New Clause 12 - Well consents for hydraulic fracturing: cessation of issue and termination

Environment Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 26 May 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

  • Division number 17
    A majority of MPs voted to permit hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract hydrocarbons from the ground.

“(1) No well consent which permits associated hydraulic fracturing may be issued by the Oil and Gas Authority (‘OGA’).

(2) Sections 4A and 4B of the Petroleum Act 1998 (as inserted by section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015), are repealed.

(3) Any well consent which has been issued by the OGA which—

(a) permits associated hydraulic fracturing, and

(b) is effective on the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent shall cease to be valid three months after this Act receives Royal Assent.

(4) In this section—

‘associated hydraulic fracturing’ means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which—

(a) is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and

(b) involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

(i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or

(ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total, or

(iii) acid intended to dissolve rock;

and ‘well consent’ means a consent in writing of the OGA to the commencement of drilling of a well.”—(Ruth Jones.)

This new clause would prevent the Oil and Gas Authority from being able to provide licences for hydraulic fracturing, exploration or acidification, and would revoke current licences after a brief period to wind down activity.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 19—Labelling scheme for the environmental sustainability of food—

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme requiring food manufacturers to label foods offered for sale in the United Kingdom to indicate the environmental sustainability of their origins.

(2) That scheme must make provision for a kitemark indicating the environmentally sustainable origins of a food.

(3) The kitemark may be applied to:—

(a) raw food commodities,

(b) processed food products, and

(c) the ingredients of processed food products.

(4) The definition of ‘environmentally sustainable origins’ under the scheme must incorporate an assessment of whether the agricultural or manufacturing processes involved in the production of a food—

(a) protect the habitats of species listed internationally as endangered,

(b) avoid biodiversity loss,

(c) avoid deforestation, and

(d) avoid significant increases in net carbon emissions.

(5) The scheme may make provision for—

(a) enforcement, and

(b) civil sanctions in relation to labelling and use of the kitemark.

(6) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.

(7) Before making regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Scottish Ministers,

(b) the Welsh Ministers, and

(c) the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.

(8) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a draft statutory instrument containing the proposed scheme before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day this Act receives Royal Assent.”

New clause 24—Prohibition on burning of peat in upland areas—

“(1) A person must not burn specified vegetation on land in England which is within an upland area on peat.

(2) In this section—

‘specified vegetation’ means heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse or vaccinium, and

‘upland area’ means all the land shown coloured pink on the map marked as ‘Map of Upland Area in England’ held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but does not include the land coloured pink in the Isles of Scilly(a).”

The new clause extends the coverage of the peat burning ban from the 142,000 ha of upland peat currently covered to the full 355,000 ha of upland peat in England.

New clause 28—Labelling scheme for the informed purchase of environmentally sustainable food—

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme requiring food manufacturers to label foods offered for sale in the United Kingdom to indicate the environmental sustainability of their origins.

(2) The scheme in subsection (1) must make provision for a kitemark indicating the environmentally sustainable origins of a food.

(3) The kitemark may be applied to—

(a) raw food commodities,

(b) processed food products, and

(c) the ingredients of processed food products.

(4) Food labelling under the scheme must include a declaration about food miles, which is defined as the distance travelled from the country, or in the case of domestically produced food the region, of origin.

(5) The declaration in subsection (4) must be given in words and numbers, but may also be presented using graphical forms or symbols provided that the graphical forms or symbols meet the following requirements—

(a) they are based on scientifically valid consumer research and do not mislead the consumer as referred to in Article 7 of the retained Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council as amended in the Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019;

(b) their development is the result of consultation with a wide range of stakeholder groups;

(c) they aim to facilitate consumer understanding of the contribution or importance of the environmental impact of the food;

(d) they are supported by scientifically valid evidence showing that such forms of presentation are understood by the average consumer;

(e) they are objective and non-discriminatory; and

(f) their application does not create obstacles to the free movement of goods.

(6) The scheme may recommend to food business operators the use of one or more additional forms of presentation of the environmental indications that they consider as best fulfilling the requirements laid down in paragraphs (a) to (f) of subsection (5).

(7) The scheme may make provision for—

(a) enforcement, and

(b) civil sanctions in relation to labelling and use of the kitemark.

(8) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.

(9) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a draft statutory instrument containing the proposed scheme before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day this Act receives Royal Assent.”

New clause 29—Review of public health effects—

“(1) The Secretary of State must review the public health effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider—

(a) the effects of the provisions of this Act on air pollutant levels across the UK,

(b) the effects of the provisions of this Act on different socioeconomic groups and population groups with protected characteristics as defined by the 2010 Equality Act,

(c) the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK, and

(d) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.”

Before I call the shadow Minister, I should say that there will be a four-minute time limit on Back-Bench contributions.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

New clauses 12 and 24 were tabled in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) and for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon)—all members of the shadow DEFRA team—and with the support of colleagues, including my hon. Friend Catherine West; my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott; my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), for Neath (Christina Rees), for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield); and my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman. That is to name but a few.

I give a massive vote of thanks to my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead for his work on the early stages of the Bill and for all his work to challenge the outdated and unambitious approach of this Government to the future of our planet.

Here we are, back in the House and back discussing the Environment Bill and, I hope, setting out a clear plan to preserve our environment and protect our planet. We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. I know that the Minister knows it, and so do the people of this country, but this climate emergency is no surprise to any of us and did not start yesterday. That is why I remain disappointed that the Tories have voted against every single Labour amendment in Committee and on day 1 on Report. I fear they will do the same today—although, of course, I am happy for the Minister to prove me wrong.

Today has been a long time coming, and I know that many stakeholders, campaigners and people up and down England will be pleased that we are finally here discussing the Environment Bill and looking to make it fit for purpose. Many stakeholders and campaigners will want to see less party politics and more environmental politics in this debate and throughout the Bill’s remaining stages before it moves into the capable hands of our colleagues in the other place.

A person does not need to be a green-fingered disciple of Alan Titchmarsh or an animal-loving admirer of Sir David Attenborough to know that wildlife in Britain is on a downward spiral. We are in a period of crisis that demands real action, not empty words.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she and her team do on these issues. Does she agree that the Minister would do well to look to Wales to see what a bold, ambitious and committed Labour Government can do to protect the environment and preserve our planet?

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do agree with my hon. Friend: Wales is leading the way and I urge the Minister to seek meetings with the First Minister of Wales and his Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths as soon as possible, so that lessons can be learned and rolled over to England.

As we heard in the previous debate, we have seen 44% of species decline over the past 10 years—and that was on the Minister’s and her party’s watch. Now that we have left the European Union, it is vital that we seek to maintain the highest of environmental standards. That is the approach that the shadow Secretary of State—my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport—and my colleagues and I in the shadow DEFRA team have taken to this Bill, from Second Reading through to Committee and to today’s Report and remaining stages. We have proposed fair, balanced and necessary amendments, all of which were defeated by this Government. Not one of them was partisan, and not one of them was done to play games. All were done to make this Bill fit for purpose, and our new clauses 12 and 24 do just that. They are balanced and they are fair, and they reflect the will out there of those in communities across England who want an Environment Bill that will preserve our planet and protect our environment.

