[Relevant documents: Fourteenth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2017-19, Prelegislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1893, and the Government Response, HC 95; and Eighteenth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2017-19, Scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1951, and the Government Response, HC 238.]
Before I invite the—it says here the Minister, but this is no mere Minister—the Secretary of State herself to move the Second Reading, I must announce my decision on certification for the purposes of
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a Government who recognise the profound importance of the great environmental challenges of our time. We are the first Government to set the goal that this generation should leave the natural environment in a better state than it was bequeathed to us. This is the first Government to make a legally binding commitment to become a net zero carbon economy. We have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since we returned to office, while growing the economy at the same time. We have pledged more funds than ever before to help the developing world reverse the decline of nature and tackle climate change. We are determined to respond to the grave public concern about these threats, so a new Cabinet Committee will co-ordinate work on climate change across Government, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.
Our action is guided by the mounting scientific evidence of the inextricable link between climate and nature. Wildlife habitats are crucial carbon storage systems. Protecting those forests, peatlands and natural open spaces is vital if we are to have any chance of averting disastrous climate change.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Will she confirm that it is Government policy that green belt land should be built on only in extenuating circumstances? The proposals to build on the green belt in Radcliffe, Unsworth and Simister in my constituency will devastate entire green belt areas and completely destroy the character of the village of Simister. Does she agree that that is not acceptable in any community?
I agree that it is vital that we protect our green belt and that green belt rules are abided by. The Government are absolutely determined to defend the green belt as part of our environmental policy.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. This is a very welcome Bill, which builds on much good work that the Government have already done. Does she recognise, however, that in suburban parts of London, like hers and mine, there remains a concern about particulate pollution? Will she consider, as the Bill progresses, what more we can do to strengthen the fight against particulate pollution—for example, by seeking to strengthen our commitment by joining the World Health Organisation guidelines on particulate pollution by 2030?
Planting more trees would make a great contribution to a more beautiful environment and have other good consequences. Will my right hon. Friend say a little about how that can be done, and can some of them come to Wokingham, please?
The Government have been involved in planting about 15 million trees, but we are determined to expand the programme because trees are crucial storage mechanisms for carbon and we will never get to net zero unless we plant a lot more.
My constituents, who, like me, care about nature, are absolutely delighted with the Bill. I am thrilled to be able to support it, particularly for rural communities blighted by fly-tipping. However, will my right hon. Friend watch out for the water abstraction element? It seems uncharacteristically mean.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his praise for the determination expressed in the Bill to protect nature and reverse the decline in biodiversity. We will listen carefully to his concerns and those of his constituents with regard to water abstraction to ensure that the Bill’s provisions are implemented in a way that is sensible, proportionate and fair.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Windsor is a beautiful constituency with a lot of active people campaigning on the environment. One of our biggest bugbears is Heathrow airport and any expansion of it. Will she confirm that the Bill contains measures on fine particulates that could well have an impact on Heathrow’s ability to expand?
It will certainly be vital for the expansion programme at Heathrow, if it goes ahead, to comply with the exacting environmental requirements that have already been placed on it. Naturally enough, it will also have to comply with any new requirements introduced to meet the target on fine particulate pollution, to which we are committed.
We have all received briefs from the Countryside Alliance and various other countryside bodies. They are very clear that the countryside is a place of great beauty and a habitat for wildlife. It is also a place of work and is home to millions of people. Will the Government ensure that the farming community, who own the land, look after the land and have managed it for years, will continue to do so, and that any new legislation will not disadvantage them?
We believe we can support farmers in their environmental stewardship and in caring for our natural environment through our replacement for the common agricultural policy. That will allow us to go further and faster in providing support for farmers conducting their crucially important role in protecting our natural environment.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. For everybody’s constituents, including mine in Gedling, the Bill is very important. It contains a lot of very welcome measures. If we are to have an election in the next few weeks, will she look at what can be done to preserve those measures so that they are not lost? I know that that is a matter of process, but it is extremely important to all of us and our constituents.
I agree that this landmark proposed legislation needs to continue regardless of when Parliament dissolves for a general election. It is vital that the Bill comes back to the House as soon as possible to ensure that we can embed in legislation the important protections it contains.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I was encouraged by her answer on Heathrow. She and I were on the same side of this argument for many years. I wondered whether we still agree. In 2017, she said,
“this is a hugely expensive project and one that will create significant economic damage.”
Her constituents and my constituents agree. Does she still agree with those words today?
As the hon. Lady points out, my reservations about the Heathrow expansion are on the record for everyone to read. The fact is that the House has voted by a large majority to give outline planning permission to this project. It is now for the scheme’s promoters to demonstrate that they can come up with a scheme that meets the exacting conditions on the environment that Parliament has set.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. Like many Members, I am one of a team of species champions, each representing an individual species that is in some way endangered. Does she agree it is very important that, as we tackle the housing challenge, we ensure developers build houses and create estates in a way that is sustainable for the surrounding countryside and allows those who move into such areas to live side by side with nature in the neighbouring area? Otherwise, we will lose more of the species that are so valuable to us.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and that is a core aim of the Bill: to ensure we deliver the homes we need in a way that safeguards our environment and nature.
I have taken a lot of interventions and I need to make some progress.
We are determined to seize the environmental opportunities that come with leaving the EU, including: the opportunity to create a better, more sustainable means of managing our fish stocks and a fairer deal for the communities who have lost out under the common fisheries policy; and the opportunity to support our farmers to cut emissions and pollution, and protect nature with a new system of farm support based on public money for the public goods.
The Bill will help us to realise the bold vision set out in our 25-year environment plan for urgent meaningful action across society towards long-term environmental targets, so that global Britain can go further and faster for our natural environment. Nine consultations underpin the proposed legislation. They received over 400,000 responses. Over half the Bill’s measures extend beyond England. I want to thank the devolved Administrations for working with us on the Bill, so that we can benefit the environment right across our United Kingdom.
The Bill will enshrine environmental principles in UK law for the first time, ensuring that the environment will be placed at the centre of Government decision making. The following principles are on the face of the Bill: the polluter should pay; harm should be prevented or rectified at source; the environment should be taken into consideration across Government policy; and a precautionary approach should be taken.
Would my right hon. Friend like to congratulate the Isle of Wight on becoming, earlier this year, a part of UNESCO’s biosphere network? Will she work with me to ensure that our precious landscape, both on the Island and elsewhere in the UK, is increasingly protected under the Bill to make sure we do not lose it?
I do indeed pass on my congratulations on that tremendous achievement.
Clauses 1 to 6 require the Government to set legally binding, long-term evidence-based targets to deliver significant environmental improvement in resource efficiency and waste reduction, biodiversity, air quality and water. We will become the first country in the world to do this. Future Governments will be required to publish plans to meet the targets that they have set themselves, reviewing milestones every five years and making existing targets more demanding or setting new ones if they fall short. All future Governments will be required to report annually on progress on delivering an environmental improvement plan.
Order. Before the Secretary of State gives way to the plethora of people who wish to intervene, at present the number of people who wish to speak means that speeches will be limited to between three and four minutes. If people intervene and take more time during the Secretary of State’s speech, that time limit will go down significantly.
I thank the Secretary of State very much. On air quality, will she join me in congratulating the Mayor of London on the success of the ultra low emission zone, which has seen such a dramatic fall in polluting vehicles moving into inner London? Is she also conscious of the fact that 83% of reporting zones across the country are still in breach of air pollution limits? However much she tells us that the Government will be doing better, does she recognise just how scandalously short we have fallen in recent years? We have very serious doubts about what the Government are—
Order. We cannot have this, because the hon. Lady has just spoken for half as long as most people who wait here till 10 o’clock will get.
I will take the hint and make progress, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I reassure the hon. Member for Westminster North that we have made significant advances in cleaning up air quality across the country. There are still significant issues with roadside exceedances. There is more that we need to do and that is why the Bill will set out those demanding targets.
No, I will make some progress.
I want to highlight clause 2, which contains one of the most ambitious elements of the legislation: namely, a duty to set a legally binding target for PM2.5 fine particulate matter. As Members will be aware, this pollutant has the most significant impact on human health. Poor air quality is the biggest environmental threat to public health. It is shortening lives and causing illness, and this Government are determined to step up our efforts to clean up the air that we breathe—an issue that I know concerns my constituents in Chipping Barnet, and I am sure that that view is shared by many across our nation.
Many of our constituents will be so relieved to hear the House discussing a positive piece of legislation. As a former public health Minister, I know that our clean air strategy was described by the WHO as an
“example for the rest of the world to follow.”
Will the Secretary of State say a word about how the Bill will enable and help local government to meet their responsibilities in improving air quality across the country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we will not be able to succeed in our ambition to clean up our air quality without strong action by local government. There are important provisions in the Bill to help local government to address air quality challenges, for example, in relation to domestic burning.
For the sake of Back Benchers’ speeches later on, I will have to make some progress. Just as this nation acted successfully to curb the air pollution dangers of the past, we now need to address this major environmental harm that we face in the modern era.
Clauses 19 to 38 will establish the Office for Environmental Protection as a powerful new independent watchdog on the environment. It will provide expert independent advice to Government on environmental plans; scrutinise policy and progress; investigate if public authorities fail to live up to their commitments on the environment; and, where necessary, take enforcement action. The OEP will have a role in enforcing climate change law as well, complementing the functions of the much respected Committee on Climate Change. This addition to the Bill was one for which both the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee called. As a non-departmental public body, the OEP will be independent of ministerial control. It will have a free-to-use complaints system for the public, and multi-year funding settlements will give it financial stability.
The second half of the Bill will empower environmental improvement across a range of sectors, encouraging businesses to innovate and invest in meeting the crucial environmental challenges that we face as nation, and creating additional powers for local government on waste, nature, air quality and water. I think everyone in the House would agree that we need greater efficiency in the way we treat resources and waste. Our constituents are fed up with litter and fly-tipping and appalled by plastic pollution. This legislation will help us to crack down on the blight of waste crime and fly-tipping that costs the taxpayer over £600 million every year. It contains a powerful new set of measures to tackle plastic waste.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that making the producers responsible for the plastic that they make will drive a step change in ensuring that products are no longer just chucked away, but are made to last and be repaired and recycled, bringing an end to this plastic pollution nightmare?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the extended producer responsibility provisions in the Bill will help to deliver the results for which she is calling.
Our “Future of the Sea” report estimates that 12 million tonnes of plastic are currently entering the ocean and that that could treble by 2025. Our constituents are demanding change. We must act to address the shocking levels of plastic in the marine environment, and the Bill will make it easier to reuse and recycle so that we build a more circular economy at home to conserve and better use our precious natural resources.
Clause 49 grants the power to set up a deposit return scheme for products such as drinks containers. Clause 50 enables the plastic bag charge to be extended to other items—the charge has seen bag use drop by 90% since its introduction. We believe that these provisions will be widely welcomed by many who want concerted action to tackle the tragedy of plastics pollution. The suite of measures on plastics in the Bill is further strengthened by powers to make those who produce plastic packaging pay for its whole lifetime cost, including disposal. This will incentivise a switch to more sustainable forms of packaging and, crucially, provide an income stream to fund improvements to the way we tackle waste and recycling. Stronger standards for a wide range of products and clearer labelling will enable consumers to identify more sustainable products. A consistent set of materials will be collected from every household and business to help us all to recycle more, and the Bill also includes measures to encourage businesses to waste less food and help to ensure that surpluses reach those who need them.
