All 15 contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 26th Feb 2020
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Wed 26th Feb 2020
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Ways and Means resolution & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Money resolution & Ways and Means resolution
Mon 22nd Jun 2020
Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords]
Commons Chamber

Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & Programme motion & 2nd reading & Programme motion
Mon 28th Sep 2020
Tue 26th Jan 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Wed 26th May 2021
Wed 26th May 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading
Mon 7th Jun 2021
Mon 21st Jun 2021
Mon 6th Sep 2021
Wed 13th Oct 2021
Wed 20th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments
Tue 26th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 8th Nov 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords message
Tue 9th Nov 2021

Environment Bill

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
[Relevant documents: Fourteenth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2017-19, Prelegislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1893. Eighteenth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee of Session 2017-19, Scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1951.]
Second Reading
George Eustice Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to open this Second Reading debate on the Environment Bill. In recent decades, our natural world has faced multiple pressures. As a consequence, we face two great global challenges: climate change and biodiversity loss. A million species face extinction, and climate change is piling the pressure on nature, doubling the number of species under threat in the past 15 years. If global temperatures rise by even 1.5°, we will lose even more of our precious life on Earth. As an island nation, we are acutely aware of the devastating effects of plastic pollution on marine life. We need to act now to turn things around. This Government were elected on the strongest-ever manifesto for the environment, and this Bill is critical to implementing that commitment.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Secretary of State is clearly right about the two big global challenges that we face, but does he also recognise that, as a country in our own right, we face a specific challenge with air pollution? Will he explain why he will not commit to the World Health Organisation-recommended legally binding limits on air pollution, to be set and met by 2030?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Bill provides for us to do precisely that by setting targets for PM 2.5. We will want to consult and engage people on exactly what that target should be. It is worth noting that the World Health Organisation has commended this Government’s air quality strategy, saying that it is an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place, and I welcome the Bill because it is a valuable step forward, but does he recognise that particulate pollution is a very real cause for concern, not just in inner cities but in suburban areas such as mine? Will he look at why we cannot use this Bill as an opportunity to advance rapidly towards WHO standards?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I simply say to my hon. Friend that the Bill gives us the powers to set precisely those long-term targets and to monitor our progress towards them. It also contains powers, later in the Bill, to improve our ability to manage air quality and support interventions that will enhance air quality.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I would like to make a little bit of progress. I am conscious of the number of Members who want to speak today.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), who did a lot of groundwork on this Bill. I should also like to record my thanks to my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who has been involved with the Bill from the start.

The Bill is key to this Government’s ambitious environmental agenda. In 2020, as the UK hosts the next climate change conference, COP26 in Glasgow, we will be leading from the front as we write this new chapter for the UK outside the European Union: independent and committed to net zero and to nature recovery. The Government will work to tackle climate change and support nature recovery around the world and here at home, whether through recycling more and wasting less, planting trees, safeguarding our forests, protecting our oceans, savings species or pioneering new approaches to agriculture.

The first half of the Bill—parts 1 and 2—sets out the five guiding environmental principles for our terrestrial and marine environments to inform policy making across the country. These principles are that the polluter should pay; that harm should be prevented, and if it cannot be prevented, it should be rectified at source; that the environment should be taken into consideration across Government policy making; and that a precautionary approach should be taken.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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What action are the Government taking to ensure that carbon offsetting is permanent and long lasting? Greenhouse gases can be in the atmosphere in some cases for hundreds of years, and there is a danger that carbon offsetting could be only temporary, so will the Government look at that point and come forward with proposals on it?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill contains a number of measures relating to a biodiversity net gain. It includes, for instance, a provision on conservation covenants, which will enable a landowner entering into an agreement to plant woodland, for instance, to have a covenant on that land as part of an agreement that would prevent it from subsequently being scrapped.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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The breadth of this Bill and the level of scrutiny that its various versions have already faced are testament to its importance and the hard work of Ministers, colleagues across the House, officials and an enormous number of organisations, yet there are still opportunities to strengthen it. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is open-minded to amendments that strengthen the Bill, particularly on biodiversity net gain? Some of us agree with Greener UK that that ought to be secured and maintained in perpetuity.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend will know that the Government are always open-minded to good amendments. However, she makes a valid point, which is that the Bill’s contents have already been extensively scrutinised. The Bill as presented before Second Reading has taken account of many different views.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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The Secretary of State will be aware that current EU air quality standards are enforced through the courts, with Client Earth and so on having taken the Government to court. Will he accept that this Bill should include an independent agency with teeth that enforces World Health Organisation standards and, ideally, gives the fines to the health service and local government to help treat the damage caused by poor air quality and to reduce pollution locally? The Bill simply does not do that at the moment.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The Bill will establish the Office for Environmental Protection, which will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. Of course, there are remedies in such a process through the usual mechanism of court orders.

The Bill sets out a framework for setting and taking concrete steps towards achieving our ambitious, legally binding long-term targets, and chapter 2 will establish that new, powerful independent Office for Environmental Protection to provide expert, objective and impartial advice on environmental issues and to take a proportionate and transparent approach to issues of national importance concerning the enforcement of environmental law. The OEP will hold this and every future Government to account by reporting on the progress we have made to improve the natural environment, as set out in our published evidence-based environmental improvement plans and targets.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I am going to make some progress.

The annual progress report we published last May showed that 90% of the highest-priority actions from our first 25-year environment plan, which will become our first improvement plan, have either been delivered or are on track. We have heeded the advice of both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne). The OEP will enforce compliance with environmental law where needed, complementing and reinforcing the work of the world-leading Committee on Climate Change.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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Given that clause 40 gives the OEP quite broad prohibitions on the disclosure of information, how will we know what it is up to? Will the Secretary of State explain—he can do so in writing—why we need those prohibitions? Will he confirm now that the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which are so important to public access, will not be interfered with? Will he state in the Bill that there will be no restriction on the public’s access to information through the EIR?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The framework set out in this Bill contains multiple mechanisms through which information is made available. We will be setting targets that will be reviewed every five years. There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. There are many mechanisms through which our public approach to delivering on our targets is made clear.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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I welcome the Bill and its attempt, alongside enhancing the environment, to improve our farmers’ ability to produce food. To that end, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new legally binding environmental targets will take account of the best techniques available to our farming community, so that the targets are eminently achievable?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our Agriculture Bill is currently in Committee, and it includes not only tackling and mitigating climate change, but a wide range of other environmental objectives. The measures and policies in that Bill will indeed contribute to supporting the objectives and targets set out in this Bill. The OEP will provide a free-to-use complaints system for citizens, and it will also have the power, as I said earlier, to take the Government to court.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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One of the issues for so many of our communities is appreciating just how severe the crisis is, particularly for air quality, as we have heard in many interventions. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to put the power with the people and increase investment in monitoring stations? Monitors could be fitted to the refuse lorries that go down every street across the land, which would provide us all with real-time data.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The waste management section of the Bill will provide us with the ability not only to strengthen our requirements on producer responsibility, but to improve our ability to track waste, so that we can ensure that it is disposed of properly.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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I spoke about the traceability of waste to the Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), and heard that the Bill is perfect. However, I urge the Secretary of State to consider my amendment in Committee on the traceability of waste, particularly the end destination of municipal waste, so that residents who recycle know that their recycling will not end up in the oceans.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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While I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, will look carefully at any amendments, the Bill will also give us the legal powers to prevent the exporting of plastic waste to other countries, confirming a manifesto commitment.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Residents in Stafford are concerned about the impact of plastic pollution, and I commend the local organisations, such as Stafford Litter Heroes, that are doing so much to tackle this blight on our beautiful countryside. What steps the Government are taking to implement incentives such as the drinks container deposit return scheme, which would allow everyone to do their bit to protect our planet every day?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill contains new powers for enhanced producer responsibility when it comes to managing single-use plastics or waste more generally, and the Bill will give us the power to extend that to new categories. The Bill will also provide the power to enable us to establish deposit return schemes.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I want to make some progress, because I am conscious that many Members have put into speak today.

The second half of the Bill sets out measures to improve our environment right now. The Bill will enable British business to be part of the solution by incentivising and supporting approaches in the UK that will deliver for our environment. Part 3 will help us to accomplish greater resource efficiency and a better approach to waste through more circular ways of using the planet’s finite resources. It will encourage manufacturers to develop innovative packaging and strong sustainability standards by making them responsible for the entire net cost of disposing of used packaging. It will stimulate the creation of alternatives to the single-use plastics that wreak havoc on the marine environment, while establishing consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across our country and giving us powers to set up deposit return schemes.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I am going to make some progress.

The Bill will improve how we hold to account those who litter, so we can tackle the waste crime that costs our economy over £600 million every year. It will put pressure on businesses to waste less food and get more of the surplus out to those who really need it.

Part 4 deals with air pollution—the greatest environmental risk to human health. Fine particulate matter is the most damaging pollutant, so the Bill makes a clear commitment to set an ambitious, legally binding target that will drive down particulate levels and improve public health. The Bill will give the Government the power to ensure that polluting vehicles are removed from our roads, and it will give local authorities greater capability to improve their local environment, from green spaces to healthier air for everyone to breathe, so that we all lead longer, healthier lives wherever we live and work.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
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I greatly welcome the ambitious proposals in this Bill, and of particular interest to my constituents in Rushcliffe are the measures on recycling. The proposals to standardise which recyclable materials are collected door to door and to include glass and food waste in that list are particularly welcome. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to enact these measures as quickly as possible? Can he give me an idea of the timeframe for these proposals becoming a reality on people’s doorsteps?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point, and we will be consulting on when to deploy the powers in the Bill. It is important that we have greater consistency on recycling and on what local authorities are required to do, so that people play their part and know exactly what is required of them.

Part 5 will facilitate more responsible management of water, so that we have secure, safe, abundant water for the future, supporting a more resilient environment. We know that nature needs our help to recover.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)
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As my right hon. Friend will know, England has 80% of the world’s chalk streams, and successive Governments have failed those chalk streams miserably. The abstraction reforms in this Bill are welcome, but they do not go far enough; nor is there any explicit commitment to building reservoirs, particularly the Abingdon reservoir. Will the Minister reflect on that?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Obviously, I am happy to discuss these matters with my hon. Friend. The Bill has powers to strengthen the abstraction licensing regime and to limit licences that have been established for some time. It will also give us powers to modify some of the legislation on water pollutants, so that we can add additional chemicals to the list, should we need to do so.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Although there is a lot to welcome in the Bill, the Government could achieve a lot more, particularly on water consumption. This is an opportunity to introduce targets for water consumption through labelling mechanisms that allow consumers to decide which products to buy and consume by comparing the amount of water those products use.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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We have consulted on a range of measures on water consumption. We do not think we need additional primary powers in this Bill to take steps to address those issues. We will obviously be responding to the consultation soon.

We know that nature needs our help to recover, so the focus of parts 6 and 7 is to give communities a say if their local authority plans to take down a beloved neighbourhood tree, and public authorities will be required to ensure they conserve and enhance nature across the board.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will make some progress.

Landowners will be able to agree conservation covenants with charities and other bodies, so they can be assured that subsequent landowners will be required to continue the sustainable stewardship they have started. The Bill will require developers to provide a 10% increase for nature, giving them the clarity they need to do their bit for the environment, while building the homes we need across our country.

Nature recovery networks will join up space for species across our country, with local nature recovery strategies capturing local knowledge and mapping habitat hotspots, so that we can target investment where it will have the greatest impact.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will give way one more time.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is being generous in giving way. I apologise for not being able to speak in this debate as I have a Westminster Hall debate at 2.30 pm.

Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that there will be coherence between the environmental land management scheme presented in the Agriculture Bill and empowering people to be supported through the nature recovery schemes?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Yes, that is what we will be doing. Indeed, the design of our future environmental land management scheme will have a local component, and we want to make sure that what we do to promote nature through ELM is consistent with the local nature recovery strategies.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will give way one more time, and then I will make some progress.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way.

This is one of the most important parts of the Bill. We need to restore habitats in this country, with a particular focus on those species—birds, hedgehogs and others—that have declined so dramatically in numbers. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the mandate that goes with these measures, both for the new agency and for local authorities, will focus on helping those species to recover, particularly by recreating the habitats that will enable it to happen?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and the Bill will require local authorities to have their own strategies for biodiversity and for nature recovery. As he identifies, these are exactly the types of issues that we want them to address.

Before I close, I will highlight three new additions to the Bill since it was introduced in the previous Parliament. Clause 19 will mean that, when introducing a Bill, every Secretary of State in every future UK Government will have to include on the face of that Bill a statement on whether the new primary legislation will have the effect of reducing existing levels of environmental protection.

The second addition is that the Bill will create a new power to implement the Government’s manifesto commitment to end the exporting of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries. We will consult industry, non-governmental organisations and local authorities on specific restrictions or prohibitions.

Thirdly, clause 20 will require the Government to take stock biennially of significant developments in international legislation on the environment and then publish a review.

In conclusion, this Government are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it, whether through planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year by the end of this Parliament, transforming our approach to agriculture, tackling air pollution or improving our waste management. This Bill will create the framework to set a long-term course for our country to drive environmental improvement, and I commend it to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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A large number of colleagues want to contribute to this debate, so I give warning that there will be an immediate seven-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing our planet. The actions we take in the next few years will determine whether we can address the climate emergency or whether we pass on to our children the rotten inheritance of living on a dying planet. It is therefore with great responsibility that we debate this Bill.

The Government are calling this a “landmark Bill” and “world-leading legislation,” but I fear that is not quite right. The Secretary of State should be more honest, because this still seems like a draft Bill—a Bill that is not quite there. This is an okay Bill, but by no means the groundbreaking legislation we have been promised.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does he share my concern and disappointment that the Secretary of State did not mention part 8? Part 8 refers to the potential for divergence from the incredibly important regulations on the chemical industry that affect our entire manufacturing sector, not just the chemical industry itself. Does he share my concern that part 8 has the ability to diverge, with serious consequences for most of our economy?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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The details on regression and non-regression are an important part of this Bill. We need to make sure we maintain our high standards, because those high standards, especially in the chemical industry, drive jobs and employment right across the country. Any risk of divergence affects the ability of those products to be sold overseas, which affects the ability of jobs to be held back in our country. I am glad my hon. Friend has raised that issue.

Some hon. Members will remember when Parliament adopted Labour’s motion to declare a climate emergency. For me, it presents us with a very simple challenge: now that Parliament has declared a climate emergency, what are we doing differently? It is a challenge to us as individuals and to businesses, but it is especially a challenge to lawmakers, Ministers and regulators.

Because the climate crisis is real, we need bolder, swifter action to decarbonise our economy and to protect vulnerable habitats. We need to recognise that the crisis is not just about carbon, although it is. It is about other greenhouse gases, too, and it is an ecological emergency, with our planet’s animals, birds and insect species in decline and their habitats under threat.

The water we drink, the food we consume and the fish in our seas are all affected by pollutants, from plastics to chemicals. As we have seen from the floods caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, the climate crisis is also leading to more extreme weather more often and with more severe consequences.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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The National Flood Forum has noted that extreme and flash flooding will be one of the greatest effects of the climate crisis. In my constituency, we have experienced unprecedented flooding, and the River Taff’s levels rose by more than a metre above all previous records. If that is not a wake-up call, I do not know what is. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to act urgently to secure better climate protections, to ensure that all other towns, villages and cities across the world are not impacted in the way my community has been this week?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention and for all the work that she and her Welsh colleagues have been doing in supporting communities that are under water. We need much firmer action. We need a proper plan for flooding that reverses the austerity cuts made to our flood defences, and that removes the requirement for match funding which favours affluent communities over poorer ones. We also need urgent action from the Government to address the worrying aspects of the legacy of the coal industry in Wales, which could result in a real disaster if action is not taken. I encourage her to carry on campaigning on that.

As my hon. Friend has mentioned, Britain is not unique in the challenges facing us in terms of the climate catastrophe. In many cases, what will happen in the global south will be even more disastrous than what is happening in the UK. That is why action cannot wait.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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The hon. Gentleman will be aware of concerns that the Bill does not focus enough on the UK’s global footprint, so does he agree that the Government should introduce a mandatory due diligence mechanism, which would help to reduce the UK’s global footprint?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am grateful for that intervention. It is a good reminder that one way in which we have decarbonised in the past few years has simply been by exporting our carbon; we export not only waste, but the production of the most carbon-intensive products that we use. The hon. Gentleman raises a good point.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I will make some progress before taking further interventions, mindful of the people who are to follow.

As a nation, we need a gold-standard Environment Bill. I agree with the Minister that we need world-leading legislation, but this is not it. This still looks like a draft Bill; there has not been complete pre-legislative scrutiny for the entire Bill, which I think it needs; it lacks coherence as between its different sections; and it lacks the ambition to tackle the climate crisis as a whole with a comprehensive and renewed strategy. Labour will be a critical friend to Ministers during this process. We will be not be opposing the Bill today, but in that spirit we hope that Ministers will look seriously at adopting the measures we will put forward to improve and strengthen it, especially in Committee.

I have a concern about the positioning of the Bill: it has been spun so hard by successive Governments, and Secretaries of State in particular, that it cannot possibly deliver the grand soundbites that it has been set up as doing. That means that the heavy lifting required now to address our decarbonisation efforts and protect our communities may be hampered, because the Bill will not be able to deliver on those lofty promises. I worry that unless we match those grand soundbites with determined action, we will be failing our children and the communities we are here to serve.

In the time left, I want to cover three key areas of concern about the Bill. The first relates to Labour’s belief that non-regression in environmental standards must be a legal requirement. The second relates to how the new Office for Environmental Protection needs to be strengthened, and the third relates to how the ambition of Government press releases needs to be translated into genuine delivery in the Bill. First, on standards and targets, we were promised during the election that the Government would not lower our food standards, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary, in post-Brexit trade deals. As we have already seen with the debates on the Agriculture Bill, Ministers have chosen to leave the door open for the undercutting of British farm and food standards in post-Brexit trade deals. The new Environment Secretary cannot even guarantee that chlorinated chicken or lactic acid-washed chicken will not be allowed into Britain as a result of the US trade deal. The rough ride he got with the National Farmers Union this morning will just be the start if he does not come to the realisation that many of us on both sides of this House have, that the commitment that he and others have given must be put into law. We cannot allow our standards to be undercut, and that principle of not allowing our standards to be undercut applies to this Bill too. We need to ensure that non-regression on environmental standards with the EU is a floor that we must not go below.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am going to make a bit of progress, but I will come back to my hon. Friend in a moment if I can.