That brings me on to another opportunity the Government have missed with this Bill. This Bill, this debate today and this moment were the Government’s chance to tell the fracking companies, “Your time is up”, but given the choice between doing something bold and doing nothing at all, we know what DEFRA under this Secretary of State always goes for.

My position and that of the shadow Secretary of State and the Opposition is clear: fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. This is doubly true when we take into account just how damaging fracking is for our environment. When a third of England’s drinking supply is in the groundwater, do we really want to engage in a risky industry that could poison it for good? Even more disturbingly, fracking is causing earthquakes of up to 2.9 on the Richter scale.

In our recovery from covid, we need to focus on creating good green jobs for the future. Fracking is not green and it does not create jobs. According to the fracking company Cuadrilla’s licence application in Lancashire, for example, just 11 jobs will be created across two sites—just 11. Labour MPs up and down the country are standing up for their areas in opposing this. I want to give a special mention to my hon. Friend Cat Smith, who has done so much work in this area, and I commend her for all she does. Now is the time to join France, Germany, Ireland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Scotland and, of course, Wales, and put this destructive industry to bed once and for all.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I would be grateful if the hon. Lady clarified that. Clearly, I support the principle of our leaving fossil fuels in the ground and not using them for the future, but we are going to need natural gas for the time being, albeit I hope that in time we can phase it out. The Germans are planning to bring it in by pipeline from Russia. We are currently bringing it in by tanker from the middle east. What does she think is the best source of natural gas for the coming years, while we still need it?

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are in a transition phase, and we need not just to look at natural gas, but to look forward to renewables because that is where the future lies. Renewables are the future. We know already, in this country, that there are certain days when no coal is being burned and some days when just renewables are being used. That is the future for the whole of the UK, not just England, and that is where the Opposition would want to be seeing our future. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

I encourage colleagues across the House to get behind Labour’s new clause 12, which would ban fracking and show we really are serious about tackling the environmental crisis that our country and our planet faces—a crisis this Government want to tackle with a 25-year environment plan. Talking about the Government’s 25-year environment plan, it feels as though the last few months have given us less of a plan for the next 25 years and more of an impression that it will take 25 years to develop a plan to preserve our planet and protect our environment. This just is not good enough. While I do not doubt the Minister’s personal commitment, I do wonder if Government Back Benchers really understand what is at stake here and what they need to do.

I now want to move on to the issue of peat burning and to speak to Labour’s new clause 24. I fully accept that soil does not always grab the headlines—it is not particularly sexy—but the impact that peat burning has on our environment is profound, and that is why Labour has tabled this new clause. I want to thank stakeholders, such as Matt Browne at Wildlife and Countryside Link, for all the passionate campaigning on these important issues.

The Government’s peat action plan came three years late. In the meantime, our peatlands have been continuously burned and degraded, releasing approximately 10 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. The Government have committed to restoring 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, which is great, but that is only one tenth of the 355,000 hectares that need to be restored in England, and we have no clear targets for peatland restoration after 2025. What is going to happen then?

The Government have committed to ban some peat burning, but, again, it is not enough. All we get from this Government are words and hot air, and we need cool, focused and comprehensive action. Labour’s amendment would prohibit the burning of peat of any depth in upland areas. We cannot wait for action any longer. We need a foolproof strategy to restore and protect this vital carbon sink. I hope the Minister will do the right thing and get her colleagues to do what so many out in the real world want us to do, which is to provide action to stop burning peat. It is as simple as that.

Today, we have the chance to improve a weak Bill—a Bill that is lacking in ambition, in focus and in delivering a real and tangible plan to preserve our environment and protect our planet. I encourage the Minister to send a message to the Secretary of State—I wonder where he is today, because this is supposed to be his landmark Bill— and to the Government Whips and tell them that the time has come to get real, to act and to deliver by supporting Labour’s new clauses 12 and 24. There is no better way than by supporting us in the Lobby tonight to show that this Government are finally willing to act, to get real, and to deliver on their rhetoric. The future of our environment and the preservation of our planet demand no less.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

There is much to welcome in the Government’s aims. Like most MPs, I look forward to cleaner water and cleaner air. It is right that we take more care of the other species that we share our islands with, and I look forward to those greener and pleasanter lands having more protection and more support. I also welcome the idea that we should plant many more trees. However, at this point in our deliberations, we should ask the Minister to give us a bit more background and information about the costs of this transformation so that we can know that it is realistic and that it will be properly shared.

When we look at the legislation itself and at the impact assessments, we see that there is very little by way of hard information about how much cost may be entailed and who should primarily bear that. There are wide-ranging powers to introduce more waste charges, for example, but the statements in the impact materials say that an impact cannot be assessed and that it will depend, in due course, on what actual charges are brought in. When we look at the very expensive rules on producer responsibility—taking more responsibility for packaging, batteries, waste, electrical equipment and end-of-life vehicles—we are told that a partial cost of the first item is about £1 billion a year, but there is no information on the full cost and there is no information on the others. There is a bit of information on the cost on housebuilders for the habitat provisions, and there is not a lot of worked-through financial information on the deposit return scheme.

I think that there are ways forward where we can make sure both that we have a better environment and that we are earning more revenue from suitable and sustainable exploitation of nature’s abundance. I hope that the Government will work hard on finding ways that enable livelihoods to be increased and improved, just as we are also doing the right things by the environment.

Let us take the case of trees, for example. I do hope that, as we plant many more trees, there will be more sustainable forestry. I always thought it quite wrong that we import so much wood from across the Atlantic to burn in the Drax power station, when surely we should be looking for sustainable sources at home. It is also quite wrong that we import so much of the timber that we need for our big house building projects, when, again, this is a good climate for growing softwood. Surely we can go about our task of finding sustainable ways. We need to cut the wood miles and to have that sustainable forestry here, as well as having the beautiful and diverse trees in our landscape in suitable places where the Government will offer their own taxpayer-based financial support.

Let us hear a little more about the livelihoods and the opportunities. Let us show how we can have both a beautiful countryside and a working countryside, so that we can cut the wood miles and the food miles, ensure more buy-in from business and individuals to these great aims of having a better natural environment because of the opportunities to do more at home, and have that happy conjunction of success in business, harnessing nature’s abundance and the beauty of nature’s abundance, while respecting all the other species that share our islands with us.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26) 4:15, 26 May 2021

I will be brief, because as I have already laid out, this is almost entirely an English Bill, but I wanted to touch on new clause 12.

The new clause is a good addition that the Government should welcome. Scotland banned fracking some time ago and Wales has made it very difficult to get the permissions needed. Adding a fracking ban to the Bill would complete the set, and we in the SNP certainly support that, because when our neighbours keep trying to set their house on fire, we want to help them to stop.