I am a very old-fashioned man, and I come from an age when we mended things if they broke. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that the Bill will encourage people to go back to the days when we actually fixed things rather than threw them away at the end of use.
That is one of the outcomes that we hope the Bill will help to deliver.
As well as wide-ranging plans on plastics, the Bill has at its heart an extensive package to protect nature. The net gain provisions in schedule 15 will make a 10% boost for biodiversity a compulsory part of plans for new development. I believe that this will generate tens of millions for investment in nature and give more people better access to green space.
I am quite sure that the right hon. Lady, as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will be deeply concerned that we have no functioning Assembly and have not had one for almost three years. If we do not have the Assembly restored in the forthcoming weeks, will she commit to extending much more of this—I use her word—“landmark” Environment Bill to Northern Ireland? Many people in Northern Ireland would be very pleased if she could make that commitment.
I cannot give that commitment today, but we work very closely with the Northern Ireland civil service, and the hon. Lady will be aware that many provisions in the Bill are ready to apply to Northern Ireland; for the moment, they need Ministers to switch them on. We will continue to keep the question of governance under review, and I would love to see many more of these measures extended to Northern Ireland, but we have to respect the constitutional settlement.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The Government have already strengthened the protections for ancient woodlands, veteran trees and irreplaceable habitats, and the Bill helps us to go further. Schedule 16 will help to combat illegal deforestation. We are also legislating to give communities a say when local authorities plan to remove treasured trees from urban and suburban streets.
On the subject of engaging communities, will the Secretary of State take note of a recent report from the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit, on invasive species which calls for an army of volunteers across this country to help identify invasive species so we can help to eradicate them?
I agree that volunteers getting involved in the fight against invasive species is very productive. There is an example in my own constituency, where a group is helping to remove invasive species from Pymmes Brook.
The Bill will strengthen and improve the duty on public authorities to make sure that the way they carry out their functions both conserves and enhances biodiversity and enables landowners to enter voluntary conservation covenants with responsible bodies, such as charities, that would bind subsequent owners of the land to sustainable stewardship long into the future. It also provides an important statutory underpinning for the nature recovery network we outlined in our 25-year plan—for example, by mandating the creation of local nature recovery strategies to map nature-rich habitats.
As chair of the all-party group on ocean conservation, I want to thank the Secretary of State on behalf of all of us who care about our seas for the measures in the Bill to reduce plastic waste. We also welcome the additional powers to hold water companies to account. Can she confirm that these extra powers will help to reduce the number of sewer overflows during heavy rain and hold water companies to account if they fail to reduce and eventually eradicate them?
My hon. Friend is right that the Bill contains measures that will make it easier to maintain the pressure on water companies to do more to combat pollution. We want them to do better when it comes to tackling these completely unacceptable instances of sewer overflows and pollution.
No, I am going to wind up now.
Clean, safe and abundant water for all is a fundamental focus of this Bill. The provisions in part 5 will improve the way companies operate to meet current and future demand, help to ensure improved, long-term water resources, help with wastewater planning and enable more resilient solutions to drought and flooding.
In conclusion, just as the Bill seeks to put nature and climate at the heart of government decision making, so the Government are placing these environmental goals at the heart of our efforts to relieve poverty around the world. We are doubling our international climate finance funding and investing £220 million to protect international biodiversity. Working with overseas territories, we are on track to protect over 4 million sq km of the ocean by the end of 2020, and we are leading a global ocean alliance determined to protect at least 30% of the ocean in marine protected areas by 2030.
As we look ahead to co-hosting COP 26, we want this country to lead the global ambition for international targets on climate, ocean and biodiversity. I hope that in years to come people will look back on 2020 as a turning point—as a time when we came together, both nationally and internationally, to start to reverse the disastrous erosion of nature and wildlife. There can be no doubt that reversing the tragedy of biodiversity loss is a massive task, but the Bill sets up a vital framework to enable that process of recovery to accelerate. It is a truly landmark piece of legislation, enshrining environmental principles in law, requiring this Government and their successors to set demanding and legally binding targets and creating a world-leading environmental watchdog to hold them to account.
In my maiden speech in this House, I extolled the beauty of the open spaces of my Chipping Barnet constituency. I emphasised the crucial importance I placed on protection of the green belt and our natural environment. Fifteen years on, I remain convinced that there can be few things more important for a Member of this House than to be able to say that in their time in elected office they played a part in conserving the stunning landscapes, wildlife and natural habitats of this great country. In its 232 pages, its 130 clauses and its 20 schedules, the Bill will help us all to do that. I commend the Bill to the House.
I begin by thanking the Secretary of State and her civil servants for meeting me last week, and by acknowledging all the work put into the Bill by civil servants, non-governmental organisations and others who have brought it to this stage. We can all acknowledge that it contains improvements on the original draft.
That said, Greener UK, the organisation representing environmental NGOs, has said that the Bill is
“in need of significant amendment before it is capable of guaranteeing that we do not fall below current standards.”
It is vital that as we leave the EU all the necessary environmental protections are in place and equivalent to what we have now.
“Despite the Government attempting to establish a robust framework for environmental governance, it appears to have fallen short in its own ambitions.”
It is clear that improvements are still needed. Nature is in a worse state than when the Conservative Government came to power. That is shown in the latest RSPB state of nature report, which found that 41% of UK species studied had declined and that no real improvements had been made since its report in 2016. Greener UK is also concerned about the Government’s commitment to resourcing vital environmental work, saying:
“For the bill to succeed, it will require a step change in resourcing of local government, the Office for Environmental Protection and frontline delivery agencies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency.”
I would be grateful if the hon. Lady could confirm that she welcomes the ambition in the Bill to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited, but does she also agree that that means that the Bill should reflect a non-regression principle—in other words, that our environmental standards should not fall below what we currently have?
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. The Secretary of State talked a lot about how the Bill would put in place a long-term vision. Does she share my concern about what it says about biodiversity net gain? It says that the net gain sites are guaranteed for only 30 years. They could be ploughed up after 30 years. Does that reflect a long-term vision?
What the hon. Lady has said reflects some of my own concerns. I also have concerns about backing everything on to net gain, which has not proved as effective as would have been hoped in other countries, such as Australia.
I am going to make some progress. I am aware of the shortage of time.
We will discuss the details of the Bill in Committee, but I want to touch on a few aspects of it now: the principle of non-regression, targets, and the independence and powers of the Office for Environmental Protection. I also want to mention, briefly, some of our concerns about biodiversity net gain, water, nature recovery strategies and recycling.
The Financial Times has reported that an official paper proposed to deviate from green standards set by the European Union, and that the UK was open to significant divergence despite the Prime Minister’s promise that standards would not fall. Can the Secretary of State shed any more light on the content of that official paper? The Government have missed four chances to guarantee equal environmental standards after Brexit. Will the Secretary of State now commit herself to an amendment to legally ensure non-regression on environmental standards? According to Greener UK, the environmental principles constitute
“a significant and unacceptable weakening of the legal effect of the principles.”
May I ask the Secretary of State how that can be justified?
We know that the Government have missed a number of environmental targets, and that the number of serious pollution incidents recorded in 2018-19 rose to the highest level since 2014-15. A leaked document from last year showed that the Government had actually abandoned agreed targets for conserving England’s sites of special scientific interest, and we know that air quality targets have also been consistently flouted.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. Along with many other residents, I am currently opposing the building of an incinerator in Rumney, Trowbridge and St Mellons, in my constituency. My constituents are worried not only about the air quality implications of what comes out of the incinerator but about traffic particulates from heavy goods vehicles which, potentially, will be bringing waste to the site from all over the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that that needs to be looked at?
If the Government are really serious about air quality, surely it is time for them to adopt a 100% standard, to include carbon capture and storage, in any environment Bill that they may introduce, and to give our industry an opportunity to thrive and survive.
It is a shame that funding for CCS was stopped some years ago. If that had not happened, we might be quite a bit further ahead.
All the targets in the Bill, including the interim targets, must be legally binding, and must be set to be achieved as soon as possible. It is commendable that the Bill confirms the creation of statutory environmental improvement plans to ensure legally binding environmental targets in areas such as air, water, waste and biodiversity by 2022, but Greenpeace has pointed out that it does not contain any provisions to hold the Government to those legal commitments until 2037. Given the climate and environment emergency that we face, can the Secretary of State explain why she is allowing a delay of nearly two decades before the Bill can have any real bite?
This weekend the River Ouse flooded yet again, and, four years after the floods that devastated the city of York, the Government have failed to address the serious need for upper catchment management to improve the diversity of the moorlands. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be centre stage in the Bill?
As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, flooding is an issue that is close to my heart as well, and we certainly need to ask why it is not included more fundamentally in the Bill.
Although the Bill sets out responsibilities for improving air quality, it does not commit the Government to reaching the World Health Organisation’s goal of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030 at the latest. Robert Neill mentioned that earlier, but he is no longer present, so I will ask the same question: will the Secretary of State agree to enshrine that target in the Bill, given the public health emergency caused by illegal air pollution?
I really think that I need to make some progress.
Let me now say something about the independence of the proposed Office for Environmental Protection. As my hon. Friend Mary Creagh has said, the only reason the Government have made any movement on waste, landfill and air quality is the threat of EU fines, so it is disappointing that the OEP will have no powers to issue such fines. Will the Secretary of State agree to consider enabling it to do so, in order to give it real teeth? I welcome the change enabling it to conduct investigations on its own initiative, but we should like it to be empowered to conduct broader inquiries into systemic issues, to make recommendations, and to issue guidance.
Greener UK has said:
“The bill includes several measures which could seriously undermine the water environment”.
Another hon. Member who has now left the Chamber mentioned abstraction. The proposed new powers for the Environment Agency to revoke abstraction licences would not come into play until
I am pleased to see that the Bill includes a commitment to nature recovery networks, but it passes more powers and duties to local councils without attaching adequate funding.
Like me, the hon. Lady will have seen many plans for housing developments in her constituency featuring lovely pictures of trees and shrubbery, and will know that the reality turns out to be very different. Does she, like me, welcome the commitment in the Bill to requiring developers to ensure that their developments improve biodiversity by at least 10%, either on site or nearby?
I agree that our planning and development should be much better in terms of environmental impact, and I think it important for us to set targets for that to be achieved.
The Bill does little to ensure that nature recovery strategies properly influence policy and decision making in areas such as planning—we may need to go further in some instances—environmental land management, and biodiversity net gain. In respect of biodiversity net gain, can the Secretary of State give us the rationale, in the context of a climate and environment emergency, for the exemption of national infrastructure projects, although they are often the most environmentally damaging development schemes? Can she also tell us why biodiversity net gain does not apply to private organisations?
Labour will seek further assurances that legally binding targets on waste minimisation will be introduced. Does the Secretary of State agree that the waste and resource efficiency measures are far too focused on end-of-life solutions to waste and recycling issues? The fact that potential single use charges will apply only to plastic is a significant missed opportunity that could result in unintended consequences.
Labour-run St Helens Council is the leading English local authority investing in new technology, new vehicles and an innovative single-use recycling point. Does my hon. Friend agree that that burden should be shared between national and local government, particularly at a time when local authorities have been so financially constrained? Should the Government not concentrate on supporting authorities that are acting now, rather than waiting to fund those that are not at a later stage?
