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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:45 pm, 28th October 2019

I will not give way because I have so little time.

I am delighted that so many stakeholders have expressed their support for the ambitions of the Bill. For example, the Aldersgate Group, a green business group, has said that

“businesses have backed the introduction of an ambitious and robust environmental governance framework that includes…legally binding environmental improvement targets to support investment in the natural environment over the long term.”

I hope that that gives Caroline Lucas the assurance that businesses have looked at the content of the Bill. Far from the negativity that we have heard this evening, they see great benefits to the economy from sustainability. Indeed, my hon. Friend David Warburton also referred to the business benefits of the Bill. While I am on the subject, I will be very pleased to meet him to talk about the Somerset Rivers Authority, although I will not go into that now because it is quite detailed.

Many of the Members who have spoken are clear about the benefits of the Bill, as am I. We have heard a great deal of positive comments, so I will shoot through just some of them. My hon. Friend Derek Thomas said that the improvements on biodiversity will help the Manx shearwater. My hon. Friend Vicky Ford, who is a massive campaigner for the environment, talked about hedgehog highways. My right hon. Friend Mrs Miller said that her children wanted the deposit return scheme. My hon. Friend Sarah Newton talked about the benefits for healthy soil that the Bill will enable us to deliver. Ruth George talked about the wider catchment work that we can do under this Bill and other measures. Ruth Jones talked passionately about the children in her constituency, and this Bill really will introduce things that our children want for the future of their environment.

Many points were raised tonight and I will not be able to get through them all, but a lot of colleagues mentioned environmental non-regression, particularly my hon. Friend Neil Parish, who does such a great job chairing the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the equally excellent Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh. I was also a member of that Committee, so I know how detailed her work is.

My right hon. Friend Mr Dunne also mentioned non-regression, because there are concerns in this area. I wish to be clear that our EU exit does not change the UK’s ambition on the environment. The UK has no intention of weakening our environmental protections; the Prime Minister has recognised the strength of feeling on this issue and he is committed to a non-regression provision on environmental protection in legislation.

A lot of comments were made about the OEP, not least by the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who is a passionate and ardent campaigner on the environment. I hope she is really going to get behind this Bill, because she has so much to input.

Like them, my hon. Friend Peter Aldous raised issues about OEP independence, and it will be independent. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has been asked by Government to conduct a pre-appointment hearing on the appointment of the chair of the OEP, and there will also be a legal duty on Ministers to have regard to the need to protect the independence of the OEP.