Environmental targets and objectives

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 11:15 am, 20th November 2018

New clause 16 aims to get specific targets into the Bill, to ensure that it meets its objectives in relation to the public goods for which financial assistance is provided in clause 1. Those objectives are all laudable, but verge on the vague. The new clause would include targets and objectives to ensure that air quality is safe; that our fresh waters and seas are in good ecological and environmental status; that our soils are healthy and used sustainably; that the extent, quality and connectivity of habitats is increased, and natural processes are restored; and that the richness of species is maintained, and their abundance is restored to at least favourable conservation standards on land, in fresh water, and at sea.

We know from the Climate Change Act 2008 that legal targets with identified milestones have a proven track record in delivering environmental outcomes. We could have a separate debate about whether we are doing enough to meet the targets in that Act when it comes to future carbon budgets, but that is a matter for another day. We at least have targets that set out the future programme, and also provide farmers with policy certainty and a framework for future investment. I accept that setting out such targets on the face of the Bill would be rather complicated, particularly as we are still looking at quite a lot of the detail about how to measure some of the public goods, reward farmers for meeting them, and so on. Rather, new clause 16 would impose a duty on the Government to bring forward targets and objectives as soon as possible.

During this Committee’s fifth sitting, the Minister said that the Government would do that, and again, I believe he is genuine in wanting to take this forward. He said:

“we have a 25-year environment plan. An environment Bill will come from that, which will set out targets, objectives and commitments to get trends moving in a particular direction. It will give a longer term commitment and buy-in, which successive Governments will work towards.”––[Official Report, Agriculture Public Bill Committee, 30 October 2018; c. 149.]