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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 9:30 pm, 28th October 2019

It is always sad to see my hon. Friend Bim Afolami cut off in full flow, but full flow is what is happening to parts of the river Severn close to my constituency of Gloucester, and therefore this debate on the environment comes at a very appropriate time.

Earlier in the debate we heard various Opposition Members make a number of complaints about the Bill. There are of course two ways for the Opposition to criticise any Bill: the first is to say, “This is a missed opportunity”; and the second is to say, “It hasn’t gone far enough.” The second, of course, normally comes with a corollary along the lines of, “The targets should be tougher; Britain can be more ambitious; we would have done it better.” But to be fair, today the shadow Minister acknowledged that this Bill is incredibly important in a whole number of ways and does some groundbreaking work in terms of establishing targets on water, air, plastics, biodiversity and so on. It is the first time in our country’s history that we have tried to be this ambitious and tried to tackle these things with genuine measures that will be measured by a new Office for Environmental Protection. I think everybody across the House recognises that that is a significant step forward.

So this is a vital Bill that tackles some key areas and has some Select Committee input. There is much to applaud, but it would be disingenuous to pretend that there is not always something more that could be done. Therefore, let me first commend the Government and, secondly, say to Members of the Opposition that those who criticise the Government for their environmental performance need to look at the world’s environmental performance index. We have moved from 12th in 2016 to sixth in 2018, and during the four years from 2014-18 the amount of coal produced for electricity went from 30% to 5.4%. Those are remarkable statistics.

What are the areas where we could do better? First, it would be practical for the Government to recognise that there is widespread support across the House for the principle of non-regression in environmental standards, so I hope that that will be changed in the next stage of the Bill. Secondly, the Government have an opportunity to go much further in their approach to some forms of energy generation. For example, we should simply drop the idea that fracking is ever going to happen in this country: I do not think there is support for it; I do not think it is practical; and I think we should recognise that.

Then there is the business of onshore wind. We should at this stage establish two different tiers of contracts for difference and auctions for green energy. We should have onshore wind and offshore in tier 1. Then we can allow marine energy to bid for, as it were, the more innovative and newer sources of energy under tier 2. That would be a great step forward for green energy sources.

I also think that, as the Transport Secretary has suggested, we could bring forward the date for getting rid of diesel cars, but we will need incentives to do so for all of us, and incentives to buy electric cars as well. That, in turn, will trigger a planning requirement for electric charging points, which I hope the Government will be looking out for from all local authorities. We will need more powers on air pollution for local authorities as well, and ultimately we will need a Minister to bring all these things together and be responsible for the net-zero carbon targets. I can think of no better candidate than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, once he has fulfilled his current obligations on Brexit.

Lastly, it would be wrong not to mention the ecopark in Gloucester, which I hope very much to develop with Enerva, the owner, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and other interested parties, with solar panels, biomass, huge numbers of new trees and a biodiversity park as well. I hope the Secretary of State will support this, with a little bit of help from Government.