there is a lot there. The important thing is to engage with the detail in order to make sure that the detail delivers. I absolutely accept the thrust of what Geraint wants to achieve and indeed the hopes that you have as well, but I also think that it is important to make sure—

Q114       Chair: Can you tell us, is the White Paper going to be published this week or next week? Are we going to see it before the Trade Bill comes out or not?

Michael Gove: It is the Government’s intention to publish the White PaperGod willingtomorrow.

Chair: Tomorrow? That is good news. We will move on to Matthew.

Michael Gove: Can I pause you for one second? There is a message that I have received on my telephone. It is not that urgent, it is not of world-shattering importance, but it may have domestic and other considerations, so I will need to ask my private secretary if she can take the call.

Dr Matthew Offord: Make sure the Prime Minister is not sacking anyone.

Michael Gove: She can explain to the friend who has just rung. I will not bore you with the details.

Chair: Friend? Oh, we would love to know. I am sure that the world is watching to see who is next, but Dr Offord.

Q115       Dr Matthew Offord: Secretary of State, I was one of those people that voted to leave and does want to increase environmental standards. That was my question to the Prime Minister on Monday. I asked her about our ability to prevent live exports. You are on the record as saying that not only do you want to ban live exports of animals, but also ban the importation of foie gras, which is already illegal to produce in this country. We certainly would like to see an increase in the standards of domestic pets being imported into the United Kingdom, with some of the abuses from Eastern European countries. The response I received from the Prime Minister was not very clear and I would very much like to hear you view on how we will stop these abuses.

Michael Gove: Yes. One of the first things that I asked of officials was to let me know if the provisions that were being contemplated within the form that they did within the Chequers agreement, what impact might they have on our proposals to look at how we might better control live exports. I am open to a ban, but I also certainly want us to have higher standards than we do at the moment. It is the advice of officials that there is nothing within the Chequers agreement that would preclude this Government, or a future Government, from having a ban and certainly from having higher standards governing live exports.

The crucial thing is we want to remove checks at the border in order to ensure that there is frictionless trade, but when it comes to live exports, checks take place away from the border. The advice that I have received is that the common rulebook, as envisaged, would not prevent us from having those higher standards.

Q116       Dr Matthew Offord: And the importation of foie gras?

Michael Gove: The importation of foie gras is a different question, because that would require us to have checks at the border, so I am seeking to see whether or not there would be that opportunity. I absolutely take your point about foie gras, but also even if we were to have to checks at the border, I think it may be the case that the French Government, on behalf of its farmers, would feel that any free trade agreement between the UK and the EU that imposed restrictions on foie gras would be one with which they could not live. But these are ultimately matters for negotiation, but in general terms I think the Chequers agreement, as outlined, should not impose any restrictions on our ability to deal with the live animal export question. On foie gras, it is murkier.

Q117       Mr Robert Goodwill: Matthew, could I just jump in there? Could the Secretary of State give us some information on whether he would consider the export of live crab and lobster in vivier tanks would be covered under any ban on live exports? Because it is of major economic importance to fishermen on the east coast in particular.

Michael Gove: I will look into that.

Q118       Mr Robert Goodwill: You cannot say either way whether it will?

Michael Gove: I think that at the moment, there is nothing in what is envisaged that would change our capacity to operate, both as we wish at the moment or to impose higher standards. There is nothing in the Chequers agreement that would affect the status quo or our capacity to alter it, should we wish. If behind your question is there a threat to existing trade, then no. If behind your question is might a sovereign Government want to impose higher standards, then it could. If again behind your question is might the pressure to impose higher standards have a commercial hit, in which case there would have to be a debate about those higher standards and the commercial considerations, how to weigh the two, but there is nothing in the Chequers agreement that ties the Government’s hands either way on that.

Chair: We have a final questions on eels.

Q119       Mr Robert Goodwill: I would like to ask a question about the Habitats Directive and the designation of European protected species. From what you said, I get the impression that you would wish to draw up lists based on the UK situation, not as currently on a European level. For example, the great crested newt is not as threatened in the UK as it is in the rest of Europe, but one specific species that I think could become a problem economically is the European eel, which is a protected species at European level. In fact, there is only one sustainable fishery for the European Union, which is Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, where a lot of work is being done to put in elvers and build a very sustainable fishery.

One of the concerns that has been raised with me with the fishermen in Lough Neagh is that if we are no longer in the European Union, the status of the European eel will be even more endangered and therefore CITES rules, trade could become completely stopped. The only market for the European eel, there is the East End jellied eel market, but mainly they go into France and Belgium and Holland. Could you give us any indication as to whether you could see the law of unintended consequences, that the good work on Lough Neagh could be jeopardised by further designation of the European eel?

Michael Gove: I do not think it would be, but now that I am even more alert to that risk, I shall endeavour to make sure that I can come back with a proper response. I absolutely take your point, which is that of course the concern about both habitats and creatures and their endangered status depends on making a judgment about how many of them, how much of it there is across the EU. We have a significant proportion of—as you quite rightly point out—some of the most precious habitats and some of the most endangered creatures, so whether that is the bank vole, which we have a disproportionate share of relative to other EU countries, or eels.

Therefore, once we leave, the balance within the EU27 of those habitats and of those creatures, as you quite rightly point out, changes. That may mean, exactly as you point out, that the EU feels that it has to approach that habitat or those creatures in a different way, but I think that pragmatically we can acknowledge that provided we are maintaining the same high standards that we had before—and that is our intention—that should not mean that the EU needs to take any additional measures either for creatures or habitats, because we are existing in the same broad ecosystem with them.

Q120       Chair: It was a question about CITES, which is a UN organisation, not an EU organisation. That is about the international status and the tradeability of eels, but I think you are going to write to us, so let’s move on.

Michael Gove: Yes. I thought I should engage with the question as fully as I possibly could.

Chair: We have lots of other questions, so we are going to move on, if I may. Anna.

Q121       Anna McMorrin: Secretary of State, can I ask, we have heard evidence that your governance consultation fails to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment not to weaken the environmental protections when we leave the European Union. Why were the proposals in the consultation so weak?

Michael Gove: We discussed this, I think, the last time I was here. The nature of the consultation was to ask a series of open questions and of course you can have two kinds of consultation, at least two. You can ask an open question, consultation 1, “We think we should seek to achieve goal A. How might we achieve goal A?” Consultation 2, “We want to achieve goal A. This is how we plan to achieve goal A. Do you agree or do you have an alternative idea?” It rather is in the form of a court, there are open questions and leading questions. It was in the nature of the consultation that there were open question. Some people inferred from that that we would not move from A and B and we would not do X or Y, but we wanted to have the most open consultation possible.