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that we could cut out much of our waste through a system like the one that was introduced in Germany 20 years ago, the Grüne Punkt system, under which people leave packaging in supermarkets? That would quickly change the way in which producers supply products to our stores.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we need 100% responsibility from the producers themselves, from the creation of waste right through to the clean-up, and that the recycling must also be looked at so that waste is not just shipped overseas, which is where it is going at present? We need to be conscious of all this. My Back-Bench Bill in the last Session addressed some of these areas, and I am pleased to see that some of it has been taken on board, but not all of it has been; we need to see that from the beginning of the life cycle to the end, so that when people go into the supermarkets they can actually make decisions based on this information.
That is right. It is important that we look at it right across the piece, from manufacturing down to what happens after we have finished using something.
Tellingly, waste recovery company Biffa has said that it is disappointed in the lack of ambition in the Bill, and it has called for plastics to be recycled domestically in the UK to restore public confidence in recycling and to boost UK jobs and investment. That will require a commitment from Government to further invest in UK recycling infrastructure, which is long overdue.
In conclusion, despite this being a move in the right direction it is clear that the provisions in the Bill are not sufficient when we consider the scale of the environmental and climate crisis we face. We need radical, targeted measures, and I ask the Secretary of State to work with the Opposition in Committee so that we can achieve this goal.
I am very pleased that the Government have introduced this Bill; the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has conducted prelegislative scrutiny, and I am glad the Bill has moved towards our recommendations. I welcome the fact that the Government will set a multi-annual budget for the Office for Environmental Protection and include climate change in the remit. However, I do want to make three points.
First, the Bill must not allow for any regression from our current high environmental standards; the Committee will look at this very carefully. The Committee will also examine how and when the Government can be held to account if they fail to meet the targets. In relation to air quality, while I welcome the Government’s plan to set a target, this target only needs to be set before 2022, and it is not clear how ambitious it must be. We must move much more to using electric cars in our inner cities and make sure they hold a lot of the renewable energy at night when recharged, to help use up and store our renewable energy. I ask the Government to match the World Health Organisation guidelines for dangerous emissions such as particulate matter. I appreciate that the Government might not want to mention WHO targets, which can change; however, committing to an actual figure so that it is a legal target is very important.
Secondly, the Government have proposed that the environmental principles currently enshrined in our legislation under EU law should be a policy statement. That has caused a great deal of concern. Principles such as the polluter pays are vital to environmental protection. A policy statement is much weaker and easier to revise, so I shall be interested to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about a much stronger commitment, as proposed in our report.
Thirdly, we need the OEP to be independent of the Government and sufficiently powerful. The previous Secretary of State foresaw that, and I hope that the current Secretary of State sees it in the same way. This new watchdog might need to be given sharper teeth than is proposed. There are already better models, such as the Office for Budget Responsibility.
To sum up, while I welcome the Bill, there certainly does need to be just a little improvement. That is why my Committee has just announced a new inquiry into the Bill so we can make constructive recommendations to the Government and ensure we achieve all we want, which is to leave the environment in a much better state than we found it, and we have made good progress. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s comments today about how we will deal with the Agriculture Bill: we can have a much better policy for agriculture than the common agricultural policy; it can be better for the environment and for food production, and we can do all the things that we really want to do.
I will be brief as many Members want to speak.
I have been out and seen one of the high-level stewardship schemes. Will my hon. Friend’s Committee consider whether the schemes could be administered locally, to look at fauna and fauna locally instead of on a national basis?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, because one thing we can do with the new stewardship schemes and with our agriculture and environment policy is to have a much more localised system of management, so we create greater biodiversity: we can manage in a way whereby we improve that. I would be very happy to look at what my hon. Friend asks for in the future, because we can link this Bill and the Agriculture Bill in so many ways, and we can have good healthy food along with a better environment. We can also help with flooding—a point made from the Opposition Benches—and manage land better, such as by holding back the water in certain places.
I also want to make a brief point about fisheries policy and environment policy. The one thing that Norway does so much better than the EU is to manage its fish stocks; it is able to shut down areas that are overfished overnight and can open up areas where fishing can be allowed. We can learn a great deal from the Norwegians and what happens in the Faroes. One thing we must not be absolutely convinced of in this place is that the EU is the fount of all wisdom; it certainly is not. So as we move forward with our Environment Bill and agriculture and fishing Bills, I hope we can bring in some great common sense, reducing bureaucracy but also delivering a better environment, better agriculture and better fisheries.
I am afraid that I see this Bill as, at very best, representing a failure of ambition. I suspect that it is not at its best, however, and that actually it represents a failure to understand the issues and the hope that a lick of paint on some old policies will make those annoying environmental folk just go away. Let us examine some of the Bill’s shortcomings.
It relies on the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment; Mao only had a five-year plan but here we have a Tory Government with a plan five times longer and far less ambitious. These are some highlights from it: 11 years to reduce five air pollutants by half—“Don’t breathe yet, children; wait a while, and even then…”; the ending of the sale of fossil fuel cars and vans another decade after that; in the meantime, encouraging industry to follow some good practice guidelines on emissions—well, that ought to do it, but then it might not; and trying to get England’s water companies to reduce the leaks from their pipes by 15% over the next six years—the other 85% can keep leaking, it seems.
There is a section on adapting to climate change—making sure that policies take the changing climate into account. That is like deciding to increase the size of the Thames barrier to take account of increases in sea level. I understand the planning for that has already started.
In my view, this is truly weak and limp-willed, hoping that a bit of light dusting will mean guests do not see the hole in the floor. Let me give a glaring example: in clauses 18 and 40—the clauses that compel Ministers to consider environmental effects—the Ministry of Defence is excused. In fact, the military are entirely excused from any obligation to think about their effects on the environment, in spite of being a major polluter. In the action plan with such a distant time for completion there is a section that has the ambition of ensuring seafloor habitats are productive and sufficiently extensive to support healthy, sustainable ecosystems. For a century, however, the MOD was simply dumping large quantities of unwanted explosives and chemical and biological weapons into the seas around our coasts—and it also threw in a load of radioactive waste for good measure.
My hon. Friend is making a good point about the MOD and its responsibilities. I remember doing a school project in the ’90s about this, when there were things washing up on Scotland’s beaches. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK Government must be a lot more ambitious about cleaning up their own mess?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is utterly inexcusable that one Department that has so much impact on our environment is excused from its responsibilities in this way. I certainly remember reading about the 1995 incidents when explosives were washed up on the Clyde coast—a shocking occasion. The largest of those munitions dumps, at Beaufort’s dyke in the Irish sea, now has a gas pipe running through it, and none of it is even monitored, let alone tidied up. I know this because I have asked. How can that flagrant disregard for the marine environment align with this vague promise to look after the seabed? And how does that match up with excusing the MOD of any responsibility under the Bill?
There are other MOD sites, of course: the ship refuelling stations, the bases handling nuclear weapons and nuclear subs and the ranges were live firing is practised. We already know about the damaging health effects on former soldiers of some of the munitions they have dealt with, but we do not know anything about the weapons that are fired on those ranges. The MOD has told me that it does environmental audits with its “industry partner”, whatever that is, but that it will not publish them. We are not to be told about the environmental impact of this massive polluter, and it is being excused responsibility under the Bill. I do not think that is good enough. There is no such thing as acceptable environmental damage, and there should be no such thing as a Department with an environmental “get out of jail free” card.
Of course, this thing will ultimately pass—no one is going to vote down an environment Bill—but it really is not what is needed. Serious action to limit emissions and clean up the messes that have been left would be more worth while. For example, what about legislating so that English water companies cannot pay dividends to their shareholders while they are still pouring a precious resource into the ground? Or even better, why not copy the Scottish system and have a publicly owned water company that can spend on infrastructure because it does not have to make a profit? How about taking the power to close down companies that refuse to comply with best practice? How about telling them that their days of pouring pollutants into other people’s air and water are over? No soft touch, no more, “Come along now, play nicely”; instead, we need to say, “You do not get to do this any more.” And here is another thought: what about refusing to allow the import of products that can be shown to have a poor environmental footprint? None of that is in the Bill.
There is some target setting in there, but no indication of taking any power that might allow those targets to be met. Just last week, Ofgem refused to allow a subsea cable to be laid from Shetland to the mainland to allow the output from a large wind farm to get to potential customers. That was refused on the basis that subsidies have been withdrawn by this Government under its previous guises since 2010. Where is the provision in the Bill to put those subsidies back or—given that Shetland would like to press ahead anyway—to force the provision of the connection to the grid? Where is the ambition?
The creation of a clunky and unwieldy Office for Environmental Protection is a major disappointment. It will involve enforcement provisions that give weakness a bad name. Where are the prosecuting powers it needs? Where is its ability to act independently and develop the principles behind environmental law? There is nothing in the Bill to protect the Aarhus convention rights. Back in July 2016, I asked the then EFRA Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, whether the UK would continue to abide by Aarhus after leaving the EU, and she replied:
In November last year, I asked the next EFRA Secretary, Michael Gove, whether he planned to maintain compliance with the Aarhus convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters after the UK had left the EU, and he replied, “Yes”. So where are those commitments, and why are they not in the Bill? Will the Secretary of State undertake to bring forward amendments that will satisfy those commitments, and can we be assured that amendments will be tabled in Committee that will beef up the OEP? Can we at least give the tiger a set of dentures, if it is not going to have serious teeth?
I would like to ask some further questions about devolved issues. It would be helpful if Ministers set out how they developed their thinking on the need for the climate change measures and legislation to be covered by the OEP, and how they decided that this was needed. Also, do Scottish Ministers support the proposals? What consultation was undertaken with them prior to their inclusion? Will the Secretary of State set out what resource has been made available to date for the OEP? It is suggested that the OEP’s remit covers all UK climate change legislation. Are the Government proposing that it has oversight over Scottish legislation, which is devolved? If there is a need for a UK-wide approach, would that not logically suggest that the remit for doing this should be given to the Scottish Government, given that they already have world-leading legislation and more ambitious targets in place? This is surely something that the UK Government should be seriously considering.
Every Member here will have had the same representations from environmental organisations that I have had. We all know that they are unhappy that there is no protection in the Bill against regression and that they fear that the legislation could be watered down in the future. I know that there will be armchair constitutional experts muttering into their port that one Parliament cannot bind another, but we all know that politics makes that a lie. We all know that confident, positive action arising from having the political will to deliver has a binding effect on future Parliaments and Governments. If it did not, the NHS would have disappeared decades ago. Strong action now to protect and enhance the environment, and repercussions for those who transgress, will set a tone that a future Government or Parliament would find it hard to undo.
We need to see changes in the way we see waste. We must no longer think that we will deal with it when we come to it; rather, we need more planning not to create it in the first place. A bit of Government encouragement could do that, and plastics are not the only waste we should be concerned about. I am young enough to remember a time when aerosols were innocent cans that people used every morning, and most people never knew the damage that the gases could do. Well, we all ken now, and the question is: what else are we blithely ignorant of as we go about our comfortable, modern life? Cut the waste; do it in legislation; and do it now! Have courage! Take that courage in both hands and give us legislation that is fit for purpose. Do something stunning this year instead of something that could be described as stunningly stupid.
