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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:07 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Independent, Newbury 8:07 pm, 28th October 2019

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.