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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:16 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 8:16 pm, 28th October 2019

Indeed. We now have the freedom to do that.

Stephen Doughty was worried about incinerators being built in his constituency, but it is European policy to phase out landfill and replace it with clean incinerators that operate under the standards imposed by the large combustion plants directive. Leaving the EU means that we could go back to dirty, polluting landfill instead of having cleaner incinerators, but I do not believe that that is the way forward.

Deidre Brock talked about the military. When passing legislation in Europe on vehicle emissions, I recall that there was almost always an exception for military use for vehicles and for noise, particularly for aircraft.

The hon. Member for Wakefield made a good point about our progress in improving many of our environmental standards since becoming a member of the European Union. Our rivers are cleaner, we have salmon in rivers where they have never been seen before, and our bathing water is cleaner. Indeed, the new standards that have been brought in have often led people to believe that we are going backwards, because beaches that had passed under the previous standards then failed when the standards were tightened up. While we can set ambitious and challenging new standards, we must ensure that people are aware of when we have made progress, even if we fail to hit the higher standards. Legislation was introduced at the same time as privatisation and meant that investment in water quality did not have to join the queue behind hospitals, schools and the other priorities of Government. It was privatisation that allowed us to deliver on such great projects as the Burniston sewage works in my constituency, the £50 million storm water tank in Scarborough and the new Irton water treatment works that are being built. The real risk to our water quality is not from leaving the EU but from nationalisation, which would once again mean investment in water quality having to join the queue behind other priorities, such as the NHS.

While we were in Europe we passed the REACH regulations and the chemicals registration legislation, which meant that we tested a back catalogue of chemicals, at a cost of £6 billion, during the course of which 100,000 animals were tested. We must not have to redo all that work and test all those animals alone. Although we are transferring responsibility to the Health and Safety Executive, we should not go it alone. Indeed, in the political declaration on 10 October, we talked about exploring the possibility of co-operation. I believe that associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency is the right way forward, while at the same time retaining the right to independence, so that if political decisions are made on chemicals such as glyphosate, we can do our own thing.

I was pleased to see the compulsory recall of vehicles in the legislation. Having been a Transport Minister at the time of the Volkswagen debacle, I think that is important. Clause 50 and schedule 10, on plastic return, are important, so long as we ensure that any schemes put in place are carbon-negative. Schemes such as reusable bottles can look good at the outset but can often mean transporting heavy glass around the country.

There are concerns in urban areas about the restrictions on coal and wood for burning, particularly for steam vehicles—I own one—and about access to coal, and also in rural areas, where no gas is available. I was pleased to see clause 63, which deals with litter. Maybe council enforcement officers could do other work in that area—for instance, on parking.

I hope to be fortunate enough to serve on the Bill Committee. Leaving the EU is an opportunity for our environment. This Bill gives us the tools we need to fully exploit those opportunities.