I always think that we get listened to better in this House if we can find something in what we say that is generous to the other side, so I will be generous and say that I welcome the Bill. I have come straight from the West Berkshire climate conference, which nearly 300 people attended. People from the community spoke with real passion about their interest in more than just dealing with greenhouse gases. They spoke about the need to reverse the declines in biodiversity, about addressing a resurgence in the value of our natural capital and of our rivers, about the wider aspects of land use that could see greater amounts of carbon sequestered, about flood protection and about policies with human wellbeing at their heart.
I see many positives in the Bill. I like the sound of the biodiversity net gain. I like seeing the 25-year plan being put on a statutory footing in the Bill. I also like the nature recovery strategies and many of the proposals on waste and plastic. I applaud my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for her introduction of the Bill. Having been involved in many negotiations with her Department, I know that clauses 16, 17 and 18 have taken a lot of work, and I am delighted to see how they have turned out. I implore hon. Members on both sides of the House and some of the organisations that are advising us to see the value of what is in here. It is this House and the national policy statement that the Secretary of State will make at the Dispatch Box that will be held to account, and that is crucial. That is in the wording of those clauses. It is this House and the democratic institutions that support us that will decide the future environmental direction of this and future Governments, rather than putting it in the hands of the courts, which would perhaps too often see it in a rather dry, legalistic sense. People can make these cases in Parliament with emotion and passion.
Clauses 73 to 87 relate to water, and I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a great fan of regulation in this area. The water framework directive sets out demanding standards which, if not met, result in infraction fines from Europe. We are trying to encourage the Government to emulate that as best we can in this piece of legislation. It is worrying that England is behind on its targets to achieve good ecological status for all waterways by 2027, and the concern is that this Bill allows the Government to give themselves powers to amend difficult targets or the way in which they are measured. I hope that we will be able to tease out the Government’s precise intentions during the Bill’s passage, because there is bold ambition across the House to address the failings of past years on our waterways.
I also want the Bill to do more to tackle water consumption. We are able to have targets for reducing particulate matter, so why can we not have targets to tackle water consumption? Abstraction is a major problem for our environment, and I want greater measures to address it.
In totality, there is much to applaud the Government on, and I hope we will hear from Members on both sides of the House at least an acceptance that the Government are noble in their intention to create something that will have a lasting effect down the generations. I applaud the Secretary of State for bringing in this Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Benyon. I share some of his concerns about the potential watering down of targets made by Ministers and then enacted or judged by a body that is appointed by Ministers.
It is important to remember why we are here. We are here because of Brexit. We are here because, in the 1970s, the UK was the dirty man of Europe—or the dirty person, as I think we should probably call ourselves—and we pumped raw sewage into the sea. Thanks, however, to the European Union’s level playing field provisions, which allow no member state to race to the bottom and compete on the environment, we now have cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and have reduced our waste going to landfill.
I see Brexit as a clear and present danger to the UK environment. Yes, the Government have, through the original European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, copied and pasted some EU law into UK law. The danger is that it will become zombie legislation that is no longer monitored, enforced or updated. There is a troublesome third that cannot be cut and pasted that this Bill is designed to address, but there is nothing to stop those targets, as the right hon. Gentleman said, being quietly reversed by a future Government. Leaving the EU means that we risk losing those key protections and an entire system of the regulation of chemicals under REACH, which means that UK companies that sell right across the European Union that have already spent hundreds of millions of pounds registering thousands of chemicals with the European Union now face a double regulatory burden if and when the UK Government set up its own chemicals regulator.
Food safety could be compromised, and we could end up with higher pesticide residue in food if protections are negotiated away to secure a trade deal with the United States. Our farmers are the custodians of our environment—I pay tribute to the amazing farmers doing such a brilliant job in Wakefield—but they face a triple whammy through loss of subsidies. For example, the CAP subsidies are only guaranteed by the Government until the end of 2022.
Many of the excellent farmers in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire are keen to do whatever they can to help the environment. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government should ensure that measures for protecting the environment are joined up with land management policies that support our farmers?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady, and I pay tribute to the farmers in her constituency. We know how dependent their incomes are on CAP subsidies, but the Agriculture Bill, which Members spent many months debating, and the fisheries Bill were both frozen and then not carried over, so the Government are resetting the clock. There are no guarantees about what happens post-2022 and what farmers know—
I will not give way, because I want to make some progress. Farmers face tariffs and checks on their EU exports and increased competition from countries with lower food, animal welfare and environmental standards. The previous withdrawal agreement negotiated by the previous Prime Minister contained a level playing field non-regression commitment, but the new European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which was presented by the Prime Minister and then withdrawn in some sort of deal in order to get an early general election, contains no such comfort.
We are debating a Bill that may or may not progress into Committee and that my Environmental Audit Committee—I pay tribute to colleagues from across the House—spent many weeks and months examining and trying to make better. However, if there is no agreement between the UK and the EU about our future agreement by the end of the transition period in December 2020, there will be no legal requirement for us to maintain existing standards and protections. I am worried about the possibility of significant divergence, so I am concerned about what Brexit will do.
My Committee made several recommendations, particularly in the area of extended producer responsibility. We recommended a latte levy to reduce the 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups that are thrown away every year, but the Government said no. We wanted a 1p charge on every garment sold in the UK to tackle 300,000 tonnes of textile waste that goes to landfill or is incinerated every year, but the Government again said no. I am pleased that the Bill has adopted some of the recommendations of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and my Environmental Audit Committee, meaning that carbon budgets and targets are legally enforceable.
However, I am still concerned that the watchdog is toothless, the targets are too little, too late, and the environmental principles are not on the face of the Bill, and I look forward to quizzing the Secretary of State about the watchdog. This Government have more experience in shutting watchdogs down—they scrapped the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission—than in setting them up, and I hope to quiz her further tomorrow.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mary Creagh, on whose Environmental Audit Committee I served until March this year, when I was called back to the Front Bench, but here I am again back on the Back Benches.
For many years, our core environmental policies had been jointly agreed at EU level, with proposals from the European Commission being amended and confirmed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Indeed, I served in the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004 on the environment committee, so many of the directives and regulations currently in force were agreed when I was there. Indeed, I attended many of the conciliation meetings late into the night that hammered out the detail of much of this legislation.
Leaving the European Union gives us an opportunity to take back control and to move forwards, not backwards. The Bill will secure the progress that we have made on a wide range of environmental priorities and put in place the framework needed to keep pace with EU and global standards. It will also allow us to take the lead in setting new levels of performance: we will no longer have to move at the speed of the slowest.
Indeed. We now have the freedom to do that.
Stephen Doughty was worried about incinerators being built in his constituency, but it is European policy to phase out landfill and replace it with clean incinerators that operate under the standards imposed by the large combustion plants directive. Leaving the EU means that we could go back to dirty, polluting landfill instead of having cleaner incinerators, but I do not believe that that is the way forward.
Deidre Brock talked about the military. When passing legislation in Europe on vehicle emissions, I recall that there was almost always an exception for military use for vehicles and for noise, particularly for aircraft.
The hon. Member for Wakefield made a good point about our progress in improving many of our environmental standards since becoming a member of the European Union. Our rivers are cleaner, we have salmon in rivers where they have never been seen before, and our bathing water is cleaner. Indeed, the new standards that have been brought in have often led people to believe that we are going backwards, because beaches that had passed under the previous standards then failed when the standards were tightened up. While we can set ambitious and challenging new standards, we must ensure that people are aware of when we have made progress, even if we fail to hit the higher standards. Legislation was introduced at the same time as privatisation and meant that investment in water quality did not have to join the queue behind hospitals, schools and the other priorities of Government. It was privatisation that allowed us to deliver on such great projects as the Burniston sewage works in my constituency, the £50 million storm water tank in Scarborough and the new Irton water treatment works that are being built. The real risk to our water quality is not from leaving the EU but from nationalisation, which would once again mean investment in water quality having to join the queue behind other priorities, such as the NHS.
While we were in Europe we passed the REACH regulations and the chemicals registration legislation, which meant that we tested a back catalogue of chemicals, at a cost of £6 billion, during the course of which 100,000 animals were tested. We must not have to redo all that work and test all those animals alone. Although we are transferring responsibility to the Health and Safety Executive, we should not go it alone. Indeed, in the political declaration on
I was pleased to see the compulsory recall of vehicles in the legislation. Having been a Transport Minister at the time of the Volkswagen debacle, I think that is important. Clause 50 and schedule 10, on plastic return, are important, so long as we ensure that any schemes put in place are carbon-negative. Schemes such as reusable bottles can look good at the outset but can often mean transporting heavy glass around the country.
There are concerns in urban areas about the restrictions on coal and wood for burning, particularly for steam vehicles—I own one—and about access to coal, and also in rural areas, where no gas is available. I was pleased to see clause 63, which deals with litter. Maybe council enforcement officers could do other work in that area—for instance, on parking.
I hope to be fortunate enough to serve on the Bill Committee. Leaving the EU is an opportunity for our environment. This Bill gives us the tools we need to fully exploit those opportunities.
I, too, hope that I will be able to serve on the Bill Committee.
I welcome the direction of travel and the fact that we are discussing these issues in such detail. However, given that we have only a short amount of time, I want to focus on a few concerns about the Bill. The first is that, as others have said, there is no commitment to non-regression in environmental standards. We are being asked to take the Government’s word for it that they will not lower standards in any future trade deal. I am sorry to say that I just do not believe that. The Government took non-regression out of the withdrawal agreement, and a recent leaked DEFRA briefing stated that the Department for International Trade would be putting it under significant pressure to lower standards. I served on the Public Bill Committee for the Agriculture Bill and tabled new clause 1 on Report, but we know from the reaction we got when we tried to get something put in writing, that, frankly, if you like it, you gotta put a ring on it—as Beyoncé once said. I just do not accept the oral assurances. That measure needs to be enshrined in the Bill.
The environmental principles are not enshrined in law in the Bill either. Instead, Ministers only have to have due regard to them, which is a significant step backwards compared with the current EU arrangement. Long-term targets do not need to be set until 2022 and might not be enforced for almost two decades. We must have shorter-term milestones, perhaps in the same way that we have carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act 2008, because we need to know. There is no point getting almost to the deadline and realising that we have failed hopelessly to meet the targets. There has to be a way of monitoring progress more quickly.
I very much welcome the fact that the Office of Environmental Protection will be based in Bristol. I welcome the jobs that will come, but it needs the resources. We know from the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee —I am a member of both—that the Environment Agency struggles to do its job in enforcing the laws that exist because it simply does not have the resources; the waste hierarchy, for example, is just not enforced. Everything becomes meaningless unless there is adequate staffing, resources and expertise, and the Office of Environmental Protection will also need the independence to act.
The EU water framework directive was agreed 20 years ago, and I am concerned that time is running out for the Government to meet their targets. The final deadline for the UK’s rivers and streams to be in good condition—to achieve good ecological status—is 2027. At the moment, we are at 14%, which compares with an average of 40% in the EU. I am not convinced that this Bill alone will be enough to bring us up to scratch by the 2027 deadline.
Finally, the Bill is very much about what we are doing in this country. It does not address the role that the UK is playing in driving the destruction of nature overseas, which is something that we have discussed in Westminster Hall, both earlier today and in the debate a few weeks ago on the deforestation of the Amazon. We must look at reducing our international footprint, too. I completely support calls by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Global Witness to amend the Bill to provide for a due diligence obligation requiring businesses to assess what is happening through their supply chains and investment activities in other countries, and to take appropriate action to avoid and mitigate any negative environmental impacts. If they cannot avoid those negative environmental impacts, they ought to cease operations and investments in those countries. We cannot have UK companies paying lip service to the need to protect our environment at home, yet supporting the deforestation of the Amazon and all sorts of other environmental destruction in other countries.
