It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank Sir Vince Cable for securing this important debate.
As an individual, I welcome the fact that the Government have already banned plastic microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products. Previously, each time someone showered with such products, tens of thousands of microbeads began their tortuous journey into our oceans, putting our marine life at risk. I also welcome the 5p charge that we have introduced for single-use plastic bags, which has reduced their use by approximately 88%, and the deposit return scheme that the Government propose for drink bottles. Such a scheme is not a novel concept for those who, like me, are of a certain vintage. I recall earlier schemes for glass, for bottles of milk, soft drinks or beer, and for jam jars—some hon. Members present may recognise the term “jeelie jars”—which had a value at the Co-operative.
Mr Sheerman made the very good point that giving waste a value helps to reduce or recycle it. That theory stands up well. It is particularly encouraging that plastic bottles of mineral water are no longer on sale here in Parliament and that, to my surprise, the House recently introduced a 25p surcharge for disposable coffee cups. Being a Scots fellow—this may apply to those from Yorkshire as well—I paid it just the once and will not be paying it again, so the system works. Both measures are very sound.
The Chancellor spoke in his spring statement about the Government’s commitment to help to protect critical habitats, including by supporting the Ascension Island Council’s call to designate some of its waters as a marine protected area, having proposed in the 2018 Budget a new tax on the manufacture or import of plastic packaging of less than 30% recyclable material. As in many cases, however, there is a negative side. A recent article on marine conservation by Eleanor Church highlighted the “plastic soup” of waste in the north Pacific vortex, which potentially covers an immense 1.6 million sq km and weighs an estimated 80,000 metric tonnes, which is unimaginable—it is certainly beyond my imagination. Who done it? We done it.