Fracking releases gas—at a greater input cost than other types of gas well, I might add—and not all the gas is collected for commercial exploitation. Fracking is associated with a greater escape of gas to the atmosphere than other forms of gas production, which in itself contributes to the climate crisis. The seismic effects may cross borders, of course, and the large amounts of road traffic needed for frack wells gets in the way of other transport needs and themselves contribute to the climate chaos. It is in everyone’s interest to make sure that neighbouring countries do not frack the place up, but responsibilities for the licensing of oil and gas development since the Scotland Act 2016 was passed rest with the Scottish Government; the clause therefore impacts on devolved powers.

Finally, I want to correct a statement the shadow Secretary of State made earlier. He said that the UK was the first country to declare a climate emergency. It was not. The climate emergency petition started in Australia—many very good things come from Australia—and dotted around the world for a while before the Scottish Government became the first to declare a climate emergency, closely followed by Wales. England caught up a wee while later—aye ahint.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I will focus my remarks on the issues I raise in new clause 19. We have talked about deforestation this afternoon and I pay tribute to the Minister in particular, because she has been a driving force in ensuring that the Bill takes significant steps on deforestation, in effect making it illegal and much more challenging to bring the fruits of illegal deforestation to the United Kingdom. That is absolutely right. The stronger the law on that front, the better.

What the Bill does not do, and what it is difficult for any Government to do, is prevent the fruits of legal deforestation arriving in the United Kingdom. Only now do we see the issues in Brazil, where the Bolsonaro Government are looking to pursue further legislative change that could lead to further deforestation in the Amazon—something none of us can afford to let happen. Through the new clause and its underlying principle, I am encouraging the Government to take a step that I believe would make a real difference to those who seek legally to deforest in other parts of the world—to put the power not in the hands of regulators, but in the hands of consumers. I passionately believe that if consumers around the world say no to the consequences of deforestation, it will be much more difficult for Governments or individuals to pursue deforestation, whether it is legal or illegal.

In this country, if I go to the supermarket and want to know whether the product I am buying contains anything that has damaged forests, it is pretty difficult to tell. If I do not want to buy a product with palm oil in it, I have to scrutinise the small print of the ingredients on the back to establish whether it contains palm oil. If there is palm oil, it is even more difficult to work out whether it comes from a sustainable source. Some aspects of our supply chains are invisible, such as whether the soy meal fed to the animals whose meat we eat came from a sustainable source or—much, much more likely—from an unsustainable source. We have to address that issue, and I think one of the ways to do that is to have a proper system of food labelling in this country that indicates whether a product comes from a sustainable source.

There is a lot of work taking place right now in the private sector, by retailers and others, and in the academic sector to look at how we would assess the sustainability of a product. It is about not just the food we buy in a shop, but the ingredients that go into that food. I think labelling should be placed on the sacks of soybean meal that go to feed pigs in our pig farms, as well as on the products that we buy in the shops, to indicate very clearly to buyers and consumers when a product comes from a carefully thought-out, sustainable source and when it does not. Work is being done by big supermarkets, academics and some really innovative smaller food companies to try to ensure that there is a good way of tracking the sustainability of a food source.

In the end, what we cannot have is the wild west of food labelling. What we need is a coherent, single approach that enables a consumer, in an easily recognisable way, to say, “I know that I can buy that in good conscience,” or “I know that that’s a product that creates problems for the environment.” The truth is that that label alone will ensure that the buyer does not buy the product and that it never appears and there is no market for it. My request and message to the Secretary of State and the Minister—I will follow this up over the coming months—is please to follow the path of introducing a single system of sustainable food labelling, sending the message to consumers, “You are empowered to make the right choices.”

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

I want to address most of my remarks to new clause 12 and fracking, but before I turn to that specifically, I want to put on record my concerns about flooding, because we are in a climate and ecological emergency and we are seeing increased instances of flooding. I have certainly witnessed that in my Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency, and it concerns me that at the same time the Environment Agency budget has been cut by a third and the fire and rescue service by a fifth. It is simply not enough to wring our hands while making these cuts, when we cannot respond to the flooding emergency, so I urge the Minister to look again at these cuts and at investing in upland water management.

The Environment Bill is the Government’s first opportunity to bring in equivalent standards to those in the EU regulations, so, frankly, if we cannot secure strong environmental protections in this Bill, it certainly bodes ill for securing workers’ rights and workplace protections. New clause 12 would revoke current fracking licences and prevent the Oil and Gas Authority from being able to provide future licences for hydraulic fracturing, exploration or acidification. Fracking is a big deal in Lancashire. When Cuadrilla started, in just two months 57 earthquakes were detected. Cuadrilla stopped fracking five times because it triggered earthquakes bigger than the Government rules allowed. Even more disturbingly, a year later, an earthquake measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale led to a review by the Oil and Gas Authority, which, worryingly, concluded that it was not possible to predict the probability or size of the tremors caused by fracking.

My Lancashire constituents and, indeed, much of the country were relieved when the Government got around to launching a moratorium halting fracking and exploration with immediate effect, but in the past two years the Government have failed to deliver the legislation that is needed to give effect to their promise. If the Minister is not willing to support new clause 12 today, when will that come? It was a relief that the Government got as far as the moratorium almost two years ago, but we need something concrete—something solid—behind that. If the Minister is to assure my constituents that the Bill is not just empty words, will she accept Labour’s new clause and legislate to ban fracking once and for all?

We know from the Lancashire experiment on fracking that it is a risky way of extracting dirty energy. We have seen that France, Germany, Ireland, Bulgaria, New York state and the Netherlands, as well as Scotland and Wales, all agree, so this is our opportunity to bring England into line. There are so many risks surrounding fracking, and the Government know that or they would not have called the moratorium in the first place. The British Geological Survey is very clear:

“Groundwater may be potentially contaminated by extraction of shale gas”.

In England, groundwater supplies a third of our drinking water.

In addition, the assertion that fracking will lead to a jobs boom is simply not true. Cuadrilla’s application in Lancashire talked about starting just 11 jobs, and that is before we start looking at the jobs that would be put at risk by fracking happening on the Lancashire coast, because so many of our jobs on the Fylde coast are in the tourism industry, and people are not keen to holiday next to fracking wells.

Most importantly, scientists agree that if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. With every application comes huge environmental concern. There is a risk of additional carbon emissions, as well as the understandable anxiety for local people about the impact of earth tremors and water contamination. When will the Minister listen and finally take action? Now is our chance, once and for all, to tell the fracking companies that time’s up, and to put the future of our planet and our communities first.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

More pearls of wisdom for the Government to listen to.

I am delighted we have reached the Report stage of this landmark Environment Bill, which examines our vital relationship with nature and how that affects wildlife generally. The Treasury-sponsored Dasgupta review on the economics of biodiversity calls for transformational change as our demands of nature outstrips its capacity to supply for us. I am delighted with our Government’s commitment to invest in new green industries to create jobs while protecting the environment, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, although we certainly need more charging points for electric vehicles in Southend. However, legislative changes need to be implemented urgently to ensure that our action towards the environment and animals is responsible and sustainable.