We simply cannot allow our environmental standards to be undercut in the same way as our food and animal welfare standards risk being undercut with trade deals. We need to ensure that we have measures approaching dynamic alignment with the European Union so that Britain is not seen as a country with lower standards than our European friends. Lower regulatory standards and lower animal welfare standards, especially on imported food, would see damage to ecosystems and habitats and a downward pressure on regulation in future, which would harm our efforts to decarbonise our economy. I want to see the lofty words said by all the Ministers on the Front Bench and the Prime Minister about non-regression put in the Bill. Where is the legal commitment to non-regression on environmental protections that the British people have asked for? Why is it not clearly in the Bill? If we are to have any hope of tackling the climate emergency in a meaningful way, we need to be aiming towards net zero by 2030, not by 2050.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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On net zero by 2030, does the hon. Gentleman not recognise what the Committee on Climate Change and Baroness Brown recognise, which is that reaching net zero by 2050 will be a huge challenge for this country? Blithely throwing around “2030” as though this is easy is doing a disservice not just this House, but to the people watching.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am a big fan of the hon. Gentleman’s Instagram feed and follow it with great passion, and sometimes I feel a bit disappointed by interventions such as that. We cannot afford not to hit net zero by 2030, but the Government are currently on track for 2099. A far-off date many, moons away will not deal with the climate emergency and will not protect our habitats that need protecting. That drive needs to be there, though we know that for some sectors achieving net zero target by 2030 will be very challenging, and for some achieving it by 2050 will be very challenging, with agriculture being one of those sectors. The NFU’s plan to hit net zero by 2040 is very challenging. If sectors are to deliver net zero by any date, we will need some sectors to go faster and further than others to create carbon headroom, with the requirement that that progress is not double-counted in carbon calculations. Sadly, this supposedly world-leading Environment Bill does not have a single target in it. It contains no duty on Ministers to ensure that Britain decarbonises and stops the climate crisis getting any worse.

Secondly, I turn to the Office for Environmental Protection—the proposed new regulator. I know from previous debates that some Conservative Members are not too keen on the idea of a new Government outfit created in this space, but I agree with Ministers that we need a robust regulator. Sadly, the one being proposed in the Bill is not strong enough in our view. We need it to have teeth, and a remit that is unaffected by Government patronage. It needs to carefully consider the science and to have a bite that would make Ministers think twice about missing their targets. That is what the Office for Environmental Protection should be, but, sadly, that is not what the Bill envisages.

The new regulator does not have true independence from Government. It has no legal powers to hold the Government to account in the way it needs to. Approving its chair via a Government-led Select Committee, on which the Government have a majority, is not sufficient. Given that Ministers have been dragged time and time again through the courts for missing air quality targets, how can we ensure that this regulator would make that a thing of the past and not a repeat prescription?

We need Ministers to do as Members on both sides have suggested today and adopt World Health Organisation targets for air quality and particulates. We need regulators to have teeth to make sure that those targets are enforced, and we need to make sure that the new regulator sits and works in a complementary way in and with what is an already quite congested regulatory space on the environment.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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Prospect the union has written to me expressing its concern that only 100 staff will be employed by the Office for Environmental Protection. Does the shadow Minister share my concerns about this under-resourcing?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Since 2010 we have seen that quangos and regulators can still exist but their ability to deliver that regulation and the quality of that regulation depends on the resources. If a political lever is being applied by Ministers—as I have said before, I have a lot of time for the current Environment Secretary, but that does not necessarily mean that anyone who follows him would have the same approach—if budgets were to be changed and if political patronage were to be applied in terms of the OEP’s leadership and board, that could affect the outcomes. Resourcing does matter.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I will not take any further interventions, so that I can finish my remarks. [Interruption.] I say that, but that would have been a good time for one. I come to the section of my speech about water, unless someone would like to intervene briefly. [Laughter.]

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I do so in the spirit of kindness, but there is a serious point here. Luton airport is in the constituency next to mine, and one concern that many of my constituents have as a result is about air quality. All of our constituencies will have separate issues. What is the hon. Gentleman’s view as to how we can use this Bill to apply to specific instances at specific times—for example, to deal with poor air quality around Luton airport?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman and will like more of his Instagram posts as a reward for that kind intervention. We do need to address air quality around airports and transport modes in particular, but the ability to do that is predicated on the data, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) made the point that he did earlier. It is important to make sure that we take action based on reliable evidence, which means that we need the right testing stations. At the moment there are far too few air-quality monitoring stations. We need to go forward by embracing having monitoring stations on more schools, more GP surgeries and in more areas with a greater level of public dwelling. That is how we should address the issue. For airports in particular, it is about surface access and making sure that people can get to airports more easily.

I have been coughing and spluttering for a while, so I will rush through the rest of my speech so that I do not take up anyone else’s time. As Conservative Members have said, the part of the Bill that deals with water does not go far enough to deal with some of the issues relating to water poverty, or do anything to address per capita consumption or meaningful water labelling or to solve the challenge of where we are going to get the water that we need for the homes we need to build in future. For the Bill to be genuinely world leading, I would have hoped that the Government would adopt some of the current groundbreaking ideas in water policy, such as water neutrality, which is the idea that for every new home that we build we will not provide any more water resources—they will be offset by water efficiency in our existing housing stock. There are some really grand opportunities and fantastic water innovations, which is why we need the Bill to go further on water efficiency in our homes, actions on leaks and investment in water-efficient technologies. We also need a war on leaky loos, as that is important.

I would like the Government to look at a commitment whereby the water industry moves to using 100% renewable energy within the next five years. Ministers already have the power to do that, given the regulatory powers of Ofwat and DEFRA.

Finally, the Secretary of State has already mentioned that the Bill includes a section on trees that will allow trees to be chopped down in a different way. The Bill does not include any new powers to plant trees. That seems to be an omission: I imagine Members from all parties will look at the Bill and say, “Surely that’s not right.” Given that the Government are missing their tree-planting target by 71% already, further powers to chop down trees do not seem to be the priority. We need to look into not only how to plant more trees but at different types of biodiversity and habitats, and make sure that carbon is sequestered in the right way. That is really important, because if we are to address the loss of species, both in the UK and globally, we need to take action.

COP26 provides us with a global platform to showcase the very best of our global thinking, our action and our legislation. Currently, the Bill does not deliver the groundbreaking global platform that we need to take into COP26. I hope that Ministers will take seriously the concerns that I have raised and that my Opposition colleagues will address when they speak later, because there is a real desire on both sides of the House to improve the legislation and make it as genuinely world leading as the Secretary of State aspires for it to be. To that end, I invite the Secretary of State to work with us to improve the legislation; simply voting down every amendment so that we keep a clean sheet will not deliver that. I hope that he will take that challenge in the spirit in which it is meant so that we can work together to improve the legislation. The climate crisis needs to be addressed and it will not be sufficiently addressed if we allow the Bill to pass unaltered.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on the Second Reading of the Environment Bill. I am pleased that the Government have reintroduced the Bill and I am also pleased that there is a degree of co-operation with the Opposition. It is important that we get the Bill absolutely right.

In the previous Parliament, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the previous Bill, and I am pleased that the legislation has moved towards some of our recommendations. For example, I welcome the fact that the Government will set a multi-annual budget for the Office for Environmental Protection and have included climate change within its remit. We just need to make sure that there is enough money for the OEP to run properly.

I wish to make three points about how the Bill can be improved. First, concerns have been expressed that in some areas, such as target setting, the Bill might allow a weakening of standards—for example, on air quality. I welcome the plan to set a target for particulate matter, but it is planned only for 2022, and we do not know how ambitious the target might be. At this early stage, I urge the Government to set an example and match the World Health Organisation guidelines for dangerous emissions such as particulate matter. The British Heart Foundation estimates that the number of heart attacks and stroke deaths linked to air pollution could exceed 160,000 by 2030, unless action is taken. DEFRA has already carried out a study that shows that it can achieve World Health Organisation standards of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, so I urge the Government to set that target. Let us put that target into law now and use the Bill to improve human health as well as our natural environment.

Secondly, it is vital that we set up the Office for Environmental Protection now that we are outside the EU; however, it needs to be independent of Government and have the teeth to bite. The OEP will not be independent if it is constantly worrying about having its budgets cut, so will the Government commit to a multi-annual budget settlement, the enshrinement in law of which I would welcome?

Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) (DUP)
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I think we all agree that we certainly do not want an OEP that is a toothless tiger; we want one that can react to and govern the climate and nature emergency in which we find ourselves. We need clarity as to whether the OEP will be set up, particularly in England and Northern Ireland, as of 1 January 2021.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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Naturally, there is the matter of how the OEP works with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, but I agree that it needs to have those powers. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have listened to the hon. Lady’s intervention.

The appointments process in the setting up of the OEP should follow the Office for Budget Responsibility model, in which the Treasury Committee can veto the Chancellor’s choice. I am sure that my great friend the Secretary of State would not mind giving away some of his new fiefdom to the EFRA Committee, but we will wait and see. I offer that to him—or perhaps he might offer it to me.

My final point on the OEP is that my Committee concluded that judicial review is not the most appropriate enforcement mechanism for environmental cases because it focuses on process rather than outcomes and leaves the decision making to the lawyers. That is a really important point. I welcome the tribunal model in the Bill, because I hope that it will allow environmental specialists to have a role. We need practical solutions for when the Government are in breach—such as we have with air-pollution plans—rather than lawyers and going through process all the time. We really want to make sure that we get the experts in place.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend believe it is necessary to make sure that there is a time limit for the investigations that the OEP might undertake, so that we can see a speedy reaction to any issues that may arise?

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. We do not want to waste years in the courts; these things have to be done quickly. We need practical solutions for when the Government are in breach, just as we have with air pollution plans. I am still concerned that the environmental review outlined in the Bill is just a judicial review by another name. We have a great opportunity to build on our strong commitment to the environment. We all want to leave the environment in a better place than we found it. Will the Secretary of State look again at some of our Select Committee proposals, because the Bill can still be strengthened in many areas? One final point on the OEP is that the judicial review is not the most appropriate enforcement mechanism for environmental cases. We therefore need a more practical solution.

Finally, I ask the Government, as we have made a commitment to improve the environment, to look not only at the Environment Bill, but at the Agriculture Bill and the Fishing Bill, because they all fit together. As yet another round of flooding seems likely in the future, the Environment Bill will be important, as will be the Agriculture Bill. Fitting the two together with new land management projects will be a very good way of making sure that we can deliver a catchment-area basis for flooding. We can also improve our environment and work with the water companies on holding more water and on making sure that the reservoirs do not overflow. We can also look at the rewetting of peatland. All of those things can be done, but they must be linked with the Environment Bill.

Finally—I am sure that this is in the minds of Ministers and the Secretary of State—we must ensure that we join up the Environment Bill with the Agriculture and Fishing Bills, and also make sure that, as we drive towards a better environment, we do so across the whole of Government. This cannot just be done by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because things such as delivering on air quality can only be achieved across Government.

I look forward to the Bill being read a Second time. It is taking us in the right direction, but let us also look at the independence of the OEP. We also need to make sure that tribunals deal not just with legal matters, but with environmental matters. With that, I very much welcome the Second Reading of this Bill.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I refer hon. Members to my speech on 28 October when we had the dress rehearsal for this Bill—at least we all know our lines now. None the less, the concerns remain the same, because they have not been addressed: the Bill still lacks in ambition; the Office of Environmental Protection still lacks teeth; the Ministry of Defence is still exempt; the armed forces can still cause environmental havoc; national security is still off limits for environmental consideration; renewable energy still does not get the big licks it should be getting; and this Bill is still, in my view, insipid and weak.

Worse than that, clause 18 should force Ministers to consider the environment when making policy, but, as I have already said, it exempts the military and national security. It also exempts tax, spending and the allocation of resources. In other words, it exempts the main thrusts of Government policy—the biggest tools in the Government cupboard. If resource considerations do not take environmental concerns into account, we will hardly be driving Government policy towards good environmental goals.

If taxation policy does not have a weather eye on environmental policy, it misses the opportunity to ensure that the polluter pays. It misses the chance to engage Government’s biggest lever of public policy. Equally, if spending decisions are not environmentally aware, then the Government are not environmentally aware. If the Government were serious about delivering environmental benefits, that would have been the key point of the Bill —it would have been proclaiming a commitment to change, to improvement, to making a future unlike the past.

If there really were an environmental heart to this Government, it would be at the heart of this Bill. It would tie all governmental resourcing decisions into improving the environment, and into considering the environmental impact of policies. It would put the environment at the middle of decision making. It did not happen; it has not happened. This Bill is just ticking a box to say that the gap left by Brexit is being filled, but that filler is not reaching the edges of that gap.

Even the hiatus of an election and the inordinately long time it has taken to bring this Bill back have not offered the Government enough time to make improvements to the Bill. Still, there is nothing that will force England’s water companies to address the leakage from their pipes to conserve that resource. The clue to decent performance there, of course, is to remove the profit motive and have water publicly owned, as it is in Scotland.

The Bill still does not lend strength to enforcement. There are still no strong compliance powers for the new watchdog, the OEP, in the Bill and those that it will have will be restricted to wagging a finger at backsliding public bodies. This was an opportunity to make a clear case for environmental improvement and protection. This was an opportunity to lay down markers on protecting the marine environment, putting protections in place for the oceans, improving river health and securing decent bathing waters.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker
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Let me just say something about protecting the marine environment. By the way, the hubris of this House is just stunning when it comes to the environment. We talk about saving the world, but instead, in England, we have trashed our chalk streams. In Scotland, the salmon farming industry has entirely destroyed the sea lochs of the west coast of Scotland, made them barren of sea life, and destroyed the salmon runs coming in and out of the rivers. If we could perhaps act locally, we might be able to talk in a more informed way globally.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Certainly, there is much hubris in this Chamber about such issues. Something that I will come on to is the Scottish Government’s environmental strategy, which was released in the past couple of days, in which issues such as those are certainly being looked at.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), for whom I have a lot of respect and with whom I have a lot of similarities in terms of our love of angling, I say that the salmon fishing industry has been hugely important to large parts of the west coast of Scotland, not least the Western Isles. Sometimes when we talk about hubris, we need to think about the local economy as well, which is so important for our country.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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An excellent point and I thank my hon. Friend for making it.

Brexit was supposed to give the UK Government the power to do things differently—to imagine a better way to do things. Whether Brexit was ever capable of doing that is a moot point, but it does not really matter, because the Government do not have the ambition to try. They do not have the imagination to see a better way to do things, or the determination to improve lives. There could be ambitious, legally binding limits on plastic pollution, and limits on how much could be produced, used and discarded. There could be incentives, perhaps even tax incentives, for retailers to cut the plastic. If they cannot even rate measures to improve the health of the oceans as being worthy of putting in this Bill, where really then is the commitment to addressing climate change?

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Does the hon. Lady agree that this needs to sit alongside a fiscal strategy that taxes virgin plastic, that has a go at diesel particulates and, indeed, at dangerous chemicals? Unless the Department works closely with the Treasury to deliver that, we will simply not be able to deliver on our ambition.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. This really needs to be taken in the round, and I see little evidence of that in the Bill. Further to that, where are the measures to combat climate change in the Bill? The climate emergency gets lots of warm words from Whitehall, but it gets so little in the way of action. If an Environment Bill is not the place for addressing the biggest environmental issue of the day, where is?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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On the issue of waste, may I ask the hon. Lady for cross-party support for the amendment that I am tabling on the obligation of local councils to provide traceability on the end destination of our household waste? In that way, the public can be confident that the recycling that we collect does not end up in the ocean or indeed in incinerators, but actually gets recycled. That is the amendment that I will put forward, and I am looking for cross-party support. Will she provide it?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. That is certainly something that I am prepared to look at, but, of course, local councils and local authorities are an issue for England and Wales only. Those issues are devolved to Scotland, so it is not necessarily something that we would be able to support in actuality, but I certainly agree with the principle of what she said.

I was talking previously about targets and real action—or lack of targets and real action—so where are the provisions to encourage tree planting? During the election, so many pledges were bandied back and forth about how many trees would be planted under a Tory or Labour Government. Hundreds of millions were promised, but here is the first opportunity to do something about that, and there is nothing—not a squirt. I find it amazing that Scotland has only around a third of the landmass of the UK, but four fifths of the tree planting in the UK is in Scotland. Let us at least see some indication that the UK Government will at least pretend to follow suit.

While we are on the subject, how about implementing policies to discourage the importation of products that have caused deforestation elsewhere, or which have contributed to the pressure to clear forest? How about a commitment to write that into trade deals? How about placing an obligation on businesses to consider such things in the course of their operations? In fact, the real thing that is missing from the Bill is a clear governmental intention to force businesses to get on board with improving the environment. It is as if the Government think that businesses will not be robust enough to handle that compliance. If the Government will not lead, they cannot expect people, businesses and organisations to do it instead. Ministers have an obligation to find ways to really drive this agenda forward, and so far they have failed in that.

The old 25-year environment plan is outdated and needs to be refreshed. The Bill—the reprise—starts its life outdated and in need of improvement. Fortunately, there is a shining example of excellence not too far away—I am not talking about Wales, to be clear—which is a ready-made vision of a future where compliance with environmental objectives is seen to be the norm, rather than the exception, and where Ministers are not afraid to take on leadership roles and are prepared to ensure that businesses and organisations take action too. Scotland’s environmental strategy, released this week as I mentioned earlier, is a plan worth copying. It is a plan worth following: it has vision, leadership, education and action all rolled up into one. I urge Members to take the time to read it. It is so good that Charles Dundas, the chair of Scottish Environment LINK, a former Lib Dem councillor and colleague of mine, said:

“It is fantastic to see such a bold vision for the protection of Scotland’s environment, which, as the Scottish Government says, is fundamental to our future.”

I tell Ministers that it is not too late to have some real ambition in the Bill. It is not a done deal and they still have time to make wholesale changes and massive improvements to make this a Bill that they can be proud of. The political will is all that is needed. They would find agreement, as we have already heard, on both sides of the Chamber, and they would have the pleasure and privilege of knowing that they actually contributed during their careers. Do something fabulous, Ministers! Do something you will be proud of in your old age, amend the Bill and make it fit for purpose.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Rob Butler to make his maiden speech.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate on the Environment Bill, which will have far-reaching implications for our economy and our society, heralding a cleaner, greener nation.

There is only one place to begin my remarks today, and that is in paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir David Lidington. David was the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury for fully 27 years. He held senior ministerial roles, culminating as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of State for the Cabinet Office during some particularly testing times for the last Government. Whenever I mention David, the response is the same—that he is a man who is decent, dedicated and thoughtful, a gentleman and the epitome of the public servant. When a new colleague was talking to me about David recently, he had just one question, “Do you have an equally big brain?” My answer was simple—“No.” After all, David led his Cambridge college to victory on “University Challenge”, not once but twice, whereas the only TV quiz show I competed on twice was “Blankety Blank”.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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Is that true?

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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It is true.

David did, of course, have the advantage of serving the magnificent constituency of Aylesbury, which I now have the great privilege to represent. Aylesbury has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. I was born in the Royal Bucks Hospital in the town, and my first home was in Bedgrove. My roots in the constituency go back even further. My great-grandfather was the village blacksmith in Bledlow Ridge. Aylesbury can trace its history to the iron age, has held a market since Anglo-Saxon times and has been the proud county town of Buckinghamshire for close to 500 years.

