“(1) In interpreting responsibilities under Part 3 of this Act and in all matters relating to waste and resource efficiency the Secretary of State must take account of the requirements of the waste hierarchy, starting with the priority action of prevention.
(2) In this section, “waste hierarchy” has the same meaning as in the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (S.I. 2011/988).”—(Ruth Jones.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 10—Environmental impact of nappy waste—
“(1) Schedule [Environmental impact of nappy waste] confers powers on the relevant national authority to make regulations about environmental standards for nappies.
(2) The relevant national authority means—
(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State;
(c) in relation to Scotland, the Scottish Ministers or the Secretary of State;
(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland or the Secretary of State.
(3) Regulations are subjective to the negative procedure.”
The new clause enables the addition of NS1 which is intended to reduce the impact on the environment of disposable nappies, and has been adapted from a Private Member’s Bill (Bill 299) on this matter.
New schedule 1—Environmental impact of nappy waste—
“Nappy waste impact reduction schemes
1 The relevant national authority must by regulations establish schemes to reduce the impact of nappies on the environment by—
(a) defining the characteristics required for a nappy to meet environmental standards;
(b) promoting nappies which meet environmental standards; and
(c) reporting on the steps taken to encourage local authorities to promote reuseable nappies and reduce nappy waste.
2 (1) The relevant national authority must by regulations establish environmental standards for nappies.
(2) The standards must define the characteristics required for a nappy to be traded, advertised or promoted as—
(d) “environmentally friendly”; and
(e) other such similar terms as may be defined in the standards.
(3) The regulations may provide for nappies or the packaging in which they are contained to bear a mark signifying that they meet the environmental standards.
(a) that nappy is described using a term used in sub-sub-paragraphs (2)(a) to (d) or a similar term defined in regulations under sub-paragraph (1) but does not meet the relevant standards, or
(b) that nappy or its packaging bears the mark in sub-paragraph (3) but does not meet the relevant standards.
Promotion of nappies that meet environmental standards
3 (1) The relevant national authority must by regulations establish a scheme to promote nappies that meet the environmental standards in paragraph 2.
(2) The scheme must be a collaboration between public bodies and the nappy industry.
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a levy to be paid by persons who manufacture or trade in nappies for the purpose of meeting the operating expenses of the scheme.
(4) The scheme must provide public information on—
(a) the effects of disposable nappies on the environment;
(b) the financial advantages of reusable nappies for families and local authorities; and
(c) other advantages of nappies that meet the standards in paragraph 2.
Local authority reusable nappy schemes
4 (1) The relevant national authority must prepare a report on steps that will be taken to encourage local authorities to operate schemes to—
(a) promote the use of reusable nappies, and
(b) reduce nappy waste.
(2) In preparing that report, the relevant national authority must consult—
(a) operators of existing reusable nappy schemes,
(b) local authorities involved in those schemes,
(c) parents who have participated in such schemes,
(d) manufacturers of reusable nappies.
(3) The report must be laid—
(a) in relation to England, before Parliament;
(b) in relation to Wales, in Senedd Cymru;
(c) in relation to Scotland, in the Scottish Parliament; and
(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, in the Northern Ireland Assembly; or in Parliament; within six months of this section coming into force.”
This new schedule brings into the Bill the provisions of the Private Member’s Bill on Nappies (Environmental Standards) Bill (Bill 299) in order to define environmental standards for nappies, promote nappies that meet the standards, and report on local authority schemes to promote reuseable nappies and reduce nappy waste.
Government amendments 32 to 35.
New clause 6—Clean Air Duty—
“(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual policy statement setting out how the Government is working to improve air quality, and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.
(2) The annual policy statement in subsection (1) must include—
(a) how public authorities are improving air quality, including indoor air quality; and
(b) how Government departments are working together to improve air quality, including indoor air quality.
This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on air quality, which includes indoor air quality and the work of public authorities and Government departments working together to improve it.
New clause 13—Air quality in rural areas: application of pesticides—
“(1) For the purposes of improving air quality and protecting human health and the environment in rural areas, the Secretary of State must by regulations make provision prohibiting the application of pesticides for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture near—
(a) buildings used for human habitation; and
(b) public or private buildings and associated open spaces where members of the public may be present, including but not limited to—
(i) schools and childcare nurseries;
(ii) hospitals and health care facilities.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must specify a minimum distance from any of the locations listed under subsection (1)(a) and (b) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide.
(3) In determining the distance in subsection (2), the Secretary of State must be guided by the optimum distance that would make significant difference in air quality for people using the locations listed in subsection (1).
(4) In this section “public building” includes any building used for the purposes of education.
(5) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to prohibit the application and pollution of chemical pesticides near buildings and spaces used by residents and members of the public, with the aim of improving air quality and protecting human health and the environment in rural areas.
Government amendment 7.
New clause 3—Phosphates Levels—
“In making decisions on planning decisions, the competent authority can disregard any impact of the potential build and its long-term consequences on the level of phosphates in the water.”
Amendment 42, in clause 78, page 71, line 16, after “licensee”, insert—
The amendment seeks to deliver the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation that water companies and local authorities should publish plans to manage surface water flood risk (e.g. from roads).
Amendment 3, in clause 82, page 79, line 22, after “damage” insert—
“, including damage from low flows”.
Amendment 30, in clause 82, page 80, line 26, at end insert—
“(4) The Secretary of State must prepare an annual report on water abstraction management.
(5) The annual report must—
(a) include data for the period covered on the volume of water in England—
(i) licensed for abstraction, and
(b) state whether the natural environment of these water sources has, or particular aspects of it have, improved during that period based on the data, and
(c) assess the impact of water abstraction in that period on the natural environment of chalk streams.
(6) The first annual report on water abstraction may relate to any 12 month period that includes the day on which this section comes into force.
(7) The annual report must be published and laid before Parliament within 4 months of the last day of the period to which the report relates.”
The purpose of this amendment is to monitor more closely the environmental impact of water abstraction on chalk streams with annual reporting.
Government amendment 8.
New clause 18—REACH Regulation and animal testing—
“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations set targets for—
(a) the replacement of types of tests on animals conducted to protect human health and the environment within the scope of the REACH Regulation, and
(b) the reduction pending replacement of the numbers of animals used and the suffering they endure.
(2) A target under this section to reduce the suffering of animals must specify—
(a) a standard to be achieved, which must be capable of being objectively measured, and
(b) a date by which it is to be achieved.
(3) Regulations under this section may make provision about how a target that has been set is to be measured.
(4) A target under this section is initially set when the regulations setting it come into force.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to set targets for the reduction and replacement of animal testing for the purposes of chemicals regulation.
Amendment 24, in schedule 20, page 244, line 19, at end insert—
“(1A) Regulations made under this paragraph must not regress upon the protections or standards of any Article or Annex of the REACH Regulation.
(1B) Subject to sub-paragraph (1A), the Secretary of State—
(a) must make regulations under this paragraph to maintain, and
(b) may make regulations under this paragraph to exceed parity of all protections and standards of chemical regulation with any new or amended regulations of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the regulation of chemicals.”
This amendment would set a minimum of protections under REACH and remove the possibility that a Secretary of State might lower standards than are in place currently, whilst reserving the right for them to set higher standards should they choose.
As my hon. Friend Luke Pollard said in his remarks on the first group of amendments, this Bill has been a long time coming. I am delighted that the Bill is back before the House, but—and there is a “but”—the Minister and her colleagues have lengthened its passage even further by throwing day two of the Report stage into the long, long grass. Considering that the Bill became known as the missing in action Bill after it disappeared for more than 200 days before the Committee stage, that is not a good sign.
New clause 8 holds a key role in the priorities of Her Majesty’s Opposition with regard to this Bill and the important task of taking whatever steps are necessary in the fight to preserve our planet and protect our environment. The new clause requires the Secretary of State to take account of the waste hierarchy, starting with the priority action of prevention. A few weeks ago, my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner filled in for me as shadow Minister at a Westminster Hall debate called by Elliot Colburn. In his remarks, my hon. Friend was very clear that the collective task of tackling waste, improving recycling rates and taking the steps needed to protect our environment and preserve our planet is one that we need to do together—all of us. In his conclusion, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington pressed the point about the need to look further at the waste hierarchy in dealing with waste. I agree with him. I look forward to him supporting new clause 8 in the Lobby tonight, and I hope he will bring some of his hon. Friends with him.
This Bill does not go far enough, and it did not have to be this way. Over the past two decades, the household waste recycling rate in England has increased significantly from just 11.2% to almost 50%. I am pleased that for half of that time a Labour Government ambitiously pushed for a change of behaviour and real action on the green agenda. However, England still falls far short of the EU target of recycling a minimum of 50% of household waste by 2020. Our departure from the EU does not mean that we should shift gear or slow down. We need to go further and faster.
As of 2018, Wales is the only nation in the UK to reach the target. In 2017, it recorded a recycling rate of 64%. Wales is recognised as third in Europe and fourth in the world in the recycling league championship. As the Member for Newport West in this House, I pay tribute to the Welsh Labour Government, particularly my right hon. Friend the First Minister and the Environment Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
The Minister knows that England is responsible for the overwhelming majority of waste in UK households. It is vital that England and therefore this Government show leadership and act. We need to look no further for evidence of the need for swift action than DEFRA’s own resources and strategy monitoring report from August last year. It tells us:
“The large amount of avoidable residual waste and avoidable residual plastic waste generated by household sources each year suggests there remains substantial opportunity for increased recycling.”
The message from that assessment is that a substantial quantity of material appears to be going into the residual waste stream where it could at least have been recycled or dealt with higher up the waste hierarchy. So there it is. We just have to take this seriously now and our new clause 8 would do just that.
This issue is not just about waste here at home, but about the fact that English waste—for want of a better description—has an international impact, too. In response to a written question I asked at the end of last year, the Minister said this about the return of 21 waste containers from Sri Lanka:
“The Environment Agency…as the competent authority for waste shipments for England, is proactively engaging with the authorities in Sri Lanka on these containers and is leading the response on this matter. The 21 containers arrived back in England on Wednesday
“The containers, which were shipped to Sri Lanka in 2017, were found by Sri Lankan authorities to contain illegal materials described as mattresses and carpets which had been exported for recycling.”
Again, just two weeks ago, the UK was accused of failing to honour its promise to curb shipments of plastic waste to developing countries, after it emerged that Britain’s new post-Brexit regulations are less stringent than those imposed by the EU. Our new clause 8 would focus minds and I say to the House that the Bill cannot be used as a race to the bottom. We on the Labour Benches will do all we can to stop that from happening.
On that point, I wonder if the Minister can explain the mysterious missing case of the deposit return scheme? I have a sneaking suspicion that Ministers are looking to scale back their ambition and move away from the all-in scheme. That would be unacceptable, so can the Minister pick that up when winding up the debate, please? I should also say at this point that I am grateful to Ruth Chambers from the Greener Alliance for her unfailing commitment to these issues and the green agenda.
On amendment 24, Labour seeks to highlight an all-too-important issue that does not get the focus it deserves. The amendment would set a minimum level of protections under REACH—the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals—and remove the possibility that a Secretary of State might lower standards that are in place currently, while reserving the right to set higher standards should they choose. How can the Minister disagree with that? Indeed, the former Prime Minister, Mrs May recognised the importance of chemical alignment so that we do not become a dumping ground for hazardous chemicals, so why does this Minister and this Secretary of State not recognise it?