Ultimately, if we damage the environment, we will destroy ecosystems that animals rely on. It is estimated that because of our activities over the past 200,000 years, the total amount of living matter on the planet has actually decreased by 50%—shocking. As biomass falls, so does biodiversity. We see large depletions in insect numbers and bulky oceanic fish such as tuna and cod, and the conversion of natural habitats to agriculture. Most wildlife hotspots are now down to small percentages of their former ranges.

I want to see our country leading on this issue. Our presidency of the COP26 summit in November will, I hope, spur urgent action throughout the world. We should review our international aid budget, and direct it towards global habitat and biodiversity protection, which unfortunately has recently fallen to below 0.5%. One way we can enhance domestic biodiversity and allow nature to recover is to rewild our seas, uplands, peatlands, flood lands and coasts. We should ensure that at least 30% of our seas are no-activity marine conservation zones. I certainly welcome the reintroduction of the beaver and I hope we will be able to reintroduce many more species that were once native to England.

The Bill, I believe, will be critical in setting out how farmers protect nature and the environment. Intensive farming and industrial fishing practices are two of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. I am sorry if that upsets colleagues who have many farms in their constituencies, but factory farming is unsustainable as a system. It is polluting our air and water, killing our wildlife, degrading our soil, and altering our climate. We are out of balance with nature and our environment. That must change. The natural world and the man-made world are closely linked, and therefore planning reforms should be legally implemented to enable nature’s recovery, strengthening protections for sites designated for nature, and increasing developer contributions to nature’s recovery. Our population continues to grow at a fast pace, which puts pressure on our greenbelts and countryside. I hope the Government will not allow more of our green and open land to be covered by large-scale developments.

In conclusion, it is so important that we approach the challenge of building back better by creating a brighter future with respect for our environment and other living beings with which we share our planet. We must think sustainably about our health, the billions of sentient animals and the protection of our precious planet, as I am sure David Attenborough would agree.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I will speak to new clause 29, in my name and that of my colleagues, which would compel the Environment Secretary to assess the impacts of the Bill on air quality, how different population groups will be exposed to air pollutants and, subsequently, how that differential exposure will impact on their health.

It is our exposure to health risks and hazards that determines our health status—how long we are going to live, and how long we are going to live in good health. The money, resources and power we have will determine where and how we live. It will determine whether our family’s home is on a busy road or motorway, or in a leafy suburb. It will determine not only our risk of being involved in a road traffic accident but our exposure to toxic emissions from traffic. The poorer someone is, the greater the likelihood that they will be exposed to pollutants at levels that are hazardous to their health. We also know that, if someone is disabled, black, of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage or a single parent, they are more likely to be poor.

Let us be clear: air pollution is bad for everyone. The 2016 Royal College of Physicians report “Every breath we take” estimated that, every year, 40,000 people die prematurely as a result of the poor outdoor air quality they are exposed to and that people on low incomes are disproportionately affected. The health problems resulting from our exposure to air pollution have a high cost to health for those who suffer from illness and premature death but also to our health services and to the economy. In the UK, those costs are estimated to be more than £20 billion every year.

For me, it is the human tragedies resulting from this air pollution that strike home. Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was nine years old when she died from an asthma attack. At her inquest, the coroner said that levels of nitrogen dioxide near Ella’s home exceeded World Health Organisation and European Union guidelines. He added:

“there was a recognised failure to reduce the level of nitrogen dioxide…which possibly contributed to her death.”

The coroner concluded that Ella died of an asthma attack contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution. He said that “legally binding targets” based on WHO guidelines are needed to reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK.

The public health response to air pollution is to protect people and the environment in ways that are socially inclusive and equitable globally and across multiple generations. The Government must ensure that that happens through the Bill. Implementing my new clause’s review would demonstrate whether the Bill will reduce exposure to hazardous air pollutants for people on low incomes as much as it will for those on more affluent incomes. It would signal the Government’s real commitment to protecting all our health and, importantly, it would signal to Ella’s family that the Government are listening.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner 4:30, 26 May 2021

While I welcome the measures in the Bill to standardise the collection of plastic waste across all local authorities, I remain very concerned at the continued increase in the production of single-use plastic. Too much of this plastic ends up as litter around our country and around the world, harming human, animal and marine health. We must start to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we make, as some of the projections for its continued production are truly alarming.

We also need to massively improve our performance on littering and fly-tipping. Part of the area in my constituency that a group of us cleared up litter from on Saturday as part of the Great British Spring Clean was already covered in litter again by Sunday. As Lord Kirkham said in the Queen’s Speech debate,

“research suggests that we have few, if any, rivals for the unwanted title of ‘most littered country in the developed world’…It is soul-destroying and dangerous to humans and animals;
it pollutes the very air we breathe;
it depresses and saps a nation’s morale.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 May 2021; Vol. 812, c. 409.]

We need more covert cameras to catch the culprits and more prosecutions, with greater fines, to act as a significant deterrent. Parents and schools need to do their bit to deter the next generation from littering, which is not only antisocial but criminal.

I am told by South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth that we have, at times, continuous sewage discharge into the River Ouzel, which is a valuable wildlife corridor through Leighton Buzzard. There are very low numbers of freshwater shrimps in the river, and a chemical quality that was good in 2015 and 2016 was reported as a fail in 2019, according to the Environment Agency. We will therefore need to continue to strengthen legislation on continuous sewage discharges.

While I warmly welcome the world-leading parts of this Bill to mandate larger businesses not to source commodities from illegally deforested land, I am concerned about commodities sourced from legally deforested land, and rainforests in particular. I would like to see a certification scheme, similar to the Fairtrade one, so that we can all be reassured that the food we are eating has not come to us at the expense of virgin rainforests.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

No. 10 on the speakers’ list is not here, so we will go to Barry Gardiner.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

I am delighted to support new clauses 12 and 24, tabled by my hon. Friend Ruth Jones. It is vital to preserve our most effective carbon sinks. The UK’s peatlands cover only 10% of our land, yet they store about 3 billion tonnes of carbon. Sadly, we have degraded our peatlands to such an extent that only 20% are now in their natural state. Heather and grass burning regulations currently only cover upland peat in areas designated as SSSIs and special areas of conservation, so new clause 24 extends the ban on rotational burning across all upland peat habitats.

Burning vegetation on our most important natural sinks not only hinders our ability to meet our emissions targets, but impedes our biodiversity and water quality ambitions. Currently, only 40% of our peat is covered by the existing regulation. I support new clause 24 to protect the full 355,000 hectares of upland peat in England.

I also support new clause 19, tabled by Chris Grayling. Land conversion to agriculture for our high-meat, high-dairy diets is a key driver of biodiversity loss. It is responsible for 14% of global emissions and for 35 million tonnes of CO2 in the UK alone. Tackling deforestation in UK company supply chains is therefore essential, and the new clause would introduce a labelling scheme so that consumers can be assured that the food they are eating is not a driver either of biodiversity decline or the climate emergency.

