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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:54 pm, 26th February 2020

Since before the EU referendum in 2016, my constituents have been raising concerns that Brexit would mean a watering down of the most important protections we have derived as a consequence of our membership of the EU. Again and again those fears were dismissed. We were told there was nothing to fear, accused of scare- mongering, and told to be quiet. Yet at the first test before them, the Government have failed. They have failed to reassure my constituents at all—failed to make a commitment to keep pace with EU standards and to avoid slipping back. The Government could easily have put a commitment to non-regression into this Bill. There is no reason not to do so. This is not about whether, in any hypothetical scenario, the Government cannot go further and faster than the EU; it is about being certain that we will not slip backwards. This is a fundamental breach of trust and of the commitments that were made both during the referendum campaign and at every stage subsequently by those who argued to leave.

Air pollution is one of the issues of greatest concern to my constituents. We have in Dulwich and West Norwood areas of extremely poor air quality. My constituents have watched with dismay as the Tories have been taken to court three times over illegal levels of air pollution and, instead of reacting with the concern and urgency that such a legal defeat would demand, have chosen to spend public funds unsuccessfully appealing against the court decisions—funds that could have been spent on developing the comprehensive air quality strategy that this country so badly needs. That strategy is still missing from this Bill. Air pollution is a public health emergency. Toxic air affects every organ of the body and contributes to as many as 40,000 premature deaths a year. In this context, it is inexcusable that the Government will not commit in this Bill to meet legally binding WHO targets for particulate matter by 2030.

On plastic pollution, again this Bill contains a woeful lack of ambition and detail.