I am also very grateful to Chloe Alexander and her colleagues at the Chem Trust, who do wonderful work highlighting the vital nature of chemical regulation. As she put it, the UK REACH regime for regulating chemicals is already weaker and less transparent than the system it is replicating. The powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill could further reduce the level of protection for the public and the environment from hazardous chemicals. Amendment 24 would prevent damaging deregulation and also help to maintain regularity parity with EU REACH and chemical-related laws that would prevent the dumping of products on the UK market that failed to meet EU regulations, and avoid the cost and complexity of regulatory divergence on industry. I agree with that and I urge the Minister to get her Back Benchers behind amendment 24.
My hon. Friend Luke Pollard spoke earlier to our Front-Bench amendment on air quality, and with new clause 6 in mind I want to pay tribute to the life of Ella Kissi-Debrah and express my deepest condolences to her mum, Rosamund, and the family. Her death, as Labour’s Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said yesterday,
“is a painful reminder that the human cost of damage from air pollution is very real…Toxic air is a public health crisis, and I will keep fighting for Londoners’ right to breathe clean air.”
The Mayor is right and he has my full support. Labour wants to take the same fight to all parts of England. Caroline Lucas has tabled new clause 13 and new clause 18, both of which bring important elements to the Bill. I look forward to working on them with her in coming months and years.
Our amendments are pragmatic, objective and balanced. They make an okay Bill better and the Minister should seize the opportunity to work across party lines to do all we can together to preserve our environment and protect our planet.
Before I call the Minister, I should explain that there are many people who wish to speak this evening, so there will have to be an immediate time limit of three minutes for Back-Bench speeches. I remind hon. Members that, when a speaking limit is in effect for Back Benchers, a countdown clock will be visible on the screens. Yesterday, quite a lot of people spoke for longer than the time limit, so I want to make sure that everyone knows that there is a clock in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. For the few Members who are participating here in the Chamber, the normal clock will apply.
It is a real pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the second half of what I am sure will be a lively debate on this important Bill. This group covers waste and resources, air quality, water and the regulation of chemicals—all vital areas to improve on if we are to restore and enhance our environment.
The Environment Bill will deliver consistent recycling collections across England, including separate weekly food collections. We will tackle waste crime by ensuring that the tools we have at our disposal better reflect new methods and online mediums that criminals use. We will also be able to drive a revolution in our resource use, continuing our change towards a more sustainable, circular economy, which is the model set out in our waste and resources strategy. We will have powers to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, which is a key manifesto commitment. While I am on the subject of plastic, I would like to pay special tribute to my hon. Friend Chris Loder and to reassure him that measures in the Bill will help him to tackle the scourge of plastic on his beautiful beaches in West Dorset, which I frequent myself—from Somerset.
The Bill will also enable reform throughout the product lifetime. Producers will be incentivised towards more sustainable design, through new resource efficiency requirements and extended producer responsibility. Single-use plastic charges and resource efficiency information will help consumers make better choices about products, and the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, alluded to by the shadow Minister, Ruth Jones—I am pleased that she brought that up—will drive better consumer choices and increase recycling. I would like to assure her that work is going on at great speed on that second consultation.
Technical Government amendments 32 to 35 correct references to existing legislation that is no longer in force following the end of the transition period. Measures in the Bill will also deliver key proposals in our clean air strategy, which the World Health Organisation has described as “world leading”. Not only will it address health concerns, but it is estimated to cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020—well, that is by this year, so we have already been working on that—rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030. We know that there is more to do and, through this Bill, local authorities will be better equipped to act through a clear framework and simple-to-use powers to address specific concerns in these areas.
The Government have already committed to stopping the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and the Bill provides the Government with new powers to enforce environmental standards for vehicles. Government amendment 7 will mean that references to EU standards do not require updating to ensure that they are enforceable with this tough new vehicle recall power. It is a technical amendment that ends any risk that we will be unable to issue a recall affecting Northern Ireland.
Before I talk about the water section of the Bill, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne for his dedicated work on water issues and for being a dogged and determined advocate for our precious rivers.
Our climate is becoming less predictable, and we need to manage our water sources better to ensure resilience to future floods and droughts. The water measures in the Bill will help achieve the goals set out in our 25-year environment plan for clean and plentiful water and to reduce the risks of harm from environmental hazards. Water companies will have to produce drainage and sewerage management plans, which will set out how environmental risks, including sewage outflows into rivers, must be managed. Reforms to the abstraction licensing system will mean that less water is taken from our environment when it causes damage or harm.
I know that the health of our rivers, in terms of both flow levels and reducing sewage outflows, is of great concern to many Members; I have met so many of them to discuss this. My hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker has tabled amendment 42, and I look forward to hearing what I am sure will be an impassioned speech from him. However, I am pleased to inform the House that the Bill already delivers the outcomes he is seeking: less water taken where it damages our environment and less sewage spilling into our precious waterways. Water companies will be able to produce joint water resource management plans for the first time, enabling water transfers from areas with plentiful water to water-stressed areas. We will reform the system of internal drainage boards, ensuring that our water management system is fit for the future. Technical Government amendment 8 will update clause 91, as it currently refers to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which has now been superseded by the Sentencing Act 2020.
Finally, we will ensure that we are able to maintain an effective, efficient system of regulation for our world-leading chemicals industry now that we have left the EU. We have taken control of our domestic laws in this area through the UK REACH regime. I look forward to hearing the debate, in which I know many Members are eager to participate, and I hope to be able to cover many of the points raised at the end.
I had said that there would be a limit of three minutes, but so many Members who had informed the Speaker’s Office that they wished to take part in the debate have decided not to bother that there is rather more time for those who have taken the trouble to meet their obligations. We will therefore start with a time limit of four minutes for Back-Bench speeches, which does not apply to the SNP spokesperson, Mr David Linden.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is no surprise that you are so generous.
I have repeatedly spoken in the Chamber about the importance of protecting the environment for future generations. One issue that I have continued to raise—I did so in 2018, 2019, 2020 and I do so now in 2021—is that of disposable nappies and their impact on the environment. For several years, I have been working on this issue with Magnus Smyth of TotsBots, a company in the Queenslie area of my constituency that manufactures reusable and eco-friendly nappies. One of the issues that Magnus has raised is nappy companies that falsely tell their customers that they are eco-friendly. It is important that we level the playing field so that companies such as TotsBots can continue to produce eco-friendly products and encourage consumers to make more environmentally-conscious decisions.
New clause 10 outlines the crux of the issues around reusable and environmentally-friendly nappies. In summary, it states that powers should be granted to the relevant national authority to make regulations about environmental standards for nappies. Disposable nappies have a huge impact on the environment. To put that in context, around 3 billion single-use nappies are thrown away each year in the UK, weighing in at an estimated 690,000 tonnes. The use of single-use nappies by an average child over two and a half years would result in a global warming impact of approximately 550 kg of CO2 equivalents. Indeed, switching to reusable nappies or even using a mixture of both has hugely positive environmental consequences. A family that chooses reusable nappies can save about 99% of the waste that would be generated by using single-use ones. If only 20% of babies using single-use nappies switched to reusables, 1 million tonnes of waste could be prevented each year in the EU.
Under new schedule 1, “Nappy waste impact reduction schemes”, it is hugely important that all is done by the relevant national authority to establish schemes to reduce the impact of nappies on the environment. The new schedule clearly outlines how this can be done by defining the characteristics required for a nappy to meet environmental standards, promoting nappies that meet environmental standards, and reporting on the steps taken to encourage local authorities to promote reusable nappies and reduce nappy waste.
At this juncture, I want to highlight an example of a nappy scheme that has been very successful, and which I have visited. The Hackney real nappy network is an informal network of parents and carers who use and promote reusable nappies. It runs regular events and demos to help people make more informed choices around purchasing nappies while raising awareness of the free nappy voucher scheme.
The second part of the new schedule refers to establishing environmental standards for nappies, because it is imperative that the standards and characteristics of so-called “environmentally friendly” nappies are defined. That will help prevent disposable nappy companies from talking about eco-friendly nappies that are anything but that; they still end up in landfill, where they can take an astonishing 300 years to break down. The 33 billion nappies each year that go to landfill produce 7 million tonnes of waste, so this is a serious problem for the environment. To prevent disposable nappy companies from peddling clear falsehoods about their products, the scheme would require characteristics such as “reusable”, “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly” and “environmentally friendly” all to be defined, which is currently not the case. That will impact on how those companies can advertise and market their products and will help consumers making environmentally conscious decisions.
Magnus Smyth of TotsBots has been clear on the importance of defining these terms. He says:
“The environmental claims made by manufacturers of single-use nappies can be misleading and families deserve to know the truth.”
I am sure we would agree with that. Consumers are currently bombarded with information about hundreds of products on the market, all with different benefits and so-called “environmentally friendly” claims, so it is imperative that the UK Government help parents make informed consumer decisions.
Lastly, my new schedule 1 outlines that the relevant national authority will be undertaking actions to prepare a report on the steps taken
“to encourage local authorities to operate schemes to— promote the use of reusable nappies, and reduce nappy waste.”
When drafting and preparing this report for local authorities, the national authority would have to consult
“(a) operators of existing reusable nappy schemes,
(b) local authorities involved in those schemes,
(c) parents who have participated in such schemes,
(d) manufacturers of reusable nappies.”
The consultation period will help ensure that the eventual scheme to encourage the use of reusable nappies is as effective as possible.
We are currently in a climate emergency, so we must look seriously at all areas of our lives where we are adversely contributing to the global environmental disaster. Parents around the world will use nappies every day; it is therefore incredibly important that such an essential item for families does not continue to damage the environment. With millions of disposable nappies now in landfill, we have the opportunity to make a change. The babies in nappies today will inherit the world that we leave for them, and we owe it to that future generation to do all we can to protect their planet and pass on a better legacy.
The amendments that I have outlined clearly show the advantages of properly defining the environmental standards for reusable nappy products, as well as how important the schemes that promote them are. I hope that the Government take this opportunity to support my amendments; they are a small step towards helping families make more environmentally conscious decisions, and I commend them to the House.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has done three inquiries on air quality in the last five years, and we are just about to publish our new air quality report. We need cleaner air across the UK, particularly in the hotspots of our cities, to improve public health. The Government are starting to take this issue very seriously, and I am glad that we have a clean air strategy that aims to cut air pollution significantly.
I am also pleased that the Bill places a duty on the Government to set two air quality targets by October 2022, one of which is for particulate matter in ambient air. However, we can and should act sooner, with an ambitious target. PM2.5 is one of the most dangerous particulates because of its size, which means that it can be deposited in our lungs. The covid-19 pandemic has also likely resulted in a new cohort of people with ongoing breathing problems who may be more vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. That is why I tabled my amendment on PM2.5. My amendment has cross-party support and seeks to put World Health Organisation guidelines for particulate matter into law, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest. Ministers have said in the past that we should not accept such an amendment because we can be even more ambitious; so why not put the target in law today and then improve it afterwards, if we can do better?
It is important to work practically across the Government to improve air quality, because an ambitious target by itself is not going to fix the issue. In 2018, we did a Select Committee inquiry across four Select Committees to show how this issue can be solved by joined-up policy. DEFRA, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, the Department for Transport and the Treasury need to work closely on this issue, and I believe that they are starting to do so.
The Government are now investing huge amounts of money in greener transport including electric cars. I welcome the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. With more ultra-low emissions vehicles, we need more charging stations, rapid chargers and other incentives to build confidence and help people to switch over to electric cars in the next decade. Road transport is one of the biggest causes of poor air quality, so this will help to reduce nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide in the air we breathe.
