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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 2:43 pm, 26th February 2020

It is true.

David did, of course, have the advantage of serving the magnificent constituency of Aylesbury, which I now have the great privilege to represent. Aylesbury has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. I was born in the Royal Bucks Hospital in the town, and my first home was in Bedgrove. My roots in the constituency go back even further. My great-grandfather was the village blacksmith in Bledlow Ridge. Aylesbury can trace its history to the iron age, has held a market since Anglo-Saxon times and has been the proud county town of Buckinghamshire for close to 500 years.

The historic quarter of the town centre retains its charm and appeal to locals and visitors alike. It includes statues of Benjamin Disraeli, the father of one nation Conservatism, and of John Hampden, commemorating his role asserting the rights of Parliament against Charles I. There is also now a statue of David Bowie, who in the 1970s staged the world debut performances of two albums at the legendary Friars music club in the town. Visitors should be aware that the statue bursts into song on the hour: more than one unsuspecting tourist has had rather a shock when out of nowhere comes a rendition of “Ziggy Stardust”.

One historic building that is rarely remarked upon is the prison, a Victorian edifice dating from 1847. It is a place that holds particular interest for me, however, as until recently I served as a non-executive director of HM Prison and Probation Service and as the magistrate member of the Sentencing Council. I hope to continue that work in Parliament, focusing particularly on two themes—making our prison estate fit for purpose and putting victims right at the heart of the criminal justice system. Perhaps I may say at this point that I regard our prison and probation officers as the unsung heroes of our public services.

Among the more notorious inmates of Aylesbury prison were the Great Train Robbers, which brings me neatly to HS2. As the home of the Aylesbury duck, it has been said by many of my constituents that HS2 is simply quackers. Seriously though, as the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury and speaking in the debate on the Environment Bill, I would not be forgiven by my constituents if I did not mention HS2. Opposition to the project has long been the single biggest issue in my constituency. Thousands of residents are both disappointed and frustrated by the decision to proceed, not least because of the harm HS2 will do to the environment, including the destruction of more than 100 ancient woodlands. The actions of HS2 Ltd and its contractors have already provoked many complaints to me, and I take this opportunity to state that I will be unwavering in holding them to account.

Aylesbury is setting itself up to thrive throughout the 21st century. Faced with the same challenges as many medium-sized market towns, not least the decline of the traditional high street, there is a passionate ambition to become a real community and commercial hub where people want to live, work, visit and invest. Already the Waterside theatre and the Exchange have brought life back to the canal side. There has been significant house building, including across Aylesbury Vale, where the population has grown by 10% in the last five years. There is far more to come, with projections of a further 16,000 homes in and around the town by 2033. So I welcome the commitment in the Bill to require all development to be accompanied by a 10% net gain in biodiversity. The Aylesbury garden town project goes even further in its vision to be not just green but—I am delighted to say—blue, with plans to create a garden-way encircling the town and to uncover hidden waterways.

The people of Aylesbury are rightly proud that it was the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, and they now have pioneering plans to make the town fully accessible to all.

There is much more than just the town of Aylesbury in the constituency. About a third of its population live in villages and hamlets, wonderful places such as Wendover, Stokenchurch, Aston Clinton, Weston Turville and Hughenden. Two thirds of the area is agricultural, and I have already very much enjoyed meeting farmers in the constituency, and not just because they agreed to put up gigantic posters of me during the election campaign. Many of those farmers are enthusiastic about the Bill. They recognise their unique role in the stewardship of the land and preservation of the countryside, and I am confident that the Bill will enable our farmers to ensure our food security and run sustainable businesses, while playing their part in ensuring the highest environmental standards.

The farms, villages and hamlets in my constituency lie in beautiful countryside, but they face the same challenges as many other rural areas, including access to health services, buses and broadband. Although Buckinghamshire is often regarded as affluent, my constituency also has pockets of deprivation, and I will strive to ensure a fairer deal for everyone I represent because, like each and every one of us in this Chamber, I am only here because of my constituents. As a former journalist, I am acutely aware of the need for accountability to them and to the public in general. Politics has not had a good press in recent years and it is beholden on us to improve that, not for the sake of a good headline or hundreds of likes on a tweet, but in order to rebuild faith and confidence that our institutions and representatives truly uphold democracy and deliver in the best interests of all the people.

I am honoured to be in this place at this pivotal time in our country’s history, when we forge new relationships and trade links around the world, and set out robust and far-reaching new laws to preserve and protect our part of the world through this Environment Bill. I conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to the people of the Aylesbury constituency for putting their trust and faith in me to represent them here.