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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:18 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot 9:18 pm, 28th October 2019

I welcome this groundbreaking Bill on environmental issues. It takes us very many good steps forward. For me, one of the highlights is the governance provisions. The concept of the Office for Environmental Protection is an excellent one, as are the environmental improvement plans and the concept of target setting. Like other speakers, however, I have some concerns about the teeth that such bodies—particularly, the OEP—will have, because I have had experience of the ombudsman framework. It is long, tedious and, at the end of the day, often does not offer results. Judicial reviews are frankly too slow and tribunals are very slow. Damage to the environment can be quick and irreversible, so we need to look more closely at deterrence and speed. The introduction of fines is one small measure that will be very helpful.

The water abstraction and pollution provisions are equally welcome, but I have concerns that the Bill does not properly address water quality testing. The existing regime is not fit for purpose. In my own constituency, the Marine Management Organisation has offered a licence for dredging. The waste is to come from Exmouth harbour to Sprey point in Teignmouth. My concern is that the parties affected were not properly consulted—there is no statutory duty to consult—and that the concordat that is supposed to ensure they agree simply does not work. There is no joined-up action. We need proper statutory consultation and a process to get people working together.

The water quality standards, which are set by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, were woefully inept at dealing with my problem. When measuring samples, it looked only at 1.5 metres in depth, but the dredging was to take place much deeper. Likewise, the extracts were not analysed; in fact, they contained clay and silt, not just gravel. The Government need to consider proper mechanisms to review the decisions of bodies such as CEFAS and the MMO, because, if they are left as they are, poor decisions will be made that, in my constituency, could impact tourism and beach quality. Natural England and the Environment Agency do not use even the powers they have. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 requires an environmental assessment —in my case, we have seahorses—but that has not happened. The EA did not look properly at some of the blue flag and other quality issues.

Air quality is also key. Two towns in my constituency are currently over the limit. Clearly, we need to measure more, so I am glad that we will be measuring more of the pollutants, but we need more clarity about how this will be delivered. We also need to recognise the importance of local authorities in providing support. Many, including mine in Teignbridge, want to be carbon neutral, but they need Government assistance. There needs to be a joined-up plan. Let us help them, and let us help local generation. Regen is trying to do this in the south-west, but the Government do not seem to be playing ball and allowing bodies such as fire stations and hospitals to benefit from having solar panels and so on. We need a clean air Bill.

So well done, Government. This is a groundbreaking start, but unless this action is joined up, we will not succeed. I also put in a final plea for young people to be involved. The previous Prime Minister established a group to properly review this, but it has never met, and many of my constituents from Torquay Grammar School have gone viral on YouTube because they want it to happen.