Clause 130 - Extent

Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 24th November 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:25 am, 24th November 2020

I beg to move amendment 231, in clause 130, page 116, line 31, at end insert

“except that section (Use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity) and Schedule (Use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity) (use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity) extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

This amendment provides that NC31 and NS1 extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 31—Use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity.

Government new schedule 1—Use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity.

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

May I be the first to congratulate you on becoming a grandfather, Mr Gray, and to welcome Frederick to the world? He has arrived on a really auspicious day for our global footprint. I hope that he will be very proud when he is a bit more grown-up and reads in Hansard what his grandpa said—hopefully he might just read long enough to read this speech as well. I think that he will be rather proud also that his grandpa was part of this Committee.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

That is enough congratulations, but thank you very much.

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

I am delighted to discuss amendment 231, new clause 31 and new schedule 1. Consumers in this country are increasingly concerned that they are contributing to environmental destruction overseas, and they are right to be concerned: almost 80% of deforestation is caused by agriculture, including produce that we use here in the UK. Globally, half of all recent tropical deforestation was the result of illegal clearance for commercial agriculture and timber plantations. Shockingly, the figure increases to 90% in some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, including parts of the Amazon.

We will be the first country in the world to legislate to tackle this illegal deforestation by setting a framework of requirements on business. Businesses will be prohibited from using forest risk commodities produced on land that was illegally occupied or used. They will be required to establish a due diligence system for regulated commodities to ensure that their supply chains do not support illegal deforestation, and will have to report annually on that exercise. If businesses do not comply, they should be subject to fines. The measures will extend across the whole of the UK, so that we can work across our nations to tackle illegal deforestation.

As the first country in the world to legislate on this issue, we want to continue to lead the way internationally. Therefore, the measures also require us to review the law’s effectiveness every two years. The review will set out any steps that we intend to take as a result, ensuring that we will take action if we do not see progress. The enabling powers in the framework allow us to adjust certain aspects as deforestation patterns change and technology advances.

The law before us today is not only a win for the environment. It is a win for UK consumers, who will have confidence that the food they eat and the products they use have been produced responsibly. It is a win for responsible businesses in the UK, which will no longer be undercut by those who do not follow the rules. And it is a win for our international partners in producer countries, because this approach will deliver for trade and economic development as well as for the environment. We have seen that in Indonesia, where the introduction of a timber licensing scheme meant that confidence in the provenance of its timber grew, leading to an increase in trade. The value of Indonesia’s worldwide exports of timber products doubled from $6 billion in 2013 to nearly $12 billion in 2019.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for Indonesia, I had the great pleasure of working closely with colleagues from the Department for International Development and in our embassy in Jakarta on helping the Indonesians to find a solution to what was a significant problem for them. Does the Minister agree with me that this measure shows what the UK can do abroad on our environmental policies, as well as at home?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:30 am, 24th November 2020

I thank my hon. Friend so much for his intervention, because he is right to point that out. I must applaud him for the work he did with the UK Government. It was a tricky issue. Timber is an important export for Indonesia, but that must not come at the expense of cutting down its precious rainforests and other forests, with all the knock-on effects that brings for the wider environment. We have the solution for timber, with sustainable timber regulations sorted out, and we are now working on other products. My hon. Friend is right to point out how beneficial that can be all around, with the knock-on effects, and I thank him for that.

As a result of that work in Indonesia, the amount of money made went up, as I said, and deforestation rates were three times lower in areas producing timber covered by the scheme than in other areas, so it worked all around. That shows how driving demand for sustainable products helps not just the people there but nature and the climate—it is an all-round win.

I assure the Committee that the Government intend to move swiftly to bring legislation forward and will lay the necessary secondary legislation shortly after COP26, which we will hold in Glasgow next November. We will consult again to gather views as we develop secondary legislation, and Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise many of the regulations.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

At the risk of incurring your wrath, Mr Gray, I will add my congratulations to those of the Minister on the birth of your grandson. I observe that your grandson shares a name with an esteemed public servant in my city of Southampton, and I trust he will live up to the achievements of that individual even if he does not indeed pursue a great career in environmental conservation and management, which perhaps would be appropriate to today’s proceedings. That is all I am going to say.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Order. I am most grateful to everyone, but no more congratulations. Thank you. But he was born in Brighton, just down the road from Southampton, so pretty close by.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

There we are: the coincidences are raining on each other now.

The Government new clause and new schedule represent a tremendous step forward in action not only in the UK but, as the hon. Member for Gloucester said, abroad. That demonstrates how we can reach beyond our shores in environmental protection and action, as well as in due diligence for conservation, environmental management and climate change purposes. The Opposition wholly welcome these measures. However, why were they so late in coming?

I think we can claim we nudged the Government a little in that direction, because our due diligence new clause, which we will discuss later, is about the wider subject that the Minister mentioned in her remarks and points the way. We hope that the Government will go beyond forestry products and into other areas. We tabled our new clause, which substantially anticipated the Government’s action, before Parliament went into recess for the lockdown. Can the Minister reflect on why these measures were as late as they were? In her opinion, did the nudging of not only Labour but also a large number of national and international environmental groups, who banded together to develop the due diligence way of doing things, have a substantial hand in making sure—albeit a little late in the day—that these new clauses came into being? It was just in time because the Bill will now have these clauses in it, and I hope they will fully survive the rigours of the Bill’s passage through the House and come to be a substantial part of it. I think it will be a very welcome and progressive part of the Bill.

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

I welcome the fact that the Opposition are in agreement and welcome this. Nobody in their right minds would think this is a bad idea. I welcome that and we do share a good relationship, so I thank them for that. Yes, the amendment was tabled and we all listened to it, and indeed we had plenty of people on our side pushing for it as well. This is a global issue. Let us tackle it together globally, which I think the hon. Gentleman will agree is what we are doing.

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

While we are singing from the same hymn sheet and all in harmony, would the Minister agree with over 90% of respondents to the public consultation—there were 63,000 respondents, which is a fantastic result— who felt the legislation could go further and that local law should be strengthened?

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

A great deal of consultation went into this and all of those views were looked at, and then it was considered what would be the best and most positive way forward. Tackling this issue is not straightforward and requires dealing with other governments around the world. One has to tread a careful path, and I believe we have come up with a really workable solution.

To answer the comment by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test about why we did not do this more quickly, the consultation took a long time and we had to take into account a great many views and discussions. We must remember that a lot of this originated from the work done by Sir Ian Cheshire and the Global Resource Initiative. We referenced that way back in March, when I was being asked why the Government were not doing this fast enough. We had the GRI’s summary and we were working up how we could continue to work from its recommendations. That is where we engaged with so many NGOs, particularly the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and WWF, because they are valued partners with a great deal of experience. They have been helpful in inputting into what we have come up with. I hope that is helpful to the shadow Minister and I think we will have a bit more discussion about this later, but I will leave it there.

Amendment 231 agreed to.

Clause 130, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.