That open consultation having been launched, a range of people gave us their views, including of course both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, which is why we now have in legislation a commitment to come forward within six months of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill having received Royal Assent with details of exactly how we might ensure that the watchdog body that we envisage has the powers that the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, have asked of us.

Q122       Anna McMorrin: How then will you ensure that after leaving the EU DEFRA is not left with those environmental targets that other Departments have absolutely no incentive to deliver? We have heard that there are concerns from the Chancellor, from the Treasury, from the Department of Transport, from DCLG, we have heard a lot of concerns. How can you guarantee then that cross-departmental working?

Michael Gove: One of the things that I have found is Ministers across Government Departments are anxious to work with us in order to ensure that we maintain high environmental standards and maintain our legal obligations. It was striking, wasn’t it, when in a separate area on, for example, the Common Fisheries Policy, we published just last week— almost exactly a week ago—a Fisheries White Paper, which was a cross-Government document, a commitment on marine conservation, alongside policing access to our waters, which reflected the interests of every Government Department.

Before its publication, some had speculated, perhaps mischievously, that there might be a tension between DEFRA’s ambitions and other Government Departments’ ambitions, but as you will have seen from the publication, no such tension was evident. In the same way, Parliament having given us a clear instruction on what it is that should be in this new environmental governance body, I am looking forward to working with all my colleagues across Government in order to deliver it.

Q123       Anna McMorrin: But in your own letter to the Treasury, you claimed in fact that the Chancellor was to blame for limiting powers and blocking plans to give the new post-Brexit environmental watchdog the power, for example, to fine Government and local authorities if they fail to increase recycling or cut pollution.

Michael Gove: I think it is—what is the word—a well-respected position in Government not to comment on any leaked documents. I think that you may be referring to a document that may have been leaked, a version of which may have appeared in one newspaper. I will not go down that particular primrose path.

Q124       Anna McMorrin: As far as you are concerned, everyone is on the same page as you?

Michael Gove: On the same page, singing from the same hymn sheet, in harmony, as one, ad idem, one happy family, a nest of singing birds.

Q125       Anna McMorrin: Yet that is not what we have heard from witnesses who have given evidence to our inquiry in terms of what is set out in the consultation and what we have been seeing from you in Government.

Michael Gove: I think by their fruits ye shall know them. The judgment must be what is it that we bring forward in legislation and in policy? Of course across Government people will test propositions, run ideas past one another. Just as Geraint and I were saying earlier, I respect what Geraint wants to do. I am not certain that the way in which he wants to achieve it is right, so I would want to have advice before agreeing to it, but on this occasion, notwithstanding the fact that we come from slightly different starting points, we both want to achieve broadly the same thing. I think that is the case across Government.

Q126       Anna McMorrin: Do you not agree there should be targets set in order to deliver?

Michael Gove: It is certainly the case that there should be targets. That is one of the things that the 25 Year Environment Plan inter alia does do. In fact, at the moment we are having a conversation about precisely which targets and which metrics Government and Government bodies should be held to account against for delivering.

Q127       Chair: It is not a nest of singing birds though, is it, Secretary of State? You have the Chief Secretary to the Treasury making a speech to the LSE saying, “There is enough hot air and smoke at the Environment Department already” and taking the mick out of your name. You are really doing a great job of trying to paper over the cracks, but there are deep fissures between you and the Treasury on this matter, are there not? That is why the consultation was so weak, that is why your own party had a revolt and why Parliament chucked it out.

Michael Gove: The Chief Secretary and I are great friends. One of the great things about being great friends is that we can crack jokes. I think it is a very British thing, isn’t it, that the closer your relationship, the more likely you are to crack jokes about one another? It is a sign of the strength of the relationship between myself and the Chief Secretary, but I enjoy the jokes that she cracks and take them in good heart. I think it is the same thing: more broadly, the consultation I mentioned earlier was deliberately framed in order to be open and Parliament has given a clear view. I respect their view. I cannot remember if it was in front of this Committee or when I was interviewed and broadcast, I said, “I absolutely respect the view of the House of Lords”. The point of having a consultation is to say we have certain ambitions and certain hopes and we would welcome a range of views.

Q128       Chair: It is pretty clear what the Treasury’s view is though, isn’t it? A joke is a way of delivering a truth in a palatable way and what this is saying is, “You have overstepped your brief. Get back in your box and crack on with making this as weak as possible”. That is essentially what happened when your plan went to Cabinet. That is why it was so weak and that is why Parliament and your own Back-Benchers have had to intervene to make sure there is targets, powers to fine and those things. It has been a humiliation, hasn’t it, really?

Michael Gove: I have seen, witnessed, and indeed undergone humiliations in the past and this is certainly not that, no. I think one of the things about the Chief Secretary’s rather witty comments, I thought, were they related to air quality. Of course one of the things about air quality is that we have—and we may go on to discuss it—a very high level of ambition and that high level of ambition is there in Government documents and Government policies that have been cleared across the range of all Government Departments. I think that humour, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, but as I say, I thought it was a very well-delivered, very well-argued speech with some very good jokes from a very good friend.

Q129       Chair: So it is all just about the gags. We will move on, a question of devolution.

Michael Gove: I was going to say, Mary, if you want to, we can always look at humour and hold it up to inspection and try to derive—

Chair: We are going to keep on—

Michael Gove: —from that, but I think that underlying the operation across Government is a commitment to higher environmental standards and also a commitment to recognising that there should be no tension between those and delivering economic growth.

Chair: We have not seen much of that yet, so that is what we are going to come on to talk about. John.

Q130       John McNally: My own nest of singing birds is more like the canary down in the mine. I would like to move you on to devolved matters, Secretary of State. As you know, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Government told us you did not share the consultation with them before you published it. Could you tell us why not? Was it too difficult a conversation to have with them?

Michael Gove: No, quite the opposite. I was going to say that as well as there being harmony within the UK Government, there is harmony broadly across Governments on these issues. There are sometimes divisions of opinion between myself and Scottish Government colleagues on particular questions that relate to agriculture and the environment, but when it comes to these areas, we had a broad statement outlining what the environmental ambitions are that each of the constituent Governments within the United Kingdom wanted to have.

I think it has been the case that at almost every meeting that we have had of devolved Administration colleagues that we have been in agreement about what it is that we want to achieve. I am open about whether or not there should be, for example, when we do set up a new Government body, a separate body in Scotland or a UK-wide body. My own view is that the devolved institutions are working, the UK Government is working and we are all working together in order to achieve the same outcomes.

