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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.