The historic quarter of the town centre retains its charm and appeal to locals and visitors alike. It includes statues of Benjamin Disraeli, the father of one nation Conservatism, and of John Hampden, commemorating his role asserting the rights of Parliament against Charles I. There is also now a statue of David Bowie, who in the 1970s staged the world debut performances of two albums at the legendary Friars music club in the town. Visitors should be aware that the statue bursts into song on the hour: more than one unsuspecting tourist has had rather a shock when out of nowhere comes a rendition of “Ziggy Stardust”.

One historic building that is rarely remarked upon is the prison, a Victorian edifice dating from 1847. It is a place that holds particular interest for me, however, as until recently I served as a non-executive director of HM Prison and Probation Service and as the magistrate member of the Sentencing Council. I hope to continue that work in Parliament, focusing particularly on two themes—making our prison estate fit for purpose and putting victims right at the heart of the criminal justice system. Perhaps I may say at this point that I regard our prison and probation officers as the unsung heroes of our public services.

Among the more notorious inmates of Aylesbury prison were the Great Train Robbers, which brings me neatly to HS2. As the home of the Aylesbury duck, it has been said by many of my constituents that HS2 is simply quackers. Seriously though, as the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury and speaking in the debate on the Environment Bill, I would not be forgiven by my constituents if I did not mention HS2. Opposition to the project has long been the single biggest issue in my constituency. Thousands of residents are both disappointed and frustrated by the decision to proceed, not least because of the harm HS2 will do to the environment, including the destruction of more than 100 ancient woodlands. The actions of HS2 Ltd and its contractors have already provoked many complaints to me, and I take this opportunity to state that I will be unwavering in holding them to account.

Aylesbury is setting itself up to thrive throughout the 21st century. Faced with the same challenges as many medium-sized market towns, not least the decline of the traditional high street, there is a passionate ambition to become a real community and commercial hub where people want to live, work, visit and invest. Already the Waterside theatre and the Exchange have brought life back to the canal side. There has been significant house building, including across Aylesbury Vale, where the population has grown by 10% in the last five years. There is far more to come, with projections of a further 16,000 homes in and around the town by 2033. So I welcome the commitment in the Bill to require all development to be accompanied by a 10% net gain in biodiversity. The Aylesbury garden town project goes even further in its vision to be not just green but—I am delighted to say—blue, with plans to create a garden-way encircling the town and to uncover hidden waterways.

The people of Aylesbury are rightly proud that it was the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, and they now have pioneering plans to make the town fully accessible to all.

There is much more than just the town of Aylesbury in the constituency. About a third of its population live in villages and hamlets, wonderful places such as Wendover, Stokenchurch, Aston Clinton, Weston Turville and Hughenden. Two thirds of the area is agricultural, and I have already very much enjoyed meeting farmers in the constituency, and not just because they agreed to put up gigantic posters of me during the election campaign. Many of those farmers are enthusiastic about the Bill. They recognise their unique role in the stewardship of the land and preservation of the countryside, and I am confident that the Bill will enable our farmers to ensure our food security and run sustainable businesses, while playing their part in ensuring the highest environmental standards.

The farms, villages and hamlets in my constituency lie in beautiful countryside, but they face the same challenges as many other rural areas, including access to health services, buses and broadband. Although Buckinghamshire is often regarded as affluent, my constituency also has pockets of deprivation, and I will strive to ensure a fairer deal for everyone I represent because, like each and every one of us in this Chamber, I am only here because of my constituents. As a former journalist, I am acutely aware of the need for accountability to them and to the public in general. Politics has not had a good press in recent years and it is beholden on us to improve that, not for the sake of a good headline or hundreds of likes on a tweet, but in order to rebuild faith and confidence that our institutions and representatives truly uphold democracy and deliver in the best interests of all the people.

I am honoured to be in this place at this pivotal time in our country’s history, when we forge new relationships and trade links around the world, and set out robust and far-reaching new laws to preserve and protect our part of the world through this Environment Bill. I conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to the people of the Aylesbury constituency for putting their trust and faith in me to represent them here.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
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What a great pleasure it is to follow the maiden speech of the new hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler). I look forward to him bringing in his “Blankety Blank” chequebook and pen so that we can all admire it in the Tea Room. May I also pay a very warm tribute to his predecessor, David Lidington, who I shadowed for a while? I have to say that I did not actually enjoy shadowing him—not because of his intellect, which was clearly there, but because he was a thoroughly decent person, and I did not like to argue or battle with him because that just was not his way or mine. I congratulate the new hon. Member for Aylesbury and welcome him to this place.

I also welcome the Environment Bill as a step in the right direction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) has said, in tackling the existential threat that we face. After years of delay, we cannot afford to wait any longer to pass robust climate legislation matching the scale of the emergency. A year and a half ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear that we had to act urgently over the next 12 years or forever miss the opportunity to prevent climate catastrophe, but nothing has changed since that announcement, except that we have lost one and a half of those 12 years. While the Government have been preoccupied with the chaos of Brexit, natural wildlife continues to disappear at an alarming rate, flooding is at a record high and fossil fuel production continues to damage our climate. We keep getting told that weather extremes are unprecedented and one-in-100-year occurrences—and then they happen again the next year.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill, but the Government must address its significant limitations. I share the widespread concern expressed by the climate groups that there are significant gaps in the Bill, weakening our capacity to take urgent action. I also generally worry that, despite all the assurances to the contrary, the Conservatives are using the opportunity of Brexit to reduce standards and environmental protections and enforcements, as the Labour party warned they would seek to do.

One of the great pleasures of representing my hometown of Chester is representing Chester Zoo, which is more than simply a tourist attraction; it is leading the way in conservation and wildlife protection, and is a centre of global expertise and leadership in conservation and environmentalism. The zoo’s work spans a wide and diverse range of conservation challenges, with a specific concern about protection of biodiversity. The zoo’s representatives tell me that they welcome the Bill, but share the concern that biodiversity protections could be diluted or ignored as local authorities struggle to implement targets, and they emphasised that the climate emergency is also a biodiversity emergency.

The introduction of a mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain requirement for all new developments is a step in the right direction, but it puts the responsibility for implementing and enforcing biodiversity targets on the shoulder of local authorities, which are already on their knees due to the central Government-imposed cuts that have crippled local government since 2010. Local authorities have neither the funding, nor any longer the capacity, to enforce these crucial biodiversity targets. My local authority of Cheshire West and Chester has lost £300 million since 2010, forcing it to make difficult financial choices. For example, at least half of its expenditure goes on adult social care and care for the vulnerable. It is unrealistic for the Government to further burden councils with the responsibility for enforcing the 10% biodiversity net gain without providing additional funding or expert staff.

Habitat and species loss is a devastating result of climate change that cannot be overlooked. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to address this shortfall and provide a realistic solution to the continued devastation of natural biodiversity across the country? Would the Government be willing to consider making the 10% increase in biodiversity a minimum requirement to encourage developers to exceed the target? And I have to ask: is the planning system really the correct vehicle for restoring UK nature and wildlife? It has consistently failed to address other areas of societal challenges, such as the provision of affordable housing, so why do the Government think it is fit for purpose as a means of reversing the destruction of UK wildlife and habitats?

I have concerns about the Office for Environmental Protection. As we have already heard, perhaps the most disappointing part of the Bill is its failure to create a truly independent environmental watchdog with any enforcement capabilities. The OEP’s budget is decided by the Government, meaning that the office will be under the control of the same Government that it is designed to be holding to account. The lack of accountability is astonishing and removes any sort of independence, allowing the Government to overlook environmental regulations whenever it is politically beneficial.

As we reach the crucial tipping point for climate change, the Government will be preoccupied with new trade deals, cosying up to the climate change denying President Trump in a desperate attempt to secure any trade deal—however bad—to justify their exit from the European Union. The OEP is a toothless environmental watchdog with no capacity to issue fines or stand independently from the Government to ensure that environmental protections are upheld. A further weakness identified by both Chester Zoo and the World Wildlife Fund is that the OEP has no jurisdiction over the private sector, particularly fossil fuel companies. The UK has the biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU, with £10.5 billion a year in support for fossil fuels, and the Tory party accepted generous donations from fossil fuel investors during the election, at the same time as cutting support for solar and onshore wind.

The absence of proposals to promote ethical procurement and sustainable, deforestation-free supply chains is a missed opportunity, and will prevent the Bill from achieving its stated goal of being an “historic step change”. We should be following the lead of Chester, led by Chester Zoo, which has developed the sustainable palm oil city model, making Chester the first city in the world to adopt sustainable palm oil city status. Some producers and retailers such as Iceland—the shop, not the country—have chosen to step away from using palm oil at all. I welcome their commitment to preventing deforestation, especially in south-east Asia, but I also note the view that the adoption of sustainable palm oil production, as promoted by Chester Zoo and others, would be a more long-term solution.

The UK has a chance to lead the way globally in tackling the climate emergency. We cannot afford to be less ambitious. I hope that the Government will recognise the constructive points that my hon. Friends and I are making. The Bill has a long way to go before it can successfully uphold the promise to leave nature in a better state for the next generation, because at the moment it seems that we have a Government who are reneging on their promise to maintain standards in environmental protection and enforcement after Brexit, just as we warned they would do. And if they do that on environmental commitments, they will do it on food, consumer standards and employment protections. As the Bill progresses and we seek to amend it, I hope that the Government prove me wrong and act on these concerns.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Cherilyn Mackrory to make her maiden speech.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
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It is a true honour to be standing here today as the newly elected representative for Truro and Falmouth—a whirlwind for me and my little family, as I was a candidate only for five weeks before polling day. Cornwall, my adopted home—but to which my husband, my daughter and even my dog are native—has welcomed me warmly, and I would like to show my gratitude to my constituents by being a force for good in this role and a genuine help to all residents, regardless of how or whether they voted in December.

I am happy to say that it is a pleasure to pay tribute to my predecessor. Sarah Newton entered this place in 2010 and has always been a staunch advocate for securing fairer funding for Cornwall. It is largely thanks to Sarah’s efforts, along with her Cornish colleagues at the time, that we are now expecting a women and children’s facility at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, along with a further £450 million for the NHS in Cornwall. Sarah also ensured a stable future for Falmouth docks for the first time in years.

Sarah served as a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, and spoke passionately in this place several times in defence of the most vulnerable people in our society. Colleagues across the House have spoken very fondly of Sarah, paying tribute particularly to her compassion and kindness. On this I can concur. Having been a candidate for such a short time before my election, I have found her help invaluable. She even put me up for my first week in Parliament, and that is going above and beyond. I am sure that Members across the House will join me in wishing Sarah all the very best for her future endeavours.

I am very lucky to represent Truro and Falmouth. It is a fantastic constituency, from the beautiful rugged and windswept north coast to the equally beautiful rolling and gentle south coast—there are no favourites here! It makes the bulk of its fortunes from fishing, farming and tourism. However, we also have exciting emerging industries such as geothermal energy, lithium extraction, and the potential for floating offshore wind farms—not forgetting theatre, breweries, surfing, sailing, a thriving arts and food culture, campuses for two universities, and more besides.

Falmouth was my first home when I came to Cornwall, and I can testify first hand as to why it regularly makes The Times “happiest places to live” lists. Last year, The Times described Falmouth as

“as close as Britain gets to the California/Barcelona city-by-the-sea lifestyle.”

I would agree, except more so once it stops raining. It has not actually stopped raining since August.

Falmouth boasts the third deepest natural harbour in the world after Sydney and Rio, which is why fishing and sailing exist alongside a healthy working docks—and that is so important to the economy. Cornwall has always been outward-looking and seafaring. Evidence of overseas trade exists as far back as the bronze age. In 1805, news of Britain’s victory and Nelson’s death at Trafalgar was landed at Falmouth and taken by stagecoach to London.

Truro is Cornwall’s only city. It is the base of Cornish local government, fantastic shopping, and, with the completion of the Hall for Cornwall later this year, also its centre for culture. The reopening of this hugely important establishment means that we can welcome over 200,000 people a year through its doors. It will also house space for creative start-ups. It is set to transform the centre of Truro, as well as being a game-changer for Cornwall as a whole.

My family is my inspiration—and by the way, I am lucky enough to have the best one of those as well. My mum and dad—Gordon and Olwyn Williams—and my big sisters have guided me through all my experiences and continue with their unending encouragement. It is the compassion that I have inherited from them that will drive me in my work in this place. My wonderful husband, Nick, is endlessly patient, and his determination for work defies belief for most people; and we have our precious daughter Chloe, whose future I want to help make the happiest it can be. I love them all, and I could not be doing this without their unwavering support. This is a definite team effort.

I am the wife of a hook-and-line fisherman with an under-10 metre vessel. When he rings to say that he is still an hour away from safety and the weather has taken a turn for the worse that was not forecast, I can tell you now that the dread is palpable. We need to champion our small boats in any fishing deal that is coming our way. Their job is precarious enough. We need to support our coastal communities to brave the elements and thrive in the 21st century. There are opportunities on the horizon, and we need to grab them with both hands and bring them home.

I am very proud to be part of this one nation Conservative party committed to being a world leader for conservation. I am also proud to represent the constituency where Surfers Against Sewage is located. It is one of the UK’s leading environmental organisations and has pioneered work to protect our seas and waterways from plastic pollution as well as to improve water quality. I have been passionate about looking after the natural environment for longer than I can remember. It has always been instinctive to me that this is just something we should do; we did not need to be told to do it.

This Environment Bill is bold. It will help to deliver the Government’s manifesto promise of the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on this earth, and I fully support its progress. I recommend much of its content, particularly with regard to waste management and nature recovery. I would like to see the south-west exceed the targets in it. I am very, very ambitious for this. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—my neighbour as the Member for Camborne and Redruth—on his new appointment and on his work to date.

I would like to see a bigger reduction in the consumption of single-use plastic. I think we can do this as a society. We do not need to spend resources clearing it up. It is going to take a culture change. We are all consumers and it has to come from us. We will need help from industry to make it convenient for consumers and also good value for money. That is the way we will make it happen. I would like to see greater checks and balances on our interim targets to ensure that we can stay on track in the short term as well as the long term. That is a recipe for success. I would like to see a greater commitment to managing our oceans. If we do not look after the marine environment, we will have no fishing industry in Cornwall. The saying is, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”

The Cornish are innovative, bold, and incredibly capable. It is my job to make sure that Cornwall gets the investment, the levelling up of funding and a fair chance so that my constituents and our children have the opportunity to swim, not sink. There is so much for Cornwall and the great south-west to be ambitious about. My constituents are determined, driven, and by far the most adaptable people I have met, and it will be my job to help make sure that we are ambitious for the future.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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It is a huge pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who has just given an outstanding maiden speech in which she very clearly conveyed her passion and commitment to her constituents and her constituency. She made an incredibly poignant point about the precarious nature of seafaring. I wish her well in this House, and I know that she will be a very powerful advocate for her constituents for many, many years to come.

This Bill comes before Parliament at a time when our country—indeed, our planet—faces two major environmental crises: climate change and biodiversity collapse. The debate on the climate emergency here in the UK has shifted very rapidly from the fringes to the mainstream in just a matter of a few years. For those of us who represent communities such as the ones I am proud to represent in South Yorkshire that have recently been devasted by flooding, it is not difficult to understand why, because we are no longer talking about the existential threat to future generations but about the immediate threat to family homes and small businesses.

There is now close to universal agreement that the Government must take urgent action to address the climate emergency, and this Environment Bill represents their first real test. It is important to note, however, that regional and local government also has a crucial role to play—it cannot simply be left to Westminster and to Whitehall to tackle this crisis alone. To date, 287 councils and eight combined authorities, including my own, have declared a climate emergency. We understand the extent of the crisis, but we need the resources to make meaningful change.

This is an extensive Bill covering a wide range of issues, but I would like to focus my short contribution on tree planting. One point on which I hope we can all agree is the important role of trees in tackling this emergency. Trees capture carbon, reduce soil erosion, improve air quality, alleviate flooding, and support biodiversity. Expansion of our woodlands will be key if we are to be successful in preventing irreversible damage to the environment. Indeed, the Government’s Committee on Climate Change set a target of 17% to 19% woodland cover as a key part of the UK’s actions to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The requirement in the Bill for local highway authorities to consult members of the public before felling street trees will be welcomed by communities up and down the country. It is important, though, that this duty is properly resourced if it is to provide meaningful consultations.

However, it is disappointing to see that this Bill does not include a statutory requirement for the Government to produce a national tree strategy for England, as is the case in Scotland. Given that work is already well under way to develop an English tree strategy for consultation in the coming months, I hope the Government will consider amending the Bill so that it refers to the forthcoming strategy. This would send out a positive signal about the importance of trees and woodlands, and their important role in tackling the crises of climate and biodiversity. Furthermore, it would reinforce the commitments made in the Government’s own manifesto, in which they pledged to plant 30 million trees a year by 2025.

One way that the Government could demonstrate their resolution would be to act on the Woodland Trust’s emergency tree plan proposals, in which three key recommendations were put forward: first, to look after what we have by protecting and restoring existing trees and woodland; secondly, to create new policies, capacity and funding for woods and trees; and thirdly, to devolve more powers to local government.

A further measure that the Government could explore is to expand on the ambition and innovation shown by the northern forest initiative—a project spearheaded by the Woodland Trust and its community forest partners in the region. The forest will see 50 million trees planted over the next 25 years in the north of England, with more than 600,000 already in the ground. It is the perfect example of the kind of project we must deliver on if we are serious about reversing the damage done to the natural environment.

I have three asks of the Government in respect of the Bill and tree planting. First, will they ensure that they link this Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the national tree strategy, so that a coherent and unambiguous plan for increasing tree cover is achieved, as well as other environmental targets? Secondly, once the national tree strategy is published, will the Government amend the Bill, so that it refers to that strategy? Finally, will they commit to grow the northern forest?

This is a vital piece of legislation and an opportunity for the Government to show leadership on the global stage in the fight against the climate emergency. We cannot afford any more missed opportunities, and it is quite clear that the Bill still requires improvement. One way the Government could show that leadership is to firm up their commitments on tree planting.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call Dr Ben Spencer to make his maiden speech.

Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con)
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Seven years ago, working as a doctor on call at St Thomas’s Hospital, I looked across the river at this place and wondered what it would be like to be here—and now I know. It is remarkably similar to being on call, but permanently. Being a Member of Parliament is a great privilege and duty, and I would like to thank the people of Runnymede and Weybridge for putting their trust and faith in me. I will do my all to repay that trust. I would like to thank the people who work on and around the parliamentary estate, who have been so welcoming and discharge their duties with dedication, diligence and resolute professionalism.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Philip Hammond. Philip was a phenomenal Member of Parliament. He served his country and the people of Runnymede and Weybridge for over 22 years. He held many of the highest offices of state. It is rumoured that he, like me, was a teenage goth. It is true—I was—but I didn’t dye my hair though. While there are some key areas on which Philip and I do not agree, most of all he is a man of principle. When push came to shove, he stood by his principles, and that is the measure of a man.