We also need more walking and cycling in urban areas, because it is not just the fuel that is dangerous, but tyre wear and brakes. That is why I am glad that more help is being given to local authorities so that they can plan and implement clean air zones. I know that Bath and North East Somerset Council is meant to be introducing a clean air zone in March, with Birmingham City Council doing the same in June. But in Bristol, for example, the Mayor has no control of the M32, which goes straight through the middle of the city, because it is run by Highways England. This is exactly why we need a joined-up approach across Government to solve the issue of poor air quality.
The Government should amend the Bill, and accept this cross-party amendment on air quality as it comes back in the next Session. We have done so much work to improve air quality and the environment already. I know that the Minister is passionate about this issue. Let us not go backwards. Let us go the extra mile and put ambitious air quality targets in law today.
I tabled new clause 3 to draw attention to the environmental challenge and penalties facing Herefordshire. First, let me be absolutely clear: nobody wants to see more pollution or phosphates in the river—nobody. However, due to the levels of phosphate in the Wye, we have an ill thought out and ineffective housebuilding moratorium, imposed on us by a Dutch court through EU law. Implemented in October 2013, this moratorium was enacted to try to address the phosphate pollution in the Rivers Wye and Lugg. This is a serious issue that requires proper and effective action. It was hoped that Herefordshire Council, Natural England and the Environment Agency, and their Welsh equivalents, could come up with a tangible solution by which the threat could be stopped. After recent calls that I have had with these bodies, it is clear that there is still some way to go. I therefore tabled this new clause to have the subject heard in the House.
The threat of phosphates in watercourses is well known. Herefordshire is by no means alone, nor is it the worst polluted area in the country. Indeed, the river winds its way out of Powys into Herefordshire, then back into Monmouthshire where it forms the border with Gloucestershire, yet only Herefordshire has a moratorium. In the Environment Agency’s 2017 “State of the environment” report, 86% of English rivers had not reached good ecological status. High phosphate levels in the water can result in toxic algal blooms. These blooms deplete oxygen levels in the water by blocking out the light, resulting in fish and other organisms dying. The phosphates enter the watercourse through two primary means, the first being point source, where the main offender tends to be the sewage outlets—so called because it can generally be traced back to a wastewater pipe that is discharging into the river. The second means is diffuse sources, typically caused by run-off from agricultural land.
The ruling in Herefordshire occurred as a result of an EU legal case. On
This ruling has disproportionately affected the River Wye and the River Lugg. The Wye is a special area of conservation; the Lugg is a tributary of the Wye, and is designated as a site of special scientific interest. The Wye is the fourth longest river in England, and is home to plants such as water-crowfoot and wonderful Atlantic salmon stocks. It is a wonderful river that we need to protect for the future, and the way that that is being done at the moment is ineffective. It is by no means the worst-performing river in the country when it comes to phosphate pollution, and this problem can and must be solved. We have had meetings with the council, the Environment Agency, and Natural England and its Welsh equivalents. We need collaboration, and we need to make sure that the Government will support an improvement to the phosphate levels so that we can get our river back to where it needs to be.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin. As I indicated on Second Reading in February last year, I very much support the Bill and the focus that the Government are placing on our environment.
In February, I referred to flooding that had recently occurred in my constituency. Very regrettably, I must report that the heavy rainfall of Storm Christoph has brought further disruption to local residents and businesses. Last Wednesday, high waters flowing down the River Clwyd destroyed the 19th-century Llanerch bridge, connecting Trefnant and Tremeirchion. I have already raised the issue of that bridge’s future with my hon. Friend the Minister, the local authority, and the Welsh historic environment service, Cadw. Such devastating events highlight the need for serious consideration of issues relating to water management. Increasing the responsibility of water companies and local authorities to plan how to manage flood risk more effectively is one way to reduce the impact of future floods, and I ask the Government to seriously consider the value of amendment 42, tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker.
I am pleased that the Bill further contributes to the Government’s commitment to tackle air pollution. Clean air zones and the clean air strategy are important, as are the provisions in this Bill, but I believe that more can, and perhaps should, be done. A number of amendments that have been tabled seek to push the Government to improve air quality, including new clause 6 and amendment 2. The legal duty set out in the Bill to set a target for concentrations of the fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 could reduce the 36,000 annual deaths in Britain, primarily through cardiovascular and respiratory disease, that are linked to air pollution. Air quality will improve as a consequence of our national move towards net zero by 2050, but setting a bold target can act as an important driver in the interim.
Many believe that the Government’s targets should match existing WHO guidelines and that this should be achieved by 2030. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State will commission independent expert advice on an appropriate target. I would suggest that those advising the WHO are perhaps the most qualified that there are, and I would gently press the Minister to ensure that we set ambitious targets rather than convenient ones. A 2030 deadline would be yet another commitment that we could point to, showing that the UK was leading the world on environmental standards.
I acknowledge that setting targets is an easier task than achieving them, but another goal that the Government can set is on plastic reduction. As new clause 8 seeks to acknowledge, reduction of the use of new materials is important. However, more pressing still is the agenda promoted by new clause 11—namely, the setting of either long-term or short-term targets for the sale of single-use plastics. The key to meeting any single-use plastics target could be an efficient deposit return scheme. However, at a meeting with me last year, British Glass raised concerns that in Germany, Finland and Croatia, the inclusion of glass in deposit return schemes had led to an overall increase in the use of plastics. Such outcomes in UK would, of course, be disappointing. Delivery of a DRS could also be supported through the use of technology. In December, I wrote to the Minister inquiring about the use of barcodes and mobile phone apps to deliver a digital DRS, which could help to reduce street litter. I would value further engagement on this important issue.
In the year that we host COP26 and chair the G7, this Bill is essential to show the United Kingdom’s true commitment to the environment. I hope that Ministers will consider the well-intentioned amendments that I have spoken about, and I trust that progress on the remaining stages of the Bill will be swift.
I want to speak briefly in support of amendments 2 and 25 and new clause 6, all of which seek to tackle the health crisis caused by the current levels of air pollution. For my constituents living in a permanent air pollution blizzard, surrounded by Heathrow airport, the M4, the M25, the Uxbridge Road and the A40, this is literally a matter of life and death, and we have the threat of a third runway making matters worse.
The air pollution levels in my area are among the worst in the country and consistently above levels that are considered safe. The result is, of course, high levels of respiratory disease. At one stage, this reached such epidemic levels that I recall special arrangements having to be introduced in one of our primary schools for pupils to hand in their inhalers as they arrived in class, and courses were introduced for teachers across our borough in how to deal with asthmatic attacks and respiratory problems in pupils. But we know so much more now in my community about the impact of air pollution. It is not just about respiratory problems; it is the cause of heart disease among many of us, as well as cancers and, tragically for our children, even the risk of impeding their physical development.
The modest amendments that we propose today simply enhance our ability to tackle the air pollution epidemic. They set realistic targets. They require Government Departments to work together and they ensure through regular reports to Parliament that we can monitor their implementation. They also inject a sense of urgency into a programme of action to overcome the mounting threat of air pollution. The air my constituents breathe every day is poisoned by air pollution. It is killing us. Knowing as we do the tragic health impacts of air pollution, we have a responsibility to legislate to protect not only my constituents but communities across the country. That is what these amendments can assist us in doing.
Failure to act decisively now will render the Government and Parliament culpable of an appalling dereliction of duty, and future generations will simply fail to comprehend why we did not take the necessary action in this legislation. I urge Ministers to work with us on this and to accept the amendments and the new clause. Let us tackle this ongoing, life-threatening hazard once and for all. We desperately need this legislation to be effective this time round. It has already been delayed. We cannot wait any longer. Too many people are suffering ill-health and risking their lives. The covid pandemic has made them even more vulnerable. That is why there has to be a sense of urgency about passing this legislation, but ensuring it is complete and comprehensive so that this opportunity is not wasted.
It is a pleasure to follow John McDonnell. I thank him for his support for my private Member’s Bill, which I will touch on briefly. But my thanks primarily go to the Minister, who was generous while talking about my campaigning efforts to improve the water quality of our rivers, which I wish to talk about under part 5 and, in particular, in support of amendment 3 to clause 82 and amendment 42 to clause 78.
It has been clear to me for many years, but particularly this year as I have been campaigning to improve water quality by reducing sewage pollution to our rivers, how significant this issue has tragically become. Many people have been in touch with me through campaigning groups, all urging the Government to get behind my Bill.
I was delighted on Friday, when I was unable to be in the Chamber to debate my private Member’s Bill because sittings had been suspended, that as something of a consolation prize the Minister announced the Government’s support for the aims of my Bill. I look forward to a second consolation from the unfortunate development today—we hear that the Environment Bill will be deferred until the next parliamentary Session. I invite the Minister to use that time to work with me to bring into the appropriate legislative and regulatory space the many measures in my Bill that have significant support: they have support from 135 Members of this House today, on both sides of the House. I hope that, when she responds to the debate, she will give some encouraging noises to give me hope that that will happen. I am also grateful to her for establishing the storm overflows taskforce, which is the mechanism through which she is seeking to get advice from industry and campaigning groups to try to identify the measures that need to be undertaken.
Through the Environmental Audit Committee, we have launched an inquiry into water quality and we will be providing recommendations to the Government. The delay may mean that we are in a position to provide some recommendations through that Committee prior to the Bill appearing in the other place. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to use this time to introduce relevant amendments to the Bill as it passes through the Lords. We also hope to provide some help in assessing what the suitable water targets are under the Bill, which are so welcome, through the drainage and wastewater management plans laid out in the Bill.
I support the measures that I am sure my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker will talk about shortly. I also support the initiative of my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, whose new clause 4 is widely supported by my constituents, not least members of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which is based in my constituency. It acknowledged the inclusion in July last year of the hedgehog in the red list of endangered British mammals.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to speak to my amendment 3 to clause 82, which is signed by me and 16 colleagues, and which has also secured support from other speakers tonight. The Minister said that I was going to give an impassioned speech. I am afraid I am not, because it has been so easy doing business with her. Is not it wonderful in this place when we can sit down with Ministers and do business?
Before I move on, I would like to thank some chalk stream campaigners: Paul Jennings of the River Chess; Charles Rangeley-Wilson; Dr Jonathan Fisher; Jake Rigg of Affinity; Richard Aylard of Thames Water; and of course the Angling Trust and Fish Legal.
To support rich biodiversity, chalk streams need two things: high flows and high-quality water. A lot of debate in this place centres on rewilding, and rewilding often centres on beavers—wonderful little creatures; I knew a lot of them when I was in Oregon—but the fact of the matter is that proper rewilding of our chalk streams requires good-quality water, and plenty of it. Without those two things, we do not have freshwater shrimp and fly life at the bottom of the food chain, we do not have trout and grayling, we do not have water voles and we do not have otters.
Clause 82 provides the Secretary of State with powers to modify abstraction licences without compensation where
“the ground for revoking or varying the licence is that the Secretary of State is satisfied the revocation or variation is necessary—
(i) having regard to a relevant environmental objective, or
(ii) to otherwise protect the water environment from damage.”
Our amendment would add the words
“including damage from low flows.”
The Secretary of State and the Minister at the Dispatch Box today said that they could not accept that amendment because it might limit the scope of the clause, and I understand that. However, I received a welcome letter from the Secretary of State and the Minister on
That is an important commitment. I have discussed it with the water companies—with Water UK, which is their representative body—and they are very keen for that guidance to be issued. They want to do the right thing. In doing the right thing, they will have to have negotiations with Ofwat, and they will need to be able to point to guidance that has legal force in support of their position.