I support this Bill. It is ambitious in its scope and its aims, and it starts, quite rightly, from the viewpoint of natural capital—the realisation that natural assets underpin all other types of productive capital, whether manufactured, financial, human or social. In a sense, the Bill builds on, and is analogous to, the successful Climate Change Act framework, with the environmental improvement plans and the Office for Environmental Protection.
This Government are determined to have a green Brexit. Notwithstanding what Mary Creagh said, it is nonsense to suggest that the European Union is the only thing that will keep this country on a path to a better, greener future. [Interruption.] The evidence for that—as she knows, despite her shaking her head—can be seen in, for example, what has happened on climate change, with our leadership on offshore wind, with this country being the first major nation to set an end date for unabated coal and, of course, with our legislating for net zero. These are all things that happened over and above EU frameworks—and all things, by the way, that happened with a Conservative Prime Minister.
There were concerns in 2016, quite justifiably, but they centred on the fact that EU monitoring and enforcement mechanisms would obviously be going and on the environmental principles underpinning legislation. This Bill addresses those points and sets the framework to go further. On one of those areas, air quality, the World Health Organisation target is more exacting than the UK target; in future we will have the opportunity to follow it. The Government have said that it is technically feasible for us to do that at some point, but it has to happen at a credible pace. We cannot just will the thing to happen. I hope that, during the passage of the Bill and beyond, we can get more detail on how the Government envisage that happening.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not give way because of the number of speakers.
I have a few asks of the Minister, not all of them legislative, some of them complementary to the legislation. The first is on fly-tipping, which has a huge cost for my constituency, in terms not only of the responsibility for landowners, who have this stuff visited upon them, but, increasingly, of the cost of putting in place gates and other infrastructure to try to prevent it. I hope we can see higher financial penalties and greater risk for the perpetrator, including the seizing of vehicles.
Trees stand at the intersection of what we are trying to do on climate change and on clean air, and the importance of the physical environment. I very much welcome the Bill’s provisions on street trees, but we can do so much more. My local council has committed, over time, to planting one tree for every resident in the district, and I wonder what incentives can be given to others.
On engine idling, I know that the Department for Transport is currently reviewing its guidance on enforcement, but what more can be done on public information to persuade people not to idle their engines, particularly outside schools.
On electric vehicles, I hope the Minister will continue to work strongly with the DFT, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and others to make sure that the improved performance of electric cars and the way the costs have come down are more widely understood.
I pay tribute to local groups doing practical work: those doing litter picks and sorting litter to help to educate the public; the schools in my constituency that provide recycling for crisp packets; the repair cafés we have seen across the country, and so on. I welcome the principles and so many aspects of this Bill: those on resource efficiency and recycling; the single-use provisions; the deposit return scheme and the measures on waste crime, those on biodiversity and net gain; those on tree cover; and those on the most fundamental, elemental things of all—water and the quality of the air we breathe. If given an opportunity to vote this evening, I will be proud to vote for the Bill.
At a time when we needed a strong environmental Bill, this one regrettably goes backwards, not forwards, in a great number of areas. For example, on non-regression, as many other hon. Members have said, we have had countless promises that leaving the EU will not lead to backsliding on environmental protections, including from the Prime Minister just last week, but if those promises are genuine let us make it official, with a straightforward commitment to non-regression within this Bill.
The environmental principles need serious strengthening, including an unambiguous duty on all public bodies to apply them to policy and funding decisions. Crucially, that duty must be in the Bill, not relegated to a policy statement that we have not even seen, much less had an input into. We need stronger powers and real independence for the Office for Environmental Protection, for example, by giving Parliament a greater role in appointments. The setting of targets must be based on independent, expert scientific advice. The fact that the Bill currently would allow the Secretary of State unilaterally to weaken a target on a whim is completely unacceptable.
We also need legally binding interim milestones. We face an ecological emergency, and it is utterly unacceptable that the Bill could give the Government almost two decades before they are legally required to meet any new targets.
The Bill must also cover the enormous overseas environmental footprint of the UK’s domestic consumption and economic activities. Just last week, statistics from the Office for National Statistics revealed that Britain has become the biggest net importer of carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the G7 group of wealthy nations, outstripping the United States and Japan, as a result of buying goods manufactured abroad. So that has to be part of this Bill.
There is, however, an even more fundamental problem with the Bill—a glaring omission. I refer to the economy, because if we are to truly turn around our relationship with nature, we must confront this elephant in the room: the current economic system, where the environment is too often just an afterthought, and the wellbeing of people and nature comes second to the pursuit of economic growth. Too often we see that at the national level, especially in Treasury decisions, yet the Bill exempts
“taxation, spending and the allocation of resources within government” from the environmental principles and from the scrutiny of the Office for Environmental Protection. We see the results of this already at a local level, where the prioritisation of economic growth means that projects such as the Oxford-Cambridge expressway are strongly supported, even though they mean the destruction of stunning wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands, hedgerows and so forth.
The Government clearly believe in the infinite ability to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts, but if we look at the evidence, we see that there is no case in respect of absolute decoupling at the scale and speed we need, and it is simply fanciful to assume that that is going to be possible. The UN report on the declining state of world nature from IPBES—the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services—which was published earlier this year explicitly identified the growth of the global economy and, specifically, the growth of material consumption in affluent nations as one of the major driving forces behind these trends. It is unambiguous about the need to move away from endless consumption and GDP as a key measure of economic success, stating that we must steer
“away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth” to include other indicators that are better able to capture more holistic, long-term views of economics and quality of life. It means that we have to shift beyond standard economic indicators such as GDP.
Although there are some things in the Bill to welcome, overall it is going in the wrong direction. Crucially, it is not accepting that an economy based on infinite economic growth is never going to be sustainable. We have to change the way our economy works, as well as the way our environment works.
I do not like to totally contradict Caroline Lucas, but I think that there is so much in the Bill to welcome. I applaud my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, the Minister sitting on the Front Bench, as well as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the whole Department for their work to demonstrate how we can lead the way on environmental issues outside the EU.
I turn briefly to three aspects of the Bill. First, there is recycling. At the moment, every group of young people in Basingstoke whom I speak to want to talk about the plastics deposit scheme—an idea that has captured the imagination of young people, who want us to go further with such practical ways to help protect their environment for the future. I wholeheartedly applaud the Government’s ambition for all plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
However, will the Minister touch on the National Audit Office’s concern about the lack of checks on what happens to recyclable material when it is exported abroad? My local authority has taken a principled approach: it does not allow recyclable plastics from Basingstoke to be exported. That means, however, that we are finding it difficult to secure a domestic contract for the disposal of mixed plastics, which has had an impact on our recycling rates. We need an ethical approach and a level playing field, so that local authorities such as mine are not penalised for taking a strategic decision not to export their plastics.
The second issue that I was delighted to see in the Bill was that of air pollution, on which I have been campaigning with my local authority for a number of years. I particularly applaud the long-term target on particulates in the air, which affect not only the climate but the health of our constituents more directly. I urge the Government to look specifically at the British Lung Foundation’s proposals for tailored interventions around schools and nurseries. They should look no further than Basingstoke and the rest of Hampshire for a lead. Hampshire County Council is taking a lead with the My Journey project, which goes into schools to raise awareness of the impact that the idling of engines can have on air quality outside schools. The Clean Air campaign in Basingstoke aims to stop idling that might increase pollution in any area. All this is not because we have pollution problems in Basingstoke, but because we want to prevent such problems from starting in the first place. I urge the Minister to keep a close eye on the impact of those campaigns.
On water supply, I welcome the measures in the Bill to encourage transfers between regions rather than over-abstraction, which damages wildlife. However, a significant cost is associated with that, and I urge the Minister to be clearer on how that will be met.
In conclusion, the Bill is about what we can all do to tackle environmental issues in our constituencies; I shall take one small example from my own. Back in 2007, a water cycle study identified a significant problem with water pollution in the River Loddon. As a result of fantastic work by Thames Water, our local environment agency, our catchment partnership and others, we have managed to tackle the problem through ground-breaking technology. There has been a step change in our water quality because local people have acted, and local people have cared.
Our environment is the most important resource that we have—no amount of money or social capital can replace the rivers on which we rely for irrigation and water, the soil that we need to grow food, and the air that gives us life. We need to get the Bill right if we want to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and truly say that we have left them with a better future through our actions.
Under this Bill, the Government could sit on their hands for three whole years before setting legally binding, long-term environmental targets that would be due at the very least 15 years after the target was set. Why is there a need for such a long delay? There is a need to get the targets right, but time is fleeting in the race to save our environment, and in many cases the earlier action is taken, the less work is needed overall to hit environmental goals in long-term strategies. Can the Minister confirm tonight that the Government plan to bring forward targets long before then, and certainly so that we are not left with no environmental targets when we leave the transition period?
Even if the Government miss their own targets, the enforcement method mooted to replace the EC in judging the Government on their environmental record is not fit for purpose. A letter from the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend Mary Creagh, who is not currently in her place, highlighted how little progress had been made to deal with the concerns raised by both the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the EAC about the lack of independence of the proposed Office for Environmental Protection and its legal enforcement powers. They are, in the words of Professor Maria Lee of University College London, “strikingly weak” for those who fall foul of protection of our environment.
Will this enforcement body have the tools necessary to carry out its functions? Given that a report by Unchecked highlighted the slashing of the Environment Agency budget by more than 60% under Lib Dem and Conservative austerity Governments resulting in an 80% drop in prosecutions, despite weekly serious pollution incidents, may I ask the Minister whether she shares the concerns of the Institute for Government and Prospect that the current funding mechanism could leave the proposed Office for Environmental Protection similarly vulnerable to underfunding by Governments who simply want to avoid environmental scrutiny? The Prime Minister promised a world-class watchdog to improve on current standards, but what we have is a lapdog and a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted to keep his promises, even when the livelihoods of the next generation depend upon it.
This is the latest in a long line of warm words from the Conservatives on the environment while we have seen the end of solar subsidies and support for biomass, no support for onshore wind, the sale of the Green Investment Bank, and the end of funding for the Swansea tidal lagoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, who is no longer in her place, prevented those on the Government Benches and the Liberal Democrats from selling off our precious woodlands to the highest bidder. We have also moved away from revolutionary zero carbon homes.
We really do need a Government who will put the environment at the heart of everything that they do, not a Government who, sadly, see a cheap photo opportunity while they sell the prospects for prosperity of the next generation down the river.
I join colleagues—at least those on the Government Benches—in welcoming this groundbreaking Bill. The Opposition’s position on this Bill is illustrative of the fact that even though they may not be prepared to vote for a general election, they are demonstrating, from the contributions they are making to this debate, that despite the wide cross-party consensus in favour of an environmental Bill and the many measures that have been included in it, they cannot bring themselves to congratulate the Government on bringing it forward.