The right hon. Member also spoke about new clause 12, arguing that we should permit fracking in the UK as an interim fuel as we transition to a fully renewable energy system. The problem is that the interim is too short and the return on investment demanded by the companies takes too long. That would mean that fracking companies left us with stranded assets. Some would say that is their problem, but when the Government have offered the fracking industry the most generous tax reliefs anywhere in the world and 75% capital allowances, it is not their problem, but that of taxpayers. So fracking in the UK should be prohibited and new clause 12 would do that.

The Government have now accepted the need for a statutory target to halt the decline of nature by 2030, and I welcome that, but the Minister must set out further details of the measures she proposes to deliver on the targets and how implementation will be reported to Parliament. The Minister will be aware of the work of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on biodiversity indicators. Indicators can be used to aid policy decisions, but the difficulty of setting appropriate baselines for reference and the ambiguity of biodiversity targets are compounded by the differing sensitivity of indicators to change over time. Indicators may be about biomass, endangered species or trends of common species. The ability to obfuscate about whether targets have been reached is too great, unless the Minister is specific about the indicators that will be adopted, what the baselines are, how they will be measured and what their implications are for policy development.

POST sets out how it is possible to pursue biodiversity targets that would have a positive outcome in the UK, but would offshore far greater negative biodiversity impacts to other countries. I ask the Minister to respond to the POST note on biodiversity indicators by setting out which DEFRA will use to achieve which ends and which targets it will use. Will she adopt a coherent global perspective to ensure that we achieve a reversal of the loss of biodiversity not just in the UK, but in the overseas territories, for whose biodiversity we are responsible under the convention, and with a globally net positive outcome?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

As there have been some withdrawals and some people have not turned up, I am unusually going to put the time limit up to five minutes.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

That is incredibly kind, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am extremely grateful.

In case Members of the House have forgotten, I should declare my interest: my family are farmers in my home constituency of West Dorset. I have had the privilege of speaking in every Reading of this Bill in the House so far, and I am extremely grateful again to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, for the work that she has done and for how she continues to engage with Members from across the House on this very important Bill.

To start with, there are a couple of things that I would like to remind the Minister about, in terms of particular issues in West Dorset that are incredibly important. The A35 between Bridport and Lyme Regis, specifically at Chideock, has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is incredibly important to my constituents that we can take this Bill forward, and that the Minister can do all she can to make sure that we take those powers and act on dealing with that very difficult issue.

Single-use plastics have been a continual frustration of mine. I have spoken to constituents on many occasions, and I feel that, when we walk into a supermarket, we see shelves of plastic with food inside, rather than buying food alone. This Bill makes important provisions to deal with some of that. When we see that supermarkets such as Tesco had a 2.2% increase in single-use plastics between 2017 and 2019, it proves that this issue is incredibly difficult and that we need to ensure that we take the powers in this Bill and the subsequent Act to deal with it.

I also rise to speak in support of my new clause 28, which is on food labelling, and specifically with a focus on food miles. I am tabling this amendment today because I think it is incredibly important that there is complete transparency about the food that we buy. I know that a lot of my friends from Camden and Islington are great fans of avocados, but being of a farmer’s son, I prefer West Dorset sausage to avocados, and I would rather get that meat from just round the corner, rather than have avocados that have been flown thousands and thousands of miles across the world to be brought here. I am not here to speak in support of, or in opposition to, a particular meat agenda or a particular vegetarian or vegan agenda, but it is important that we see complete transparency about what we buy, so that we as individuals and the consumers of the nation can make an informed decision that prioritises the environmental needs that we all have.

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, at the conclusion of the Third Reading of the Agriculture Bill, very kindly offered that the Government would undertake a consultation into food labelling, and she said that that would commence this year. I would be very grateful indeed if her colleague, the Minister here today, was able to share some more details on that, because I am conscious that a substantial amount of time has passed since then. Once we have that labelling in place, I believe that we should then build on that. That labelling will indeed allow consumers to make the choice, along the same lines that my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling outlined earlier, but going forward I want that labelling to be expanded. I also want it to clearly identify, for meat products, whether or not that meat has been humanely slaughtered, because that is increasingly important in this country. In concluding my remarks, I should be extremely grateful to hear from the Minister on these points, and to see exactly what the Government will do in respect of my proposed new clause.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley 4:45, 26 May 2021

I was elected on the back of the greenest manifesto Labour had ever proposed. We understood the scale of the climate crisis and set forward proposals to rapidly decarbonise our economy by protecting precious natural resources.

Representing the constituency of Cynon Valley, which lies in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons in south Wales, I, along with my constituents, take great pride in our natural environment, which we are determined to protect. As Members of Parliament we are in an extremely privileged position, and it is our duty to act on climate change for the sake of future generations. That is why I am disappointed with this Bill. Now that we have left the EU, it is essential that we set out in law certain environmental protections, but the measures in the Bill are not ambitious enough. Thankfully, others in the Chamber have proposed a more meaningful course of action. Many of my friends and colleagues have tabled amendments and new clauses that I support.

New clause 12 would end the deeply damaging practice of fracking, which can cause seismic activity, water contamination and ill health to local residents. The Welsh Government have blocked the process for more than five years, and I call on the UK Government to follow suit.

New clause 24 would extend the Government’s peat burning ban to cover all upland peat in England. Peat plays a crucial role in naturally trapping and storing carbon, and is among the most valuable ecosystems on earth. We need to be encouraging these habitats rather than allowing their destruction. The Welsh Government have again gone further, and last year laid out a five-year plan for peatland restoration. In the south Wales valleys, including in my constituency of Cynon Valley, 540 hectares of peatland have been reintroduced, which will not only create a vibrant habitat and trap carbon dioxide but reduce the growing risk of forest fires.

New clause 29 would go a long way towards addressing the impact of the Bill on public health and, in particular, air pollution, which is responsible for an estimated 64,000 premature deaths annually in the UK. People are starting to challenge this. I was proud to be involved with the brilliant local campaign in my constituency against waste incineration led by the Valleys For Tourism Not Trash campaign. I am absolutely delighted that that campaign was successful. I am also extremely pleased that the Welsh Government have now placed a moratorium on the building of such incinerators, and again call on the UK Government to follow suit.

Wales has recognised that we have a climate emergency that is an existential threat. The new Senedd now has a Minister for Climate Change. I am especially proud that we already have an ambitious national forest plan to enhance and create woodland habitat in a connected way across Wales. That will have a key role in replacing fossil fuels, storing carbon, and helping us to cope with the effects of a changing climate. I applaud the Welsh Government for committing to ban the use of single-use plastic. The UK Government must also give this topic the priority it needs if we are to save the planet. This requires a radical change of economic emphasis supporting the creation of at least 1 million new green jobs.