As a fellow signatory of amendment 3, I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting that commitment. He knows that I am fortunate to have the River Itchen in my constituency. This is a preventive measure. We have good flows and good-quality water, which is why we have a world-class chalk stream, and we want to keep it that way. The amendment really helps to do that, so on behalf of the River Itchen lovers, I thank the Minister very much.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that intervention, which is important. Sixteen people signed the amendment along with me, and my hon. Friend, who is a doughty campaigner for the Itchen, was one of those valuable signatories.
In the time left, I will refer briefly to my other amendment, amendment 42 to clause 78, with regard to drainage and sewerage management plans, regulations and procedures. I tipped the Minister off that I would raise this briefly. The amendment seeks to deliver the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation that water companies and local authorities should publish plans to manage surface water flood risk. In short, it seeks to ensure that everyone operating drains or pushing water into rivers, and all flood risk management authorities, such as the Environment Agency and local authorities, co-operates and shares information on the preparation of drainage and wastewater management plans. The water companies want to make sure that this is a team effort. Lots of nasty stuff goes into our rivers from a lot of different places. The water companies want to get on top of the situation and to work with other agencies to make sure that happens.
I conclude by thanking the Minister for how she has dealt with me and the other signatories to amendment 3. It has been an exemplar of how to do business with Back-Bench Members of Parliament.
We have lost many of the safety nets provided by membership of the European Union. This skeletal, post-Brexit Environment Bill is somewhat disappointing, unambitious and the opposite of progressive, but it is currently the only mechanism we have in Parliament to protect basic standards and try to build on them. This is not—nor should it be —a partisan political issue; it is an issue for every single human being. It has therefore been reassuring to hear of the many important amendments from Members from all parties.
If I was to represent my constituents’ many concerns in this debate, I would have to speak for several hours, not the few minutes we have been allocated. I represent a beautiful part of Kent that has a varied coastal and rural geography and is home to several farmers and wine producers. Our farmers work hard to uphold the highest standards of environmental responsibility, and my constituents are in regular contact about wildlife, protecting our vital pollinators, the unethical concreting over of our precious green spaces and the short-sightedness of building on floodplains.
In May 2019, Parliament declared an environmental emergency. Although this is obviously partly due to events beyond the control of Parliament, it feels at times as though we are plodding towards any meaningful change, when we should be racing at full speed against the clock to stop the devastating damage that climate change is wreaking on our planet. Adults around the world make and change laws, yet it is children who are dragging us to do so—crying out for us to notice that we have a duty to protect those who will have custody of the world after we are gone. I am talking about children such as Greta, who has led a global network of young people and become a household name.
Another child we remember today is Ella Kissi-Debrah. I am glad that her name will yet again be in Hansard, but deeply sad about and ashamed of why that is. Instead of being remembered as the bright and happy nine-year-old girl her mother Rosamund tells us about, Ella should now be 17-year-old young woman thinking about the next stage of her education and looking forward to and embracing adult life. But that opportunity was stolen from her as her little lungs gulped in a toxic cocktail of lethal pollutants. All she was doing was breathing. Her mother has battled to get a verdict from the coroner that proves how poisonous the air that our children breathe actually is. We need to support the amendments that promote improvements in air pollution —we need to get behind those amendments—so I urge all colleagues to vote to improve air quality and protect any more Ellas and the children who will inherit this planet from us.
The Government do not seem to appreciate the dire position we are in, for although our air is far cleaner today than at any point in our lives, some communities have not seen the benefits. My constituency is one of them. We know that deprivation and race make us more susceptible to pollution. We in Ealing, Southall are suffering because of that and, cruelly, the system keeps making things worse. This is a matter of justice and equity.
Last week, at the communities of colour meeting on air pollution, I met Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a woman driven to secure change for her daughter Ella, who was killed by pollution. Her story is a powerful one that is sadly repeated all too often across the country, because there is never really a safe limit for air quality. Sadly, the most polluting activities tend to be left in the worst of places.
Campaigns such as CASH—Clean Air for Southall and Hayes—in my constituency are saying no and holding us all to account. For thousands living near the gasworks, this is an issue of equity. That is why action must be targeted on the areas with the most polluted air today. People are dying and this Government deny the problem.
Environmental justice has to be available to all, or it is available to no one. Please, Ministers, act so that the Environment Agency can. Act so that Public Health England can. You can give justice to thousands who are without it today. Your Government say that pollution contributes to more than 30,000 excess deaths a year. Ella’s is just one story in thousands. Act for all of them.
I speak as chairman of the all-party group on the packaging manufacturing industry, an important part of the UK economy with sales of £11 billion and 85,000 employees, representing 3% of the workforce, and I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Packaging performs an important function. It is part of the delivery system within complex logistics to enable products to get safely and efficiently from the point of production to the consumer for use or consumption, and it has an important role in preventing damage in transit and extending the life of food products by keeping them fresher for longer. The industry is keen to ensure that the environmental impact of its product is minimised through, first, more recycling of all the materials used in packaging, and that should be carried out within the UK; and, secondly, reductions in the amount of packaging ending its life in the wrong place, which we know as litter, whether that is in the UK or in our oceans. For these reasons, I welcome the provisions in the resources and waste chapter of the Bill, but with so many of them contained in secondary legislation, I wonder whether I can ask for clarity from the Minister on a number of measures.
Will there be continued consultation with the industry on these measures, and will the Minister ensure that the UK industry can continue to remain competitive? There is no merit in simply transferring packaging manufacture overseas. On extensions to producer responsibility, we know that retailers and manufacturers will pay a bigger proportion—in fact, many times more—of the cost of recycling and disposing of packaging, a cost that previously fell on local councils. It is argued that that moves the burden from the taxpayer to the polluter, but it is not the packaging manufacturer that is the polluter—people are—and I hope that improved education and awareness of the local environment will accompany these measures.
We welcome the introduction of a deposit return scheme, but will the Minister confirm that this will be a UK-wide scheme, including Scotland, so that manufacturers do not have to carry two separate sets of stock? Will she advise whether there will be a single deposit, regardless of container size? Can she ensure that we will not simply divert recycling that currently takes place on the kerbside to the DRS? Will she ensure that we include consistent household recycling, including plastic films and flexibles? We know that different local authorities collecting different things has led to very substantial confusion, with only 14% of councils currently collecting flexible materials.
I look forward to the Minister’s clarification on many of these items in her winding-up speech at the end of the debate.
I support all the amendments put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) on air quality. The World Health Organisation has clearly stated that 40 of our towns are breaking the WHO limit for air pollution. We also know that 60% of people in England are living in areas where levels of toxic air pollution exceeded legal limits last year. We know that severe air pollution costs lives, with over 40,000 deaths a year being linked to air pollution.
The impacts of air pollution are not evenly distributed, either, with a disproportionate impact on deprived areas. Research has shown that those living in deprived areas are exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution, often because their homes are situated next to roads with higher concentrations of emissions. The Marmot report also highlighted that individuals in deprived areas suffer more adverse health impacts than those from less deprived areas, because of higher prevalence of underlying cardio, respiratory and other diseases. In my constituency of Enfield North we see the direct effect of poor air quality. In the Borough of Enfield, 6.6% of deaths are attributed to exposure to particulate matter 2.5 pollution. That means that 178 deaths per year in Enfield are linked to long-term exposure to toxic air pollution.
Despite the work of proactive local authorities, pioneering new initiatives like school streets, parklets, low-traffic neighbourhoods or the 60-acre Enfield Chase woodland created by the Labour-run Enfield Council planting almost 200,000 trees, and the work of Mayor of London in introducing the ultra low emission zone, action cannot just take place at a local level; it needs to be backed by national and international legislation. It is too important not to be.
These amendments on air pollution, which I am urging the Government to support today, do not represent a radical step but the bare minimum that we must do as a country. The impact of the amendments would be to establish the WHO legal standard. In the fight against coronavirus, we have shown that working in partnership with international colleagues is vital. Addressing air quality and protecting the environment is no different. We have the opportunity to set the country forward on a course that will protect lives and advocate stronger environmental protections. This is not just an issue about public health; it is something that impacts our daily lives. We must vote in support of these amendments to ensure that we lead the way, instead of hiding away.
Madam Deputy Speaker, please would you accept my apologies for the confusion that I have managed to cause?
New clause 6 deals with air quality. I absolutely recognise the challenge of poor air quality, and a number of hon. Members have spoken very movingly about it during the debates this afternoon and this evening, but I am not sure how the creation of an annual policy statement to the House is the best way to address that. We already have a range of existing reporting requirements available to Ministers, as well as two new ones contained in the Bill. They include a new requirement for the Secretary of State to make an annual statement to Parliament on local pollution objectives, in addition to publishing a national air quality strategy every five years.
Amendments 3 and 30 both deal with water quality—with flow rates—and again there is a suggestion that an annual report on water abstraction would be an effective way of improving standards. I question whether that is the right way to approach the subject. When requirements are introduced for such onerous statements, they are effective in increasing costs and increasing delay and the bureaucracy of Government, but I am not sure that they are effective on the ground.
In my constituency of Broadland I am lucky enough to have a number of chalk streams, including the Stiffkey and the Wensum, and I have experience of the Environment Agency and its approach to water extraction licences. To my mind, a much more effective way of policing the area of water abstraction and flow is to use the powers already given to the Environment Agency to deal with abstraction licences—I hope, in co-operation and collaboration with abstractors, which include farmers. I declare my interest as a director of a farming business.
Finally I should like to turn to amendment 39, because its target was very squarely the sugar beet growers and the sugar beet processors of the east of England. EU law has rightly allowed for short-term exemptions to the rules on plant protection products in the event of a virulent outbreak of disease. This year, that is exactly what we have had with virus yellows, so I think the Government are entirely right to allow the exemption with a huge number of protections for bees and other pollinators. To require an obstructive vote in the House would be a backward step.
Order. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but, no, it is not in order for him to have spoken to amendments contained in the previous group. It is not in order. I make the point because I could not reasonably interrupt him under the circumstances under which we are working, but we do expect Members to stick to the rules and not to bend them just because we are working virtually. It is important to keep standards.
I call Barry Sheerman.
Thank you for calling me from Huddersfield, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been involved in the environmental campaigning sector for all my political parliamentary career, and I have learned the hard lesson that if we do not have good science working purposefully in partnership with the private sector right across the spectrum and building coalitions, we do not get the action that we need.
Today, I am saddened that there will be a further delay in the Environment Bill coming into a living reality. I believe that it is the right of children and all of us in this country to breathe clean air, to have pure water, to be able to swim in the rivers and streams, and to have healthy soil that has not been contaminated and degraded. We could achieve some good purposes in partnership, and I call for that partnership to have great leadership. Sometimes I am not sure whether there is enough purpose, partnership and leadership in this present Government. I remember too many articles in a certain well-known magazine, The Spectator, which always seems to feature climate change doubters. The fact of the matter is that many of them have been proven absolutely wrong by good science and the work led by David Attenborough.
We need to do things at home, in our constituencies. As chair of the Westminster Commission for Road Air Quality, I can tell the House today that we are launching a constituency service that gives the quality of air in every constituency, along with the number of electric vehicles, the number of charging points and a whole range of criteria, so that Members know just how the polluted air in their constituencies is affecting their constituents.
We need to roll up our sleeves and get this sorted out. When I came into Parliament, we were known as the dirty person of Europe, and we were burying all our waste in holes in the ground. We have moved on through good science, good partnership and working together. I am an optimist and I think we can sort climate change, but we will not do it unless we get purposeful and determined leadership in this country.