It is timely that today we are talking about an Environment Bill. It is a day when parts of the Welsh Marches, including much of Shropshire and my constituency, are recovering from a significant water event—something like 50 mm of rain fell in 36 hours on Friday and Saturday leading to widespread flooding, because it landed on saturated ground. The River Severn has barricades up in Shrewsbury and Ironbridge. The Rivers Clun and Teme in my constituency burst their banks. The town of Clun has been cut in two, and some roads around my constituency are impassable. Vehicles have been flooded and are abandoned, and the road network between Cardiff and Manchester has been held up as a result of ballast being washed away. My point is to illustrate how significant it is that we have started to take measures to address the climate emergency. We cannot stop the rain falling, but we can do things about it when it arrives. What I want to spend my few moments talking about are some of the important water measures in this Bill.
I am a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and I very much hope to serve on the Bill Committee because I want to press the Government to use the opportunity of this Bill to do more to raise the ecological status of our rivers. It is not acceptable that 84% of our rivers are not meeting current standards. We need to raise those standards and ensure that all our rivers meet them. I will be urging the Government to consider proposals for water companies that I have raised previously in this House with the Secretary of State to see whether there are alternative means to try to use current technologies—novel technologies and, frankly, less intrusive technologies, such as integrated constructed wetlands—as a way to treat and improve the effluent and the consequence of flooding, with run-off foul waters getting into our rivers through such mechanisms.
I wish to touch briefly on governance. The Government have raised targets in the Bill in a number of areas: water, air, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction, which are all welcome. There have been complaints that the targets are not tough enough and that it is taking a while to introduce them, but it is a step forward and reflects some of the recommendations made in the pre-legislative scrutiny by the EAC that there will be five-yearly interim milestones for the targets and that they will be annually reported on by both the Government and the Office for Environmental Protection. That provision was sought by our Committee and is therefore welcome.
I share the desire across the House that we should see measures to prevent the regression of the standards, and I think that is something we should be pressing for in Committee; that may rule out my serving on the Bill Committee, but I make the offer none the less. As far as the Office for Environmental Protection is concerned, it is important to have a pre-appointment hearing to ensure independence, and I endorse the suggestion that it is jointly reviewed by the EAC in addition to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
I welcome this legislation, which is long overdue, but of course it is only necessary because this Government want to leave the European Union, which has for a long time been a force for good when it comes to environmental protection.
Environmental degradation is at an all-time high and we need to be bold to safeguard our natural world for our children and our children’s children. It is important to enshrine standards in law, especially if the EU legislation becomes no longer relevant. But the targets that this Bill sets out are deeply inadequate: 2037 is the first year that the Government would be required to meet their targets, which will not even be set until 2022. We are living through a climate emergency and we need climate action now, not in 18 years’ time.
The year 2037 is far too late to start holding the Government to account. We need to undertake a 10-year emergency emissions reduction programme, seeking to cut emissions as much as possible by 2030. The Liberal Democrats have a credible plan to cut most emissions by 2030 and get to net zero by 2045. Targets are meaningless on their own. We must ensure that local authorities, under the new Office for Environmental Protection, are empowered to hold the Government to account. If they are not, we risk this fundamentally important legislation being reduced to a Christmas wish list.
One of the key features of the legislation is the new Office for Environmental Protection, which seeks to replace the current protections we enjoy under EU bodies. This proposed organisation, however, has extremely limited independence, relying on central Government for funding, appointments and target setting. In addition, it lacks the power to fine Governments. It is a toothless version of our current provisions, which come from the EU and can hold the Government to account through hefty fines. This is exactly what happened with the air pollution problems. Only when ClientEarth came along and actually threatened to fine the Government did the Government finally act. This Government’s fixation on leaving the EU will cause untold damage. We are facing a true climate emergency and our environment is in the firing line. Now is not the time to abandon international co-operation.
The Government’s focus on plastics and clean air is welcome. However, the proposed actions once again fall short. Single-use plastics need to be part of a wider policy around recycling and waste. We need to improve recycling across the country by improving consistency, so that people can become familiar with how to separate waste and do not have to adjust to a new regime every time they move to another area. Local authorities should be able to set their policy, but they should be supported by the Government and manufacturers, which should make products easier to recycle. Our European neighbours set a very good example in this regard. For instance, Norway has only 18 different categories for recycling; this country has many, many more. Restricting the plastics we use is very important.
Clean air is a big priority for my constituents in Bath, and I am personally disappointed by the lack of ambition on these issues. We need a new legal limit for air quality that matches those set by the World Health Organisation; a duty on public bodies to do their part to tackle air pollution; and a right to clean air enshrined in domestic law.
We can all talk about wanting to do something about the environment and say, “Yes, there’s a climate emergency”, but it is ambition that matters and this piece of legislation definitely lacks ambition.
I very much support this ambitious, landmark Environment Bill.
In the short time I have available, I want to make just two points. The first is about the replacement for the common agricultural policy payments that go to farmers at the moment. Obviously, farmers play an incredibly important role in the stewardship of our natural environment, and I would like to see those payments replaced with much more straightforward financial payments to landowners that incentivise carbon sequestration and improve water management and quality. Focusing on those two areas will lead to healthier soils, better quality, more nutritious food, and nature recovery. I have seen myself from visits to many farms in Cornwall that nature recovery goes hand in glove with producing more high quality food. Stewardship of the land undertaken by farmers can be just as important as that undertaken by our much loved wildlife trusts such as Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Secondly, while Parliament has been taking world-leading action on climate and nature recovery, too few people know where to go to find out what is actually going on and what they can do to help. This needs to change, and quickly, because far too often I see misrepresentations of the facts, or even lies, being spread. It is not just our air, our water and our soil that is being poisoned—it is our politics too. Information is power. The Government need to invest in easily accessible, independent and expert information on what action is being taken across all sectors of society to deliver our net zero and new nature recovery targets. This will help to increase confidence and trust in politics.
Leaving our environment in a better condition for the next generation is something we can all agree on. In the creation of the groundbreaking Climate Change Act 2008, this House came to a radical political consensus. I hope and pray that as we approach the general election, all of us, and all political parties, will do everything we can to maintain this consensus, because, as the Secretary of State rightly said, what could be more important for any Member of Parliament than to do that?
It is good to be able to participate in this crucial debate tonight.
We need everyone in this House to be working hard to ensure that we are the generation that stopped the rot and left this country in a better state than when we started. We must put in place strong policies and ambitious but achievable targets, not just for ourselves but for our children and their children, and we must act now—we cannot delay as that will spell disaster for our planet. I recognise that this Bill includes what would seem at first glance to be relatively comprehensive legal targets, but it can and should go further. I will be working with colleagues to ensure that the Bill is amended and, importantly, strengthened to ensure that the United Kingdom does not fall behind European Union standards.
I am concerned that the Bill does not set itself a target for air quality and only requires the Secretary of State to set a 15-year target for particulates based on expert advice and subject to economic analysis. The Local Government Association, speaking for local authorities across the United Kingdom, is calling for more powers to be given to councils to tackle air pollution, and I hope that the Government will think about going further. That is important because poor air quality contributes to the early deaths of up to 40,000 people in the UK each year. This is not just a devastating and avoidable loss of life; it is costing the economy too. Research from the British Heart Foundation found that diseases attributable to air pollution in the UK result in over £20 billion-worth of economic costs.
I would like to pay particular tribute to all the children and young people across the United Kingdom who are speaking out and standing up for action to protect our environment and their future. I have had a number of letters from schoolchildren in Newport West. I am very grateful to each and every one who has written to me asking me to ensure that their voices are heard and their views are shared. It was also good to meet local members of Extinction Rebellion, to talk about what more we can do to mitigate climate change at a constituency level.
The UK is set to miss its target of achieving a 50% recycling rate by a country mile, which is evidence that this Government have failed to provide the rapid response required to tackle the environment and climate change emergency. We have had enough of the hot air; now it is time to deliver. In Wales, we are currently working towards a 70% recycling target of household waste by 2025, and we are well on track to achieving that. It is an ambitious target, but if we all work together, we can achieve it. Wales is leading the way, and it would be good to see England following.
The hon. Lady is talking about targets. Unfortunately, in Scotland we have missed the landfill target set back in 2012. Does she agree that the new Office for Environmental Protection should have a UK-wide reach, with the power to share best practice from all parts of the UK and ensure that standards and our international obligations are met?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that excellent point, which I hope the Government will take on board.
Important stakeholders such as Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth and Asthma UK are all disappointed at the limitations of the Bill. A recent Royal Society for the Protection of Birds “State of Nature” report says that the UK is among the most “nature-depleted” countries in the world. The Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit, has called the Bill
“a missed opportunity for taking a holistic approach to environment and climate change, placing them at the heart of Government policy.”
I share the Committee’s disappointment at the short-sighted, limited approach that the Government have taken with the Bill. We had the opportunity to be truly groundbreaking with this Bill and show bold leadership to the rest of the world. Instead, it looks as though we are trying to minimise climate change on the cheap, which is demeaning and lets down future generations.
Our country finds itself at a hugely important juncture. I welcome the fact that we are discussing these incredibly important issues, and I look forward to playing my role in helping to strengthen the Bill and ensuring that this legislation will deliver for our constituents now and in the future.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure what your plans are in the next few weeks—you may be busy—but I want to invite you to west Cornwall, where you will find areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest, nature reserves, special protection areas and marine conservation zones by the dozen. They are on the increase, not because of European legislation but because of the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Natural England and other fantastic organisations. There is an appetite to protect further our beautiful part of the world.
I welcome the Environment Bill, especially the nature recovery strategies. Many good things have been said this evening, which I will not repeat, but I want to raise a few issues that are particular to my constituency, such as the Cornish chough. In 2016, a review of special protected areas found that they are inadequate for the Cornish chough and choughs across the UK. I would love the Secretary of State to look at that, to ensure that the Cornish chough, which is already in good recovery, has ample opportunity to recover further. It requires grazing land, so we need to be careful, as we progress with decarbonisation, that we do not get rid of cattle altogether.
I am the species champion for the Manx shearwater, a ground-nesting bird that has recovered remarkably on Scilly because we have been able to cull rats and get rid of plastic and other litter. I would welcome the Secretary of State looking at how we can fund such recovery programmes, because the Manx shearwater provides an excellent example of communities working together with the proper funds––
Constituents of all ages tell me of their concerns about the environment, climate change, plastics, waste and recycling, wildlife habitats and noise from planes, neighbours and cars. I see no mention of noise in the Bill, which is a worrying omission, but because of my limited time, I will focus on one issue of particular local concern, which is air quality.
Air pollution causes early deaths, with spikes of emergency calls and acute illness on days when it is bad. It is a major issue in my constituency, which has inadequate public transport and an over-dependence on car travel, with major roads running between London and Heathrow. More than 38 million people live in areas where air quality breaches legal limits, and my constituents are among them. Although there is not yet enough data, many of my constituents are concerned about the air pollution from aeroplanes.
The Central Office of Public Interest has a website with postcode links showing nitrogen dioxide air pollution levels, using data from Kings College London. The tool shows that my home in the middle of my constituency has significant air pollution from nitrogen dioxide, with an annual average of 36 micrograms per cubic metre, which is just under the World Health Organisation legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. This allegedly leads to an 11% increased risk of disease-related mortality for me and my family. By the way, here in Westminster we are exposed to almost 49 micrograms per cubic metre.
The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been taking the lead on air pollution. By taking action in introducing the ultra-low emission zone, we have seen a 35% cut in nitrogen dioxide emissions, with over 13,000 fewer polluting cars in central London. He has commissioned zero and low-emission buses for the fleet, which has seen a significant cut in NO2 emissions on Chiswick High Road. He has launched a £25 million car scrappage scheme so that individuals can trade in dirty and polluting vehicles. Owing to his package of air quality measures, the number of schools in London in illegally polluted areas will reduce from over 450 to zero by 2025.
