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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.