Q131       John McNally: I would like to go back again to the last time you were before us. I am not exactly sure that that is the impression I get, by the way, from the other Administrations. I am sure one of my colleagues will follow on from that, but not long after the EU referendum, I remember this Committee being warned by the Vice-President of the Institute of Environmental Sciences that Westminster could remove powers from the Scottish Government and impose things on Scotland that the Scottish people do not want. The Scottish Government has received similar advice from its legal experts. I have researched this very carefully. Mr Gove, the last time you spoke to us, specifically you told us that you thought fracking was one of the cleanest ways to extract hydrocarbons. Indeed, you have voted against requiring environmental permits for the process and against the review of its impact on climate change and environment. Is that correct?

Michael Gove: I think that I have always voted with the Conservative Party Whip, so if that was the Conservative Party position at the time, then I must have done.

Q132       John McNally: I think you would be aware of what you voted for.

Michael Gove: Nearly always.

Q133       John McNally: You would be aware the Scottish Government, however, has reviewed its fracking impacts on climate change and the environment, against many other things, and as a result has chosen not to permit fracking. I know what is going to happen at the end of the year, they will produce the results of the consultation, but my mere ask is this: were your words to me in the last session an indication of your Government’s intentions to allow fracking in Scotland after Brexit and can you deny this intention to allow fracking here today?

Michael Gove: I think the first thing I would say is I read a very good article, I think by Paul Sinclair, who used to work forI think I am right in sayingDouglas Alexander. He was a Labour Government special adviser, that is right. Paul, a very fair-minded chap, pointed out that while the Scottish Government had said on one level that it wanted to ban fracking, when cross-examined, the Scottish Government said that it had not. I do not know what the real position is of the Scottish Government. Is it the case that they have instituted a ban on fracking altogether or not?

John McNally: Are you asking me?

Michael Gove: Yes, but I know that you are not—

Q134       John McNally: Yes, just after telling me two minutes ago that you were in constant conversations with the devolved Administration in Scotland

Michael Gove: I am, yes. No, no—

John McNally: —so you would think that might have come up in the conversation. I know the answer to that question.

Michael Gove: I would be grateful.

John McNally: Maybe I will write to you.

Chair: We are going to come back on the final point. Anna.

Q135       Anna McMorrin: During our inquiry, we heard that the oversight body would be co-designed, co-owned by the four Administrations. What work has been done with the devolved Governments on this?

Michael Gove: Officials have met, Ministers have discussed. I do not want to say the ball is in the devolved Administrations’ court, because obviously we have more work to do, but we are constantly in conversations. Of course the legislation that the Welsh Government has passed in this area, as I think I have mentioned beforeand I know that you had a part in shaping itsets high standards already. We want to respect the existing institutional architecture and the legislative frameworks that exists in Wales, but we are in conversation with them. Notwithstanding John’s point, and I understand the concerns that he has, there has not yet been in those conversations a point where in this area any of the DAs have said, “Do you know what, I think there is a fundamental problem with what you are proposing”.

There are questions and conversations that are undertaken in order to better understand the shared goals that we want to achieve, but in the conversations that I have had with the devolved Administrations, sometimes there has been a slight difference of opinion between myself and Fergus Ewing over the future of agricultural subsidy. I think Fergus—I do not want to misrepresent him—thinks that we, at UK Government level for England, are probably, in his view, more inclined to want to move support away from area-based payments towards public goods like the environment in a way that he is a wee bit wary of. Indeed, some of the wildlife organisations in Scotland have argued that Fergus is perhaps not moving in quite the same direction of shifting subsidy towards environmental goods as we are.

I know that the Welsh Government will publishing its proposals for agriculture shortly. I am looking forward to those. I do not know which side of the dividing line they will fall, but I do not want to criticise Fergus. It is a devolved decision and he is a very nice chap and a very good Minister. But I think that the reason I mention it is that when it comes overall to the conversations that I have with Roseanna Cunningham and others about high environmental standards, we have a very similar approach and a similar appreciation of the need, as we leave the European Union, to create institutions that can provide appropriate governance.

Q136       Anna McMorrin: Secretary of State, I am glad you keep a close eye on what is happening in Welsh Government, because in fact they published what they are doing yesterday on land management, which consists of two schemes, which is the Economic Resilience Scheme and the Public Goods Scheme.

Michael Gove: I am looking forward to reading it.

Q137       Anna McMorrin: Good. They are paving the way ahead in Wales. However, there are areas that are not devolved, such as justice. What discussions are you having to cover those non-devolved areas such as justice, where you will be looking at legal backstops, for example, on failure to meet targets et cetera?

Michael Gove: Yes. So far at ministerial level that particular challenge has not been raised with me, though I am sure that officials have discussed it. But absolutely, I want to work pragmatically in order to make sure that all of the issues that require to be addressed can be.

Q138       Kerry McCarthy: Climate change: we took evidence from quite a number of people that thought that it was just wrong to exclude climate change from the oversight body’s remit. Some people went as far as to say it would be impossible to do that effectively. What is your view on that?

Michael Gove: I think the new body will work, I hope—and I am sure it will—very effectively with the Climate Change Committee. There are a range of opinions here, I do acknowledge that, and there are some who argue that the right thing to do is to put climate change into the remit of this new body. There are others who argue that working with the Climate Change Committee, everything that needs to be done can be delivered.

Q139       Kerry McCarthy: The Committee on Climate Change and the Adaptation Sub-Committee both say that it does not make sense to separate the two out, so it is the people that you say would work effectively with them, but they are querying that themselves.

Michael Gove: No, as I say, there are a range of views, but I think that whatever the individual preferences, and the consultation has not ended yet—

Q140       Kerry McCarthy: The consultation does not cover that.

Michael Gove: No, but the point of having a consultation is that people express their views and people can sometimes say, “These questions are all very well, but if your intentions are to be delivered, then these are the considerations that have to be taken into account. I think it is also the case that even if it is not the view of everyone that we can work pragmatically with the Climate Change Committee and with climate change legislation in order to ensure that we maintain standards effectively.

Q141       Kerry McCarthy: You think you can work pragmatically with them, but they don’t think that that would work. It is one thing to say it is a range of views and—

Michael Gove: It is their preference, exactly. It is their preference.

Kerry McCarthy: It is not really a preference, it is an expert opinion based on being immersed in this work—

Michael Gove: Oh, quite.

Kerry McCarthy: —for a long time and they clearly feel that they would benefit from being part of this body. It is all very well to say there is a range of views and people have preferences. What we are talking about is something that is far more contrary and based on, as I say, expert experience. It does not get us very far to just say, “Oh, everyone has their views and let’s all talk about their views on that”. We are trying to move forward. When you say, “Everyone has their views”, that sounds a little bit dismissive. It just sounds like, “Well, no one is going to quite agree on everything, we will just muddle along”.

