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It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on the Second Reading of the Environment Bill. I am pleased that the Government have reintroduced the Bill and I am also pleased that there is a degree of co-operation with the Opposition. It is important that we get the Bill absolutely right.
In the previous Parliament, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the previous Bill, and I am pleased that the legislation has moved towards some of our recommendations. For example, I welcome the fact that the Government will set a multi-annual budget for the Office for Environmental Protection and have included climate change within its remit. We just need to make sure that there is enough money for the OEP to run properly.
I wish to make three points about how the Bill can be improved. First, concerns have been expressed that in some areas, such as target setting, the Bill might allow a weakening of standards—for example, on air quality. I welcome the plan to set a target for particulate matter, but it is planned only for 2022, and we do not know how ambitious the target might be. At this early stage, I urge the Government to set an example and match the World Health Organisation guidelines for dangerous emissions such as particulate matter. The British Heart Foundation estimates that the number of heart attacks and stroke deaths linked to air pollution could exceed 160,000 by 2030, unless action is taken. DEFRA has already carried out a study that shows that it can achieve World Health Organisation standards of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, so I urge the Government to set that target. Let us put that target into law now and use the Bill to improve human health as well as our natural environment.
Secondly, it is vital that we set up the Office for Environmental Protection now that we are outside the EU; however, it needs to be independent of Government and have the teeth to bite. The OEP will not be independent if it is constantly worrying about having its budgets cut, so will the Government commit to a multi-annual budget settlement, the enshrinement in law of which I would welcome?