I have heard many excellent maiden speeches from Members on both sides of the House. Mr Deputy Speaker, it probably will not surprise you that I have noticed a pattern: it would appear that everywhere, all over the country, is the most beautiful and pleasant place to live. I want to put it on record that Runnymede and Weybridge truly, truly, truly is the most beautiful and pleasant place to live. It is also central to the history of our nation. Magna Carta, signed over 800 years ago, was the birth of the rule of law in our country and, indeed, the world. This Parliament may be the mother of all Parliaments, but Runnymede is the mother of the rule of law.

When I walk through the Churchill arch and see the bomb damage from the second world war, I am reminded of Brooklands in Weybridge. It was in Brooklands, where the first racing track was built and which went on to become the site of an advanced aviation factory, that over 2,500 Wellington bombers and 3,000 Hurricane fighters were built during the second world war. For both those reasons, quite literally, we would not be here today without the legacy of Runnymede and Weybridge. Our heritage is second to none.

There are many parts of the constituency that I would celebrate today if I had more time, but what makes Runnymede and Weybridge great are the people and our warm and vibrant communities—from the famous, such as the Wentworth estate, where the PGA tour takes place, to the not-so-famous, such as the Englefield Green Social Hall, where the Christmas performance of the “Beauty and the Beast” pantomime was the highlight of my election campaign. The consequence of having such vibrant communities and flourishing Christmas fairs is that I have now developed a tombola addiction, but I do have several sets of bath salts and some odd fruit cordials and drinks at the back of my cupboard that I have won, which Members are welcome to take home to their families.

We are all here on borrowed time, by the grace of our constituents, so let me tell you a little of my mission here. It is equality of opportunity. It is that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, has great opportunities in life—the opportunity to learn, to have a meaningful and worthwhile job, to set up a business and to grow old in peace and security. I would not be here today without the great opportunities that I had in my life, such as going to a state grammar school in the west midlands. But words like “equality” and “opportunity” are often bandied around without context or meaning.

As a mental health doctor, I have worked in many different hospitals and seen people from all walks of life. I know what a lack of opportunity looks like. Sadly, I have seen people without hope—people who cannot aspire and achieve, hamstrung in life by bad schools, no jobs, shabby housing, poor mental health or addiction. When, working as a doctor, I have supported people get back into work or get a decent place to live, it has often been better than any medicine I could prescribe. It must be that the successes of those who dare to dream are only bounded by their industry and talents.

Turning to today’s debate, we have always taken the lead on the most pressing issues of our time. Today it is our environment and climate change. Sadly, air pollution levels are high in Runnymede and Weybridge, driven by the motorways that criss-cross the constituency and the flightpaths that we live under. This Bill will make strides to improve our health and wellbeing and secure our children’s future.

From my office in Parliament, I can now look back at St Thomas’s Hospital, and when I do I am reminded that things do not always go as we expect. For many people, things do not go to plan in life. We need a strong safety net of welfare and public services, such as our NHS, which I am proud to have worked in for over 10 years, and which my wife continues to work in. Our public services need effective management, leadership and funding, paid for by a flourishing economy and led by a strong Conservative Government. All this is why I am a Conservative and why I am here today.

Environment Bill

Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Ways and Means resolution & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Debate resumed.
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), who certainly has big shoes to fill. The way he talked about how his experiences in his previous professional life led him to want to make change in this place was particularly poignant. We may find that we could have a conversation about music at some point, although I maintain that I was never a goth. There is a local satirical magazine in Bristol that has nicknames for all the local politicians, and I am invariably referred to as “pint-sized goth MP Kerry and ‘the Banshees’ McCarthy”.

This Bill concerns the technical and mechanical arrangements for putting these measures into law. However, a real lack of vision surrounds not only this hefty piece of legislation but the Government’s general approach. I am increasingly concerned that we are not showing leadership in the run-up to COP26. We have not had a statement from the Government since the election or since the COP president was replaced by the Business Secretary, and there is so much more that could be done in showing global leadership on the climate and ecological emergencies.

On the Bill specifically, the four principal concerns raised on Second Reading last October, as well as by the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny, have not changed. There is still no substantive commitment to non-regression in environment law, and until that is included the Government’s verbal commitments on maintaining standards are, frankly, difficult to believe. The Secretary of State spoke at the National Farmers Union conference today, and he knows that the farming community is very much of that mind when it comes to the Agriculture Bill, but the concern spreads much wider among environmental groups as well.

The clause on environmental principles—clause 16 —needs to be strengthened. It is not good enough that Ministers must simply have only due regard to them. It is also a significant step backwards compared with the arrangement we had within the EU.

The lack of urgency on targets is deeply worrying. The interim targets are not legally binding. The long-term targets do not need to be set until 2022, and potentially cannot be enforced for almost two decades. We do have to have short-term milestones; otherwise, we will just see action delayed again and again, and there will be no mechanism for holding the Government to account. As has been mentioned, it is also quite worrying that the Secretary of State has the power to revoke or lower a target with very little scrutiny.

I would like to see much stronger action on land use in this country, particularly urgent action on natural climate solutions. There tends to be an awful lot of talk about planting trees, but that in itself is not enough to compensate for the damage that is being done to our environment. I was at a very interesting event with the all-party group on net zero yesterday, when I think it was said that natural climate solutions could account for 0.25 °C of trying to limit the rise in global warming to 1.5 °C or 2 °C.

We need to look at protecting and restoring our peatlands, salt marshes and other carbon sinks. This was mentioned in the Agriculture Public Bill Committee yesterday. Apparently, there are various strategies around, and it all seems quite piecemeal. My concern is how we hold the Government to account if there is a certain amount of provision in legislation, but also lots of other documents that are not legally binding and cannot necessarily be challenged in Parliament. In some ways, that could muddy the water in relation to what we are trying to achieve.

I will not go into detail about the Office for Environmental Protection, other than to say that I hope it is still coming to Bristol. It does need more independence and more power. It needs to be properly resourced, because there is no point in its having the power to conduct its own investigations unless it is actually given the resources to carry out those investigations properly. It must also be given the power then to impose fines. I hope the Government will consider this in Committee.

Alarmingly—this was mentioned in passing in an intervention—in the year we are set to host COP26 and there is also the international biodiversity conference in China, the Bill is completely silent on the UK’s global environment footprint. We cannot just try to put our own house in order when we are a global nation—we are trading, we are importing and exporting—and having a considerable impact often on countries that are contributing very little to climate change themselves.

We need a target to reduce our overseas impact, including specific action on deforestation. It is a sad reality that economic activity by the UK, whether via finance or imports, has played a significant role in the destruction of the world’s forests to produce food. Last year, Global Witness identified that UK-based financial institutions have been the single biggest source of international finance for six of the most harmful agribusiness companies involved in deforestation in Brazil, the Congo basin and Papua New Guinea, providing a staggering £5 billion in finance over the last six years. Meanwhile, UK imports of commodities such as beef, leather, soy, palm oil and timber have been shown by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to take up an area of land—land associated with deforestation—more than half the size of the UK.

That is why I completely support the calls by the WWF and Global Witness to amend the Bill to include a mandatory due diligence obligation, which would require a business to identify and assess the nature of the actual and potential adverse impact of its activities on the environment and human rights, both domestically and internationally, as well as throughout its supply chains and investment chains. It would also require a business to take appropriate action to avoid, mitigate and remediate the negative impacts identified and assessed; to cease operations and investments where impacts cannot be adequately mitigated; and to report on implementation of the due diligence plan, including the actions taken and the effectiveness of those actions. I hope to serve on the Public Bill Committee, and if so, I will be seeking to put forward amendments that tackle this.

To conclude, it is not enough just to be planting trees in our own backyard if we are contributing to the deforestation of vast swathes of the Amazon abroad.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call Saqib Bhatti to make his maiden speech.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
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I am going to start by congratulating all my hon. Friends and colleagues who have given their maiden speeches today and in recent weeks. They truly have been of the highest order. I give my maiden proudly representing the constituency of Meriden. We are all a product of our journeys, so I am grateful and privileged that I can stand here thanking those who have been part of mine: my friends, my other half, my family—thank you.

My predecessor, Dame Caroline Spelman, was a mightily impressive colleague and friend to many in the House. During her 22-year career, she held a number of important positions, such as party chairperson, several shadow Cabinet positions, Second Church Estates Commissioner and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She did all of these with distinction, while demonstrating an unrelenting dedication to her constituents—a dedication that I hope to emulate. I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating her son David, who last month rowed across the Atlantic with a friend as part of the Talisker challenge and broke the world record.

Meriden is the largest constituency by geographical size in the west midlands. We have beautiful countryside, booming local businesses and a vibrant community spirit. My constituency takes its name from the village of Meriden, known as Alspath in the Domesday Book. It originally made up part of Lady Godiva’s estate and, as many Members of this House will know, Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry naked in protest against her husband’s tax rises. Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a lot in common with Lady Godiva—[Laughter.] I do not know why they are all laughing: I love horses and, like Lady Godiva, I am a big advocate of low taxation. However, I am going to wait for the Budget this time, before I decide to what degree and how I protest any new taxes.

In the Domesday Book, Meriden was known as the true centre of England. That was until the early 2000s, when an over-zealous team at the Ordnance Survey decided that the centre of England was in fact in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans), but since I am not a bitter man and I do not hold a grudge, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me tell you why Meriden is still the beating heart of this country.

I wanted to speak in the Environment Bill debate because my constituency has an excellent track record on the green agenda, and Solihull Borough Council—my council—has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The environment will pervade every area of policy making for my generation and many future generations to come. Infrastructure projects such as the ones in my constituency bring with them air pollution, noise pollution and continuous threats to the green belt. I will work hard to represent my constituents, so that progress and developments never mean compromising on our quality of life. This is a tricky topic, but one from which I will never shy away.

Meriden is unique and picturesque. It has more than 300 listed buildings and is steeped in history. It contains idyllic villages such as Hampton in Arden, Knowle, Dorridge, Catherine-de-Barnes, and Balsall Common, to name just a few. They capture the true character of the great British countryside like nowhere else, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) earlier tried to tell the House. Meriden is home to Birmingham airport and the National Exhibition Centre. It has rail links to every part of the country, and will soon be home to a certain high-speed rail link and interchange station. It has a Jaguar Land Rover plant, the prestigious Blythe Valley business park, and Birmingham business park, which houses names such as Oracle, Arup, and Rolls-Royce, as well as new market disrupters such as Gymshark.

If one travels north in my constituency, however, there are communities in greater need of opportunity, such as Chelmsley Wood, Castle Bromwich, Smith’s Wood, Kingshurst, and Fordbridge, where I see hard-working and socially conscious people who have not experienced the benefits of economic progress. Recent decades have seen more investment in those areas, and new facilities bring new opportunities, but as far as I am concerned, until all members of our society feel the effects of economic success, our job as parliamentarians is not finished.

As a former businessman and president of one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country, I have always advocated for social progress through economic progress, and for the role that business plays as a force for good in society. I believe we must do all we can to support business to thrive, and we must allow entrepreneurs to take risks, create jobs, and drive society forward, as that is the only way we will address the injustice of inequality. The difference between life expectancy in Knowle in the south of my constituency, and Chelmsley Wood in the north, is 10 years. With higher crime levels and lower levels of employment, there is something inherently unfair about the disparity in the life prospects of two children born in the same constituency, a mere eight miles apart.

The primary reason why any of us enters politics is because we want to make the lives of the people we serve better. I am thinking of that young boy or girl who, right now, is working hard to get the grades to be the first in their family to get an apprenticeship or go to university. Perhaps they are on an athletics track, running an extra lap so that one day they can represent their country on the international stage and return triumphantly. I am thinking of that recruit to the emergency services or armed forces, who is willing to risk life and limb for this beautiful nation of ours, or of the immigrant who came to this country, leaving everything behind, in order to build a better life for themselves and their family.

People may ask what unites us in our love for our country, but that is simple: we dare to believe. We dare to believe in a country where our children will have the best opportunities in life, and where our pensioners can grow old and live with dignity. We dare to believe in a country that is open, inclusive and optimistic. There are those—a small few—who may try to create disunity among us, and we must remember that hope and opportunity will always defeat the ideologies of division and hate.

There is no “leave” or “remain”, Mr Deputy Speaker; there is only our great global Britain—the Britain that says it does not matter where somebody was born, where they come from, what they believe, who they love, or what anyone else says they are capable of achieving. Instead, as long as they share our values of respect, hard work, and they stand up for what is right, they can achieve anything. We live and serve in the best country in the world. Unwavering in our commitment to our values, we have remained faithful to our vision for a better world, and we have always stood tall and firm in the face of adversity.

We must now hold that vision more closely and dearly than ever before. As we embark on the final leg of our journey to new-found independence, it is now that we must remember our old friends and seek out new ones. It is now that we must speak up and act for those facing persecution and oppression across the world, and we must take seriously the threats to our environment and society. We must remember everything that we have in common, and everything that unites us. We must dare to believe.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The speech by the hon. Member for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti) does him great credit, and I am sure he will have a long and illustrious career in this House. I will give him one piece of advice: however much taxes may rise, unlike Lady Godiva, could he please keep his clothes on in the Chamber?

This Bill has been introduced because of Brexit. There are a million reasons why people voted for Brexit. For some, it was because of a lack of affordable housing, because the UK was unable to make its own laws, or because Brexit would solve their concerns about low wages. Nobody, however, voted for Brexit because they wanted fewer environmental protections, yet I am sad to say that that is exactly what the Bill, as it stands, represents. That raises the question of how Britain wants to present itself on the world stage, in the year that we host COP to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

Until the end of this year, 70% of the UK’s environmental protections will come from the union with Europe, which has provided increasingly high environmental standards for 45 years. The Bill represents the majority of the Government’s efforts to import those protections from Europe into UK law, and it replaces wide-ranging protections with four simple domestic targets. Indeed, there are four target areas—water, air, biodiversity and waste—with a minimum of one target required to be set in each. The media are reporting that the Treasury is pushing for a maximum of one target in each area outlined in the Bill, so it seems that we are moving from a whole network of protections to just four. That is a poor trade for our natural environment. I am sorry to say that it is an indication of how the Government interpret their greater environmental obligations after we leave the EU and make our way in the world. The direction we seem to be heading in is backwards.

To prevent that backsliding, the Government must include in the Bill a commitment to the non-regression of environmental standards. I expect that everyone across the House agrees that regression from environmental protections is poor and that standards should not be reneged upon, watered down or discarded. If we were to let that happen it would have real implications not just for UK wildlife, but our own constituents—the water they drink and the air they breathe. There is nothing more fundamental than keeping our constituents from harm. I therefore ask the Government to do what they have said they will do and ensure we have non-regression in the Bill.

Of the four areas set out in the Bill, only one has any details and that is air quality, which is incredibly important. I have one of the worst areas for air quality in the UK. If the Bill is to have any meaningful impact on the quality of our air, it should include a legally binding commitment to meet WHO levels on fine particulate matter pollution by 2030 at the very latest. Even that will come at the expense of many of my constituents’ lives. The Bills lacks coherence and fails to establish a link between the currently lacking target it sets out and the improvement plans the Government should be carrying out. Let us not forget that this is the Government who had to be taken to court three times over their lack of action on air quality. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) talked about trees and I would like to reinforce what he said about that.

Another area not covered in the Bill is beaches. Let us not forget that the UK was one of the slowest countries in the EU to clean up its beaches. We were still pumping raw sewage into the sea 20 years ago. Improvements to the quality of our natural water have come about as a result of the EU water framework and bathing water directives. How can we now, in the Bill’s 233 pages, not include any targets for beaches? If it is likely that we are just going to get one target, will it be for rivers, water-borne pollution, chemicals or ecological status? We do not know. How can we just have a single water target? We need to ensure that we transpose the protections we have in EU law into UK law.

I want to finish by talking about ministerial powers. In the previous Parliament, we talked a lot about Henry VIII powers. We seem to be returning to Tudor times once more. The Bill confers sweeping powers to enact huge sections of the Bill on the say-so of the Secretary of State. He is not in his place, but I know he is a keen environmentalist. He will spend the majority of the Committee stage—I hope to serve on the Public Bill Committee—looking at this area, but the Bill does not provide any targets or any information until 2022. How are we meant legally to enforce targets in that time period? It is not enough to say, “Trust me, I’m the Secretary of State”. He will say that appointments to the board of the new Office for Environmental Protection will be made by him, but they will be made without parliamentary oversight. It will be sending reports to him, rather than to us here in Parliament. We will have to rely on him.

What happens—we know political shifts happen very rapidly these days—if a future authoritarian Government finds themselves in power and they want to make sweeping changes to the level of environmental protection? The Bill affords them power over what the targets should be and who enforces them. I am sure that such a prospect makes us all nervous, including the Secretary of State. If multiple targets are set in each area, with amendments tabled and improvements made, and if links between targets and improvement plans are strengthened, the Bill could mark the beginning of a framework that provides real environmental protection. However, I must highlight this point to Members on both sides of the House. With its current powers and levels of discretion, the Bill could be used for a catastrophic reduction in protections, leading to poor air quality, polluted waterways, declining biodiversity, exposure to chemical pollution, and a dereliction of our green and pleasant land. It is entirely down to whoever happens to be Secretary of State on any given day to protect them. The Bill gives too much power to an already over-powerful Executive, and must be amended so that Parliament can have democratic oversight, and so that stringent environmental standards are set.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Maiden speech: I call Kate Griffiths.

Kate Griffiths Portrait Kate Griffiths (Burton) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and to make my maiden speech in this pertinent debate, given the recent extreme weather that we have endured across the country. I will speak about the Bill and its importance a little later on, but I will first talk about the constituency that I love and have the privilege of representing in this place.

I have listened with great interest to many of the maiden speeches in recent weeks, and to the reasons each new Member has given as to why their area is so important to them and, indeed, our country. However, there is no doubt that it is my constituency and home town of Burton that has for generations provided the real driving force behind this nation’s success—beer. Although my constituency’s history and culture is as rich as the water that infuses the beer we produce, it cannot be denied that it is brewing that has truly put Burton on the map. It is the sulphate-rich hard water of the Trent, combined with the industrious spirit of Burton’s people, that has led to the town’s setting the standard for high-quality pale ale. That has led brewers worldwide to “Burtonise” their water, in an attempt to mimic our great local tradition.

This proud heritage reverberates through all areas of my constituency, including the sporting one. It has given the mighty Burton Albion football club their nickname “the Brewers”. Here I must declare an interest. Before entering this place, I was fortunate enough to work for the club, although I cannot take all the credit for their hard-earned football league status, which came in 2009 following a victorious season in the Conference.

I have always felt that the name of my constituency is incomplete, and I sincerely hope that in any forthcoming boundary reviews, consideration is given to renaming it Burton and Uttoxeter. Uttoxeter is a beautiful market town, and it is the proud home of the world-leading construction equipment manufacturer, JCB. The company’s yellow diggers are instantly recognisable the world over, and it was at JCB that the Prime Minister famously bulldozed through the Brexit wall last December, emphatically signifying his commitment to break the parliamentary deadlock and foreshadowing his success in dismantling the so-called red wall on election day.