Michael Gove: I hope it would not be construed as dismissive and it certainly was not my intention. I wrote to John Deben on 27 June and I explained my position. I welcome his views on how the body and the Committee on Climate Change could work together most effectively and there have been discussions at official level, including with the Secretariat to the CCC, and we will work together with them as we seek to design the shape of the body. I do not want to be disrespectful, but I also want to respect the ability of this new body to work in such a way that the CCC can continue to fulfil its functions and this body can—

Q142       Kerry McCarthy: Is it more about not treading on the toes of your ministerial colleagues in that climate change is in a different Government Department and they feel that it would be perhaps an expansionist view if you were to seek to put climate change under this body? It seems to me it is probably more about that than about the people that are doing the monitoring work.

Michael Gove: I do not think so, no, but—

Q143       Kerry McCarthy: Did you talk to your colleagues at BEIS about whether climate change could be covered by these proposals?

Michael Gove: Yes, we talk all the time, but we—

Q144       Kerry McCarthy: What did they say?

Michael Gove: I think the pragmatic approach is to allow the CCC to continue doing the work that it does and to allow this body not to encroach, notwithstanding the views that John and others have.

Q145       Kerry McCarthy: Why is it pragmatic then? Baroness Brown said it would be impossible to separate out climate change and she wrote the letter to you with Lord Deben as well. Why is it pragmatic? Explain why that is the pragmatic approach. Why is it pragmatic to do what you have decided to do?

Michael Gove: I think it is respecting the autonomy of climate change, respecting the legislation that we already have in place, respecting the role of the CCC and respecting the new body.

Q146       Kerry McCarthy: What do you mean by “respecting the autonomy”? It sounds like it is the fact that it is in a different Government Department that is the problem. Are you saying that is not the case?

Michael Gove: I think that there is always an argument that can—

Q147       Kerry McCarthy: Because adaptation is in your Department, so a significant part of the work is in your Department.

Michael Gove: Absolutely, and the work that John and the whole team do on adaptation is taken incredibly seriously and shapes a huge amount of the work in my Department. But I think there is a broader question, and it is a very legitimate one, as to whether or not climate change and energy being in one Department and other environmental issues being in another Department is the perfect shape for the machinery of government. There are other arguments about whether or not the environment should be in the same Department as food, farming, fisheries and so on. To go back to the point about pragmatism, I try to work with the shape of Government as it is and trying to work with colleagues in institutions as effectively as possible.

Q148       Kerry McCarthy: But those institutions are saying this is not the most effective way possible to do it.

Michael Gove: No, I do take very seriously what Baroness Brown and Lord Deben said, yes.

Q149       Kerry McCarthy: How many meetings have you had with the Committee on Climate Change to talk about working together?

Michael Gove: I think I have had three meetings, at least three, with John and the Baroness to discuss these and related issues. I think I have had other separate meetings with John when we have talked about other issues, but Committee on Climate Change responsibilities have been part of it. So I think three specific CCC-related meetings and then other meetings in which the CCC and its operations were—

Q150       Kerry McCarthy: Specifically about how the two bodies would work together?

Michael Gove: More broadly also about how we could fulfil our responsibilities when it came to adaptation.

Q151       Kerry McCarthy: In terms of this issue about the governance gap and the new body, have you had a specific meeting about that?

Michael Gove: Yes, that has been a significant issue at our most recent meeting, yes.

Q152       Caroline Lucas: Just on that, on governance, as Kerry says, the CCC does not have the enforcement powers that we imagine that the new body will have, so there will be a significant discrepancy between one set of environmental issues hopefully having an enforcement body with some teeth, but then this strange area where this other set of issues around climate, those areas that fall under the remit only of the CCC, will not have those same teeth. Do you recognise that that is an anomaly and a not helpful one?

Michael Gove: I absolutely recognise that it is. I would not say an anomaly, but it gives rise to a question mark. I would say two things: we already have in the Climate Change Act a level of ambition and responsibilities placed on Government that are recognised as, if not ideal, certainly significantly better than many other nations and indeed ahead of where the EU has been. The other thing is that the UK is a party in its own right to the international governance structures under the UN framework convention on climate change.

Q153       Caroline Lucas: That does not give domestic teeth in the same way as we hope the environmental body will in terms of not meeting our carbon targets. What we want is real teeth.

Michael Gove: I understand that point. Yes, I do appreciate that.

Q154       Chair: Obviously there have been significant amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Act on thisit was a Bill, it is now an Act. Your consultation had a couple of options. It is very clear that there is going to be one option post the amendments, which is principles listed on the face of the Bill and a single policy statement under that legislation to explain their interpretation and application. How will that policy statement for the principles be developed and scrutinised?

Michael Gove: I think that it would be developed within the Government, like any other policy statement. An analogy has been drawnno analogy is perfectwith the National Planning Policy Framework. I would propose or suggest that the Government draw up their policy statement. Obviously it would be up to any Government Minister as to how they would set about gathering evidence, consulting, and making clear what the means might be for shaping that policy statement. Then I hope that it would be presented to the House of Commons and then debated and voted on in the House of Commons.

Q155       Chair: That is where the row is going to happen again, is it not? Across Government the rows will come back in from Treasury, from DCLG, and from Transport about how this is not going to be accepted by Ministers. Then you are going to have all the green groups and the NGOs rightly asking for much higher standards. What is the process of engaging with the public? You are saying there is a legal policy process in the Government. How long will the public have to look at this statement?

Michael Gove: That is a very fair point. One of the things is we want to have it debated and voted on in Parliament, to take the concerns you have. Were there to be a future Government Minister in another Government Department that wanted in some way to include in the policy statement things that you or I might think were not necessarily a good idea for the better protection of our environment, were that hypothetical future Minister to prevail in the shaping of the policy statement in a way that you or I might not altogether approve of, when it came to the House of Commons I think it would be the case that the NGOs that you mention and members of the public or you or I might say, “Hmm” and would seek therefore to say, “I am sorry, as you bring this forward, I do not think you will necessarily get a majority in the House of Commons for this provision, because it will be seen as weakening protection. Therefore, we in the House of Commons will not stand for it”.

In the same way as the House of Commons and the House of Lords together amended the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in a particular way, so I could see a situation in the future where the prospect of defeat in the House of Commons for a particular proposition might lead the Government to then amend their policy statement so that the hypothetical Minister in a future case who might have wanted to weaken protections would find that his or her ambitions were thwarted by the democratic majority in the House.

Q156       Chair: Do you see it being amendable by the House of Commons?