While there are many aspects of this Bill that I welcome, it does not go far enough or fast enough to ensure that future generations can enjoy the world and not suffer the consequences of our abuse and misuse of our resources.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

The world faces a catastrophic climate change crisis, yet this Bill falls very short, particularly at a time when we are the host of COP26 and should basically be taking on the leadership of the entire world. After all, global emissions are up by 60% since the Kyoto conference in 1990, while global temperatures are up by 1.2° C on the 1850 base rate and will hit the 1.5° level by 2030 on the current forecast, which will mean loss of land and major problems of migration, food loss and so on. Meanwhile, some 7 million people are dying every year from air pollution caused by fossil fuel extraction and use. I am therefore very pleased that new clause 29 attempts to link human health with environmental health. After all, on the latest figures, 64,000 people a year die from air pollution at a cost of £20 billion to our economy.

Of course, we know that air pollution was registered as the cause of death in the tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah. In the prevention of death report that followed, the coroner recommended that we should enforce in law the World Health Organisation air pollution limits. Following a meeting I had with the Environment Secretary and Ella’s mother, Rosamund, the Environment Secretary said that he would look again at that, and I hope he will when the Bill comes back from the Lords.

We know that air pollution is worse in poorer and more diverse communities, and according to the Max Planck Society, it increases the risk and level of death from coronavirus by around 12%. Other studies have been done by, for example, Harvard, showing that link. Dominic Cummings has just reminded us that coronavirus is airborne and that more emphasis needs to be put on that, but we also need to place more emphasis on air pollution. We know that the infection rate, as well as the death rate, is higher with air pollution. We therefore need legally binding WHO limits.

Let me turn to fracking. Methane emissions are 80 times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming. Given that and the fact that we know from satellite photography that fracking is responsible for 5% fugitive emissions—in other words, 5% of the methane is leaked—fracking is worse than coal for climate change and should simply be banned.

We need more trees, not just to absorb but to store carbon by including them in infrastructure and construction instead of concrete. If concrete were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. I am glad that, as my hon. Friend Beth Winter said, Wales is taking a lead on this. In Wales, we have appointed a Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, who also represents Swansea West. She will push forward plans for a national forest and using wood in building. In contrast, in the UK, most of the hardwood is burned, causing not just climate change but harmful pollution. Hardwood should be pulped and put into insulation in construction instead.

Brexit means that we have more food miles. We need an initiative in COP26 to put carbon pricing into trade. China, for example, now generates 28% of global carbon emissions, with more emissions per head than Britain. We therefore need a joined-up approach, led by the Bill, that includes trade, transport, health, local government, planning and housing, not just a DEFRA-led effort, which will make little difference to the massive problems we face.

In summary, we need much more, much sooner from all our Departments. We need to improve the Bill dramatically to make a real difference and take global leadership.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a serving local councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association, which I will reference during my contribution.

There are many things to be welcomed in the Bill. The first, which is particularly important to my constituents, is that we will see some improvement in air quality as a result of the measures in it. It is clear that, in many respects, legislation is the start, not the finish of a process. Different Departments will issue a great deal of guidance to local authorities and other bodies to set out the mechanics of how the powers will be used and improvements brought about.

On air quality, I particularly highlight the need to ensure that local authorities and any others who are charged with responsibility for implementing the measures, achieving the targets and delivering the plans have meaningful powers that enable them to tackle sources of air pollution. In the context of London, where my constituency is—the capital, which has busy and congested roads—we need to ensure that local authorities have effective powers at their disposal to tackle issues such as vehicle idling, which contributes so much to air pollution, especially near schools, hospitals and other places where vulnerable people are placed at risk.

Let me move on to plastics. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Chris Loder, who has been very active in bringing issues around plastics to the Government’s attention throughout the debates on the Bill. It is particularly important that local authorities ensure that in the provisions for producer responsibility, sufficient funding finds its way to those who will then be processing the plastic for recycling. Producers in the UK pay very little by comparison with those in most other developed countries in Europe towards the cost of recycling their products, and therefore that cost is heavily subsidised, if not entirely met in many places, by council tax payers. So we should ask those who are making these products that are then polluting our environment to ensure that they are providing the facilities and resources required to make that recycling happen in reality.

On the wider impact on recycling systems, a number of Members welcomed consistency around local authority recycling practices. We need to recognise that the sale of the recyclable elements of household waste already makes a significant contribution to the cost of household waste collections; it affects all our constituents, although there are different systems in use around the country. We need to ensure that programmes such as deposit return schemes do not hit council tax payers by removing so much of the recyclable material from household waste collections that a significant increase in council tax is needed to subsidise that difference. We need to make sure that when that guidance is issued to local authorities it reflects the discharge of their responsibilities on the ground.

I very much support the point made by a number of Members that we need to look at the whole picture for all kinds of goods and services so that we recognise the wider environmental impact, including the impact that might happen elsewhere. We are simply kidding ourselves and our constituents if we are offshoring pollution rather than dealing with it directly by ensuring that what we do in our behaviour and the way we deliver services is reducing the environmental impact.

I finally want to touch on a couple of issues that impact in particular on the natural environment and biodiversity. I very much welcome the work my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne has done in strengthening and making more robust the policy on sewage discharge. The River Colne, a beauty spot that abuts my constituency and is very popular with my constituents, is significantly affected by sewage discharge. Again, we need to ensure that there are effective measures that make a substantial difference.

On biodiversity net gain, I simply make a request to Ministers that when the guidance is issued about how that will be managed through the planning process, we ensure as far as possible that biodiversity gain through planning is maintained locally, so that the local communities that see the impact of the developments in their area also see the benefit of the biodiversity gain envisaged through the planning system.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire

I rise to speak on fracking, an issue close to my constituents’ hearts and mine, and to reject clearly the unnecessary and transparently political new clause 12. Since I was elected to this place in 2017, I have spoken out against fracking, held debates, proposed Bills, submitted questions, chaired an all-party group, spoken at planning committees and hearings and appeals against QCs, and generally made a nuisance of myself to the Government Front Bench about fracking, because I wanted it stopped at Marsh Lane and in North East Derbyshire, and I make no apologies for that. I was delighted when the Government put a moratorium on fracking, and I am glad to have played a very small role in getting us to that place.

Yet suddenly, a year and a half after the moratorium was imposed, we have a burning issue—a problem so acute that a series of straw men have been wheeled out from the Opposition Benches over the course of this debate, creating the need to ban something that is effectively dead already. Cat Smith, who is not in her place at present, said we only have empty words. Well, empty words have a funny way of stopping any fracking happening since that moratorium in late 2017, and of ensuring that licences in her own county were partially handed back by the operator of the fracking area.

Why is it that 49 Labour MPs have suddenly decided that there is new urgency to legislate on this matter? There is not. We know there is no urgency, precisely because those 49 Labour MPs have shown almost zero interest in that issue in recent times. Forty-three of those 49 were in Parliament between 2017 and 2019. Where were those hon. Members when the all-party parliamentary group on fracking, which I chaired, talked about all these issues in extraordinary detail?

