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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:14 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 9:14 pm, 28th October 2019

It is a pleasure to speak on a subject that I hope transcends party politics, to some extent, and on which a consensus, at least on the underlying principles, can be assumed. There can be no doubt about the severity of the crisis that the planet faces. At a time when political divisions undoubtedly seem to be hardening somewhat, it is worth repeating that there is no challenge more universal, both in its scope and solutions, than that of mitigating climate change.

It is vital that our concerns about climate change are woven into the fabric of governmental decision making, as this Bill seeks to achieve, and that depends directly on the success of the green economy. The low-carbon sector and its supply chain are providing nearly 400,000 green collar jobs in the country—more than aerospace—and growing far faster than the main economy, with estimated exports of more than £60 billion by 2030. The Bill’s provisions aim to release this enormous potential, as well as stimulating the new economic markets that will result.

Nature is built on a fragile set of relationships, and our drive to protect it requires the same. I have had the experience—echoed, I am sure, by Members across the House—of being heartened by the enormous commitment and passion that I hear from constituents on these issues. Before the House did the same thing, Frome in my constituency officially declared a climate emergency, setting ambitious aims to be entirely carbon neutral within just 11 years. Somerset County Council and Mendip District Council have followed suit, and these examples have been echoed by parish councils across my constituency. The measures in the Bill to enhance the powers of local authorities are particularly welcome. We must embed environmental needs into Government and local government culture.

There is a lot more that I could say, but time is short and I need to mention something that is rather more local to Somerset. The Bill’s provisions on water management are very welcome and I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, for her kindness, both in writing to me about the Somerset Rivers Authority and for her assistance in ensuring that the Government will continue to be active in supporting its vital work in Somerset.

Despite Government and Opposition support, my Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill fell, or rather, was brought down at the final hurdle in the other place when Royal Assent was tantalisingly close. My Bill would have put the Somerset Rivers Authority on a statutory footing, allowing it to plan ahead, ensuring that the future of Somerset would have been free of the terrible floods that we saw just a few years ago. Ministers are well aware that there is local disappointment about that, and I am extremely keen that the Government include the measures in my Bill in legislation very quickly indeed. I ask my hon. Friend if she will meet me at the earliest opportunity to discuss how we can move forward with these measures, so that we can give Somerset the same kind of confidence in the future as this Bill offers to provide the whole country.