Michael Gove: The question of how the House of Commons could be involved beyond simply a yes or no vote is one that I am open to consideration on. I would not want to run through the whole gamut of options as to how the House of Commons might be involved, but I think that from the moment of the Government saying, “This is our starting point” to the point where the House of Commons votes, there would clearly have to be engagement between the Government, the public, interested parties and the House of Commons in order to ensure that people, when the time came to vote, felt they had the fullest sense of

Q157       Chair: There are devolved Administrations that you did not show your consultation proposals to before you published it. Why was that?

Michael Gove: We did. There was some question over whether or not they had enough time of course to see them before that.

Q158       Chair: When did they see it? How much in advance did they get it?

Michael Gove: I cannot recall in each individual circumstance, because I think some of them had it for longer than others. The broader point was that there had been extensive engagement. While of course one can always give more time for consultation and for sight of a particular document, I think that this document, the principles and the arguments within it, had been well trailed beforehand.

Q159       Caroline Lucas: On the principles, I wanted to press you on the current proposals that are to have regard to environment principles. You will know there is a lot of concern about that formulation. What practical examples could you give of where that formulation, that language, has been effective in forcing Governments to act?

Michael Gove: I am always happy to be corrected by people who know more about the law than me, but my understanding is that the EU itself has the various principles that we agree on written into various different bits of EU treaty and other architecture. Then when the EU comes forward with specific legislation the EU itself has regard to or takes account of those principles. Similarly, the aim would be to make sure that when we legislate or when we make policy that we have regard to those principles.

It would also be the case that there would clearly be law. If the Government were to break the law that it had put in place on anything environmental then of course we could be taken to court. Indeed, it is envisaged as a direct result of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that this future body could play a role in taking the Government to court, if necessary.

Q160       Caroline Lucas: On that issue of not having paid sufficient regard, you believe that would be something that could prompt a court case on the issue of how much regard has been paid and whether enough regard has been paid? You will know that there is a real concern that it is not a strong enough formulation and people are really worried that in fact it will be incredibly hard to bring a court case around the level of regard that has been paid, because it is quite subjective.

Michael Gove: I do take your point. I think it is the case that there have been judicial reviews on the basis that people have paid insufficient regard to duties and responsibilities placed on them. Again, I think the critical thing would be that there would be an opportunity for the body to, if it felt that the law itself had been breached, certainly take the Government to court. As I say, the principle of “having regard to” or “having due regard to” is, first, a relatively well-established legal principle, and secondly a descriptionsome might quibble with its accuracy, but I think it is a very fair descriptionof what the EU itself does with respect to laws. Of course the EU itself, whatever criticisms one might make of its operation, we have seen the way in which laws have been brought forward that have taken account of these principles fairly.

Q161       Caroline Lucas: The principles when it comes to the EU are properly embedded in EU environmental law in a way that we are not quite sure what their relationship is going to be to the UK laws. Making that comparison once we have exited, if we do, is not really a fair comparison, because they will not have the same weight.

Michael Gove: I think it is a legitimate comparison. People can argue how fair or accurate it is to the letter, but I think it is a legitimate comparisonand this is part of the debate about the whole EU (Withdrawal) Billthat there are certain principles and that these principles guide how law is made, but they do not have the status of law itself. That is an important point, but I can understand why people might take a different view.

Q162       Caroline Lucas: Moving on quickly to the issue of what happens for a body in the event of no deal, you have previously told us that we do not need to worry too much because it does not have to be done before March 2019 because we are going to have this transition deal. If we do not, what plans do you have to make sure there is not a governance gap in between leaving and before we get this new body up and running?

Michael Gove: First, I think everyone across Government wants to make sure that everything is done in order to make sure we have a withdrawal agreement that gives us that transition period.

Caroline Lucas: But it might not.

Michael Gove: Absolutely and legitimately. We are nowand this is one of the things that was agreed at Chequersstepping up all the preparations in the event of there not being that agreement. I am not trying to dodge the question, but I think it is important that people do not think that no deal is our preference. We are stepping up preparations within DEFRA and elsewhere in order to make sure that operationally and legislatively we are in a position to make sure that there is noor at the very least a minimal air gap between.

Q163       Caroline Lucas: How are you going to do that?

Michael Gove: That is work that is going on at the moment with my team looking at all of the statutory, legislative and other underpinnings that require to be put in place.

Q164       Caroline Lucas: It is massively urgent. An air gap sounds like quite a benign thing, but if we fall off a cliff after March 2019 and we do not have all of the infrastructure of environment protection and the enforcement mechanisms and all of that, that can have serious implications in terms of the state of our environment in this country.

Michael Gove: I absolutely take your point. That is why we are seeking to ensure that were we to leave in March 2019 without that transition period, we would have legal, statutory or other protections that would mean that the fears that you entirely understandably raise can be properly addressed.

Q165       Caroline Lucas: Do you have a sense yet of what that is going to look like? Would you, for example, envisage something like a shadow body?

Michael Gove: It is a very fair question. I do want to say more at this stage, but I will have the chance to do so when we return in September or October.

Q166       Caroline Lucas: Could you give us a sense of when we are going to know what this stop-gap is?

Michael Gove: If you want to invite me back in October when we return, then I think we will all have a clearer sense both of the likelihood of there being no deal, but also what steps have been put in place in order to prepare for such an eventuality.

Q167       Chair: How many of the nest of singing birds have jumped out by that stage as well? Moving on, obviously if we did leave with no deal, the fact that we do not have any environmental protections would massively impact on our trade, would it not? It would be a huge blow.

Michael Gove: If we did leave without a deal, through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill we would have taken into domestic law the whole caucus of EU law as it stands at the moment. It would not be fair to say that there were no environmental protections.

Q168       Chair: There is no enforcement mechanism, no monitoring, no regulatory standards, and the trust that the EU would have in our standards and processes would be eroded, would it not?

Michael Gove: It would be a better situation certainly were the body that has been discussed to be in place and were there also to be other provisions that meant that there would not be friction at the border. Were we to leave without a deal then it would be the case that the EU would treat us as it would any other third country.

Q169       Chair: Going back to the “have regard to” versus the “act in accordance with” the EU’s treaty on the European Union, the Treaty of Lisbon, says, “Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection. It shall be based on the precautionary principle. That is pretty explicit, is it not?

Michael Gove: Yes. It is saying that the legislation shall be based on that and that is the same approach broadly that we want to take. The thing about the precautionary principle is that it is a principle, not a law. When shaping law, you shape law in accordance with or with regard tothe words are not identical, but they mean more or less the same thingthat principle.

Q170       Chair: They do not. The lawyers would argue that they absolutely do not mean the same thing, but we are going to come back to this.

Michael Gove: I think that you can, in my limited experience, always find, if you are prepared to pay enough, some lawyer who will take a different opinion to another lawyer. The TFEU, a provision that you shared with the Committee and with me, is one that does reinforce the point that principles inform law rather than acting as law.

