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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:31 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:31 pm, 26th February 2020

I refer hon. Members to my speech on 28 October when we had the dress rehearsal for this Bill—at least we all know our lines now. None the less, the concerns remain the same, because they have not been addressed: the Bill still lacks in ambition; the Office of Environmental Protection still lacks teeth; the Ministry of Defence is still exempt; the armed forces can still cause environmental havoc; national security is still off limits for environmental consideration; renewable energy still does not get the big licks it should be getting; and this Bill is still, in my view, insipid and weak.

Worse than that, clause 18 should force Ministers to consider the environment when making policy, but, as I have already said, it exempts the military and national security. It also exempts tax, spending and the allocation of resources. In other words, it exempts the main thrusts of Government policy—the biggest tools in the Government cupboard. If resource considerations do not take environmental concerns into account, we will hardly be driving Government policy towards good environmental goals.

If taxation policy does not have a weather eye on environmental policy, it misses the opportunity to ensure that the polluter pays. It misses the chance to engage Government’s biggest lever of public policy. Equally, if spending decisions are not environmentally aware, then the Government are not environmentally aware. If the Government were serious about delivering environmental benefits, that would have been the key point of the Bill —it would have been proclaiming a commitment to change, to improvement, to making a future unlike the past.

If there really were an environmental heart to this Government, it would be at the heart of this Bill. It would tie all governmental resourcing decisions into improving the environment, and into considering the environmental impact of policies. It would put the environment at the middle of decision making. It did not happen; it has not happened. This Bill is just ticking a box to say that the gap left by Brexit is being filled, but that filler is not reaching the edges of that gap.

Even the hiatus of an election and the inordinately long time it has taken to bring this Bill back have not offered the Government enough time to make improvements to the Bill. Still, there is nothing that will force England’s water companies to address the leakage from their pipes to conserve that resource. The clue to decent performance there, of course, is to remove the profit motive and have water publicly owned, as it is in Scotland.

The Bill still does not lend strength to enforcement. There are still no strong compliance powers for the new watchdog, the OEP, in the Bill and those that it will have will be restricted to wagging a finger at backsliding public bodies. This was an opportunity to make a clear case for environmental improvement and protection. This was an opportunity to lay down markers on protecting the marine environment, putting protections in place for the oceans, improving river health and securing decent bathing waters.