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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:33 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee 8:33 pm, 28th October 2019

I do not like to totally contradict Caroline Lucas, but I think that there is so much in the Bill to welcome. I applaud my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, the Minister sitting on the Front Bench, as well as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the whole Department for their work to demonstrate how we can lead the way on environmental issues outside the EU.

I turn briefly to three aspects of the Bill. First, there is recycling. At the moment, every group of young people in Basingstoke whom I speak to want to talk about the plastics deposit scheme—an idea that has captured the imagination of young people, who want us to go further with such practical ways to help protect their environment for the future. I wholeheartedly applaud the Government’s ambition for all plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

However, will the Minister touch on the National Audit Office’s concern about the lack of checks on what happens to recyclable material when it is exported abroad? My local authority has taken a principled approach: it does not allow recyclable plastics from Basingstoke to be exported. That means, however, that we are finding it difficult to secure a domestic contract for the disposal of mixed plastics, which has had an impact on our recycling rates. We need an ethical approach and a level playing field, so that local authorities such as mine are not penalised for taking a strategic decision not to export their plastics.

The second issue that I was delighted to see in the Bill was that of air pollution, on which I have been campaigning with my local authority for a number of years. I particularly applaud the long-term target on particulates in the air, which affect not only the climate but the health of our constituents more directly. I urge the Government to look specifically at the British Lung Foundation’s proposals for tailored interventions around schools and nurseries. They should look no further than Basingstoke and the rest of Hampshire for a lead. Hampshire County Council is taking a lead with the My Journey project, which goes into schools to raise awareness of the impact that the idling of engines can have on air quality outside schools. The Clean Air campaign in Basingstoke aims to stop idling that might increase pollution in any area. All this is not because we have pollution problems in Basingstoke, but because we want to prevent such problems from starting in the first place. I urge the Minister to keep a close eye on the impact of those campaigns.

On water supply, I welcome the measures in the Bill to encourage transfers between regions rather than over-abstraction, which damages wildlife. However, a significant cost is associated with that, and I urge the Minister to be clearer on how that will be met.

In conclusion, the Bill is about what we can all do to tackle environmental issues in our constituencies; I shall take one small example from my own. Back in 2007, a water cycle study identified a significant problem with water pollution in the River Loddon. As a result of fantastic work by Thames Water, our local environment agency, our catchment partnership and others, we have managed to tackle the problem through ground-breaking technology. There has been a step change in our water quality because local people have acted, and local people have cared.