Q171       Dr Matthew Offord: We have heard from several witnesses about environment watchdogs and some are often abolished. English Nature was abolished, the Environmental Audit Office, Commission for Rural Communities was abolished, the Sustainable Development Commission, they were all abolished. Any such watchdog that we would have when we left the European Union I do not think would be abolished, but Lord Deben did explain that the Environmental Agency that he set up did not have the kind of powers that he envisaged and over time they were successively taken away by various Governments, including our own.

Sir Amyas Morse from the NAO also told us that budgets are often cut through these bodies. How will you ensure that a new body will have its independence protected and we will not see these things? It has been described as a Thomas Becket syndrome.

Michael Gove: Yes, it is a very good challenge and an interesting historical analogy. One of things we need to do is establish right from the beginning the best set of principles to make sure that everyone recognises that the body is independent and robust. For example, it has been suggested that whoever is proposed as the first chair of this body should undergo a preappointment hearing, at least by this Committee, if not also by Neil Parish’s Committee as well, to establish that the individual concerned is appropriate, competent and so on. Then I think it would be the case that logically that individual, once appointed, should have the freedom then to choose their own chief executive in order to reinforce and underpin the independence.

              Also it would probably be the case that when it came to the budget for such a body that there should be a clear—without going down to every penny—sense of accounting line by line so that everyone could see that the body had the funding that it needed. Also if for any reason that funding were eroded or the independence of the body were eroded, the chair, the chief executive and the other members of the board could blow the whistle on that as well. Again, I am open to suggestions as to how we ensure or reassure people about the independence of the body.

              To take a case in point, Sir Amyas and the NAO everyone recognises. He is a formidable individual; it is a formidable body. I think any Government that were to attempt to either silence him or to clip its wings would generate—what is the word—something of a backlash. I think it would be the case that if any future Government were to try to erode the independence or the authority of this body, then it would pay a heavy price for doing so.

Q172       Dr Matthew Offord: You are going to have a difficult task, aren’t you, because that body certainly would need adequate resources?

Michael Gove: Yes, it certainly would.

Q173       Dr Matthew Offord: Your friend for South West Norfolk has already said it is not macho to demand money, but you are going to have to be seen to demand the appropriate amount of money.

Michael Gove: Yes. I have never been accused of being macho by anyone. I think you are right; we will need to make sure that within DEFRA we provide appropriate resources.

Q174       Dr Matthew Offord: It certainly would not be as big as the DG or Environment Department in Brussels. What kind of size do you envisage it should be?

Michael Gove: I do not think it necessarily needs to be large in order to effective and independent. The evidence from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in New Zealand is that quality matters as much as quantity and what you want to have are people leading the organisation who are authoritative and independent and who have access to advice from people who are scientific or otherwise appropriately qualified authorities in their field. That is my view about the most important thing, that you get the very best people rather than necessarily a big bureaucracy.

Q175       Dr Matthew Offord: My final point, where do you think this body should be established? Should it be out in the countryside?

Michael Gove: That is a very fair point. I do not know. If John will forgive me, my ideal location for it would be Aberdeen, not least because the JNCC have an office there, but I suspect the Scottish Government might have a view. I do not know; I am open to all suggestions. Maybe West Yorkshire, I do not know.

Chair: Definitely Wakefield. Wakefield trumps Aberdeen in terms of speed to London and speed to Scotland as well, so we will be bidding in for that. A quick question from Caroline.

Q176       Caroline Lucas: Just changing tempo a little bit, I wanted to ask you a question about the broader nature debate. We know that we are losing half of our wildlife, we know that swifts, one of the swifts that can fly 1 million miles, we have lost half of those populations in the last 20 years, three-quarters of our butterfly species declined over that 40 years. On the one hand you have this horrendous picture of what is happening to our nature and on the other side we have what has been called by a wonderful man—I do not know if you have read his book called “Last Child in the Woods”—Richard Louv, he talks about something that he describes as nature deficit disorder. In other words, an ongoing group of young people coming through our society, and more to come, who are not in touch with nature in the way that perhaps we were or our grandparents were, that do not know what the trees are or so on.

What I want to ask you is whether you would at least consider how we could look again at the curriculum—so it goes slightly back to your old job—and, for example, having some kind of nature GCSE, natural history. It is not enough that it is covered scientifically in biology. What I am talking about is something much broader than that and it is an idea that is getting quite a lot of interest among the NGOs and scientists outside this place. In terms of how do you really embed young people again in nature around them, I am struck by what Richard Louv says. He says, “We won’t protect what we don’t love and we won’t love what we don’t know”. If you have a whole set of young people coming through our educational system who no longer have that access and who, for various reasons, as we know, are less likely to be roaming outside, more likely to be in their bedrooms on social media and so forth, then that is storing up a lot of problems.

Michael Gove: I could not agree more. I have not read the book that you mentioned, but I recently read “Our Place” by Mark Cocker and in fact went to a debate that he spoke at last night, and he makes a very similar, very powerful case to the one that you have just articulated. It has made me think harder. Of course there has been a recent debate—I think it is the Scottish Government, or rather, in Scotland—Robert McFarlane’s book “Lost Words” that makes the point that there are some words that have gone from the dictionary and as the words go they are used less often, that which they describe becomes more distant from children’s experience. There are all sorts of ways that the natural world recedes from view and from experience and I think that is a problem.

I do not know if another GCSE is the right thing. I certainly know that even if it is the right thing it is not nearly enough on its own. I remember thinking back to when I was Education Secretary—and I do not want to go back through old things that we did, right or wrong—it was in my mind when thinking about things like school food plans or things like both geography and biology curricula and making sure that there was an appreciation of natural history, the naming and understanding of appropriate species. Yes, I do think that there is much more that we can do. You are right, during our lifetimes, during the last 100 years, there are any number of measures. One of them that struck me is that since the 1930s we have lost more than 97% of our wildflower meadows and we lost 1 million ponds.

Q177       Caroline Lucas: Could I come with someone like Mary Colwell, who is a wildlife broadcaster who has been working on this, and have a conversation with you about how to do this?

Michael Gove: Yes, absolutely.

Chair: Thank you. We are going to move on with a question on air pollution from Geraint.

Q178       Geraint Davies: Secretary of State, obviously you are aware of the problem in terms of the 40,000 deaths a year prematurely and the £20 billion it cost the Government in court. You have now instructed 33 local authorities to take action on air pollution, but the Government have cut their budgets in half. Will you be ensuring that those local authorities have the money they need to fulfil all our obligations to keep our air clean?

