Theresa Villiers: May I join others, Mr Speaker, in thanking you and your chaplain for your service to the House? You have been particularly kind in enabling me to raise from the Back Benches many issues that really matter to my constituents, and I am profoundly grateful. The Government have introduced a range of measures to improve animal welfare, including a rigorous ban on the ivory trade and mandatory CCTV...
Theresa Villiers: We will be pressing ahead with the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill so that horrific crimes like that can meet with the appropriate punishment. We are consulting on compulsory microchipping for cats to ensure that lost pets can be reunited with their owners, and we have also banned third party sales of kittens and puppies.
Theresa Villiers: As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has said, we believe that it is crucial for all our laws to be properly enforced, including the Hunting Act, and we will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities to ensure that that is the case.
Theresa Villiers: I can of course give my right hon. Friend that assurance. This is a worrying problem, and we are keen to engage with the charities that are involved in trying to address the issue. I wish her well in her retirement and thank her for that question.
Theresa Villiers: I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that, when a Conservative Government are returned to serve in this House, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will be back on the agenda and we will get it on the statute book.
Theresa Villiers: To tackle plastics pollution, we have introduced a world-leading microbeads ban, reduced single-use plastic bag usage by 90% in the main supermarkets, and launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance to tackle the issue globally. We also have a widespread package of measures on plastic pollution in our Environment Bill.
Theresa Villiers: My hon. Friend is correct: current levels of plastic pollution are intolerable, and the Government are determined to tackle them. We will be introducing a system to incentivise plastic packaging producers to use more recyclable material, but also less material in general. We will be banning plastic stirrers and cotton buds. We are introducing a deposit return scheme on drinks containers. We...
Theresa Villiers: Our Environment Bill provides the opportunity for future Governments to set targets on the use of resources and recycling. Reducing the need for single-use plastics is an important part of this, but recycling will also be a crucial part in reaching our goal of eliminating avoidable plastic waste in the coming years. That is why we are seeking to increase the amount of plastic that is...
Theresa Villiers: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I fully agree that technology is going to be crucial if we are to address the concerns that have been expressed in the House today about plastics.
Theresa Villiers: The Government are absolutely determined to crack down on any unlawful waste exports and to ensure that waste that is exported is dealt with appropriately. I wish to emphasise that this Government are doing more or less more than any other Government in the world on this, including by making real progress in ensuring that we protect 4 million sq km of the world’s oceans by the end of next year.
Theresa Villiers: Clause 20(2) of the Environment Bill places a duty on the Office for Environmental Protection to “have regard to the need to act…transparently.” It must publish key documents, such as its strategy, annual report and accounts, and lay them before Parliament.
Theresa Villiers: I assure the hon. Lady that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee will play a key role in the pre-appointment scrutiny of the OEP chairman. I also assure her that the OEP will have a multi-year funding settlement and that Ministers will be required to safeguard its independence. In many ways, the departmental structure will be broadly similar...
Theresa Villiers: There was extensive work between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on the Environment Bill, including the clauses on the OEP. We are grateful that, as a result of that work, large elements of the Bill will apply in Scotland. I understand that the Scottish Government intend, I hope, to create a body that is broadly similar to the OEP, to manage the scrutiny of environmental matters...
Theresa Villiers: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on steering Finn’s law through Parliament. The Government remain absolutely committed to tougher sentences for animal cruelty offences, and we intend to bring the Bill back to the House as soon as possible.
Theresa Villiers: Yes, I can.
Theresa Villiers: I can reassure the hon. Lady that a Conservative Government will put this Bill on the Order Paper very soon after we are re-elected to serve this country.
Theresa Villiers: Waste crime blights local communities and the environment, and we are committed to tackling it. We have given the Environment Agency £60 million extra to tackle waste crime since 2014. The Environment Bill takes forward a number of commitments on preventing, detecting and deterring waste crime.
Theresa Villiers: Householders can check using the carrier’s business name or registration number, which the carrier should be able to give them on request, and they have the opportunity to check those against the details on the Environment Agency website, or by ringing the Environment Agency helpline.
Theresa Villiers: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. Fly-tipping is completely unacceptable, and it is blighting life in rural areas, in suburban areas, such as my constituency, and in urban areas. One thing the Environment Bill will do is facilitate the introduction of electronic waste-tracking, which should assist the law enforcement authorities to crack down on this unacceptable crime.
Theresa Villiers: I am not sure that I could go quite that far. Certainly, in providing extra resources for the Environment Agency, we are absolutely determined to crack down on this deeply antisocial crime. I hope the courts will view it seriously and inflict appropriate punishment.