Where were any of those hon. Members in the last debate held in this place on fracking, on 28 September 2020, called by a Conservative, when the Minister said that

“fracking will not be taken forward in England” and that we should

“accept victory”?—[Official Report, 28 September 2020; Vol. 681, c. 133-34.]

How have they been using this place since the moratorium announcement in late 2017, if they think it is so deficient, and is now so clearly burnt in the depths of their souls? I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that any of those 49 people have spoken about fracking in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall since that point.

Let us be clear about what the amendment is. It is not a thoughtful, careful proposal that seeks to resolve an urgent issue. It does not solve a burning problem that burns up and down the land. The placards are not waving high for Government intervention. Nor does it necessarily, technically, fix the problem before us. The definition put forward by the Opposition would not have stopped any of the three fracks that have occurred since 2011.

Those of us who were involved in the campaign in the previous Parliament do not need the Labour Front Bench trying to hijack and politicise the issue once again, when it has been solved. We do not need the pretence that those who signed the amendment actually care about the issue, when they were nowhere to be seen when it mattered, when we were actually trying to stop this industry. It is almost as though, when the Opposition run out of amendments to table, they just pull out an old favourite and see which Bill they can attach it to.

Fracking is over. The battle is won. The industry has packed up. It is done. And I will not support an amendment that pretends otherwise, to a Bill that has nothing to do with energy, which will cause unnecessary worry to constituents who have been worried about it for many years, and which is clearly a shoddy attempt to play political games.

The shadow Minister opened her remarks by saying that she hoped to make this issue less party political. Great. Stop playing political games. Reject the amendment.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Independent, Leicester East 5:00, 26 May 2021

With the highest-ever temperatures recorded in the Arctic circle, and with just 3% of the world’s ecosystems remaining intact, we cannot delay taking radical action to save our planet and future generations, yet this Environment Bill does not go nearly far enough to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must raise our ambition to forge a new social settlement, a green new deal, to rebuild the country with a more just and sustainable economy. We must fight for a society in which public health always, always comes before private profit, and it must be the big polluters and corporate giants who bear the costs, not ordinary people. It is vital that those responsible for climate chaos—the fossil-fuel companies and big polluters—are held responsible for their actions.

Fracking is bad for people and the environment; therefore we must ban it. It is vital that the protection of all workers and communities is guaranteed during the transition to a carbon-free, renewable-energies future. As we rebuild our economy from the ruins of a pandemic, it is possible for the Government to create 1 million green jobs with a programme of investment in renewable energy, flood defences and a resilient health and care service.

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the need for communities like Leicester to have access to clean air, green spaces, streets for people and interconnectivity. That is why we must also introduce full-fibre broadband free at the point of use, a mass house insulation programme, and a green, integrated public transport system.

Air pollution has reached dangerous levels under this Government, with 60% of people in England now breathing illegally poor air. Many of my constituents have contacted me regarding the need for a stronger environmental Bill for clean air in Leicester. The Government must enshrine the World Health Organisation’s guideline for damaging particulates known as PM2.5 in law via the Environment Bill. Currently the Bill falls short and merely commits to setting a new, unspecified target by 2022. Our current legal limit for PM2.5 is twice as high as the World Health Organisation recommends. I urge the Government to adopt a clear legal commitment to reduce these particulates, which, as we know, contributed to more than 4 million deaths in 2016.

Without much more ambitious Government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. This will cause unmanageable ecological disruption and could cost millions of lives—most sharply in countries of the global south, which have contributed the least to climate change. To ensure a global green new deal, our Government must strongly consider the cancellation of global south debt to enable investment in public health. The UK must also end international fossil fuel finance and rapidly step up financial support for a just global energy transition.

The upcoming COP26 in Glasgow provides a crucial opportunity to reset our relationship to climate justice, yet the conference risks excluding representatives from countries that are most at risk from climate breakdown. Every possible step must be taken to ensure that COP26 is accessible for all and that it is a turning point for more radical climate action. While we recover from the pandemic, a green ambition must be hard-wired into everything we do as we rebuild our economy. To achieve this, the Government must raise their ambitions, seriously rewrite the Environment Bill, work with the Opposition and begin to act on the scale that the climate crisis demands.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Nos. 17, 19, 20 and 21 on the list have withdrawn, so we go straight to the final speaker from the Back Benches: Jim Shannon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is not often that four speakers ahead of me drop out; does that mean that I have 20 minutes to speak? I know the answer to that—you don’t have to tell me.

I am really pleased to speak on a matter of such importance. We have to get this right from the outset. I welcome the commitment of the Minister and the Government to the Bill. I was extremely pleased to see enhanced measures in the Queen’s Speech, as anything that we can do to enhance the impact of the Bill is welcome.

We have a responsibility to the generations that follow to be the gatekeepers—to instil in them a passion for our environment and a duty to be the best we can, even if it means that life is a little bit tougher. Whether our rubbish sorting takes longer, whether we spend longer at the recycling centre or whether we must leave goods to a local charity shop, we must all play our role. I remember very well when my council went into recycling and many people objected to it—probably just for the sake of objecting—but today every one of us energetically and physically recycles all the products in our house: everything that should be, in the blue bin; glass in the glass bin; the grey bin for the ordinary stuff that we had before; and the brown bin for the stuff that goes elsewhere.

I want to ask two questions. The Government’s role is to provide a Bill that enforces statutory obligations and bodies, and I support them in that aim. I was contacted by the Law Society, which has raised some concerns in reference to clause 22 that I wish to outline. It says that the appointments process for the chair and non-executive members should be strengthened so that the Secretary of State does not have sole authority over appointments. The Law Society welcomes the proposed OEP, which must play a central role in ensuring that institutions and organisations, including Government Departments, meet their environmental responsibilities. In order for the OEP to be effective in fulfilling this role, it is essential that it is fully independent from the Government.

The Government have stated that they intend the OEP to be an independent authority that is capable of holding the Government to account. If that is the case, it is exactly what the Law Society wishes to see; however, the Law Society is concerned that certain provisions for the OEP in the Bill could impinge on its independence and potentially undermine its ability to carry out its functions effectively. Will the Minister say whether issue has been addressed to the Law Society’s satisfaction?

Next I wish to speak about an issue that has not come up yet—well, it has come up in respect of the introduction, but my suggestion has not. I do not expect the Minister to endorse my request right away. It is an unusual request but one in respect of which my local council back home has brought in a pilot scheme, and I feel it is important. The carrier bag scheme run by the Government here and all the regional Governments was exceptional and it has done great stuff. It brought in a revenue fund that could then be used for different projects across the whole area.