I pay tribute to one of my most admirable predecessors, Sir Ivan Lawrence, whose notable parliamentary achievements include a private Member’s Bill that led to the creation of the national lottery. He also gave the longest parliamentary speech of the 20th century, at 4 hours 23 minutes, on the matter of water fluoridation. I will watch the Government’s legislative agenda with interest, and I am prepared to swoop in with a speech of 4 hours 24 minutes, should an increase in fluoridation be proposed.

Aside from the preservation of water quality, I know that this Government are committed to dealing with some of the most pressing issues that my constituents face today. I am pleased with the renewed focus on infrastructure. In my constituency, we desperately need the safety issues on the A38 to be addressed. My predecessor, Sir Ivan Lawrence, raised that matter in the House some 55 years ago, and it is still a critical issue for my constituents today. As we meet the Government’s agenda for increased house building, we must ensure that that is matched with investment in critical routes, such as the A50 in Uttoxeter. I pledge that in this House I will do all I can to bring about that investment and those much-needed improvements.

We must also deliver for our town centres, which have faced increasing difficulty due to new technology and changing shopping habits. I have very fond memories of the bustling Burton High Street of my childhood. While the face of town centres will undoubtedly be different in this age of the internet, we must do all we can to ensure that they have a thriving future at the heart of our communities.

My constituents are hard-working, resilient people. Throughout our history, we have suffered and overcome adversity. In 1255—I am so sorry, I am going to have to have a quick drink.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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Would my hon. Friend like me to intervene?

Kate Griffiths Portrait Kate Griffiths
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I thank my right hon. Friend, but no. I do apologise.

In 1255 and 1322, Burton was all but destroyed by fire, and we suffered catastrophic flooding in 1514, 1771, 1795 and 1852. That collective spirit of resilience, however, forged through overcoming tragedy, has not made the events of recent weeks due to the impact of Storms Ciara and Dennis any easier to bear. That is why this Bill is so important and why I chose to make my maiden speech in this debate. Our changing climate brings with it the ever more present threat of flooding, and although the Government have already provided billions of pounds of funding to defend against it, with this Bill we will do more.

Not only does the Bill set out the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth; it is another example of the Government’s steadfast commitment to delivering for people in my constituency and across the country. During the election, I had hundreds of conversations with people across Burton and Uttoxeter, but there is one conversation, in particular, that has always stayed with me. One resident told me that politics for her was about trust and faith. She told me that I had her vote because she trusted me, my party and the Prime Minister to deliver what she voted for back in 2016 and to invest in our NHS, our schools and our infrastructure, and that she had faith in our country to thrive outside the European Union.

My constituent’s trust was not misplaced. The Prime Minister has already delivered on that central solemn promise to get Brexit done. She is right, too, to have faith in our country, as I know that under this Government’s stewardship it will thrive in the years ahead. It is my job and the job of everyone on the Government Benches to continue rewarding the trust and faith that has been placed in us by delivering. I will spend every minute of my time in this House working tirelessly to do so for all the people I have the honour to represent.

Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)
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I appreciate the opportunity to speak on such an important issue. It is right that we legislate to protect the environment, our water and the air we breathe. It is also vital that we preserve the biodiversity of our countryside and woodlands and conserve our areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Peak district in my constituency, for the enjoyment of everyone.

I am pleased that, after pressure on the Government, the Bill now includes a reference to climate change enforcement. If the rising sea levels, fires and floods do not constitute a threat to our environment, I am not sure what does. The fires in Australia have affected 1.25 billion animals and, according to WWF estimates, have harmed 30% of the koala population. There is abundant scientific research to demonstrate that global heating will result in the extinction of thousands of plants and animal species, and the UK is not immune. It is nonsense to say that we are in favour of biodiversity but not lift a finger to stop the carbon emissions that have led to the destruction of ecosystems and fragile ecologies, making the 10% increase in biodiversity almost impossible to deliver. It is not meaningful to talk about protecting the environment without also talking about how we end the climate catastrophe that is currently wreaking havoc across the globe.

The only way to secure our environment and defend the diversity of our wildlife in the long term is to halt rising temperatures and reach zero emissions by the 2030s. That means fundamentally reshaping our economy and infrastructure by handing power to the people with the greatest interest in stopping climate catastrophe—not the bankers, as we heard earlier, or big businesses, but working people.

Despite the changes to the Bill, the truth is that it falls well short of the protections we need to secure our natural environment for the years to come. The EFRA Committee charged with scrutinising the proposals was right to call them a missed opportunity. This was an opportunity to enshrine environmental protections in all aspects of our public institutions. Instead, the proposals only oblige Ministers to act and only with mealy-mouthed “'due regard to” the principles in the Bill. It was an opportunity to make Britain a beacon of environmental standards for the whole world to follow. Instead, there is no provision in the Bill to prevent our own standards from slipping and falling below those of the European Union; in fact, the environmental principles outlined in it represent a significant downgrading of the principles behind our existing environmental protections. It was an opportunity to create a world-leading, independent institution for environmental auditing. Instead, the Government are proposing to establish an organisation with nowhere near the level of independence that is required to hold Ministers and public bodies to account.

At a time when No. 10 can sack a Chancellor for refusing to fire his staff, are we really to have any confidence that the Government will not seek to interfere in the decisions made by the proposed Office for Environmental Protection? I wonder whether the intention is to create a Cassandra-esque body so that those in power can wrongly ignore the truth that it speaks. To tackle climate change and protect our environment, we need democratic and independent institutions that have the power to enforce action on climate chaos in a meaningful way.

We can either face up to the reality of the climate crisis and transform our institutions, our economy and our infrastructure, or consign our planet and our wildlife to environmental catastrophe. That is the decision we face. It is a historic opportunity and a historic responsibility. I am sorry to say that it is an opportunity that the Bill squanders and a responsibility that it shirks.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call Marco Longhi to make his maiden speech.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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Let me start by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to present my maiden speech today, and to thank your staff—and, indeed, all staff on the estate—for keeping us safe and looking after us so well and with such professionalism. I should like you to convey my more profound thanks, if that is possible, to Mr Speaker for the way in which he has signalled that he will carry out his office as Speaker of the House, in complete contrast to his predecessor. The conventions and integrity that he is restoring in such an unassuming way are having a much greater impact in restoring faith in our democracy than any commentators may be giving him credit for, which is why I want to do so today.

It is the convention to comment on one’s predecessor in a maiden speech. I shall do so, but not for that reason: I will because I want to. I am certain than many in this place will want to recognise Ian Austin for his integrity, and for the brave way in which he decided to stand up against antisemitism. There is not a person in my constituency to whom I have spoken who does not speak well of Ian, even when they disagreed with his politics. So I want to thank him for his efforts as a local MP, and for the example that he has set for many of us, on both sides of the House, in standing up to prejudice and hatred. I suspect that some of my colleagues on this side of the House—myself included—may wish to thank him for other reasons too.

I say with a degree of both pride and humility that I am the first ever Conservative Member of Parliament for Dudley North, the first ever Member called Marco, and the Member holding a larger majority than any of my predecessors in this seat. For that, I thank the people of Dudley, who, like the people in the rest of the country, decided to tell the House—yet again, at the umpteenth time of asking—what they wanted us to do.

The Dudley North constituency is made up of the town of Sedgley, the suburban areas of Upper Gornal, Lower Gornal and Gornal Wood, Woodsetton, and other conurbations around Dudley town itself. It has several attractions of national significance, including the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley Castle and Dudley Zoo.

Dudley has been a market town since the 13th century, and its fortunes over the centuries have ebbed and flowed with the economic cycles of the heavy industry that its coal-rich mines supported. This also means that it has suffered much since the decline of the traditional industries, which is why a focus on skills and future jobs is crucial if the economic prosperity of the area and the wellbeing of Dudley people are to be secured for the coming decades.

Dudley is also credited with being the birthplace of the industrial revolution, with the advent of smelting iron ore using coal instead of charcoal, which is manufactured by burning trees and therefore much rarer and more costly to obtain. Abraham Darby introduced this revolutionary method, which meant that iron and steel could be made in much larger quantities and more efficiently and cheaply. He effectively kick-started the industrial revolution, so Dudley’s heritage and legacy are second to none—notwithstanding what other people in this House might say! However, I will say that competing with Magna Carta and perhaps alienating a doctor might not be my smartest move. Abraham Darby was born in Woodsetton in 1678 and is reported to have lived at Wren’s Nest, which is now a site of special scientific interest—I had to practise that—and, since 1956, one of only two national nature reserves assigned on geology alone because of the variety and abundance of fossils found on the site.

However, although the new industrial revolution brought wealth, it also resulted in the area being named the most unhealthy place in the country in the mid-19th century, because of the dreadful working and living conditions. That led to the installation of clean water supplies and sewerage systems. Dudley had the highest mortality rate in the country. In the 21st century we are faced with the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by a range of new advancements in the digital and biological worlds, but with a different impact on human wellbeing.

Improving health and wellbeing and seeking to tackle mental ill health are some of the areas on which I wish to focus during my time in this House, for the benefit of everyone at home and in their workplaces. If we tackle the issue of poor mental health at its core and in its infancy, we can prevent crisis moments and the devastating consequences that they can have. That it is also why having an environment that we can all enjoy, which supports us in our own wellbeing and that we can leave as a positive legacy to our children and grandchildren, is so important. Mother Nature has been talking to us for some time, and it is time we did more than simply listen. It is time to take action as well, which is why the Bill is so welcome.

Mr Deputy Speaker, if you ever come to Dudley, the capital of the Black Country, you will be warmly welcomed, because that is the nature of Dudley people. You will also feel a sense of expectation—a feeling that change is about to happen, a feeling of optimism—and this is another reason why I am so privileged to represent the town and its people. In the near future, we will be seeing the demolition of the infamous Cavendish House in the town centre to make way for many new homes, the metro extension and I hope—subject to consent—a very light rail system.

Like many high streets around the country, Dudley’s has suffered much. Nobody has a silver bullet to fix that, but increasing footfall by attracting more people feels like part of the solution. If attracting more people into the town centre is part of the solution, and if the focus on skills for future jobs is key, I would like to see our plans for a university campus on the edge of Dudley town centre finally being delivered. I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees with me on that. These game-changing plans were drawn up before my arrival, and some have been spoken about for many years. Now is the time to turn words into action and to deliver for Dudley. My pledge to all Dudley people is that I will fight every step of the way to make things happen and bring about the change that they want. It is Dudley’s turn now.

James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to follow the maiden speech from the hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi). Having so recently given my own maiden speech, it feels a bit cheeky to be congratulating another Member on their maiden speech, but I enjoyed listening to him talk about the warmth of the people he represents, the history of his area and the challenges it faces. With so many maiden speeches today, he faced quite a challenge to compete with the birthplace of the Magna Carta and, indeed, the passionate description of her constituency given by the hon. Member for Burton (Kate Griffiths). When I gave my maiden speech, I spoke about an important brewery in my constituency, so I feel some affinity towards what I value in my constituency and the breweries of Burton. I congratulate everyone on their maiden speeches today.

Since becoming an MP, the Environment Bill is the piece of legislation that I have been contacted about by more of my constituents than any other. The constituents who have been in touch recognise the urgency to act and the opportunity that this Bill offers to make a real difference. The Government could take decisive action through the Bill to protect the environment. However, as currently drafted, the Bill misses this vital chance to act at a crucial moment.

The Bill proposes to replace the EU’s comprehensive framework of environmental protections with long-term targets over which the Secretary of State has nearly complete discretion to change at any time. Alongside that, the new Office for Environmental Protection that the Bill establishes is not, as we have heard many times today, fully independent from Government, and lacks the strong enforcement powers it would need for us to be certain of its effectiveness. It is hard to disagree with Greenpeace UK’s assessment that Ministers have just given themselves a licence to fail.

We have the opportunity to widen the Bill’s ambition and strengthen its approach, and it is vital that we do so to ensure that this chance to set us on the right course for many years to come is not squandered. I urge the Government to listen to calls from my constituents and many others to strengthen the Bill—to ensure that it strengthens and certainly does not lower existing levels of environmental protection in future laws and policies; that future Governments are legally compelled to take action to meet long-term targets for the recovery of nature and the environment; and that the new Office for Environmental Protection is truly independent and can hold the Government and public bodies to account over environmental commitments.

Alongside those general principles, my constituents have also contacted me about specific areas of the Bill that need strengthening, such as provisions on deforestation, oceans and air quality. I urge Ministers to listen to their voices and to those of environmental groups on such crucial issues.

First, my constituents want specific targets to end deforestation in the production of commodities, including food, that the UK imports. Mass deforestation is accelerating climate change and is a leading cause of wildlife extinction. We must take responsibility for the impact of our actions around the world, yet the Bill does not currently address the UK’s role in harming nature overseas.

Secondly, my constituents want the Bill to do more to protect the oceans, including through legally binding targets on plastic pollution and through measures to reduce how much plastic is produced and consumed. We are still waiting for the Government to take the promised action on that front, and the Bill makes no firm commitment to prevent the exporting of waste which can lead to plastic littering our seas around the world.

Thirdly, my constituents want a firm approach on tackling poor air quality. It affects everyone, but it has been felt acutely in recent years by many people living in Ealing North and across London. Poor air quality stunts the development of children’s lungs, which everyone will agree is a truly awful legacy to leave the next generation. Of the 650 constituencies, in 2018 Ealing North had the 41st-worst concentration level of the harmful pollutant PM2.5. Particulate matter affects everyone and means that people living with heart or circulatory conditions are at a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. It is time for the Government to step up and help my constituents and people across the country.

Decisive action can make a difference, as the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is showing here in London. The Mayor has been taking a lead on cleaning up the capital’s air, including by introducing the ultra low emission zone. In 2016, air at the Hanger Lane gyratory monitoring station, which is just outside my constituency in Ealing Central and Acton, exceeded the hourly legal limit for nitrogen dioxide for a total of 45 hours. Last year, that had fallen to just two hours—a drop of 95%. I give that example because it shows that change is possible. The Government have an opportunity to make it clear that clean air is a priority. They can give the Mayor and councils, including mine in Ealing, the resources they need to go further in tackling poor air quality, and they can use this Bill to commit to introducing higher standards nationwide. As we have already heard, the current legal air quality limits for England are less stringent than the World Health Organisation’s guidelines. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to adopt World Health Organisation limits and to make a real difference to the quality of our air.

We know urgent action is needed to respond to our climate and environmental emergency. The Environment Bill provides an opportunity to do so, yet the Government appear to be doing all they can to resist solid protections and to avoid introducing standards that are equivalent to, or better than, those in EU regulations. That should set alarm bells ringing on the Government’s approach to post-Brexit regulation generally, and it is an immediate and urgent concern that means we risk missing the moment to set high environmental standards as we face the coming decade.

On behalf of my constituents who have contacted me, of all those around the world who are affected by our actions and of the future generations who will be impacted by the decisions we take, I urge the Government to seize this chance to show true global leadership on protecting our environment.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call Jane Stevenson to make her maiden speech.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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I congratulate all my colleagues who have made such excellent maiden speeches this afternoon. As a proud Wulfrunian, I am deeply honoured to come to this place to represent my home city of Wolverhampton—the city in the Black Country.

I must begin by paying tribute to another local woman, my predecessor in Wolverhampton North East, Emma Reynolds. Emma was elected in 2010 and held several shadow ministerial roles. Widely respected as a moderate and principled member of her party, she spoke with balance and reason. I know her qualities will be greatly missed on the Labour Benches.

Wolverhampton North East stretches across the north of the city between two 20th-century housing developments, each built on the site of a medieval farm. At Ashmore Park, in the east, you can still see the site of a medieval moat; and in Pendeford, in the west, a slightly later landmark is a beautiful 17th-century dovecote that gives part of Pendeford its name.

I am sorry that I do not have longer to speak of our rich and long history, but I want to mention one of the most important battles in British history. In 910 AD, the forces of Mercia and Wessex united to roundly defeat a large Danish army. So thorough was the defeat that it was the last time the Danes sent a great invading force to our island.

There are two places in Wolverhampton that lay claim to the location and, therefore, the name of that great battle. My election to this place puts me in a rather awkward position: one of the places, Tettenhall, is in the ward in Wolverhampton South West that I serve as a city councillor. The other, Wednesfield, is a village in my constituency of Wolverhampton North East. I have learned quite quickly that politics is a game of numbers, so with sincere apologies to the fine people of Tettenhall—and one of them is my own mother—I shall now refer to it as the battle of Wednesfield. [Laughter.] Ah, you have met her. I am in so much trouble when I go home.

The city of Wolverhampton grew over the centuries, first on the wool trade, and then on small industry. Metalwork, Japanning and key and lock-making fuelled our prosperity on the edge of the Black Country. My ancestors, the Mattox family, had a small key-making factory in Wednesfield in the 19th century that started in a garden shed.

That spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is alive today, and I am proud to be in a party that wants to support more people to start and run their own businesses. Unemployment in my constituency is too high, and I want to see support for start-ups, as well as better training, apprenticeships and education opportunities.

With our central location, excellent transport links, reasonable property prices and wonderful people, we are an excellent place to come to start or conduct your business. Our i54 business park is already home to large firms like Jaguar Land Rover, Moog and Collins Aerospace. We are a welcoming and friendly place, Mr Deputy Speaker, and you would be very welcome to visit us any time. Queen Victoria was still a princess when she first visited Wolverhampton. She did describe us as a “large and dirty town,” but she was delighted to be welcomed with great friendliness and pleasure.

We are proud of both our industrial heritage and our warm welcome. As with much of the Black Country, this industrial heritage has left us with very little green space, and that space now needs protecting. The northern boundary of my constituency borders leafy South Staffordshire, but that green belt land is now under threat, in order to fulfil housing numbers in Greater Birmingham and Black Country housing area plan. As a region, we need to urgently rethink this strategy. Our West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has shown that brownfield sites can be successfully made viable for housing. A “brownfield first” policy would protect the green spaces to the north of my constituency, near Linthouse Lane in Wednesfield, and in Bushbury by the wonderfully named Cat and Kittens Lane.

I and many Wulfrunians care deeply about our environment, and I support the measures in this Bill to ensure that we have cleaner air, to put the environment at the centre of policy decisions, and not only to deliver the clean Brexit most of my constituency voted for but to ensure it is also a green Brexit. This will help my constituents live longer, healthier lives and protect our city for future generations.

Today I want to pay tribute to all those people in Wolverhampton North East who volunteer, to make their environment and their communities better. I have met so many wonderful Wulfrunians who give up their time to help others, whether litter picking around Bushbury, going out street watching in Low Hill or Fallings Park, volunteering at our much loved New Cross Hospital or getting involved in their church, gurdwara or community group. Volunteers make our city better, and I want to thank them for their service to Wolverhampton.

In an environment debate, it seems appropriate to mention Wednesfield in Bloom, a community gardening project that brings together the whole community—the St Thomas’ church, the Guru Nanak gurdwara, schools and local businesses; everyone comes together to plant the most beautiful displays across Wednesfield and Ashmore Park. They have already won several awards and will be competing in the national finals of Britain in Bloom this year, and I wish them every success. In an age when we have an epidemic of loneliness among people of all ages, I can only hope that the example of Wolverhampton’s volunteers inspires more people to come out and get involved.