If only we could see the Government take such a bold approach and not just leave it to local authorities, which, with this Bill, are faced with being required to do more with less money. One example the Government could follow to address both NO2 and fossil fuel emissions, as well as carbon emissions, would be to encourage a shift from fossil fuel to electric vehicles in a robust way. They could possibly could do even more to support people out of cars and on to e-bikes, as in France and Germany, where e-bike sales have shot through the roof.
However, this Environment Bill offers neither bold nor meaningful action to help my constituents. In this Bill, we have three years until targets must be set, and we have no binding commitments to match WHO guidelines, while the fine particulate PM 2.5 targets do not have to be met until 2037. On top of this, we have provisions that allow Ministers to brush aside air quality breaches. We need a Bill that protects environmental targets from being watered down in future. Leaving the EU removes a significant weapon for people to be able to take legal action against the Government, as has been done successfully in a number of air quality cases recently. We need a much bolder and more significant approach from the Government, and we need them to legislate for a legal right for everyone to be able to breathe clean air.
Order. Because of the problems with the clock, I call Derek Thomas for another two minutes. I want to hear more about shearwaters.
For the Environment Bill, Rewilding Britain has made some incredible observations about what could be achieved with public money for the public good. It says that 6 million hectares of rewilding—regenerating woodland, peatlands and species-rich grasslands—would actually sequester 10% of our UK greenhouse gases. This is a real opportunity. It would cost us £1.9 billion, which is £1.1 billion less than the common agricultural policy costs us at the moment. In Cornwall, we have a commitment to a forest for Cornwall in my constituency, and we are working to plant 20,000 trees.
With this Environment Bill, there is a real opportunity for us to work together to reduce greenhouse gases, but also to improve the environment for generations to come. With that, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will sit down.
It gives me great pleasure to complete a trio of Ruths on the Opposition Benches.
My constituency of High Peak shows just how important this Environment Bill is, and I welcome the measures in it. The Secretary of State will know from her visit to Toddbrook reservoir this summer how important it is for my constituents in particular that we manage to get to grips with serious rainfall and have the infrastructure to deal with it. As my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell said in an intervention earlier, that includes dealing with upper water catchment areas, and making sure that areas such as those surrounding the Goyt and the Toddbrook reservoir can be rewilded and forested again so that they can deal with the water that is coming down at a much faster rate, given some of the rain we have had recently.
I am also particularly concerned about development impacting on areas in the catchment zones of rivers such as the Goyt, which are prone to flooding. Even if development is in a flood zone 1 area, it can have a heavy impact downstream on areas that are in flood zone 3. That does not seem to be fully mitigated in the national planning framework, and local actions seem incapable of preventing it.
In other areas of the constituency, we have moorland. Last summer, we saw the devastating burning of the moors above my constituency. I have been out with the RSPB and seen how the rewetting and revegetation of that moorland can stop such fires in their tracks. I commend the work that Moors for the Future has been doing for many years, using funds largely from the European Union, to revegetate square kilometres of our moorlands that were previously bare peat, emitting carbon and not sequestering it again. I hope we will be able to look at measures in the Bill to make sure that that work continues.
I also hope we can take action on grouse moors, which are some of the least diverse areas for wildlife. We have serious concerns about the protection of raptors over grouse moors. In my constituency, they have actually disappeared; despite there being some nests, the young have not come to fruition.
As well as the uplands, we also have the towns and the lowlands. In some of my towns, asthma is a third higher than the UK average, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is 50% higher, because we have areas of high traffic congestion, with roads and traffic travelling through valleys. Although there is a clean air zone in Greater Manchester, we are concerned that, being on the edge of the city, we will have polluting vehicles travelling more in areas of High Peak that already see high levels of fuel emissions.
It is therefore important that we have a UK-wide strategy, as well as UK-wide targets and action, on clean air. It is also important that we make sure that there are real consequences for failing to meet those targets and that there is the funding in place—which there is not for Greater Manchester—to support the cleaning up of our diesel vehicles.
There is no doubt that the UK is leading the world when it comes to tackling climate change. This Bill allows the Government to map out our path to be net zero by 2050. Progress is so important, as issues such as air quality are really impacting people’s lives today.
The World Health Organisation’s advice is that annual average particulate matter should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic meter. I was shocked to learn that we in Chichester averaged 9.09 in 2017. For those who do not know Chichester, we are a very protected area. Some 66% of the constituency is protected either via the area of outstanding natural beauty in the coastal area to the south or via the South Downs national park. Despite that, my constituency ranked 268th worst in the UK for air quality, so we need to do more to clean up our air.
Although I welcome the devolution of environmental protection plans, the national guidance needs to take into account the local environment. For example, Midhurst in my constituency is a small town in the heart of the South Downs. The area has poor air quality due to traffic, and it has failed indicative nitrogen oxide tests since 2015. Now the council is implementing air quality management areas, and a much-needed action plan is in place, but the levels needed to meet the requirements are too high for rural areas. Therefore, moving forward, I hope the Government will lower the thresholds required to get designation for rural areas.
One reason for the poor air quality levels in my hon. Friend’s constituency could well be the A27, which blights the lives of many people there. In a similar way, we have junction 9 of the M3 in my constituency. It seems counterintuitive to have road change plans, but having traffic flowing properly would increase air quality, because that traffic would not be sitting idling or pummelling through residential areas.
I completely agree. There are huge blockages in traffic flow on the A27 and at the junction on the M3. That needs to be sorted out. I hope the £25 billion that is being invested in road infrastructure will address both of those issues and both of those roads.
Chichester is also famous for its harbour and the Chichester Harbour Conservancy, led by Richard Craven, who does a fantastic job. However, despite its efforts there are still concerns about water quality. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will use the powers in the Bill to work with industry to address issues such as sewage water leaching and storm drain discharge into pristine marine environments. I hope she will work with boating communities like mine to better develop a network of waste water collection sites for leisure boats, as boats releasing sewage directly into our waterways increases harmful bacteria and nitrate levels.
Chichester harbour’s importance is not just about biodiversity. Recent analysis by the RSPB shows that areas such as the harbour and Pagham nature reserve, which is also in my constituency, are massive carbon sinks, with up to 310 tonnes per hectare. Maintaining such carbon-rich natural environments to a high standard not only benefits nature but helps us to mitigate climate change.
The Bill rightly brings forward the ability of the Secretary of State to withdraw water abstraction licences in an effort to protect the natural environment after 2028. This is vital to protect biodiversity, especially in times of water shortage. I urge the Government to continue and further develop a water resource management grant scheme so that growers and farmers are less reliant on water sources from their surrounding environment, and so that as a nation we are resilient in times of drought.
The Bill brings a sense of hope. It is the foundation from which we can develop a comprehensive environmental policy that will enable us to meet our net zero target. The sooner we act, the sooner we can become a world-leading net zero economy.
We only have one planet, and we must leave it in a better shape than we found it. We all know what we need to do: tackle greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change; tackle the loss of habitat that is driving out our wildlife and birdlife; tackle the pollution in our air and water; and reduce waste and plastics. What many people do not know, however, is what we are doing: leading the world in cutting emissions; leading the world in committing to net zero; and leading the world in our passion to eradicate coal and deliver renewables, especially offshore. Our tiny island has committed that we will protect a third of the world’s ocean. We in Britain are leading the global effort to protect the poorest countries from climate change. There is much to be proud of.
There is, of course, more we can do. The Bill will mean that the emissions targets we set will be met. It will mean that there is a step change in how we deliver clean water and clean air, and how we deal with traffic problems such as the Army and Navy roundabout in Chelmsford, which is creating so much pollution. In areas like Chelmsford, where builders are delivering the homes we humans need, builders will now have to deliver the homes that our animals, wildlife and birdlife need.
Many Members have spoken about planting trees. I commend the great work of the Beaulieu Park development in Chelmsford, set under the Conservative leadership of the local council, where 90,000 trees, whips and shrubs were planted. As the Minister is in her place, may I remind her that 595,000 people have signed the petition asking for hedgehog highways, so that where we have new developments gardens will let hedgehogs in and not lock them out?
Finally, on plastic pollution, the Bill will allow us to take on the scourge of plastic waste, which is choking our rivers, our seas and our oceans. I was delighted this autumn, when I took part in my own river clean-up in Chelmsford, to notice that the amount of rubbish people had thrown by the river and in the river had reduced since people became aware of this issue, but they want us to do more. By making producers pay for the damage their products cause, we can end a throwaway society and make sure that products last longer, are more reusable, are more repairable and are more easily recycled. As far as all the people I meet are concerned, especially schoolchildren in Chelmsford, the deposit return scheme for plastic bottles cannot come soon enough.
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.
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.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, who mentioned hedgehog superhighways. I look forward to those because there is a hedgehog living in my garden at present that is providing an interesting if prickly object for my dogs to look at.
This is an important Bill. Many constituents have contacted me asking that I speak on it. I am pleased to say that I support it. As a sailor, walker and erstwhile forest resident, I care deeply about our environment, and I know that the Bill delivers in several key areas. Of these, I consider the creation of the Office for Environmental Protection to be a most important step forward. As we know, this new and—incidentally—world-leading regulator will scrutinise policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action when necessary, and about time, too.
These actions and powers will be used to ensure that we leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. As the Secretary of State said, we will be the first generation to do so, and I am proud of that. While the OEP will be a national body, however, we must also focus on the individual to reduce our collective impact on the environment. Encouragingly, the Bill does that in several ways, especially when it comes to tackling plastic waste. No doubt plastic waste is a global problem. I believe that recycling and reusing plastic products should be central to any response. Concerningly, the numbers are not good. Of the 6.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste ever discarded, only 9% has been recycled. That is, of course, a worldwide figure and this is a truly global problem, but our “use once and discard” approach to unrecyclable plastic cannot have helped. It is good news that plastic straws, drink-stirrers, cotton buds and the like will be banned from April 2020, but there is so much more to do.
I am pleased that the Bill builds on that ban by making packaging producers liable for the full net costs of dealing with their products at the end of life—a financial penalty that should lead producers to begin to design their products with reuse and recycling in mind. If we do this, we will get our approach to plastic packaging right, which is crucial given that, of the 5 million tonnes of plastic used in the UK every year, nearly half is packaging.
The Bill also introduces, or reintroduces—I remember them well—deposit return schemes, which will further reduce our plastic waste output. Those schemes are proven internationally, as I saw during a recent visit to Berlin. They will increase recycling and reuse, and reduce littering.
As for consumers, I believe that the Bill will start to change our approach to plastics. Primarily, it will be influenced by the new charge for single-use plastics, which seeks to mirror the success of the plastic bag charge that led to a 90% decrease in plastic bag use. I have no doubt that, because of that new charge, we will reduce our dependence on single-use plastics, or find a sustainable alternative. These changes will almost certainly lead to a tangible reduction in our plastic waste output. As someone who has spent many hours trawling the Walton backwaters in my wonderful Clacton constituency and picking up plastic flotsam and jetsam, I could not be happier. Our water is precious.
We led and engineered our way into our present position. It is not beyond the wit of man to engineer our way out, and I believe that it is incumbent upon us in the UK to lead that way out.