This Bill is so much more than the sum of its parts. It is best described as a prism through which the panoply of wider environmental policies, many of which will be a key part of the covid recovery response, should be viewed. Whether we are talking about phasing out petrol vehicles, encouraging cycling or planting trees, this Bill creates the framework through which targets can be set and the environmental benefits can be measured. For the first time, air quality and water quality are not just afterthoughts but are at the heart of policy making.
I want to pay tribute to some of the environmental groups in my constituency: Action for the River Kennet for the transformational work that it has done on chalk streams, and the West Berkshire Climate Action Network and the West Berkshire Green Exchange for all that they do.
First, I would like to address water quality. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne for his private Member’s Bill, which places statutory obligations on water companies that are discharging sewage into rivers. Obviously, his private Member’s Bill dovetails neatly with amendments 3 and 42, proposed by my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker. Although the Government have not said exactly what they want on this, I am very grateful to the Minister for her correspondence last night and her general tone, which makes it clear that the Government are in broad agreement.
This is an issue that is very close to my heart. In the last year, we have had terrible flooding in the eastern part of my constituency at Eastbury, but particularly Lambourn, where sewage has floated up to the road surface, run along a road past the children’s school and then flowed freely into the River Lambourn, which is one of our most treasured chalk streams. One of my early experiences as a new MP was just how difficult I found it to get any real remedy for my constituents when that happened.
Finally, I would like to talk about air pollution, which we know poses the biggest environmental hazard to public health. I understand the sentiment that sits behind new clause 6, which was proposed by the Opposition, asking the Government to publish an annual policy statement setting out what they and local authorities plan to do, but I think it is superfluous for three reasons. First, setting targets is already embedded in clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. Secondly, the Secretary of State already creates an obligation on themselves to declare whether the significant improvement test in relation to air quality has been met under clause 8. Finally, there is the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection, which is not just an oversight body, but has real teeth and powers of enforcement, so the Government are not marking their own homework in this regard.
I had high hopes of being able to start my speech by speaking the words of Margaret Thatcher in 1989 when she addressed the United Nations on the issue of climate change—she outlined the destruction and damage that was facing the world unless action was taken—but, sadly, there is not enough time to be able to read out the full quotation. However, those words are true now, and there is more that can be done.
I welcome the Government’s announcement today, their report and their Bill for what they do in addressing waste, water and air quality. These are all things that, as a triumvirate, must be addressed so that we are able to regain our control over the environment and help it to flourish in years to come. Of course, the Government have already set a number of ambitious targets—from net zero for 2050 to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, eradicating gas boilers, planting more trees and looking at new agricultural regenerative techniques. These are the ambitious things that we must do.
I would like to start by talking a little bit about waste. As my hon. Friend Chris Loder has already mentioned, there is an important element here about ending single-use plastics, but we can do more. I ask whether the Government might consider incentivising businesses to ensure that we have full-cycle plastics that are used from cradle to grave, and then recycled. We can incentivise the industries that pollute this world to make sure that they are adhering more to the rules and regulations of countries across the world.
In my own constituency, air quality has remained an incredibly important issue. The A385 runs through my patch, next to a school, which has some of the highest levels of pollution in south Devon, and planning development alongside it is likely to further add to that problem. It is the same in Brixham, where the new Inglewood development would see roads and traffic increased, leading to further pollution of air quality. These are the things that we must take into account when we are building, improving infrastructure and developing for our entire community.
On water, my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne has done so impressively well on his private Member’s Bill, something I have supported since I coming to this place. I look forward to seeing what he brings back to the House and how the Government work further with him, but as a keen swimmer all year round—without a wetsuit, I hasten to add—I am very keen that we do all we can to improve the quality of our waterways and of our coastline, and to ensure that we are able to improve the way in which we engage on these issues, especially with groups such as Surfers Against Sewage.
The need to be able to discuss how reports might be put into this place was raised under new clause 6, but I would say that we do have the Environment Agency reports that come to Parliament and are reported on, but we also have the OEP, which I think is very welcome as it enables us to take a hold on our environment and improve it.
On the air quality amendments, the targets in this Bill do not even meet those recommended by the World Health Organisation, as has been said by other Members. That should rightly alarm all of us, especially given that the UK has such a terrible track record in recent years. When we were a member of the EU, it fined us regularly for failing to meet the targets set at that point. Air quality standards are of the utmost importance, and for the Government to under aim and be under-ambitious here is deeply troubling. We are being asked to accept not only decreased air quality standards, but delayed standards, as this Bill is pushed back once again, after years of delay. Yet, tragically, we now increasingly see “poor air quality” cited as a cause of death on the death certificates of many, many people. As many colleagues from both sides of the House, have said, this is a matter of life and death, Delayed action at this time, in the hiatus between the strong targets and standards we had up to the end of 2020 and the point at which we get whatever standards we will get when this Bill is finally agreed, allows bad habits to build up and bed in, and it makes Britain’s poor air quality harder still to clear up.
On waste, the absence of plastic reduction targets beggars belief, given the rhetoric we have heard from many in the Government. The Conservative manifesto made a specific reference—a promise even—to
“ban the export of plastic waste” to developing countries. The Government have broken that promise. So not only are they not tackling our plastic problem here at home, but we are adding to the plastic problem of poorer countries overseas.
My amendment 30 related to water quality. We simply want the Government to monitor the impact of the abstraction of water on biodiversity in chalk streams and in other waterways. This Bill does not do that, and it is a simple and obvious request. Only 14% of England’s rivers and lakes are in a good quality water position at the moment, so the need for this measure is clear.
So we see an unambitious Bill and a delay, which means even this poor ambition will be hard to bring to fruition, given that we will have to wait many months. This takes commitment to underachievement to new heights, undermining the quality of our environment and animal welfare. These are times when we need to be setting clear and ambitious targets if we are going to lead the world, but I am afraid that we are lagging far behind.
It has been a pleasure to serve on the Environmental Audit Committee and discuss a number of topics that form part of this landmark Environment Bill through our inquiries. Our Chair, my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, has campaigned tirelessly for better water quality and no doubt through his work we have in this Bill sewerage undertakers now being required to produce a statutory drainage and sewerage management plan to actively address environmental risks such as sewer overflows and their impact on water quality.
Without doubt, this Bill paves the way for the Government to continue putting the environment at the very heart of their decision making, with legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality and waste efficiency just a few of a plethora of new ambitions. I was heartened by the Minister’s opening comments on plastic pollution and new clause 11. As an MP for 50 miles of stunning North Norfolk coast, I am glad that provisions in this Bill will help to reduce plastics on our beaches. This new clause would require the Secretary of State to set targets to reduce plastic pollution and reduce the volume of non-essential single-use plastic products sold. If plastic pollution continues at current rates, plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish by 2050. There is a strong public appetite for action: 63% of people want to reduce their consumption of plastic, and 77% want the Government to take more action to protect the ocean, so I am glad that this is being covered.
While on the subject of water, I want to touch on amendment 4. Since my election to this place, we have seen so often how we can strive for absolutes in an imperfect world, and that we cannot always pass legislation to deal with one problem because it will affect another. Amendment 4 tries to define the precautionary principle. In my constituency, the precautionary principle has been used as almost a get-out-of-jail-free card against farmers needing to abstract water when there have been differing levels of evidence on the extent of their activities and the resulting impact on the environment. It is a perfect case in point. Our farmers produce food. They are, in fact, one of the leading industries that will help to protect our environment through the Agriculture Bill, yet no account is taken of the balance of good in what they do when the precautionary principle is used.
We are making enormous strides to protect the environment, to decarbonise, to enhance the natural world and to improve air quality and water quality, and we can see that that is being done through the framework of this landmark Environment Bill.
The UK creates the second highest amount of electronic waste in the world, and we export 40% of that waste to other countries, most of them developing nations. How crazy is that, when that waste contains the rare earth metals and the other valuable metals that we need for our wind turbines, our mobile phone batteries and our car batteries? It is insanity. That is why I support new clause 8, which aims to ensure that the Secretary of State implements the waste hierarchy with specific emphasis on waste prevention, rather than simply waste management.
I turn to amendment 24. Since 2007, the REACH directive has provided a database to assess the risk of more than 21,000 chemical substances in the UK, and it obliges manufacturers to manage the risk of dangerous chemicals. This amendment is very simple. It means that there is a risk that the UK could become a dumping ground for hazardous chemicals unless we maintain the same standards that we had previously.
While talking about risk, let me turn to air quality. We have got used to understanding risk much better with covid and the statistics that we have seen every night on our television screens, but let us imagine if, on our television screens every night, we saw that in many areas of our country, one in 19 deaths can be linked to poor air quality—to air pollution. That is the level of risk. I tend to agree with what Jerome Mayhew said about new clause 6: what difference will it make for the Secretary of State to report to Parliament once a year, given that the Government were not prepared to meet the legal obligation by 2015 and had to be taken to the Supreme Court twice? But perhaps we should at least try.
This whole Bill is about our 25-year environment plan and leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it. That means that we have to understand the whole nexus of connections that exist. That is why the Dasgupta report coming out later this month on the economics of biodiversity and the value of natural capital is so vital, to understand that we must balance the burden of costs that each part of society pays for our public goods.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner in this important debate. Hundreds of residents from Pontypridd and across Rhondda Cynon Taff have contacted me over the last few weeks urging me to speak up today, and I know that people’s passion for the environment is certainly not limited to the south Wales valleys. I will, however, take this opportunity to mention the fantastic work that Friends of the Earth Pontypridd does to raise awareness of environmental issues; long may its work continue.
On a personal note, I am the very proud co-chair of the all-party group on water, and I sincerely hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will indulge me the brief opportunity to invite and encourage Members across the House to join the all-party group today. We are always open to new members.
Members may not be aware, but my love for all things water began long before I became a Member of this House, as I was previously an employee of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, the not-for-profit water company. Through my work, I have seen at first hand the impact of waste on our environment and also the benefits of investing in our infrastructure to ensure that we have a fit-for-purpose waste water network, both now and into the future. It is because of this that I would like to place on record my support for new clause 10, tabled in the name of my friend, David Linden. Items may be marketed as flushable, but I can assure Members that disposable nappies, wet wipes and all manner of items flushed down toilets can cause utter devastation to people’s homes and our environment.
This Environment Bill is very welcome as it could make real change that could improve our ecology both now and for future generations. I represent a constituency that was decimated by flooding nearly a year ago. Storms Jorge, Dennis, and Ciara devastated businesses in Pontypridd and they are still trying to recover. This highlights the urgency of the climate emergency that the planet is in. We can build all the flood defences possible, but unless we seek to tackle the root causes of climate change, then they will be the equivalent of King Canute trying simply to hold back the tide.
It seems quite obvious to me that the protections for our environment should be included in legislation. While I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill today, I believe that, in its current form, there are some alarming gaps. The Bill does not go far enough to replace the EU’s environmental protections, and, in its current form, the Bill allows the Secretary of State far too much discretion in changing certain environmental benchmarks or targets. That is why I am encouraged by new clause 8, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Ruth Jones, who is a very good friend. As previously mentioned by others, this clause would ensure that the Secretary of State has a specific responsibility to take into account the requirements of the waste hierarchy. Additionally, this clause prioritises the importance of waste prevention—a move that we should all be unanimously in support of.
I would hate for this Government to apply the same approach to some of the amendments today intended to improve our environmental protections and I hope to see cross-party support for this amendment. I urge Members across the House to support the amendments, because we must act now before is too late.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary environment group and as a member of the Environment Bill Committee, I very strongly welcome this Bill. As we have heard, it may not give everything that everyone wants, but it is a huge step forward in protecting the planet. I really welcome the ambition of the Government and the Minister to work towards that.