Michael Gove: Yes, I want to do everything I can to work with local authorities. Obviously I recognise the budget constraints that local authorities are under, but the Mayor of London very kindly invited me to a roundtable, which you were at, under a month ago. One of the things I would say is I disagree with the Mayor of London about this or that, but I do think that the leadership he has shown on this issue has been really helpful. There were a number of other local authority leaders who were there who were running through the approaches that they have taken and we want to work with them. We have made some money available in order to help them to prepare their own local clean air plans. We keep under review the support that we have. I am sure many of them think it will not be enough, but I do want to work pragmatically.

Q179       Geraint Davies: On the money, why are you not pushing harder and more publicly that the motor industry itself should make a major contribution towards a clean air fund that may be used partly by local authorities, Government and elsewhere to clean up their act, given the extent that they are culpable and responsible for the premature deaths we all now know about?

Michael Gove: It is a fair point. I know that other countries have done precisely that. We have to balance an acknowledgment of past responsibility on the part of motor manufacturers with a recognition that motor manufacturers now realise that things need to change and indeed are investing in making that change. There is an argument that if you seek to punish now, that might damage the business model of particular car manufacturers, they might not have the money required in order to invest in the technology that we would need in order to see the progress that we would all like to see. I think there is a balance there, but I can understand why people—

Q180       Geraint Davies: As you know, the United States put multi-billion pound fines against VW for this scandal of basically inflicting death on people knowledgably and breaching rules and tests that were designed to save people’s lives. As a result, they were taken to court and fined. Don’t you think at least the Government should take similar action, whether it is a fixed-cost amount or a certain amount of money from the motor industry to help clean up our act and maybe invest in helping new technologies to have cleaner cars in the future, to help them make that shift rather than simply putting off the date of that shift to 2040 when we would all like to see it at 2030?

Michael Gove: I do take your point and I think that, on balance, it is better to say to the companies, “These are some ambitious but legitimate targets that we want you to meet and we want to see that investment directed towards meeting those targets”. I do acknowledge the force of what you are saying. Of course it may be open to others to go down a legal route.

Q181       Geraint Davies: Finally, you have published three separate strategies on air quality in the same year. Wouldn’t it be better now to put everything together and look at other ideas as well and come forward with a holistic Clear Air Act that certainly does grapple with this issue, including having a fiscal strategy to pay for it?

Michael Gove: It is certainly the case that the strategies having been published, there will need to be, through primary legislation, whether it is through a specific Clean Air Act or whether it is through provisions in a broader Environment Act, there does need to be primary legislation, I think you are absolutely right.

Q182       Geraint Davies: When we see you in October you will have a set of armoury, you seem to be saying, at least on the clean air front, to have institutional enforcement of known air quality standards rather than dropping off the edge, as we all fear, with no deal and people basically becoming this dirty coughing man of Europe?

Michael Gove: Again, I absolutely understand your concerns and I know that this has been a consistent concern. You have done some formidable campaigning, including shaping potential legislation. It is in that spirit that I would say that I hope that people have recognised that over the course of the last 12 months the Government has properly acknowledged the scale of the problem, come forward with some proposals about how we can deal more effectively with it and set more ambitious targets, including aspirations to meet World Health Organisation targets. Of course people want to see more detail and see these intentions given stronger teeth, but I hope that, particularly given the authoritative position that you have on the issue, you would be able to acknowledge that we have moved, even if you would think that there is still further to go.

Q183       Chair: The ECJ is currently taking the UK to court for failing to take any environment action against Volkswagen for the diesel cheat devices scandal. That is already a chink in the UK’s access to environmental justice that we are being pursued through the European courts on. Surely that shows the problems that we already have in the UK, that we do not have sufficient legislation to take action against manufacturers when they commit such an egregious act?

Michael Gove: There are many different ways of looking at it.

Q184       Chair: If you are a Volkswagen driver and you look over in the United States where they have all had their money back and been given a new vehicle, and you look at what has happened here, which is a slightly rubbish fix that reduces the value of the car that you have bought in good faith and only lasts a couple of years, you think, “Hang on a minute, how come the Americans, the great deregulatory economy, can do it and the UK cannot?” Other EU countries are doing it. Why aren’t we?

Michael Gove: I will pass on to the Prime Minister the fact that the EAC is praising Donald Trump’s America for having higher environmental standards in this area than the UK.

Q185       Chair: They have got a more litigious system, they have a strong Environmental Protection Act, which we do not have, and it gives citizens the access to justice, to environment justice, under the law that we do not provide. It is nothing to do with Trump, despite his best efforts. He has had to sack his EPA chief.

Michael Gove: Indeed. The Volkswagens in question were not manufactured in the UK.

Q186       Chair: They were not manufactured in the US either.

Michael Gove: Indeed, they were manufactured in the EU.

Q187       Chair: My point is about access to justice. We are being pursued through the European Court for failing to provide environmental justice to our citizens who were sold a pup. That is a problem, isn’t it? Do you think this new body is going to sort that problem?

Michael Gove: I think several things. The first thing is that these cars are manufactured in Europe. If the ECJ are saying that access to justice in this country is a problem, that is a perfectly legitimate question to raise, but there is a broader question, which is why car manufacturers in Europe were behaving in this way. Why they were capable of behaving in this way and what the appropriate steps that might and should be taken within the EU, not just by the UK, but by other European countries? That is question 1. The second question is we were all encouraged, as you quite rightly point out, by previous Governments to move towards diesel because of the impact that diesel has compared to petrol internal combustion engine cars.

Q188       Chair: We know the history. My question was a very specific point about access. We are one of three or four countries going through the ECJ court process because of our failure to tackle Volkswagen. Other EU countries are tackling them; we are not. I think that is food for thought.

Michael Gove: It is indeed, but you have taken one particular morsel from the table. I was just inviting us to look at the—

Q189       Chair: Look at the banquet. There is a banquet. We are going to carry on.

Michael Gove: No, to look at the whole smorgasbord and to recognise exactly why we are where we are.

Chair: A true banquet. We are going to carry on with petrol and diesel with a question from Alex.

Q190       Alex Sobel: In the Road to Zero Strategy, the Committee on Climate Change in its statement in response said yesterday, “There is a lack of clarity over the stated aim to end the sale of conventional cars in 2040 leaving open the possibility of sales of conventional hybrids and very short range plug-in hybrids from 2040”. According to this strategy, will I be able to buy a hybrid—I drive a hybrid now—in 2040 or not? Can you give us and the Committee on Climate Change some clarity?

Michael Gove: My understanding is that in certain circumstances hybrids would be available because the policy as set out is that effectively cars will be zero emission by 2040, which means that the majority of new cars and vans that will be sold will be 100% zero emission and all new cars and vans will have to have significant zero emission capability. The reason why we have not said 100% is that there will be, as outlined, the possibility in specific circumstances of a minority of vehicles, while they are zero emission capability, not being 100% zero emissions.