I have a genuine request to make, on behalf of constituents who have spoken to me, for a scheme for the use of single-use nappies. I bring this request forward because of the figures, which show that around 3 billion single-use nappies are thrown away annually in the UK, costing local authorities some £60 million per year. I have three grandchildren under the age of two, so perhaps my two daughters-in-law are in that category. As we know, the vast amounts of raw materials used for production and disposal means that the life-cycle of a nappy can generate as much CO2 as 15,000 plastic bags and around half a tree in fluff pulp per child.

I bring this request forward because reusable nappies use 98% fewer raw materials and generate 99% less waste. They deliver savings of more than £1,000 for parents. My local council back home, Ards and North Down Borough Council, brought in a pilot scheme. Is it possible that by providing starter packs to parents, we may be able to encourage those who are able to do so to take up this way of helping the environment? We could use this legislation to encourage the Government, the regional Governments and others to provide the funding packages to encourage the use of reusable nappies for those who want to do it but do not know how and when to start that journey. It might not be something that the Minister can do today, but perhaps she can give us some encouragement that it might happen.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I again thank all Members who tabled amendments and who contributed to this afternoon’s debate, demonstrating yet again the strength of feeling and the desire to improve and enhance the environment through this landmark Environment Bill. I can only say that I was slightly disappointed that the shadow Minister, Ruth Jones, did not quite seem to grasp the Bill’s intricacies, which together will provide such a framework to protect the environment, but I know, because she was a great Committee member, that in her heart of hearts she really does support the Bill.

I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, who raised many issues that which will be tackled in the Bill, not least through the electronic tracking of waste. I hope that my hon. Friend Sir David Amess welcomes the nature target that we have just announced and the measures on biodiversity net gain, all of which will help to achieve the things he is so proud of and pushing for. I thank Claudia Webbe for her comments. I assure Jim Shannon that we are indeed exploring reusable nappies. I certainly used them for one of my children and we are looking at their use, so I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion.

Let me turn to new clause 12, on shale gas extraction. The Government set out their position in full via a written statement to the House on 4 December 2019. The Government will take a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consent. That sends a clear message to the sector and to local communities that, on current evidence, fracking will not be taken forward in England. The moratorium will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided that addresses the concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity. Such evidence has yet to be presented and the moratorium remains. I thank my hon. Friend Lee Rowley who, with all his knowledge, spoke with such authority on the subject. I could not have put the case better myself. He stressed what a game the Opposition were playing in tabling the new clause.

On new clause 19, tabled by my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, and new clause 28, tabled by my hon. Friend Chris Loder, although we are sympathetic to the principles of the sustainability of labelling, existing voluntary schemes already provide consistent and recognised tools that consumers can use to reduce their environmental impact when purchasing food.

However, I would like to give assurances that we are working with industry and the Competition and Markets Authority on plans to produce guidance to businesses on how best to improve their transparency in relation to claims about environmental impact. We will also investigate opportunities to review other aspects of food labelling when we have the outcomes of Henry Dimbleby’s independent review of the food system in the early summer and then the food strategy White Paper from the Government within six months.

New clause 24 deals with the burning of peat. We have committed to exploring the environmental and economic case for extending peat protections further in the England peat action plan, which was published just last week. In that plan, we committed to immediately fund 35,000 hectares of peatland restoration by 2025 and to consult on the banning of horticultural peat. We are making great progress on that and working with industry. On new clause 29, which was tabled by Debbie Abrahams, the Government remain committed to transparency and this Bill introduces a robust framework of monitoring, planning and reporting on the impact of the Bill’s measures. In Committee, I talked over and over again about the procedures we have in place in the Bill for all that statutory cycle of monitoring, planning and reporting, and the requirement to set out interim environmental targets up to five-yearly. The Government will be required to report extensively on environmental progress.

To conclude, I wish to thank all Members who have tabled amendments and contributed to this debate. They have raised so many points and we have heard about so many passions, be it brown long-eared bats, hedgehogs, kestrels, soil, trees or peat. The vociferous and broad support across the House for the environmental agenda is wonderful to see. Harnessing this energy will drive forward our actions on the environment, enabled by the measures in this landmark Bill. I was particularly thrilled by the recent announcement setting out our actions for nature recovery, including new legally binding targets to halt nature’s decline and this forthcoming Green Paper. I believe that this legislation will be pivotal in giving us the paradigm shift we need to bring back species and habitats from the brink, to restore our depleted natural environment, to see sparkling clean waters and bathing waters we can all use and enjoy, and to ensure that UK companies play no part in illegally deforesting the lungs of the world. We will also deliver the clean air that we all deserve. I am so proud to be part of this Bill, to be part of the DEFRA team and the amazing Bill team, and to have worked with everyone across the House, including the environment Committee, to bring forward this Bill. I absolutely commend it to the House.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15, 26 May 2021

This has been an important debate, and I am grateful to all colleagues who have shared their thoughts on how we can make this Bill the strong and comprehensive piece of legislation that our environment is crying out for. As I indicated in my opening remarks, at every stage of this Bill Labour has proposed fair amendments. Disappointingly, all of them were defeated by this Minister and her Back-Bench colleagues. Not one of the amendments was partisan and not one was done to play games, but all were tabled to make this Bill fit for purpose. Today, new clauses 12 and 24 would do just that. I am also grateful to the many colleagues who put their names to our new clauses, and I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams for her passionate speech and for her new clause 29, which has the support of those on these Benches. I support her call on the Government to put the WHO guidelines into the Bill. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and give a big, non-partisan thank you to the indefatigable hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). At this point, I wish gently to respond to Deidre Brock, who claimed that the UK was not first to declare a climate emergency. I respectfully remind her that this Parliament was the first to declare a climate emergency, in May 2019. I should remember that, as I made my maiden speech during that debate, and let us not forget that that debate was led by Labour Members.

In moving new clauses 24 and 12, Labour has attempted to give effect to the promises made by Conservative Ministers, who are pretty good at talk, which is great, but we on the Labour Benches prefer to see action rather than words. I have heard what the Minister said—I listened to her very carefully—and I thank her for her comments, but, once again, I am disappointed. Sadly, normal service has been maintained. We have a Secretary of State who did not want to reach out and work with us to make this Bill fit for purpose.

New clause 12 is actually helpful to the Government. I know that fracking was a glaring omission, but we are trying to make sure that their forgetfulness does not result in bad policy. I especially wish to mention Lee Rowley for his passionate audition for ministerial office, but I remind him that the definition of “moratorium” is a temporary ban. If he wants to ban fracking for ever more, he should vote with us on our amendment.

I hope that the Minister will take new clause 12 in the spirit in which it was intended and accept it as an easy way of making this Bill better. I will be pushing both new clause 12 and new clause 24 to a vote. They are important issues and will fill glaring holes in this Bill.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 17 Environment Bill — New Clause 12 — Well Consents for Hydraulic Fracturing: Cessation of Issue and Termination

A majority of MPs voted to permit hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract hydrocarbons from the ground.

Aye: 216 MPs

No: 357 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Absent: 71 MPs

Absent: A-Z by last name

The House divided: Ayes 216, Noes 357.

Question accordingly negatived.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published below.