I rise—and I think that virtually all Members on both sides of the House have risen—to support the principles of the Bill. It is a groundbreaking Bill which will enable us to make long-term environmental improvements between 2025 and 2030, generational improvements that will make our country better, cleaner and safer for all of us for many years to come.
As I read the Bill, I noted ways in which it would improve the lives of my constituents, and I thought that the Minister would be interested to hear about them. The first involves air quality. At last there will be a legally binding target in relation to fine particulate matter, and in my constituency that will help us with the work that I am doing to establish clean air zones around schools. It will also help the fight against the expansion of Luton airport, which would mean much fine particulate matter in some of the most rural parts of my constituency.
The Bill will also improve waste resource management. As any Member who represents a rural constituency will know, fly-tipping is a scourge in rural areas. In my constituency, the work that will be done by local regulators and local authorities will strengthen the fight against it.
The Government clearly envisage a change in our economic model. A more circular economic model will enable us to keep our resources in use for much longer. Not throwing those resources away quickly will benefit all of us in the long run, and will also help our economy. Let me give a shout-out to some young guys in my constituency who have set up a business called @BambuuBrush, which makes 100% biodegradable toothbrushes containing no plastic. I urge every Member to buy them, because they are really good, and they are great for our environment. That is the sort of business that the Bill will strengthen.
The Bill will also improve water management. The chalk streams in my constituency, such as the River Mimram, will benefit from it, because the Government recognise the need to reform abstraction licensing so that we can help chalk streams to improve and thrive. I am working closely with the Ver Valley Society, and I hope to continue to do so over the coming weeks, months and years, with the Government’s help.
The last thing I will say is about nature. Biodiversity net gain as a concept is groundbreaking: it is important and it helps us deliver more housing more sustainably over the long term and helps our wildlife. I think all of us can recognise that, and a very good example again happens to be in my constituency. The Heartwood forest, built by the Woodland Trust just north of the village of Sandridge, is a very good example of the sort of new forest that could be envisaged and helped and strengthened by the measures in the Bill.
In her summing up I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on the climate change conference I held recently in my constituency at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden. It was attended by well over 150 people, including experts and constituents, who came up with some of the very measures that we now find in this Bill.
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.
Order. May I suggest three minutes each for the next two speakers?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I shall be as brief as I can.
I welcome the provisions in the Environment Bill, and I particularly want to talk about the move towards a circular economy in which products and materials are reused and recycled. I will focus particularly on the provisions in respect of plastics, and I want to talk about them from a different perspective—that of someone who spent 25 years in the packaging industry and who is currently the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the packaging manufacturing industry. The industry has not been oblivious to its responsibilities in protecting the environment, and that represents a sea change compared with the attitude that existed a few years ago. It is committed to measures to simplify the process and to investing in innovative sorting and recycling.
I want to talk briefly about the practical considerations relating to four of the Government’s proposals. On the extended producer responsibility, we must remember that in addition to our producers being responsible, consumers must be responsible. It is not businesses that put packaging in the wrong place and cause problems; it is individuals. We must consider that. In respect of taxing packaging products that do not contain at least 30% recycled content, we need to be careful with medical products, which are not allowed to contain recycled material. It is also worth noting that 85% of plastic packaging is being recycled anyway.
The deposit return scheme is an area of some concern, and I hope that Deidre Brock will recognise the benefit of a UK-wide system rather than wanting Scotland to go off on its own. Britvic in my constituency manufactures soft drinks, and it does not want to have to carry two sets of stock for two different markets. That would have an effect on consumers through prices. I also request the Minister to ensure that our home kerbside collection schemes are consistent across the UK, because the confusion between different authorities is restricting the amount that is being collected. There are many other points I would like to make, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to make some of them in Committee.
I welcome the Bill and will briefly home in on three issues. The first is the Office for Environmental Protection, which in some respects is equivalent to the Committee on Climate Change. It is a good idea, but for the OEP to be as effective as the CCC, it must have teeth and independence. I ask the Minister to consider two improvements in order to achieve this. First, will she consider introducing a duty to achieve five-yearly interim targets similar to the carbon budgets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008? Secondly, will she commit to a principle of non-regression in environmental standards?
My second point relates to air pollution, a problem that is creating significant health challenges in Lowestoft. The Bill provides a framework for removing this blight by setting a legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter. Consideration should be given to being more ambitious and making a commitment to achieve the World Health Organisation’s current limit values, as well as to giving further powers to local authorities to tackle local sources of air pollution.
My third point relates to the need to empower local communities, and it is important that the Bill does this. In and around Lowestoft, there are some environmentally rich and diverse areas that are bringing, and could bring, much benefit to nearby residents and local people. These include Bonds Meadow, an historic landscape in a now urban area run by local a community group, and Carlton Marshes, an exciting and ambitious project promoted by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust to recreate a unique Suffolk—not Norfolk—broads landscape right on the edge of the town. There are provisions in the Bill that will promote and help such initiatives, including the strengthened duty on public authorities to take account of biodiversity in their decision making, and the requirement for local authorities to produce local nature recovery strategies. These measures are to be welcomed.
In conclusion, this is a good Bill with plenty of good proposals. We have heard them described as groundbreaking; I will call them innovative. Let us get on and give the Bill a Second Reading, then work together to make it even better: a great Act that stands the test of time.
Members have made many excellent speeches. Unfortunately, time has been far too short for everybody to say everything they wanted, but I want to highlight a few of the points that were made. Neil Parish questioned how the Office for Environmental Protection would hold the Government or other public bodies to account, and that sentiment was shared by Mr Dunne and the hon. Members for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous).
My hon. Friend Mary Creagh described how far we have come as a member of the European Union and talked about the danger of regression from EU standards. My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy pointed out that having due regard to standards does not constitute accountability. Sarah Newton talked about the need for objective information, which is so important if people are going to make these provisions stick. My hon. Friend Ruth Jones talked about the need for more powers and resources for councils. Richard Graham talked about it being time to drop fracking, with which I strongly agree.
We have had less than three hours to debate the Second Reading of this mammoth Bill. It is a Bill that covers so many areas in which radical change is needed if we are to deal with the climate crisis and hand on to our children an environment that is fit to live in. The Government have been promising an environment Bill for years, and we have been demanding it for years. I hope everyone recognises the vital importance of enshrining the environmental protections that we currently enjoy as part of the EU in a British legislative framework that will safeguard that protection when we leave. As the Bill stands, however, it does not afford the environment the protection that it will need if and when we leave the EU, let alone provide a course towards sustainability and net zero emissions, which are critical if we are to survive. There are huge omissions to be filled and huge inconsistencies to be ironed out if it is to have the effect for which so many campaigners and hon. Members have been hoping.
The basic premise underlying the Bill—that we can and must replace the external arbiter of the EU with our own Office for Environmental Protection—depends on the OEP having the independence and the powers to hold the Government of this country to account, to prevent our law and our institutions from undermining our environment, to rule out actions that the Government might want to take and to impose fines for breaches. How can that be done by an OEP that has been appointed by the very Secretary of State that it is meant to be holding to account, without any meaningful involvement from anyone else?
Before EU regulations started to change the practice in this country, we were the dirty man of Europe. It was only because the Labour Government went beyond what EU regulations required that we now have protections that may sometimes go further than other European countries. It is a matter of regret that we will no longer be able to lead on EU environmental protection once we are no longer a member. How much of that protection will survive in the face of demands from US agriculture or multinational chemicals giants while we try in desperation to agree one-sided trade deals with much larger economic blocs?
Timing is another issue. Far too much in the Bill envisages decisions that will not take effect for years. How can we secure clean air for our children when many of the proposed measures will take 15 years to have any effect? There is no indication of the powers or resources that will be needed to take fossil fuel vehicles off our roads, but some 35,000 to 40,000 of our citizens die prematurely every year. This is an emergency, and rapid and radical action needs to be taken now.
On waste, where is the mechanism to end the export of plastic waste to countries that do not have the facilities to deal with it? Where is the commitment to resource our local authorities to enable the recyclable materials collections envisaged in the Bill? Where is the Government commitment to invest in recycling and composting infrastructure in this country? Where is the commitment to reducing waste in the first place? All the initiatives proposed in the Bill appear to depend on the private sector providing the finance, the investment, the facilities and even the administrators and scheme enforcement. Have the Government learned nothing from the fiasco of packaging recovery notes, which have done nothing to reduce waste or boost recycling?
Part 5, on water, makes no firm commitments to reduce water consumption or the carbon use of the water industry. Mr Goodwill talked about the improvements made in our water services since privatisation, but there has been a massive increase in the amount of money that households pay for their water since privatisation. Clearly some of that has gone into improving the water infrastructure, but a great deal has gone into profits for shareholders and massive pay cheques for executives.
Any Government that view the profit motive, rather than the best interests of people, as the most effective driver of policy is likely to see lower environmental standards. Without proper investment in the public sector, we will not achieve the step change that we need in tree planting, protection of our wildlife habitats, waste and resource efficiency, reducing the impact of water consumption or protection from chemical pollution. This Government do not have a good track record in investment in the public sector. They are introducing this Bill because they realise that they have to be seen to be doing something. We will hold them to what they say and use this opportunity to push for amendments that we believe could strengthen the Bill and make it genuinely effective. For that reason, we will not oppose Second Reading.
It is not over-egging the pudding to say that I am genuinely honoured to be closing this debate on what I consider to be a landmark Bill that will transform our approach to protecting and enhancing our precious environment. Importantly, and as the Secretary of State clearly outlined at the start, the measures in the Bill will not just maintain what is in place but enhance it. They will truly enable us to leave our environment in a better place than we found it.
It was tremendously heartening to hear such support for the Bill tonight. I have been an ardent environmental campaigner pretty much all my life, growing up on a farm, studying the environment at university and working as a journalist and broadcaster in this field. However, as a journalist, I began to realise that while one can highlight the problems, the only way to get the paradigm shift that we need on the environmental agenda is to influence policy.
That is where this Bill comes in, and that is why I and everyone working on it believe that it will be so significant. With the shocking decline in nature, which is so starkly obvious, coupled with the impacts of climate change, this Bill is now urgently needed, as Members have said. Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to grasp the environmental agenda with both hands and develop a tailor-made framework that will make this world better for us all.
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.
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.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on the really important issue of plastics recycling. Does she agree that one of the benefits of the producer tax will be to force manufacturers to put more recycled plastic content into plastic products? That will mean less use of virgin plastics and therefore less use of fossil fuels.
That is absolutely right. There are many measures to encourage the use of more recycled plastic in products. Ultimately, we will get into the producer-responsibility circular economy, in which less plastic is actually made in the first place.
I am going to conclude now.
The substance of this debate is the greatest issue of our time. The Environment Bill will make a much needed step change to protect and enhance our environment. I am sorry that I have not been able to deal with every single comment, but I will be happy to meet colleagues later—my door is always open. There are big ambitions in the Bill, and rightly so. We must talk about all the issues in Committee, and I hope that everyone will join in. This is a transformative Bill that will give a whole new approach to environmental protection and enhancement.
I hope that colleagues will indulge me for a couple of moments. I just wanted to mention the fact that, earlier this summer, my husband died. He knew that I had personally campaigned on this environmental agenda pretty much all my life. I believe that he would be very proud to see the Government putting the environment at the top of the agenda, with what I hope will be cross-party support. I very much hope that, as the Bill passes through its various stages, we will eventually all be singing from the same hymn sheet—recycled, I hope. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.