Q191       Alex Sobel: Are you going to define what zero emission capability means?

Michael Gove: That is a Department for Transport area, where more detail will be forthcoming shortly. I think one of the things—it goes back to the point that Geraint made about fining and so on—that is important is that we, no pun intended, drive this process as fast as we can, but it is also important that we work within industry in order to ensure that we can make this technological transition as effectively as possible.

Q192       Alex Sobel: Isn’t 2040 rather late in the game? We have had Scotland now say 2033, Germany 2030, Holland are 2030, Norway are 2025. Energy UK have said 2040 is too late, local authorities think 2040 is too late. Shouldn’t we set an even more ambitious target of 2030?

Michael Gove: It is legitimate to request one, but I think the thing about the Scotland target is that what the Scottish Government wants to do is to ensure that there is more plug-in capacity. It has put a year on that. That is fair enough, but I do not think the Scottish Government is going to be banning vehicles in the way that our UK-wide target requires. It is also the case that in Germany the year that you mention is a Bundesrat—Geraint and I have had this discussion before—resolution, but it does not have full legal effect. It is not the law of the Bundesrepublick.

I do take your point, there are other countries, Norway being one of them, that do have a high level of ambition. A target having been set, let’s try to meet it would be my view.

Q193       Alex Sobel: In terms of our ability to meet both our air quality standards and our commitments under the Paris agreement, do you feel that this strategy will meet that?

Michael Gove: Yes, I absolutely do. I believe it will. I am more than happy to always—and I absolutely take your point—look at evidence from wherever it comes in order to make sure that we continue to be in a position to meet our ambitions. If for any reason that evidence suggests that we need to do more, then I will keep that under review consistently.

Q194       Alex Sobel: The Committee on Climate Change have indicated that it will not be and I am sure we will question them and come to you.

Michael Gove: Of course, absolutely.

Q195       Mr Robert Goodwill: Yes, I hope that by asking a question about flooding during this current drought I might pre-empt some rainfall. As the Secretary of State knows, the National Adaptation Programme is due later this year and we have heard from the Environment Agency that due to their cuts in funding they may not quite have available services to feed into that. Could I ask how you will be able to deliver what is needed in the next National Adaptation Programme as soon as is practicable, without regional partnerships and advisory services such as Climate Ready?

Michael Gove: God willing, later this week or early next week I will be having meetings, not just with the Environment Agency, but also other NDPBs in order to ascertain exactly how we can achieve just that in the context that you lay out.

One of the requests that I made of my team on Monday is that we bring together the relevant chairs, chief executives, NDPBs and the relative official within the Department in order to discuss just this. That meeting, if it does not take place on Thursday, should take place next week.

Q196       Mr Robert Goodwill: Obviously under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 there is an obligation on local resilience forums based on these areas to be prepared and be ready to adapt. Would you be able to make the necessary funding available so that work can go ahead?

Michael Gove: I hope so. One of the things separately that I know the Committee has taken an interest in is that Major General Tim Cross conducted at my request a review of the plans in place that LRFs have in order to make sure that they have both the best plans available and sufficient resources available to deal with the contingencies that you mentioned.

Q197       Mr Robert Goodwill: One of the very contentious issues is the building of houses on flood plains. Secretary of State, how many houses have been built since 2009 on high flood risk areas because they cannot get flood insurance through Flood Re and whether you think that process will continue with more houses being built on flood plains?

Michael Gove: I think it is preferable, wherever possible, not to. I do not have access to those figures, but I will write back to the Committee on that.

Q198       Chair: Just figures from a Government PQ in February 2016 state that in 2013-2014 7% of new residential homes were created in high-risk flood zones or on the flood plain. That is 9,000 homes in that year. Do you have oversight of how many homes a year are being developed since then on the flood plain?

Michael Gove: I do not know the answer to that. I can find out the answer and share it with the Committee.

Q199       Chair: Those homes, it is important to remember, anything built after 2009 is not protected by Flood Re so at the moment it looks like possibly 10,000 homes a year being built without the ability to get protection, flood insurance protection under Flood Re.

Michael Gove: As I acknowledged in the point that was made by Robert, these are not the ideal locations for new developments and I very much take on board the point that you make about insurance.

Q200       Chair: Let’s move to sustainable urban drainage. It is 10 years since the Pitt reviews and investigations into the devastating floods that affected 40,000 homes, the largest civil emergency in this country since World War 2. One of the recommendations was to implement sustainable urban drainage systems, which has now been brought in in Scotland and in Wales. Why is it taking so long in England?

Michael Gove: I think that MHCLG will be coming forward with proposals a little later this year in order to meet the requirements on sustainable urban drainage.

Q201       Chair: Is this your DEFRA MHCLG review into sustainable urban drainage?

Michael Gove: Yes.

Q202       Chair: So it has taken 10 years?

Michael Gove: It is certainly 10 years on from Pitt, yes. I hope that a little later this year we will publish that review and the Committee can have an opportunity to assess whether or not we meet the needs of the hour.

Q203       Chair: In that, will you update your non-statutory sustainable drainage standards to include wider benefits, such as improvements to biodiversity, such as the Welsh Government has done in this?

Michael Gove: It is a very fair point, but I would not want to pre-empt the conclusion of the work that we are with MCHLG in the review.

Q204       Geraint Davies: Secretary of State, as it happens, I was in charge of adapting rules of climate change in respect of flood risk management. On sustainable drainage you will be aware that the problem is there is a lot of concreting over. There is an enormous amount of urban rain and the sewers are at total capacity. Will you undertake as part of the sustainable urban drainage system to look at ideas around storage and containment of water above houses in water vats? The idea would be that basically water would come off buildings, then be captured in vats and then gradually drain away rather than flood in one lump down into the sewers and basically flooding the streets.

Michael Gove: It is a very fair point and I know the team are looking at that.

Q205       Chair: I welcome our colleagues from the New Zealand Environment Committee who have just joined us. We are looking forward to a good chat with you.

We have one final question, Secretary of State, we have two minutes before you have to leave. We have just published our report on F-gases and had your response to that. Our report on F-gases recommended increasing the recycling of asthma inhalers to 50% by 2020. Your response to our report made no mention of that. Will you set out a timetable to stop those tens of millions of asthma inhalers containing those powerful greenhouse gases ending up in landfill each year as part of your waste review?

Michael Gove: Yes.

Q206       Chair: You will, great. When will the Waste and Resources Strategy be published?

Michael Gove: This autumn.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed, Secretary of State.