I could not let this speech end without mentioning my great love, not only for the city of Wolverhampton but for the greatest football team on earth—Wolverhampton Wanderers. Football runs deep in our veins, and although our city’s official motto is “Out of darkness cometh light”, our unofficial motto is “Wim Wolves, ay we”. I would love to give credit for this quote to our fantastic manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, but it was actually Rudyard Kipling who said that

“the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

When we work together, we achieve the most. I look forward to working with people from all communities, from all over Wolverhampton North East, during my time as a Member of Parliament. I proudly take my place on these Benches to serve my city, and I assure my constituents that Wolverhampton will always be my first priority.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) on her excellent maiden speech. I was pleased to hear that she is, or was, a local councillor and so, like me, will appreciate the importance of local democracy and local government. In this place, we must ensure that the voices of local communities are being heard and that our local government is resourced properly.

I also welcome the fact that one of the first pieces of major legislation that we are discussing in this new Parliament is on the environment, as it is one of the most urgent issues of our times and has to be a central focus of all our future decision making. But it is worth reminding the House that this Bill is necessary only as a result of our leaving the European Union, which was, until now, the best protector of our environmental standards. Although the Government have claimed that Brexit will mean enhanced—

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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On her point about the European Union being the best protector of our environmental standards, does the hon. Lady not accept that this country’s environmental standards and, indeed, our food standards are some of the highest in the world, not just in the European Union?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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I absolutely agree. The European Union has been a team effort to which Britain has made a large contribution. It is a shame that we can no longer be leaders in the European Union and direct its future.

Although the Government have claimed that Brexit will mean enhanced environmental standards for the UK, the Bill does not really deliver much on those promises. We are facing a climate emergency, a fact that the Government acknowledge but are less willing to act on. We need to tackle the climate emergency immediately, with legally binding targets included in the Bill.

I am pleased to see that the Office for Environmental Protection has had climate changed added to its remit, but the OEP needs independence and teeth to hold the Government to account. Unless and until it can independently impose hefty fines, the OEP cannot match the EU as an enforcer of environmental regulation.

I wish to focus my remarks on part 3 of the Bill, which concerns waste and resources, and on the amendment that I will table in Committee. I will also mention the Government’s commitments on the deposit return scheme. Unfortunately, I will probably not get a place on the Bill Committee, so I will depend on cross-party support for my amendment. I believe it will strengthen the Bill and make it better, and I very much hope that the Bill Committee will consider it.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing a deposit return scheme—a policy that the Lib Dems have been pushing for many years. However, there are several questions about how the scheme will work in practice. It is important that the scheme is both independent from Government and not for profit. The Department should work to ensure that the scheme is as wide as possible, incorporating cans and all types of plastic and glass bottles. I am concerned that as Scotland is introducing its own deposit return scheme two years earlier, DEFRA’s scheme for England and Wales might not be compatible. It should be. I am looking forward to hearing more from the Government on the detailed proposals. People who come from different backgrounds—I was born in Germany, where deposit return schemes have always operated and never been stopped—know that it is a particular challenge to rebuild the infrastructure needed for a proper scheme. Nevertheless, it is the right direction of travel and I very much look forward to the debate and hope that I can make a contribution.

I shall be tabling an amendment on waste traceability that will require waste collection and management authorities to publish the end destination of all municipal waste products. I am deeply concerned about the transparency of waste management in this country. I was a local councillor for three years and the cabinet member for the environment, and my responsibilities included bin collections and waste disposal, so I know quite a lot about the subject, and I know the difficulties that councils have in making recycling really work and making sure that people engage in recycling schemes. For that reason, it is important that local councils disclose not just where they send their waste after they have collected it but the end destination, so that nobody can say, “Well, you have sold it on to a management company somewhere in the midlands and we do not know where it goes then.” We would instead know what that company did with the waste and that it did not sell it on to some country abroad, so that it might eventually end up in the oceans.

We would also know whether we were sending our waste to waste incineration facilities. Although people talk about energy from waste, I remind the House that it is not a net zero solution. Incinerating plastic is no better than burning fossil fuels. If we are looking for a net zero solution for this country, incineration from waste is not it. We need to look at that urgently. My amendment would make sure that those who diligently recycled could be confident that their waste was recycled and not shipped abroad or burned in incinerators. Incinerators need a certain calorific value in order to burn. For example, burning wet food waste is best done by adding plastics. It is perfectly possible that waste companies are burning recycled plastic waste from local authorities.

It is crucial to understand that energy from waste plants is not a net zero solution. Burning plastics, as I have just said, is no better than burning fossil fuels. Plastic should be recycled where possible, and energy from waste facilities create a counter-incentive to recycling. A small change in the law to require waste to be traced to its end destination will make the system more transparent and waste authorities more accountable. In this way, everyone will know where their waste is going when they put it in the recycling bin. We owe it to our residents to give them that transparency.

Although this Bill brings forward some important changes to waste and recycling, there is still not enough focus on waste prevention and how the waste industry will contribute to a net zero Britain.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
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Our natural environment is of growing importance and concern, both in the United Kingdom and around the world, so, it is of great importance that we get this Environment Bill right.

Conservative Governments have had huge successes in introducing measures such as the charge for single-use plastic bags, resulting in a 90% decrease in plastic bag usage in the United Kingdom, but there is still much work to be done. I encourage the Minister to consider banning plastic milk cartons as part of our Conservative mission to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we inherited it.

By introducing a framework for our independent environmental standards after leaving the European Union, specifically on areas such as air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction, the United Kingdom is exercising its sovereignty and world-leading ambition. Setting our own laws is a significant opportunity not only to maintain high standards, but to exceed them.

I strongly welcome the fact that the Government have set long-term environmental objectives and principles. Long-term outlooks are a crucial element in tackling the effects of climate change. However, more immediate measures are required in the Bill. For example, we need positive measures to reduce further single-use plastics through deposit return schemes and other community engagement projects, and I warmly welcome those aspects.

My constituency of West Dorset is a prime example of excellent environmental stewardship, with its vast stretches of countryside and Jurassic coast—that is clear to see. Our land has been nurtured and maintained by generations of farmers, and those farmers have played a vital role throughout history in taking care of the countryside. They nurture wildlife and habitats, a duty that should not go unnoticed. Unfortunately, however, that vital work often goes unnoticed, and I pay tribute to the thousands of farmers for their environmental stewardship across the country and for dedicating their lives to doing so. I am especially keen to seek assurance and clarification from the Minister that the crucial role of farmers is recognised and that they are granted the freedom to thrive and continue their vital work.

Surprisingly for some, a key concern of my constituents in West Dorset is air quality. Chideock, a small village in my constituency between Bridport and Lyme Regis, is especially subject to air pollution, as the A35 runs through it. Traffic congestion means that the air is polluted with the harmful exhaust gases of vehicles. The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum pollution limit of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, but in 2017 West Dorset District Council measured a reading of 61.8 micrograms per cubic metre of air. My constituents in the rural village of Chideock are subject to such high levels of air pollution. The British Lung Foundation has confirmed the damaging effect of high levels of exhaust pollutant, which must be a much higher priority, in my opinion. I hope that the targets set by the Government will recognise the impact of exhaust pollutants in villages such as Chideock, and ensure the safety of all residents from harmful gases that cause a direct and immediate health risk.

I welcome the environmental direction in which the Government are heading, but I am keen to encourage the Minister to be more robust with target setting so that our important environmental standards will not just continue at our normal high standards, but that our standards going forward will lead the world.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder). He focused on air quality and that is very much what I want to focus on today. I agree with everything he said about that. I also agree with him that we should leave the environment in a better condition than we found it, but I fear that, in its current form, the Environment Bill will not deliver that mandate, which I share. It certainly will not deliver the bigger mandate of delivering zero carbon for 2050. As the Minister will know, the latest projections show that we will reach the 1.5° increase by 2030, not 2040, so we really do need to up our game. The Bill is possibly capable of delivering environmental protection, as opposed to climate change mitigation, regarding air, chemicals, plastics and our oceans.

The problem with the Bill, at least as it is drafted at the moment, is that it does not have the teeth to deliver enforceable, known targets to ensure that we deliver those higher standards. As we leave the EU, the real risk is that because we do not have dynamic alignment, we will fall behind the escalating standards in the EU and possibly even behind the current standards. On air quality, the Minister will know that we consistently fail to meet the EU air quality standards and that is why the Government have been taken to court on several occasions by ClientEarth and rightly fined. We need a system that can duplicate that, but that system does not exist.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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It baffles me that Opposition Members think that this country is incapable of setting high standards itself without having an international body to do it for us. If we all, collectively, across the House, believe in high environmental standards, why cannot we look after our own interests, rather than have somebody else do it for us?

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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That was very much an own goal by the former Transport Minister, who cancelled the electrification of the line to Swansea and knows that the UK has consistently failed to meet standards. The empirical evidence shows that we have not and cannot do it with this Government, because we have been dragged into court, kicking and screaming, for failing those standards. That is why we have the Bill, which waters down the standards, does not provide an independent agency and does not provide an opportunity for fines to be paid for failure to deliver World Health Organisation standards. In my view, such fines should be paid to the health service to treat people for the harm and to local authorities to actually reduce air pollution.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, but does he agree that what is really worrying is the lack of ambition from the Government? We can only save the planet by international co-operation if we stop their friends who invest in companies that are exploiting the rainforest. We need to do that in a co-ordinated way across the planet, but the Bill lacks imagination and energy.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Precisely. COP26 is an opportunity for the United Kingdom to show that we will act collectively, take leadership and bring the world together, but the example we are setting is one where we have 62,000 people dying prematurely from air pollution at a cost of £20 billion. Air pollution causes heart failure and lung disease, and possibly lower IQ in children. Unborn babies have PM2.5 microparticles in their blood stream. That is why we want the World Health Organisation standards mentioned by the hon. Member for West Dorset for 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, with a staging post of 12 by 2025, in the Bill and enforced through fines. Otherwise, it simply will not happen.

We know what the manufacturers will do, with their weasel words; we know about the Volkswagen scandal. The latest scandal is the fact that diesel filters themselves store up particulates, crush them into more harmful microparticulates and spew them out every 300 miles, causing much worse pollution and public health problems. That is not actually measured in the emissions testing regime, because the manufacturers have been behind the door, lobbying away. We cannot trust them, and we want to bring forward the year when new diesel and fossil fuel cars become illegal to 2030. As has been mentioned, we need a fiscal strategy to deliver that.

The other change I really want to push for is the inclusion of indoor air pollution in the Bill. No one in their right mind would believe that we could have an Environment Bill that is just about the outdoor environment, when 90% of our time and 95% of our children’s time is spent indoors. What is happening to those children indoors? I recommend that Members read report on indoor air quality published on 28 January by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which shows that there is an abundance of harmful chemicals indoors, including in products used for cleaning, construction materials and volatile organic compounds. These chemicals come in the form of formaldehydes, cosmetics, candles, cooking products and all sorts of stuff, and they have a cocktail impact, causing inflammatory respiratory problems. We are all locked in small flats with double glazing, which makes the effect worse, and that is also the case in schools and hospitals. The Bill should cover indoor environments—minimally schools and hospitals—to protect our children, but it simply does not.

Fire retardants are a specific problem. I understand that the average house in Britain now contains 45 kg of fire retardants, including in sofa and mattress foams. We have much more of these materials than the EU or the US. Why? Because we require a flame test, rather than just a smoulder test. When fires happen, people die from the toxicity of fumes given off by the fire retardants. This toxicity is worse than in concentration camps in the second world war because of the combination of hydrogen cyanide—the chemical that was used in concentration camps, in Zyklon B—and carbon monoxide, which makes it 35 times worse. When there is a fire, those so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons burn off, firefighters cannot see through the smoke, and people basically choke and die within a few breaths. It is outrageous that that should be allowed. New Zealand has removed those chemicals, and has shown that doing so does not result in more deaths from fires.

Through this Bill, we need to continue with the regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, or REACH. In a nutshell, REACH means that manufacturers that produce a chemical are required to show that that chemical is safe. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has to prove that a manufacturer’s chemical is hazardous, which is why asbestos is used in brake pads in the United States. Once we go into a trade deal, the big problem with this Bill is that it leaves the door open for Donald Trump and his mates to water down our environmental standards—we have all heard about chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, but this also applies to chemicals—so that they can sell all sorts of stuff that will be a risk to our public health. We need to tighten up this legislation, have a precautionary principle and ensure that we deliver on REACH.

Members will know that plastics cause the deaths of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals a year, and that there will be as much plastic as fish in the sea by 2050. We need a fiscal strategy to address that; we need to tax plastics. The last Chancellor but one said that there was going to be a plastics tax. Where is it? Are the Government calling for it? Let’s have it.

On trade, we need to watch out for investor-state dispute settlements. Companies will come along and agree a trade system, and if we start passing new environmental laws, they will sue us under the investor-state dispute settlement system. It is important that we have our legislation in place at this point—before we agree those trade deals—rather than doing so after the trade deals, otherwise we will face all sorts of sanctions. I agree with the Chair of the DEFRA Committee on the integrated approach that needs to be taken with the three Bills to combat flooding through land use management and so on. Particularly as I am from Swansea, I am concerned about tourism in the economy, and want to ensure that the blue flag beach registration is kept up so that people have confidence that when they go bathing everything is clean.

Our environment is not just a namby-pamby thing about saying, “Let’s look after the environment.” It is obviously for our children and our children’s children, but it is also for our economy. We want to be able to boast, “We set the standards and the markets follow. People want to come here because we have a glorious enhanced environment.” In the current state of play, this Bill will not deliver the goods. I very much hope that Ministers will be open to the amendments that my right hon. Friends and I will want to put in to make it better and fit for purpose.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). I might have a slightly more optimistic view of this place’s ability to press for the highest standards, but he makes a very important point about indoor air quality. I am sure that the Minister will have listened to that particularly carefully. I have a particular interest in the issue of carbon monoxide that the hon. Gentleman talked about.

This is an important debate to participate in in its own right, but it is all the more pleasurable because we have had so many maiden speeches as well. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Burton (Kate Griffiths). I hope I can apologise to my hon. Friend for trying to intervene on her, but I thought it might have been a timely intervention. I have to give special congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) because I stood for election in Wolverhampton North East in 2001, and she had a lot more success than I did. As a fellow Black Country girl and the granddaughter of a metal room worker, it was really heartening to hear her passion for the Black Country and its future. I wish her every success in this place. I should say that I also remember her mother, who was a councillor at the time when I stood for election.

This Bill takes this country’s approach to the environment and the protection of our environment to a whole new level. It makes legal principles that some of us have supported for many, many years, including the “polluter pays” principle. Its legally binding targets to improve the environment, and annual reports through environmental improvement plans, mean that we are set on a positive track for the future. The Office for Environmental Protection is a new industry watchdog.

The specific issues that are dealt with in the Bill have been raised with me by my constituents for many years. I am sure that my local Chineham Girl Guides and Brownies will be very pleased to see that the deposit return scheme is back on the table. Many of my other residents who have lobbied me on plastic bag charging, and extending it, will be pleased to see measures on that. The many hundreds of people who have, over the years, written to me about the importance of sustainable forms of packaging will be delighted to see the measures in this Bill. So I give a massive thanks to the Minister for all the work that she, in particular, has done on these measures.

I would like to focus on just two issues within the Bill, one of which has not been raised so far. It follows on from the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) with regard to trees. Schedule 15 is about combating illegal deforestation. It is all well and good to go around planting trees, as many of us do, and encouraging people in our constituencies to do that, but if others come along and fell those trees unlawfully and nothing is done about it, or things are done but the actions that are undertaken are ineffective, then this has to be taken seriously. I really commend the Government for picking up on this issue, because in my constituency we experienced one of the largest unlawful tree fellings that the Forestry Commission had seen in many, many years when more than 500 trees were felled in Dixon Road just outside Sherfield Park. Despite the Forestry Commission taking great measures to insist on a restocking order and that being enforced through the courts, the practical fact is that few of those 500 trees have been reinstated.

I therefore welcome the measures in the Bill that will allow courts to make restocking orders after an individual has been convicted for failing to comply with an enforcement order. I even more heartily welcome the fact that the fine for felling without a licence is increased significantly to an unlimited level 5 fine. Restocking orders are really important, and they should not be flouted in the way that they have been. I hope that these measures are as effective as the Government have set out.

An application for planning consent on a piece of land that has been subject to unlawful tree felling cannot take into account the fact that there has been a failure to comply with a restocking order. I hope the Minister will look at local authorities being able to take unlawful tree felling and a lack of compliance into account when considering applications.

The second issue that I want to raise, as other Members have, is the legally binding target for fine particulate matter, which I welcome wholeheartedly. Fine particulate matter has the most significant impact on human health, and the Government’s approach has been commended by the WHO as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The importance of action by national Government is clear, but local government needs to act as well if we are to achieve the improvements in air quality that are so important. One in five of us will be diagnosed with a respiratory illness or condition at some point in our life, and the Government are acting on that.

Will the Government look closely at the proposals put forward by various organisations on further strengthening those air pollution targets? Could the Minister confirm that health experts will play a significant role in setting new air quality targets?

It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. These air pollution measures are such an important part of the Bill and are to be commended, along with the other measures. I wish the Bill well at every stage in this House and the other place.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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It was just last year that Parliament declared a climate emergency—a significant move that recognises the importance of this issue for our future and the future of our planet. We are in a climate and ecological emergency but, sadly, the Bill does not do nearly enough to help. It replaces a flawed but comprehensive European Union environmental framework with non-binding long-term targets that can be changed by the Secretary of State at any time, at his or her discretion. We need concrete, legally binding targets if the Bill is to have the impact that it must have for our future.

I want to talk about biodiversity gain. The idea is welcome, but the level of gain set out in the Bill must be much more ambitious. We do not need a levelling down of biodiversity gain. Some authorities are already going beyond this, or seeking to do so, within the current frame- work. We need a much higher limit. Some organisations have suggested that a 20% net gain would be more in line with need and that this should be open to review, in case future evidence demonstrates the need for an increased level. It should be a minimum, not a cap.

One issue that has been drawn to my attention by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others, and on which I had the chance to ask a question last week, is implementation of the biodiversity gain proposals. Concerns about the proposals include new burdens on councils, further pressures on the capacity of local authority planning departments and a lack of specialist ecological expertise to deliver the plans. If we are to have biodiversity gain, as we should, all new burdens on local authorities must be properly assessed and fully funded. Without that funding or resource, this is just a piece of paper that cannot be enforced. It is vital in this area that we ensure that local authorities have the resources they need—in staff and in finance—to make sure that this is properly implemented, as well as looking at the capacity and skills needed.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Ealing North (James Murray), neither of whom is in their place at the moment, have spoken very fully and eloquently about the impact of deforestation on our environment. It is not my intention to repeat that, but this is an issue that many of my constituents have contacted me about. We should not underestimate the need for the issue to be addressed and I hope the Government will do that. Accelerating climate change is the leading driver of wildlife extinction due to habitat loss.