I want to focus my comments on water, which is, in many ways, at the heart of this Bill. I have three particular things. The water management schemes will help to move water from wetter parts of the country to drier parts of the country. In South Cambridgeshire and East Anglia, we are one of the driest part of the country and we need more water. I very much welcome the work of my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne to reduce sewage outflows into rivers. Again, I welcome the fact that the Government have introduced that in the body of this Bill.
My hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker has been a champion for chalk streams and I very much welcome his amendment 3 to clause 82, which would revoke or vary abstraction licences, or give the Secretary of State the power to do so, if rivers run dry. Again, the Government have introduced that in the heart of the Bill, so more water, less sewage—what more could we want?
The reason why I focus my comments on chalk streams is that they run like a network of silver threads throughout South Cambridgeshire—the River Cam most famously, but also many of its tributaries such as the River Shep, which runs down to the RSPB reserve at Fowlmere, the village that I grew up in. I remember playing in the chalk streams as a child. They were so clear that the fish looked like they were floating in the air. The chalk streams are very rare, very beautiful and very threatened. I went back to the RSPB reserve in Fowlmere during the election campaign and it was bone dry. It was not that the chalk streams were running low; they were not there at all. I went there again recently, there was some water back in the streams, but no wildlife. The wildlife cannot survive if the streams run dry. I have been working with local campaign groups, particularly Water Resources East and Cam Valley Forum, to help save the chalk streams. I thank the Minister and her officials for their time, because I know that they have been doing a lot of work with us on that—in particular, setting up a chalk stream working group. I welcome the Government’s move to protect chalk streams by giving the Secretary of State the powers to revoke or vary licences if chalk streams run dry. That will bring a ray of hope to the chalk stream campaigners of South Cambridgeshire.
I want to leave the Government with this challenge: when Parliament votes on this Bill, it will vote to give the Government powers to save the chalk streams. If the chalk streams are threatened, I ask them please to make sure that they use those powers.
I start by referring the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I also declare that my family run and operate a plastic recycling business.
There is of course much to talk about in this Bill, but in the short time that I have, I want to talk about rivers and, in particular, improving water quality. The state of some of our rivers today is quite frankly shocking: 40% of all rivers in England and Wales are now polluted with human sewage. That not only threatens aquatic species such as trout and grayling that we might find in the River Wharfe in Ilkley in my constituency, but it is a threat to our own human health. Much praise must be given to my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne for his Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which is a fantastic piece of proposed legislation which, as he knows, I wholeheartedly support. I am delighted that the Government have decided to adopt it and encompass so many of its measures within this Bill. My delight also stems from my constituency, because ever since I was elected to this place in December 2019, protecting rivers and improving water quality has been a crucial priority for me.
In Ilkley, for far too long untreated sewage has been released into the River Wharfe by Yorkshire Water at times of high rainfall. We have a dedicated team at the Ilkley clean river campaign group, which has been running a long and very successful campaign to clean up rivers. I have supported them in their endeavours to do so ever since entering this place. By working together as a community, there is so much that can be achieved. My thanks go out to all who are involved in that campaign.
I am very pleased that the Government will be placing on a statutory footing an obligation on sewerage companies to make drainage and water management plans, and that the Government will be setting clear water quality targets. However, may I make a plea to the Minister as a follow-up to the many conversations that we have already had on this point? As she is aware, the Ilkley section of the River Wharfe has now been granted bathing water status—one of the highest levels of water quality anywhere in the UK. However, while I am delighted with DEFRA’s decision to grant such a mechanism for providing strict regulation to improve water quality, it is important that we recognise the difference between bathing and clean water status, as many strong undercurrents within a river can cause difficulty for swimming, as has previously happened in the Wharfe. I urge the Government, in future, perhaps to look at a rebranding of such status, as the title of bathing water status can be misleading to the public.
This a good Bill that I wholeheartedly support. I truly believe that it is the start of a greener, cleaner environment for the future of Great Britain.
Order. Something is wrong with the sound. [Interruption.] It is not possible to go to the next person until we stop the video link that is not working. Is somebody listening to me? I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the system not working properly and for him not knowing that it was not working. We will now go to Kerry McCarthy.
Labour’s new clause 8 would require the Secretary of State to take account of the waste hierarchy. From food waste to plastic pollution, the starting point should be to prevent waste from occurring in the first place. I hope that when this Bill reaches the other place, we will further debate our global carbon footprint and the need to bring proposals to COP26 to measure consumption, not just production. Promoting the circular economy should be at the absolute heart of any green recovery package. At present, we have disincentives to send waste to landfill but very few mechanisms to encourage compliance further up the hierarchy, and virtually no enforcement either, because the Environment Agency simply does not have the resources to do so.
Turning to the amendments on air pollution, we have heard about the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, and we also know that covid has left many people extra-vulnerable with long-term damage to their lungs. As we mark today the horrific milestone of over 100,000 covid deaths and many more infected, I urge the Minister to think again on this. I support adopting the target on PM2.5; the suggestion that it would prevent higher ambition is ludicrous.
The Government have for too long tried to pass the buck to local councils; what we need is a comprehensive national strategy on air pollution to prevent any further tragedies. We also need urgent action from the Government on their decarbonisation of transport plan. I do not get any sense at the moment that the Government are joining the dots.
Finally, on chemicals and animal testing, with the Prime Minister suggesting in his first post-Brexit deal interview with The Telegraph that chemicals was one area where the UK could diverge from EU regulations, it is hardly surprising that people are deeply worried by the Secretary of State being given such sweeping powers to amend the legal framework. It leaves us wide open to the risk of damaging deregulation as a result of trade deals with countries with weaker systems and lower standards such as the United States of America, and the risk of the dumping of products on the UK market that fail to meet EU regulations. Amendment 24 would ensure non-regression from REACH, the EU regime, and allow scope to exceed those standards. A recent European Court of Justice ruling has reaffirmed that under REACH the principle of animal testing as a last resort must be fully respected and it is good that this is included as a protected principle in the Bill, but this is not reflected in current figures for animal testing; there is far too much duplication of testing and far too little data sharing. New clause 18 would require the Secretary of State to set targets to reduce animal testing and the suffering experienced by animals as a result, and I would thoroughly support that.
Let us not just agree to keep our current standards in this Bill, but try to raise our ambitions too.
The film “Dark Waters” shows just what goes wrong, with the disastrous consequences for human life, animal life, plant life and pollution, where there is a lack of regulation in the chemicals industry. Mark Ruffalo brilliantly played the lawyer who took on the might of DuPont and won on behalf of so many who were disadvantaged.
Of course, in this country we benefit from the highest chemical standards in the world—the previous regime made sure of that—and the industry rightly wants to maintain those standards and indeed build upon them. The industry in this country is worth £31.4 billion in exports and employs 102,000 people in well-paid jobs, and chemicals are in everyday products; in the Liverpool city region they are part of our car manufacturing sector and we have many fine chemical industry companies, including Blends Ltd and Contract Chemicals just a few miles outside my constituency. They want to maintain those high standards and they want to build on them; they want to build on them so that new products and services can be developed, and so that innovation in the recycling of plastics can be enhanced. To deliver on that agenda, they need the support of the Government through this Bill.
Unfortunately, we have already seen standards weakened through the changes to UK REACH, and powers in this Bill will give the Government the opportunity to further reduce them, leaving open the prospect of dumping lower-standard products, undermining the excellence of the industry in this country.
Industry here wants no divergence; it wants to solve the problem of the £1 billion cost to access the database that businesses need to be able to continue producing in this country. Unless these problems are resolved, we will see an impact on that £31.4 billion of exports, with companies given no choice but to move their manufacturing capacity to the continent of Europe.
There is much at stake here; there is much at stake in maintaining and enhancing those standards for human health, for animal health, for plant life and for British jobs. The Minister said that she has a good relationship with the industry. She can demonstrate that good relationship by supporting amendment 24.
My new clause 13, on the application of pesticides in rural areas, follows a very similar amendment made to the Agriculture Bill in the other place. Although it was later removed by the Government during the final stages, it enjoyed wide cross-party support, as I hope this new clause will.
As it stands, the Environment Bill lists air quality, water and biodiversity as priority areas for long-term target setting, alongside waste, but it does not recognise the environmental harm caused by the use of pesticides, and the need to protect human health is omitted entirely. My new clause seeks to remedy that by requiring the Secretary of State to make regulations prohibiting the use of chemical pesticides near buildings and open spaces used by rural residents and members of the public, whether hospitals, schools or homes. That is crucial for improving air quality and protecting human health and the environment.
It is important to recognise that this is about not the misuse or illegal use of pesticides, but the approved use of crop pesticides in the locality where rural communities are present, yet there are still no specific restrictions on the contamination and pollution of the air from widespread spraying of pesticides in rural areas. Indeed, the UK’s regulatory system assesses the safety of only one chemical at a time, yet rural residents are exposed to a cocktail of harmful pesticides spread on nearby farms. Furthermore, although operators generally have protection when using agricultural pesticides, residents have absolutely no protection at all.
We cannot restore and enhance our environment while continuing to ignore the damage caused by pesticides in our intensive food and farming system. In that light, the Government should be standing up for rural residents and communities and protecting them from harm. That is what my new clause 13 seeks to do.
My new clause 18 would require the setting of targets for the reduction and replacement of animal testing under REACH regulations. It has been estimated that, by mid-2019, tests had been performed on about 2.4 million animals. In the last reporting period, the UK used the highest number of animals in experiments of any country in Europe. Although the Government have protected animal testing as a last resort principle from REACH in the Bill, this is an opportunity to go further and demonstrate real leadership by setting targets to replace animal testing.
Tests on animals are notoriously unreliable and are increasingly being questioned by the science. The scientific advancement of non-animal tests and approaches allows us better to predict hazard and manage risk while avoiding or significantly reducing the use of tests on animals—all in a shorter timeframe, with fewer resources used. That is better for human health and animals. I therefore urge the Minister to look again at this important issue and support the new clause.
Thank you so much, Madam Deputy Speaker.
New clause 6 is a necessary condition of delivering World Health Organisation air quality limits, or indeed any targets that the Government choose to set by 2022, as they plan. DEFRA alone simply cannot deliver the clean air targets that the Government want without the support of all other Departments. The new clause would create a duty for all Departments to work together to do that.
When I met the Environment Secretary, the Environment Minister and Rosamund, Ella’s mother, the Environment Secretary said that he had not ruled out WHO air quality limits and needed to understand how he would get to any such targets. I agree with that, but it requires a duty on all Government bodies and Departments to work together. DEFRA would work with Transport when Transport needs to deliver an integrated, electrified public transport system. Clearly, we would need a Treasury fiscal statutory mechanism to facilitate that with the right duties, incentives, scrappage schemes and investment. We would need a housing and planning scheme built into that so that we build around stations, not motorways. We would need Health at the centre of it, because 64,000 people a year are dying prematurely. We need an education system that allows people to walk to school safely, and a local government system so that people can take account of things and possibly reduce the speed of motorway traffic near urban centres. This all needs to be by joined-up design, rather than hope for the best.
The second part of the amendment is about indoor air quality. I thank the Government for belatedly including indoor air quality in the Bill. I thank the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for their “Inside Story” report, which acknowledged that 90% of the time we are indoors we are subjected to all sorts of dangerous chemicals—formaldehyde and all sorts of other things—in our furniture. Professor Stephen Holgate, one of the architects of the report, mentioned that we will not get limits unless we have an interdisciplinary approach with academics, clinicians, industry and government working together. Indeed, the professor of environmental law at University College London, Eloise Scotford, mentioned that joined-up governance is critical in law to push ahead with progress.
