We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Environment Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

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 said I was not going to take any interventions because there are just so many comments to get through.

The issue of resourcing and how the OEP was going to be funded was raised, particularly by the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). The OEP will have the resources it needs to hold the Government and other public authorities to account—that is absolutely essential. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State is required to provide the OEP with sufficient funding to enable it to perform its functions. It has to be properly functioning, otherwise it will not work, and it needs to work. The OEP will also have a five-year indicative budget that will be ring-fenced for each spending review period, giving it a long-term financial outlook and security.

The issue of fines was also raised, with various Members, particularly the shadow Secretary of State, saying that the OEP cannot leverage fines. I value her comments hugely. We had a very constructive meeting the other day and I honestly hope we will work very constructively in Committee, as I know we will. Fines will be unnecessary in our domestic framework once we leave the EU; they would simply shift resources away from the environment. We want the money to stay on the projects—on the environment. There are clear requirements in the ministerial code for Ministers to comply with the law, including court orders.

Targets were another area mentioned by many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and the hon. Members for Bristol East, for Brighton, Pavilion and for Newport West. Clause 10 requires the Government to set five-yearly interim targets and report annually on whether the natural environment has improved and whether progress has been made on these vital targets. So a real structure is in place to make sure that we meet these targets and that improvements are being made. If they are not being made, there will be recommendations on how they should be made. That is very strong and important.

Air quality was rightly mentioned by a number of Members, and air quality targets are in the Bill. The Government are committed to evidence-based policy making, and we therefore want the target to be ambitious and achievable. It is crucial that Parliament and stakeholders have a chance to comment on the process of developing this target. I met Dr Maria Neira from the World Health Organisation this week and discussed this with her, and she was fully supportive of taking this approach to setting the targets.

A number of colleagues mentioned the issue of engine idling—people sitting in their cars with the engines running. I came across it myself the other day; I had to ask the gentleman to kindly turn his engine off while he was waiting for me to come out for an event. It is an important issue that affects our air quality, particularly around schools when parents are waiting to collect their children. Local authorities can already issue fixed penalty notices for unnecessary engine idling, but guidance is being reviewed and the Government are planning to reissue it to local authorities in the coming months. People are rightly concerned about the issue.

I did not think that I would get through all those comments, so I shall carry on with a few more, Mr Speaker. We much value the experience and expertise of my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, who has been involved in DEFRA for so long. He mentioned the whole issue of water consumption. The Government recently consulted on personal consumption targets and measures required to achieve them. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the Government will publish a response in the new year, which will set out intended next steps. We should look at how much water we actually use, aside from water efficiency and any water wastage.

A number of colleagues, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, mentioned exports of plastics and suchlike. The measures in the Bill will support local authorities to collect a consistent set of recycling materials. That has been much consulted on and much raised, particularly in the Tea Room—people often talk about why we cannot get enough recyclable plastic material and why more is not used in products. If we had a more consistent collection system and more of the products were itemised, industry would know that it could get hold of particular plastics and use them in its products.