In my constituency of Blaydon, trees play a hugely important part in our local natural environment. Many of my constituents are very concerned about making sure that we are not only looking after our existing tree cover, but increasing our tree cover to deliver environmental benefits. I am pleased to say that, at the turn of the year, I took part in a community tree planting event in my constituency. It was good to see so many people—so many families—out and joining the plantation. I know that Gateshead Council has plans to increase the tree cover in our constituency and in the Gateshead Council area.

The new Bill does include a legal duty to consult before felling street trees and stronger powers for the Forestry Commission, which is welcome. Again, however, the issue of resources raises its head: there must be resources to carry out that responsibility. We do not want loopholes that will leave valued trees vulnerable as a result of proposed tree felling. As has been said, it is important that we increase tree cover to ensure that we can take advantage of the environmental gain, but it is also important that we consider a tree strategy. This Bill does not move forward on the call for a national tree strategy for England to be required by law. I hope the Government will consider that again.

I want to touch briefly on plastic pollution. All hon. Members will know how, when they visit a school or see the Brownies locally, the children are very keen on ensuring that we clean up our oceans and do not have plastic pollution. People will be disappointed to see that the Bill does not go further in this area. One of the key things we need to look at is getting an all-in deposit return scheme that deals with recycling at least some of the plastic in our environment.

The last thing I want to talk about is the Office for Environmental Protection. I echo calls from both sides of the House about ensuring that this role has true independence from Government and has real powers to be able to tackle the issues. It is an absolutely vital role in ensuring that we deal effectively with protecting and improving our environment. Again, I hope the Government will think very hard about ensuring that its powers are strengthened.

I ask Ministers to look at all these issues and at the amendments that will undoubtedly be put forward, to look to strengthen some of these measures and to ensure that local authorities and other organisations have the resources to implement effectively the powers we are giving them.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). I do not agree with what she said about the need for the European Union to set our regulations, but I do agree with a lot of what she said about deforestation and biodiversity, which indicates commonality across the House on the need to tackle these issues effectively.

I am not a glass-half-empty person, and I think that we in this country have made good progress in recent years. Our rivers are massively cleaner than they were, although discharges still damage our wildlife. We are planting trees around the country—I have a fantastic project in my constituency, the Centenary Woodland, which is being planted by the Woodland Trust—but not enough is done to ensure that new housing developments are built in a sustainable way alongside protected habitats, and that housing does not destroy wildlife in our country.

We are doing much more than we previously did to tackle unnecessary waste, but the hon. Lady is right to say that we still have too much plastic pollution, and we do not sufficiently reuse potentially valuable materials. As a nation we have made good progress in cutting carbon emissions, but we still have an impact around the world. There is deforestation, and one thing I would like, which consumers can deliver, is a significant reduction in the amount of palm oil that this country uses. We know the environmental implications of too many palm oil plantations around the world, and this country should seek to set an example on that issue.

My remarks will focus on two things. First I will speak about biodiversity, but I will also stress the need for a smart approach towards these matters. Our constituents still have priorities. They may think that this issue is a priority, but it is not the only one, and we must approach these matters in a way that delivers a cleaner, better environment, and enables us to meet people’s other priorities.

It cannot be right that our generation has seen such a loss of biodiversity here and around the world, and we must seek to address that. Many of us will remember the dawn chorus from when we were children. There were birds all over the place, but today there are far fewer. I hold the role of parliamentary species champion for the hedgehog, and to my mind, the dramatic decline in hedgehog numbers shames this country. Not just in this country but around the world too many species are in danger because of man’s behaviour. One thing that I hope will result from the dreadful outbreak of coronavirus in China is a proper crackdown in Asia on the illegal wildlife trade, which does so much damage to so many species, including endangered species.

I welcome measures in the Bill that require biodiversity gain in new developments. That is an important step forward, and when meeting our undoubted housing needs, we must not simply build over wildlife habitats without seeking to make provision for the species that are affected. It is right to have a proper nature recovery network, and to give local authorities and other organisations the duty and power to restore and create better natural habitats. That is the only way to reverse the decline in species such as the hedgehog, or those birds that have disappeared from so many parts of the country. It is not the only solution, but it will be important.

We must also introduce measures on water quality in our rivers. We have made progress, but not enough, and the Bill includes some provisions on that, particularly regarding extraction. Over-extraction to meet human and agricultural needs has a serious impact on biodiversity in our river valleys, which the Bill rightly seeks to address. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) was right to speak about the importance of measures in the Bill to tackle illegal deforestation, which are welcome and overdue. These issues are not just for the Government or regulatory bodies, because our whole society needs to act. I welcome the gradual steps now being taken by some developers to open up the access routes through new developments that species such as hedgehogs need. Without such provision, those species will continue to decline.

We need a smarter approach to managing our impact on the environment, but we live in a democratic society, and people also have other expectations. If we demand that people give up major aspects of their lives in the name of the environment, or because of environmental pressures, they simply will not do it. People expect us to improve their roads, and ensure that they can buy or rent a home and take a holiday, and we must work out the best way to deliver our environmental objectives, alongside meeting the rest of those goals. The new Office for Environmental Protection must use its powers wisely and effectively. We must do everything we can. If there is a solution we must grasp it, but if no solution avoids damaging other parts of our society, we must think carefully about how we approach those issues.

One example of where we need a smarter approach is in preparing for net zero. I hear, week by week and day by day, people and companies saying that they will be net zero by a particular date. That is absolutely to be desired, but we know that some of the mechanisms to get them there, particularly offsetting schemes, are not always what they are made out to be. We will therefore need a much more carefully thought through, higher quality approach to nature recovery here and around the world. It is not just about planting trees, although hon. Members of all parties have talked about the importance of tree planting. I support the planting of trees. We can play a big part internationally, through our development aid budget, to encourage and support other countries to reforest areas that have been allowed to become arid and deserted. We can do more in this country, too. We have projects already, but there is more we can do here. It is not just about tree planting, of course. Wetland areas can absorb carbon and create more habitats for birds. We need a mixed approach to biodiversity.

Offsetting projects have to be genuine and beneficial. It is important that in this country the Office for Environmental Protection ensures that projects within the UK are genuine in their impact. Internationally, I want us to refocus part of our aid budget to support genuine projects around the world that restore biodiversity and habitats to create the opportunity to bring back wildlife populations and capture carbon at the same time. As one of the great donors to the developing world, we can play a real leadership role in doing that.

Restoring our habitats and our natural environment is, to me, an urgent priority. Legislation can only take us so far. The whole of our society needs to work on delivering it, but the Bill can help us to take a major step in the right direction.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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We are facing one of the greatest tests in our history: extreme weather, droughts, wildfires, flooding yet again devastating communities across our country, rising sea levels, polluted rivers and toxic air.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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Air pollution across the west midlands affects some 2.8 million people and our young people are most at risk of dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the hard work of the Labour council in Birmingham, who are introducing a clean air zone to try to tackle air pollution, and in commending my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), the Labour candidate for Mayor of Birmingham, who wants Birmingham to become the first carbon-neutral region in the country?

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
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I congratulate my hon. Friend’s local council and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill on the fantastic work they are doing. I am really proud that my own local authority, Cardiff Council, is doing groundbreaking work through a clean air plan to tackle air pollution levels. Cardiff Council has just been awarded £21 million from the Labour Welsh Government to invest in practical measures, such as retrofitting, taxi migration and transport initiatives. This is really groundbreaking stuff, which is absolutely needed.

Climate change is no longer a theory. It is a reality beating at our door. The recent floods across our country have shown it is not just something that happens to other people in far-flung places. It is happening right here. We have a moral, social and ethical obligation to the generations who will follow us to meet the environmental challenges of today and leave behind a healthier, more sustainable environment for tomorrow. This long awaited Environment Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen our environmental standards at home, modernise waste and recycling strategies, and show global leadership at a time when it is so sorely needed. At COP26, we can show the world what we are doing.

There are some welcome measures in the Bill, but I am afraid it fails to show the promised gold standard stipulated by the Environment Secretary’s predecessor. I am not suggesting that any of this is easy. It is not easy to change the way that we do things to meet the climate challenge, but I am suggesting that it is absolutely imperative that we take urgent, radical action to build a sustainable environment and economy for the long term, to safeguard our planet for future generations—offering also opportunities for people, our communities and our businesses. That need not be an either/or scenario. I do not know for how many years I have been making speeches about either the environment or the economy. It need not be either/or; it can be both.

Today I want to focus on one of the Bill’s key elements: waste and resource efficiency and phasing out unsustainable packaging. The UK has been using and wasting resources at unsustainable levels; we are far behind the recycling rates of many of our European neighbours. There is a rising imperative for Government, business and consumers to think and act radically when it comes to plastics and packaging, waste and recycling.

In the previous Parliament, I presented my Packaging (Extended Producer Responsibility) Bill. UK Government figures had been shown to underestimate drastically how much plastic packaging waste Britain generates. A study by Eunomia, the waste experts, estimates that just 31% of waste is currently recycled. Where does that waste go? Much is exported and shipped overseas, and dumped into our precious oceans, washed up on the pristine shores of the Arctic and Antarctic. While the Bill sets targets on waste reduction and resource efficiency, there is more of a focus on end-of-life solutions, rather than tackling types of packaging, and the use and reuse of plastic packaging. That continues to place a disproportionate burden of waste collection and costs on local authorities.

The coalition of waste industry experts and local authorities that I set up around my Bill all believe that the Bill before us does not adequately deal with the reform of waste as it should. We desperately need radical reform of the system across the country. Producers need to take responsibility, from the packaging they produce to the clean-up at the end of the life cycle. This is the Government’s opportunity to be ambitious—to show the UK to be a world leader. It would be a great shame if they did not take this opportunity. Such reform is not in the Bill as it stands.

The current system has failed to get to grips with export waste. I am not confident that the Bill in any way toughens our stance on the restrictions on exporting waste. Even the most well intentioned of producers who ship plastic waste overseas to be recycled and treated correctly, lose control and ultimately lose sight of whether that waste was appropriately disposed of. The Secretary of State, in his opening remarks, said that he had toughened up that area, but I cannot see that in the Bill: we have gone from “prohibit” and “restrict” to providing for regulation. I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister: what does that mean? What does that regulation look like? How does it adequately meet the needs? It does not, as I see it.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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Will the hon. Lady be supporting or opposing the Bill in the Lobby this evening?

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
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I am absolutely opposed to a lot of things in the Bill, because it does not speak to what our industry—our producers—need. So I will be thinking very carefully and taking that decision at the end of the debate.

We must build on our recycling industry here in the UK. The answer to that problem cannot simply be that the Government will tackle the problem by causing more materials to be sent to landfill or the incinerator. Although end-of-life solutions are important, the ultimate objective must be to decrease the volume of single-use plastics, improve design and recyclability and see large-scale investment and infrastructure capacity here in the UK, and not ship things off overseas. We must address the core reason why so much plastic is shipped overseas: 356 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2018 alone.

In England, councils, restricted financially, have been less able to invest in recycling facilities, so much of the growth in the waste disposal sector has been achieved by exporting waste. In many cases, a failed austerity agenda has created that growing dependence on export markets. I am fortunate that in Wales the Welsh Government have been ambitious and introduced those hard recycling targets and invested in recycling, but for this to work we will need fundamental reform across the whole UK. I want this UK Government to take innovative steps to make radical change.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the Office for Environmental Protection. Where is its independence in holding Governments to account and what consequences will there be when the Government fail to meet targets? It will be a toothless regulator with fewer powers than the European Commission. How can we hope to meet the challenge of the climate emergency with such a weak regulator? The Bill lacks ambition. It lacks legally binding targets and fails at every level. If we want people to take Government and Parliament seriously, we need to wake up and to toughen up the Bill.

Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin). I endorse much of what she said about the horror that plastic presents to the world and the nonsense of exporting it. She might be interested to know that one of my sad failures as Secretary of State was failing to persuade our coalition partners to introduce a price incentive for a genuinely biodegradable plastic bag. Our charge, which came in shortly after I left but which I legislated for, has reduced the number of bags from 8 billion to 1.1 billion, according to the House of Commons Library, but the ideal is to develop a biodegradable plastic that does not cause this horror in the seas and all the terrible issues she raised.

We have heard many very good maiden speeches and I think there are more to come, so I will speak briefly. I see all this enthusiasm in the Chamber, all this youth, all these excited people wanting to take action as Members of Parliament and benefit their constituents, yet a pillar of the Bill, which I strongly support, is the creation of a quango. When I was Secretary of State, my four key priorities were: to grow the rural economy; improve the environment, not just protect it—which is built into the Bill; and save the country from animal disease and plant disease. The Bill is the basis on which to deliver that. It is not all in there—it is partly an enabling Bill—but I strongly support its clearly stated aims.

The only aspect I would really query is that we do not need another quango. We already have Natural England and the Environment Agency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), when he took the Bill through in its early incarnation, said that the staff of the OEP would only number 60 to 120. That dwarfs what we already have in Natural England and the Environment Agency. What we want are strong Ministers. I am delighted by the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) as a Minister and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who was my junior Minister, as Secretary of State. They are knowledgeable, competent Ministers bringing forward policies that will benefit our farming and marine industries and the environment, both terrestrial and marine.

What we want is a strong mechanism by which Members can question Ministers, ensure that whatever they decide is put into practice and pull them up if it is not. What we do not need is another quango. A quango is not the answer. I have direct experience of that. We had the most terrible floods in Somerset when I was at DEFRA. Why was that? It was because of a very misguided policy. Why was it misguided? It was because the Environment Agency was led by a model quangocrat. Baroness Young of Old Scone had spent seven years as chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, she had been vice-chairman of the BBC for two years, and she was chief executive of the Environment Agency for eight years. I am sure she would score many points among all those speakers on the Opposition Benches—of course, she was also a Labour Whip.

The policy of Baroness Young in the Somerset levels was to put a limpet mine on every pumping station, and when it came to categories, she wanted policy option 6 for the levels, which was to increase flooding. The result was an environmental catastrophe, costing, according to some estimates, more than £100 million. The water died—the water went stagnant—and all aquatic life disappeared. I went down and talked to some experts on the levels who really understood the local environment, and they said that they had never seen so many wild birds disappear until that year.

What we want is local management. North Shropshire looks as it does thanks to generations of private farmers and private landlords taking huge pride in what they do. What we are doing now on public goods in the Agriculture Bill—and there are more measures in this Bill—is giving people the chance to improve their local environment. I should like the Minister to look at the benefits of nature improvement areas, built around catchments, where we could pool the resources from the landowners’ payments for public goods, from public grants and from other moneys, possibly local, for the purpose of long-term targets. We could concentrate on local species which need building up again. That would deliver real environmental outcomes.

Creating at national level a quango with 60 to 120 busy- bodies who are, for some reason, independent of this House is not the way. We have had enough: we have had 40 years of the European Union telling us what to do, and doing it badly. Following directives designed for polluted European rivers, not our own—that is not the way. The answer is to write laws in this House, and regulations in this House, and set targets in this House, and then control them in this House. That is what we were elected to do. Creating a parody of the European Commission—which is what the OEP is—is emphatically not the answer.

I am looking at the clock, but I will very briefly mention a couple of other issues. I mentioned catchment areas earlier. I should like the Minister to look at the issue of abstraction, because we have to balance the need to grow food and provide adequate water with the need to keep food production going. Food production is vital, and it is still the primary function of the countryside. I should also like the Minister to look at the balance between the precautionary principle and the innovation principle. In the European Union there is an insane hostility towards modern technologies, which has caused real environmental damage. What we should be doing is growing more food on less land, and freeing up land for recreation and planting. We have heard a lot of talk about trees, all of which I entirely endorse, especially in view of the floods. We should be growing more trees in the upper parts of the catchment areas. That is the balance: we will only do that with modern technologies.

Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of endangered species, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I am very proud to be wearing the tie of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. We now have a wonderful opportunity to legislate for the species in this country which really are endangered. We do not have a problem with crested newts—although they have caused terrible problems for our building industry—but we do have a problem with red squirrels and certain crayfish, and those are what we should be targeting.

The Bill presents us with a great opportunity, and I support it, but will the Minister please make sure that it is Members of Parliament in the driving seat?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to follow such a passionate speech from the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson).

It will probably not surprise Members to learn that I shall be focusing my comments on part 5 of the Bill, largely because extreme weather is starting to pose an almost existential crisis to us in parts of Calderdale. The water levels that we saw in 2015, and again earlier this month, presented an immediate threat to life, and a more long-term challenge to the viability of communities alongside the river and the canal.

An ongoing challenge for us in flood-affected communities throughout the north, in particular, is that the legislation and regulation that underpin the role of water companies are heavily weighted towards mitigating drought risk. The climate change adaptation work reflected in both the 25-year environment plan and the Bill, while recognising flood risk, does not provide the same level of seriousness in legislation relating to the risks of both flooding and drought, and I should like to see a rebalancing of those challenges.

In July last year I presented a ten-minute rule Bill, the Reservoirs (Flood Risk) Bill, which—in a nutshell—sought to give the Environment Agency additional powers to require water companies to manage reservoirs to mitigate flood risk. The Bill followed years of conversations between the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and Calderdale Council about the role of the six Yorkshire Water reservoirs in the upper catchment in the Calder Valley. In the winter of 2017-18, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency started a trial to manage the Hebden Water reservoirs down to 90% of their usual top storage level, with the aim of assessing the potential of utilising the reservoirs as a more long-term flood risk management option. Maintaining the reservoirs at 90% instead of the usual percentage created an extra 10% capacity to hold more water in the upper catchment during periods of heavy rainfall. Although the reservoirs were placed under nothing like the pressure during the trial period that they experienced during Boxing day 2015’s Storm Eva or more recently Storms Ciara and Dennis, the report was able to conclude:

“The lower reservoir levels did provide a significant impact on peak flows in Hebden Water for largest events observed during this period”.

The report was clear that the scheme had a positive impact on flood mitigation, and that a managed and collaborative approach would be complementary to ongoing flood protection work in the area. This approach is not just happening in Calderdale; similar conversations are happening right across the country, including at Thirlmere reservoir in Cumbria, at reservoirs in the upper Don Valley and at Watergrove reservoir in Rochdale.

The Environment Bill recognises that climate change and extreme weather will place additional pressures on water availability, and although it legislates for a requirement on water companies to work regionally to publish joint proposals to mitigate drought risk, it does not seem to place the same expectations on water companies to mitigate flood risk. Drought risk and flood risk seem to be perpetually at odds with each other throughout legislation, although both are expected to occur with increased frequency. So while I very much welcome a more regional approach, I would like to see a rebalancing of both those risks, alongside the investment in infrastructure that would give whole regions the flexibility to move water with ease and to manage the risk, making us more resilient to too much water as well as not enough.

In relation to the role of reservoirs, I will be looking to table amendments to part 5 of the Bill that would set out the transfer of powers to the Environment Agency and the framework in which such arrangements between the EA and water companies, in consultation with local authorities and communities, would work together to put localised plans in place for managing down pre-designated reservoir levels during periods of heightened risk.