As we approach COP26, we have an opportunity to present a template of an integrated approach to help combat air pollution, which is killing 7 million people across the globe every year. I give my thanks to the Health Secretary and other members of the Government who are working together, but the point of the amendment is to provide a duty, so that we are required to work together to deliver cleaner air and save thousands of lives.
We Liberal Democrats have a clear plan to cut most carbon emissions by 2030 and to get to net zero by 2045. In the context of the Bill, waste is a big carbon emitter, particularly plastic waste, and we must address the problem immediately. The Waste and Resources Action Programme’s new Plastic Pact, funded by DEFRA, is an important initiative which will create a circular economy for plastics. It is based on building a stronger recycling system, taking more responsibility for our own waste and ensuring that plastic packaging can be effectively recycled and re-used.
Last year, I tabled an amendment to the Bill. It would have perfectly fitted WRAP’s initiative, but sadly it is not in the Bill. My amendment aimed to make the reporting of the end destination of household and business waste mandatory for councils. Transparency is a great driver of change and one of the sad features of the Bill is the absence of transparency and accountability. No targets set within the Bill will be legally binding until 2037. By then, the climate crisis will be massively worse. Acting now is imperative. Climate change delay is hardly better than climate change denial.
We are proud in Bath to be one of the first councils to introduce a clean air zone. Air pollution is a big killer and hits the disadvantaged much harder due to poor housing, high-density living, proximity to main roads and fewer options to avoid higher-risk areas. What my council now needs is a separate clean air Act, which also includes new powers and funding to local authorities to effectively monitor air pollution. For instance, in Bath, residents are asking for real-time data to be made available, so that residents can make informed choices for their city and on what forms of transport they want to use.
I am ambitious for my city and for my country to show clear leadership on clean, healthy urban environments for the future. There is so much we can achieve with the right political will.
I will be supporting amendment 24, but due to time I will focus my comments on new clauses 8 and 2.
The fact that the Bill has taken so long to progress through Parliament is enough to know that it is not, and never has been, a real priority of this Government. As my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman reminds us, think back to the 1970s and 1980s when we were the dirty man of Europe: the dirtiest air, the dirtiest rivers and the dirtiest beaches. Thankfully, we aligned ourselves with European legislation and higher standards. It is with that in mind that I want to address the new clauses this evening.
New clause 8 relates to the waste hierarchy, starting with the absolute priority action of prevention. I am reminded of the importance of international legislation and co-ordination. I will hold the Government to account on whether they meet EU legislation and I will press them to exceed it. Addressing waste was an important part of EU policy, establishing as it did global leadership by creating robust frameworks of different regulations and directives to improve the management of waste in EU and European Free Trade Association countries. EU policy can be separated into product-related regulations such as the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive, the end-of-life vehicles directive and the batteries directive, and legislation including the landfill directive. However, plastics are a particular concern, and it is important that we commit pre-manufacture to how parts will be recycled and address producer responsibility, as well as that of the distributors and retailers. We need to encourage supermarkets to do more; I am reminded of the Grüne Punkt, or green spot, approach in Germany. It started back in the 1990s, and it meant that supermarkets would have to take back packaging. I want to see the UK leading in this area, because it is critical.
I will also speak to new clause 2, and the issue of air quality. I support the work of Neil Parish, and commend his work on achieving cross-party agreement. Many towns do not have the infrastructure to cope with traffic: towns such as Warwick, one of the finest towns in the country, but where air quality is so poor. I commend Clean Air Warwick, and thank Jon Grey for his work. Likewise, I applaud the leadership of Sue Rasmussan with Clean Air for Leamington. But in recent years, the World Health Organisation has found that the air quality in Leamington regularly breaches safe air pollution levels. That is why the British Lung Foundation wants MPs from across the House to support this new clause: it is so important that we address the issue of PM2.5 and the World Health Organisation guidelines.
We have seen what can happen. We saw the desperately tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah—it could have happened to any child, and it makes me think of so many children and young people who walk those roads to school in my constituency. That is why these amendments and new clauses are vital: for today, but most importantly, for our children.
The Environmental Audit Committee labelled this Bill a “missed opportunity”. I rise to support amendments in the name of the Opposition and others that could make it fit for our country, in a year in which the eyes of the world are watching us as hosts of the UN COP26 conference on climate change. I only have time to address two issues: the regulation of chemicals now that we have departed from the EU, and air pollution.
I support amendment 24 in the name of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Ruth Jones, to ensure we do not regress from existing standards and protections. That amendment would prevent a damaging race to the bottom that could undermine standards on chemicals, which is of great concern, given the comments the Prime Minister has made about chemicals and his indication that he may want us to depart downwards from those standards. My constituents, Tracey Logan and Richard Szwagrzak, were poisoned by formaldehyde fumes when cupboards were being built and installed in their house. We found there was no regulation covering formaldehyde levels in MDF sheets, hence the need to at least protect our existing standards and then ensure that the Government have powers to strengthen them, as amendment 24 does.
The issue of air quality is particularly important in my constituency, lying as it does along the two core routes between Heathrow and central London, and with many living in a highly polluted environment. Toxic air kills 40,000 people a year in the UK and contributes to the health inequalities that plague our society. We need to see action. Community-led efforts such as Chiswick Oasis can cut air pollution, as can city-wide programmes: an Imperial College study found that policies put in place by the Mayor of London have already led to improvements in air quality, with the measures that have been introduced increasing the average life expectancy of a child born in London in 2013. However, we need to do much more and, at a Government level, to tackle toxic air pollution. We need to see Government Ministers leading on this.
If new clause 6—which would require the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament on air quality and the solutions that the Government are going to be implementing—is moved, I will be supporting it. Crucially, that amendment calls for cross-departmental work to tackle this serious threat to our public health. This Bill has huge gaps in it, and gives Ministers sweeping powers to row back on our much-needed protections. I hope the Government will listen to concerns raised by Members across this House and use any delay to this Bill as a chance to fix it.
I am very glad to speak today in favour of the Opposition amendments, and on behalf of the deafening voice of civil society and so many organisations and individuals across the country, including the many local members of the Putney Environment Commission in my constituency, who feel that this Bill does not go far enough.
I served on the Bill Committee last November and was disappointed that the Government did not accept any Opposition amendments, which would have improved the Bill. Today, the Minister said that
“the desperate decline of our natural environment and biodiversity has gone on for far too long.”
That is right—so why is this Bill being so delayed, and with more delays to come? How can the EU (Future Relationship) Bill be rushed through in one day, while here we are in a climate emergency—as declared by Parliament in May 2019—yet this Bill has taken a year to get to this stage and now it has been announced that the next stage will be in May? Will we even have it passed by autumn?
This leaves us without the regulation of the EU that was in place before and with no new regulator in place. Will the Minister give a final deadline date for passing this Bill, and use the time between stages to improve it? The amendments before us today would give us much-needed higher ambition through targets, and much more strength to take action on the important areas of air quality, water, waste and chemicals.
Let me turn to new clause 8. It is vital to hold producers to account to ensure that waste is prevented throughout the whole supply chain, not just at the end—for example, by reducing plastics, changing materials and rethinking product use, such as nappies.
On air pollution, Putney High Street is one of the most polluted streets in the UK, and has the poor distinction of taking places two and three in a recent table of the top 10 pollution hotspots in London. We should set our sights high and include WHO targets in the Bill, not put them up for negotiation later. The cost will be that 550,000 Londoners will develop diseases attributable to air pollution over the next 30 years if we do not take strong action.
On amendment 24 on chemical regulation and setting up a whole new regulation in the UK when we already have one, this, among many things, will mean unnecessary animal testing. Many constituents have written to me about this issue. If more constituents knew about it, they would not be happy. I hope that this can be changed and rectified before the next stage of reporting in May.
In summary, the Bill has a long way to go before it is fit for purpose. I hope that today Conservative Members finally listen, give this Bill the force and ambition that our environment desperately needs, and vote for the Opposition amendments.
Like the previous Members of my party who have spoken, I shall be supporting the Opposition amendments. However, I would like to use my time to focus entirely on air pollution—a subject that is close not just to my heart, but to so many people I meet every day. It is also vital to our future and to our health, both individually and as communities.
In my constituency of Edinburgh West, we have two of the most polluted roads in Scotland, and one in every 29 deaths in our city of Edinburgh has been attributed to air pollution. Surely that is beyond unacceptable. I also have personal family reasons for knowing what a silent and merciless killer air pollution can be. Lives are blighted or even lost, and our NHS is put under yet more strain. Clean air is one of the most precious commodities that we have, and it is becoming even more precious.
For me, there is nothing that we could do that would be too much, but tinkering around the edges, as this Bill will do, is not good enough. We need to be brave and, yes, we need to start spending money. Our children are now making it abundantly clear that they do not believe that previous generations have done enough to ensure that the planet is safe for them, and they are the ones who tend to be exposed to higher levels of pollution than adults. We need to listen and act now. The Liberal Democrats’ zero carbon target is 2045; we believe that 2050 is simply too late. We need to strengthen our interim targets and undertake a 10-year emergency emission reduction programme to cut emissions as much as possible by 2030.
This legislation is a good start, but it does not have the teeth necessary to provide the robust protection for the environment that we need. If it is not to become little more than a series of meaningless platitudes, the Office for Environmental Protection and local authorities must have sufficient funding and empowerment to be effective. We need an Act modelled on the Climate Change Act 2008, with regular interim targets to cut not just air pollution but plastic pollution, and to restore nature. For me, the clean air provisions are simply not good enough. We need new legal limits that meet World Health Organisation limits, a new duty on public bodies to do their part in tackling pollution, and a new right to clean air in domestic law. All that is meaningless, however, if the reports are correct and the Bill is delayed until the next Session. More time will be lost, more people will breathe in dangerously polluted air, more damage will be done to our lives, our environment and the planet, and the chances of turning this ecological disaster around will be lost. I hope that the House will support the Opposition amendment.
The River Lea flows all the way through my constituency of Luton South, so I shall start by welcoming the earlier clarification stating that clause 82 should cover damage caused to chalk streams as a result of low flow, as championed by Sir Charles Walker. I will be supporting the Opposition Front-Bench amendments, including amendment 24 on chemical regulations, but I want to speak specifically about waste management in support of new clause 8, which will require the Secretary of State to take account of the waste hierarchy, starting with the priority action of prevention.
The waste hierarchy refers to the priority order of managing waste: prevention; preparing for reuse; recycling; other forms of recovery; and disposal. To tackle the climate and ecological emergency, there must be a preventive and focused approach to waste management. I am fully aware that the Minister has stated that the Bill enables the Government to place obligations, including targets, on producers to prevent waste, but I am concerned that the Government are refusing to explicitly put that commitment to prioritising preventive action in the Bill. The Bill should use the strongest possible language to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to preventing the creation of waste, as well as to the reusing and recycling of it.
Local government has a crucial role in waste management and in tackling unnecessary and unrecyclable material. Community-based action to shape attitudes and behaviour is vital to improving the UK’s sustainable management of waste, and bolder language would further empower councils to take stronger action.
Luton Council’s waste management strategy for 2018 to 2028 is committed to a “waste less, recycle more” plan that recognises the importance of limiting the amount of waste. As well as ensuring that the recycling process is efficient, the waste minimisation strategy has a focus on behaviour change through education, engagement and communication, including working with schools, encouraging visitors to reduce the amount of waste and maintaining waste standards. However, unprecedented budget cuts imposed by the Government’s austerity agenda over the last decade have restricted the great work that councils do to sustainably tackle waste, so I urge the Government to back Labour’s amendment, to use stronger language to tackle waste prevention and to empower our councils by providing more financial support to expand preventive waste strategies in our communities.
I want to speak to new clause 10, tabled in the name of Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru colleagues, and also to new schedule 1. My hon. Friend David Linden spoke eloquently about the impact on the environment of disposable nappies, and about the sometimes misleading claims made about their environmental friendliness by the manufacturers. My partner and I decided to use cloth nappies for our children. I fully understand that, for varying reasons, that is not a decision that everyone feels able to take, or something that people can do 100% of the time, but it was a choice that worked very well for us.
New clause 10 and new schedule 1, taken together, would establish the basis on which the Government could act to address the problem of waste caused by nappies that are not reusable. Establishing clear standards for disposable nappies would help parents to make informed choices. It would provide clarity over terms such as “reusable”, “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly”, “environmentally friendly” and anything else that was put into the mix. That would help parents by making it clear what they were buying and what the impact of that choice would be. Furthermore, the schedule would, through the relevant national authorities cited, oblige the Government to begin to encourage local authorities to promote the use of reusable nappies if they do not do so already—I know that some do—and so reduce waste, by working alongside parents as well as existing schemes such as nappy libraries, which many parents find so valuable.
The waste that comes from disposable nappies is one of the biggest single environmental problems that we face, but it is also, potentially, one of the easiest for us to begin to solve through the provision of good information and good incentives from Government. To do so would be good for babies and good for the world that they grow up in. It is something that we are able to act on, and we should look to do so.
I thank all hon. Friends and Members who have taken part in the debate—the input on this groundbreaking Bill has been fantastically supportive and enthusiastic.
Let me start with new clause 8. I am pleased to report that the waste hierarchy is already embedded in law through the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011. Accordingly, the Bill has been developed with it as a guiding light. While I touch on waste, I must assure my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey that consultations will shortly be launched on issues across waste reforms, including deposit returns, recycling collections and environmental permitting regulations, and we will work with packaging producers on them all.
The Secretary of State must produce a waste prevention programme and a waste management plan for England, setting out policies that apply the waste hierarchy. Waste handlers must also take reasonable measures to apply the waste hierarchy on the transfer of their waste. I hope that that reassures the many Members who touched on the waste hierarchy, waste and plastic, including my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), who both have spectacular coastlines and concerns about plastics, and the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western). The resource and waste measures in the Bill provide us with a range of options to tackle issues across the waste hierarchy.
Bill Committee members will have heard me talk about whether we could possibly tackle cat food pouches, which brings me neatly to nappies and the amendment tabled by David Linden. I myself have experience of using reusable nappies—what a labour of love it is. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the primary powers on resource efficiency in the Bill will give us the legislative means to act on nappies, as suggested in new clause 10 and new schedule 1. I am happy to make that clearer to the hon. Gentleman through a change to the Bill’s explanatory notes. I really hope that Fleur Anderson will also welcome that.
I will not take any interventions because of the pressure of time, but I hope the hon. Member for Glasgow East will welcome that. I shall turn to air quality, on which so many Members and colleagues have had an input—unless the hon. Gentleman wanted to say congratulations?
I welcome any baby steps, but I would also welcome any opportunity to discuss with the Minister certain aspects of labelling and packaging. I welcome the changes that she is to make to the explanatory notes, but will she agree to meet me and the Nappy Alliance to discuss the matter in the context of the next stage of the Bill?
I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said; of course, we will consider all these things when we come to that point.
I will not give way again.
Let me turn to air quality, which was mentioned by so many colleagues and Members, including my hon. Friend Neil Parish, Rosie Duffield, John McDonnell and the hon. Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark).
On new clause 6, which was tabled by Geraint Davies, my Department is working closely with other Departments to improve air quality through the Bill. We are making it simpler for local authorities to tackle a key source of indoor air pollution—domestic burning—and strengthening the role of public authorities in tackling air pollution. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to make an annual statement to Parliament on progress towards local air quality objectives, to review regularly the national air quality strategy and to publish an environment improvement plan.
Let me turn to the use of pesticides and air quality and new clause 13. The use of pesticides is not allowed where that usage may harm people. The existing regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009 requires comprehensive scientific assessment.
Let me turn to water and new clause 3, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin. Nutrient pollution from phosphates and nitrates is one of the main pressures on the water environment, with the main source being development and agriculture. Planning authorities must consider the environmental effects of increased discharges from proposed developments. By removing any need for the consideration of phosphate pollution in assessments, the new clause would threaten the protection of important wildlife sites.
I turn to amendment 3 in the name of my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker. I thank him for taking the time to meet me a couple of weeks ago. Flow levels are incredibly important to the health of a river and the ecology it supports, and he is a great champion for rivers. Our new abstraction powers in clause 82 will strengthen existing powers for addressing environmental damage as a result of abstraction, including low flows. The Environment Agency will clamp down further on environmental damage caused by unsustainable abstraction of water through a variety of actions, including placing new conditions on existing permanent licences.
I can also commit to my hon. Friend that I will amend the explanatory notes for the Bill to include a specific reference to flow levels. That will make it crystal clear that low flows will continue to be assessed by the Environment Agency in the exercise of these new abstraction powers. I hope that he will not ask me to write to him again and that that is clear. I commend others who have raised water so eloquently: my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew).
Moving on to amendment 30, I assure the House that restoring England’s internationally important chalk streams is a priority for this Government and for me personally. A chalk streams working group has been formed, and it is developing an action plan. Actions being considered include improving the transparency and usability of data, which can be done without primary legislation.
I turn to amendment 42. I expect sewerage companies to develop statutory drainage and sewerage plans in collaboration with risk management authorities, and I will use the power of direction in the Bill if they do not.
I turn to new clause 18 tabled by Caroline Lucas. While I am sympathetic to its aims, it is not necessary. The “last resort” is already a protected provision, and the Secretary of State already has a duty to review testing requirements in respect of reproductive toxicity.
Turning to amendment 24 on the REACH regulations, we have already included safeguards to protect the fundamental principles of REACH, and we cannot agree to proposed new sub-paragraph (1B) of schedule 20.
I am going to wind up now, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Are you saying that I have more time? If I did have time, I would wax a little more lyrical.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I shall slow down a tiny bit, then.
I did just want to say a little more in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. I talked about the sewerage management plans, which are now going to be requirements, and said that I would use the powers of direction in the Bill if water companies were not using those properly. Section 13(1) of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 already requires risk management authorities to co-operate with one another when exercising prescribed functions, but I intend to expand those functions to include the preparation of a drainage and sewerage management plan.
I hope that demonstrates that I and this Government, and DEFRA in particular, are putting this whole issue of dealing with our water right up there, centre stage. It is so important to all of us that we sort our water out, and it is thanks to so many colleagues—my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and others who have spoken—that we are taking this really seriously. I hope that everyone will be supportive of that, including my Labour shadow colleagues.
Let me go back to REACH very quickly. I said that we had included safeguards to protect the fundamental principles of REACH, which is schedule 20. That includes ensuring a high level of protection for human health and the environment, and replacing substances of very high concern, such as cancer-causing chromium compounds, through the REACH authorisation process. As I said, we cannot agree to proposed new sub-paragraph (1B), which would force us to follow what the EU does instead of having ownership of our own laws. We would have to make decisions and regulations with no regard to our own scientific evidence. We have no plans at all to diverge from EU REACH for the sake of it. I hope the shadow Minister was listening to that, because she particularly raised it. Protecting the environment and human health is paramount, and the UK will retain the fundamental approaches and key principles of EU REACH.
I really will wind up now, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for your time. It has been an honour to preside over the passage of this Bill. It has been long, and it still continues, but all the better. It charts a new and much-needed exciting and ambitious course for us all on the environment, and it will leave it in a better state than we found it. I want to thank all colleagues on both sides of the House who have taken part in this, helping to drive us all towards a fairer, greener future. I want to thank my Bill team. I probably do not have time to name them all, but I named them in Committee. I thank my private office, all Members who sat on the Public Bill Committee, my long-suffering family and my husband Charles, who I hope is watching me from up there.
As Members of the House are aware, the immense pressure put on the parliamentary timetable by the covid pandemic means that the Bill will sadly need to be carried over to the second Session. As I stated at the start, we will be back. I give an assurance that this carry-over will in no way reduce our commitment on the environment. Intensive work relating to measures in the Bill is already under way and will continue. One of the reasons I came to Parliament was to work to put the environment centre stage, helping to steer us to an essential sustainable trajectory for the planet. It is the right thing to do, and we are doing it.
I thank the Minister for her wide-ranging thanks and comments, but I have to say that we will be doing it all again in May, because this is only day one, and we have day two to go. Hopefully, the Bill will eventually become law, which will be really good, because that is the whole point of this.
Our amendments would make an average Bill better, but as Sir Robert Neill said, we want the Bill to go further. Labour wants to seize the opportunity before us to develop a genuinely once-in-a-generation Bill, in the words of the Minister. Changing explanatory notes about the Bill is all very well, but it does not change the legislation. If it is that important, we should put it in the Bill.
The Minister touched on the deposit scheme, as requested, but we do not want to focus on consultation; we want a proper scheme delivered at the earliest opportunity. On air quality, it is vital that we act and act now. One Government Back Bencher noted that the World Health Organisation knows best, and I urge the Minister to take heed of that piece of advice. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend John McDonnell for sharing the experiences of his constituents who live in, as he put it, a “pollution blizzard”. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) for their moving and important speeches on new clause 6, on air quality. They both mentioned the lost life of Ella Kissi-Debrah—a name we must never forget.
The Minister is right: we all want strong, effective management of our water; we want clean water; and we want to mitigate the impact of hazardous waste in our waters. I am pleased that the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, spoke earlier in the debate. He knows from the shadow Minister for water, my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock, that Her Majesty’s Opposition support his private Member’s Bill. Water quality is so important. That is why, when preparing for the debate, I was shocked to find that in Camborne and Redruth—the Secretary of State’s seat—all 10 rivers that pass through the constituency have failed to meet the standards of chemical pollution set by the Environment Agency. Simply put, the Government’s inaction has seen contaminated water not just across the country but in the Secretary of State’s own backyard. I hope that that will focus the Minister’s mind.
I join my good friend, my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones, in praising Friends of the Earth Pontypridd for its campaigning work on water, and I praise her work on nappies too. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) for their enthusiastic contributions. The vital nature of science and its purpose was highlighted by my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman, who spoke about his many decades of fighting to protect our environment and preserve our planet; he is right. The Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish, made an important contribution in which he spoke to both his amendment and ours, and I thank him for the cross-party approach he has taken to these issues.
On waste, the Minister heard the message loud and clear from colleagues, and a special mention goes to my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy for her years of campaigning. The Minister could quite easily accept new clause 8 and show that a cross-party approach is welcomed by Tory Ministers.
Amendment 24, which we will push to a vote, would ensure that Britain does not become a dumping ground for hazardous waste. It would prevent damaging deregulation and help to maintain regulatory parity with EU REACH and chemical-related laws that would prevent the dumping of products on the UK market that fail to meet the EU regulations and avoid the cost and complexity of regulatory divergence on the industry. Our objective is clear, and I hope that the Minister will support our amendment tonight. The need to do whatever we can to preserve our environment and protect our planet is obvious, so I hope that she will join us in doing just that.
We wish to push amendment 24 to a vote, Mr Deputy Speaker, but, with the leave of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.