As we know, this is just one piece of the enormous jigsaw that needs to come together if we are to bring the ongoing risks that we face in Calderdale under control. Given the vast scale of the moorland in the upper catchment, natural flood management schemes will be instrumental if we are to hold and slow water before it reaches homes and businesses down the valley. Last summer, I visited Dove Stone nature reserve in High Peak with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, where a comprehensive peatland restoration project is under way. We were planting sphagnum moss, which not only helps to manage flood risk by locking in water but promotes biodiversity, prevents wildfires and stores carbon.

Slow the Flow in Calderdale promotes natural flood management, and with a group of volunteers with an impressive collective skillset, it has been working with the National Trust, the Environment Agency and Calderdale Council since 2016 to use the natural environment to build leaky dams, stuff gullies and promote sustainable drainage and natural attenuation schemes. This work disrupts the flow of water as it makes its way down the valley, forcing it to spread out and slow down, and holds as much water up in the crags for as long as possible.

The really impressive thing about Slow the Flow is its determination to measure its outcomes, its desire to take an evidence-based approach to what it does and to crunch the numbers to demonstrate the real value of its work. Its work on attenuation ponds, which are designed to hold water in the event of heavy rainfall, suggests that if the 43 attenuation ponds identified as possible sites by Calderdale Council were delivered at a cost of £600,000 for 29,000 metres cubed of water storage—bear with me—this would equate to £21 per cubic metre of storage, compared with the £1,270 per cubic metre cost of the storage delivered by the hard flood defences in Mytholmroyd. The truth is that we need both, but we can see how cost-effective natural flood management is. It is 61 times more cost-effective per cubic metre of water storage.

I therefore very much welcome the local nature recovery strategy in the Bill, building on the notion of natural capital and acknowledging the very real, tangible benefits for people and communities if we can store and slow water in the upper catchment. However, I would like to see the Bill include hard and ambitious targets for recovering moorland and peatlands in particular, and not only for flood alleviation purposes; nature-based solutions will play a critical role in mitigating climate change. Peatland currently covers 12% of the UK’s total land and contains more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined. However, it is currently in poor condition. If we look after and manage our peatlands, we can continue to lock in that carbon and absorb more, but if degradation continues we risk not only missing that opportunity but releasing the carbon already stored.

I will briefly turn to the issue of Cobra meetings, because I have been at the deep end of flood crises in Calderdale twice during my time in office. While we cannot legislate for Cobra meetings as part of this process, I have just seen the Secretary of State’s comments to the “Ministers Reflect” series last year. When asked whether Cobra meetings make a difference, he replied:

“Yes, they do, because Cobra is designed to try give everybody a kind of proverbial kick up the backside and get things moving.”

Can I ask for that approach once again in relation to the damage that we have sustained in Calderdale?

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who told us about the situation that her constituents are facing. It has also been a pleasure to listen to the maiden speeches, and I observe that today must be “west midlands day”, because I have heard many excellent speeches from new colleagues from the region. I welcome the Bill and its protections, which will improve air and water quality, restore habitats, create the Office for Environmental Protection, and introduce measures to deal with the impact of plastic waste, on which I will focus.

As somebody who spent 30 years in the packaging industry and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the packaging manufacturing industry, I recognise public concerns about litter and where plastic waste ends up. I heard about that on the doorstep during the general election, because litter in our communities has an impact on local environments and the plastic waste finding its way into the oceans has an impact on the global environment. Both are harmful, but both represent the waste of a valuable resource. I have heard many Members today talk about the harm and damage caused by packaging ending up in the wrong place, but I want to take a moment to consider the role of packaging, because we sometimes forget what it is for.

Packaging enables the safe transfer of goods, particularly of food items, ensuring that they are received by the customer in peak condition. The second important role of packaging is not only to provide customers with convenience when picking up their daily food needs, but to give them information about what the product contains. That is of particular importance for food, given concerns about food allergies, nutritional content and sell-by dates, but instructions for use are important in respect of other items. However, that information is absent when people fill their own containers, for which there is a trend in retail.

The final role of packaging is to prevent food waste. Recent innovations, such as resealable packs for cheese and meat, are important in enabling households to get the most out of their food budgets and ensuring that purchased food is consumed. We must not forget that the disposal of food waste is a problem because it creates gases. There is a case for suggesting that the harmful gases given off by food waste cause more environmental harm than an inert plastic product bobbing about in the ocean. I am not suggesting that that is desirable, but we need to consider the relative harms.

If we accept that there is a role for packaging, we need to consider the steps to minimise its impact. The Bill encourages a reduction in the amount of packaging and refers to recycling. There has always been an incentive for manufacturers to use the least amount of material to do the job that the packaging is being asked to do, and the industry has undergone a process called lightweighting over many years. For example, starting in 2007, Coca-Cola worked with WRAP to reduce the weight of the 500 ml bottle from 26 grams to 24 grams, saving 8% of raw material and reducing the need for 1,400 tonnes of PET a year.

A large part of the Bill is about improving recycling in several ways. First, it extends producer responsibilities by increasing obligations on packaging manufacturers. The industry accepts that it needs to do more and has transformed its approach since the days when I worked in the sector, when there was little regard for what happened once the product had been used.

Consistency in local authority domestic waste collection is also important. People are confused by what goes where, and variation leads to confusion. That needs to be addressed, and I support the intention to simplify labelling on packaging so that what can and cannot be recycled, and which bin to put things in, becomes clearer to consumers. There also needs to be consistency in the use of terms. Why say that something is recyclable if the facilities do not exist to recycle it?

Part 3 addresses deposit return schemes. There are details to consider, but almost all producers in the industry accept DRS. Coca-Cola has an ambition to ensure that all its packaging is recovered so that more is recycled and none ends up as waste or litter, and in early 2017 it confirmed its support for a well-designed DRS.

A DRS must consider a number of items. It must have clear objectives, and it must increase the quality and quantity of the material collected. Quality is about making sure that there is less contamination, and I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)—biodegradable plastic is not helpful, because it is a contaminant in the waste stream.

Secondly, on increasing quantity, there is no point incurring the costs of a DRS—reverse vending machines cost up to £15,000 each—if it does not increase the amount of material recycled. There is real concern about displacement and the fact that people who currently put bottles in their domestic household waste stream will take them to the supermarket to get their deposit back, which will not increase the amount that is recycled.

We need to consider the number of return points and whether there will be one at all sales points. Will cafés and restaurants be included? Will the scheme provide an exemption for small retailers that lack the space to install a reverse vending machine? There are serious questions for the Minister about who will pay for it. Given the lower volumes from smaller retailers, how will we make certain that it is cost-neutral for them? The Minister needs to sort out what happens to unredeemed deposits. Not every bottle deposited will be redeemed, so where will those bottles go? Who will manage it?

Finally, we need to ensure consistency with Scotland. I did not hear the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) say that it would make much more sense and be better for consumers, retailers and beverage producers if we had a UK-wide system. Britvic, which produces soft drinks in my constituency, says that it will otherwise need two separate stock units, one for Scotland and one for England and Wales, which does not make sense.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and to hear him speaking so passionately about plastics and so comprehensively about recycling.

I will speak again about air pollution. According to the Environmental Defence Fund, air pollution is a significant burden on the health of UK residents. Long-term exposure to air pollution causes between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year, not to mention the cost to the public purse, the NHS and social care.

Tanya Steele of the World Wide Fund for Nature said:

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”

The Government need to take those words seriously for all parts of our country. I am a London MP, and London has the highest concentration of air pollution. The Mayor of London is committed to a green new deal and will spend to make that happen. He has shown that, with sufficient powers and resources, London can meet the World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution by 2030. The Government must change their mind and commit to the WHO guidelines in the Bill. They must spend on that, and they will be judged on it in their post-Brexit Budget next month.

The Government fall short in other critical areas. The responsibility for planning is vague, with limited parliamentary oversight. There is inadequate recognition of the role that all public bodies must play in reducing air pollution. Lewisham Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and proposed a target to be carbon neutral by 2030. The cost of delivering that is £1.6 billion. Taking action will create many opportunities in the area to improve health, create jobs, and provide other environmental benefits and significant social benefits, but if that is to be done the Government need to provide local authorities with the resources they need to take action. Otherwise, this is only a fantasy, not a reality. A failure to do that will cost lives and expose our society to a range of unknown costs. We need to value people’s lives—we need to value everybody’s life—and deal seriously with our climate crisis. There is a clear link between action on climate crises and air quality, waste, recycling, biodiversity and protecting our oceans.

I have recently received letters from pupils at the brilliant Brindishe Manor School in my constituency. This time, there were more than 40 letters about the toxic levels of air pollution and other significant climate crisis issues that have come to my attention. I have young children, as do many other MPs and staff here. We do not want our children to be affected by toxic chemicals or to suffer. There is a long journey of recovery for us as a nation that involves composting; planting more trees; walking and cycling more; reducing plastic; disposing of mattresses correctly; preventing the stripping of our oceans; preventing habitats from being under threat; removing all diesel cars; preventing car idling; having fewer cars on the roads; replacing cars with electric cars, at an affordable cost; providing firefighters with the knowledge and means to put out electrical fires; recycling; reducing flights; and reducing flight paths over concentrated areas. The list goes on and on. We need clean air for everyone; it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, society, country and planet.

The children wrote to me about the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, whose death has been linked to air pollution. They rightly demand more from me, and, on their behalf, I demand more from the Government. Given that they have again chosen not to commit to World Health Organisation recommended guidelines on air pollution in this Bill, what do they have to say to my constituents, to worried parents and to children fearing for their future? Let me end with this: the planet takes care of us and it is our responsibility to take care of it.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow some excellent maiden speeches. The themes of this debate are clear, with a general acceptance that this is a good Bill. Some like it a bit more than others, but in general it is seen as a good Bill. Some Opposition Members seem to want the EU or certain other non-Westminster bodies to have more of a say, whereas some Conservative Members want them to have less of a say, but I think the balance has been struck reasonably well by the Government and I commend Ministers for that. This is a landmark piece of legislation, and not just for this country, as we see if we compare it with what is in place in other countries. It is important for us in this House to look sometimes to see what other countries are doing. What we are doing here is admired, not just in this country, but outside it. We should commend the Government for being so forthright. That does not mean we cannot improve the Bill and improve what we do, but let us call a spade a spade and say where we have done a good job—this Bill is a good Bill.

The OEP has rightly attracted a lot of attention because it is one of the most significant things established by the Bill. We will find out in the coming weeks, months and years how the OEP develops and interacts with this House, DEFRA Ministers and devolved Administrations, and how that all works. However, it strikes me that we have almost set up a sort of environmental National Audit Office. That is how the OEP could end up developing—[Interruption.] I see the Minister nodding on the Bench, so I hope I am right about that and that she will address it in her remarks. As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee, I know that, if there is anything like the professionalism that we see in the National Audit Office, we will be very well served.

We all need to be a bit more realistic. We need to wake up because the Bill is actually more significant than we realise. The enabling powers in the Bill give us the foundation to start to deal with the huge changes that are coming across our economy, society, Government and Parliament as a result of the action taken to combat climate change. Earlier in the debate, I intervened on the shadow Secretary of State to talk about the target of net zero by 2050. Yes, some people want it to be net zero by 2040 or 2030, and I understand that, but until we can get a handle on what we need to do to get there by 2050—which may seem like a long way away, but it is only 30 years, and in policy terms that is not a huge amount of time—we need to get our arms around this subject. We need to realise the number of levers we have to pull to get there by 2050. The Bill will allow us to do that.

Let me give a couple of examples. We all know that we cannot solve climate change in this country alone. It is an international effort. To accompany this Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill—a whole framework of how to look at the environment—the Government need, in the run-up to COP26, to set out an ambitious international strategy that includes not only spending from our aid budget, as the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), mentioned, but diplomacy and high-level Government commitment around the world. Frankly, if we cannot convince other countries to take the sort of action that we are taking, none of these problems will get anywhere near to being solved.

Another word I wish to mention is incentives. Let us not forget the power of incentives and, indeed, subsidies. The Bill gives us the framework within which we can remember the positive impact that incentives can have. Look at what we have done on wind and solar power over the past 10 or 15 years; there will be other areas in which we can use incentives. Let us use the Bill as a springboard, in the run-up to COP26, so that we can use more incentives and subsidies in the right areas to make the technological changes that we need and help our economy. The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) talked about the economy of the environment; the economy needs to flourish in order for the environment to flourish—they are intertwined—and using incentives in the right way can help us to do that.

Another word I wish to mention is honesty: a lot of this is going to cost this country a lot of money. Let us be straight about that. It will cost public sector money and private sector money, and not all of that money will be in this country. We are going to need international inward investment in the technology, in the ways we do things and in research and development, so that we can develop the technology, whether it be carbon capture and storage, battery technology or whatever, so that we have a chance of achieving the target. We all need to be a lot more honest with ourselves and, indeed, our constituents that this is going to cost a lot of money. Let us now start to have the bigger conversation about how we pay for it. I suspect that those on the Government Benches may want to do things differently from those on the Opposition Benches, but we have to agree that we have to do it. Let us have that bigger conversation; the Bill gives us a framework and basis on which to do that.

I wish to conclude with two local issues that illustrate a wider point that has already come out in the debate. The first is Luton airport, which is next to my constituency. Many of my constituents are concerned about the air pollution impacts of an airport that is so near to a rural area; the Bill gives us the ability to look at air quality and hopefully to impose binding targets in a localised way. The second issue is chalk streams. We have many unique historic chalk streams in my constituency; the Bill allows us to deal with abstraction in a smarter way. It is a good Bill, but let us make sure that this is the beginning, not the end, of the process.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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When we consider the context in which this debate is taking place, it is important to remember that, in the 1980s, Britain was known as the dirty man of Europe for its air pollution and for its contaminated land and water. It is largely because of 45 years of European Union membership, which concluded at the end of last month, that, more often than not, Ministers had their minds focused on the issue—whether that was to make sure that they did not end up in European courts, or to make sure that Britain was not subject to fines. I guess that we come to the debate today thinking about why it is we have this issue of divergence with the Environment Bill. To be frank, this is not a Government whom I trust very well. It is a Government who said that Parliament would not be prorogued—it was prorogued. It is a Government who said that there would not be an election—there was an election. So, forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I struggle with this notion that we put all these powers into the hands of the UK and that, as a result of divergence, Britain will have higher rather than lower standards when it comes to the environment.

We know that that is the case because, when he was on “The Andrew Marr Show”, the Foreign Secretary spoke about the need for divergence. We know from leaked documents in the Financial Times and on the BBC that there is a desire on the part of the Government to see divergence in order to get free trade agreements over the line. That is something that is very much in the public domain.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is very generous of him. On the point about whether he trusts the Government on divergence and how we will adapt to these environmental challenges, is that not his party’s policy in relation to independence—that, by becoming independent, it will give the Scottish people the ability to do things differently and therefore, he hopes, better? Surely he can recognise the fact that, by having these powers on the environment, it gives us the ability as a country to do things in a better way.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The only part that he missed out in his argument is that the Scottish National party’s proposition for independence is to be back in the European Union, where there are higher levels of environmental standards. That is the precise reason why I did not want to leave the European Union and why I want Scotland to be an independent state within it.

I want to speak about the need to improve the Bill. The Government, of course, have a whopping majority. I respect and understand that, and I accept the result of the election in December. None the less, although they have a large majority in this place, they do not have a monopoly on wisdom, so there is a requirement for us to work across the House and seek consensus.

The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) talked about the need for us to consider the issue of the Office of Environmental Protection. Having sat through the debate, it is clear to me that that has been quite a contentious issue. The right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) was protesting about the idea of having extra quangos. He made great play in talking about Natural England, but it is my understanding that Natural England’s budget has been cut by 50% and its staff numbers have gone from 2,500 to 1,500. It is all well and good to talk about these quangos, but it is important to put on the record that that quango has been subjected to huge cuts by the British Government.

When improving the Bill, there is a need to look at the proposed timescales for the Bill, such as the 2037 target for enforcement. That is simply not good enough. UNICEF, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research are all calling for legally binding commitments to meet WHO guideline limits for fine particulate matter by 2030 at the latest.

One issue that I wish to raise in terms of improving the Bill relates to the Nappies (Environmental Standards) Bill that I introduced in the previous Parliament. That Bill came about partly as a result of a fine factory in my constituency owned by Magnus Smyth in Queenslie, which manufactures environmentally friendly, reusable nappies. When Magnus first came to me about this issue, it was because there is not a level playing field. There are disposable nappy companies out there that talk about eco-friendly nappies that still end up in landfill. We know that, when they end up in landfill, they can take 300 years to break down. We know that 33 billion nappies per year go to landfill and that they generate 7 million tonnes of waste. We also know that, on average, one child, until potty training at the age of two and a half, will generate 550 kg of CO2 equivalents. In many respects, the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden is right: we do need to have honest conversations about changes in consumer behaviour. The measures in my Bill were not about telling people that they had to use reusable nappies—that would be hypocrisy on my own part; we use a combination of both. But we need to look at some of the measures in that Bill, which included promoting reusable nappies schemes such as the one in Hackney in north London and making sure that we tackle the misinformation peddled by some of the companies. I would be grateful if I could pick up with the Minister that idea of trying to incorporate some of that Bill in an amendment to this Bill to make sure that we are taking action on nappies. I am taking the Government at their word that they want to have higher standards as a result of leaving the European Union, so I am sure they will have no difficulty considering those amendments, which I would certainly be happy to table on Report, if I do not manage to meet up with a Minister, or in Committee.

On having honest conversations and what the Government can do, the first point is that, when schemes are proposed, whether a workplace parking levy or three-weekly bin collections, we as politicians need to take those arguments seriously. It is all well and good for us to play party politics from time to time, but if we are to address the future of the environment, we need to have grown-up decisions. Some parties in the House would do well to reflect on that, particularly in relation to a workplace parking levy, which has caused huge amounts of consternation in the Scottish Parliament, much of which is faux outrage.

I make my final point on electric cars because I had a dinner last night with the automotive sector. It strikes me that the Government are taking a purist view on hybrid models and pure electric, and that is something that they must revisit. There is clearly a lack of support for R and D in that industry, and we know when we speak to constituents that a degree of consumer confidence is required and that is not helped by decisions such as those on charging grants.

I have spoken about the need to improve the Bill. It will not be opposed tonight and will go into Public Bill Committee, but I reflect on the point that if the UK Government are seriously saying that they want the Bill to make our environment-related regulations even better, one way of doing that is to work across the House, whether on environmental standards for nappies or many other things. If they do that, we will take them seriously. If they do not, it will reaffirm my view that the Bill is about watering down standards for a free trade agreement, and I am sure that is not a position that the Minister wants to take.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and his comments on nappies—an issue I know plenty about—as well as numerous other speeches from excellent contributors today.

I welcome the Bill and the significant focus that the Government are placing on our environment. Recent flooding, including in St Asaph in my constituency, highlights the fact that the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008 are more important than ever. The Bill will help to underpin some of the changes we need to fulfil its net zero target as well as to achieve much more.

As we move away from oversight by the EU, we need a new domestic framework for environmental governance and, as has been heard, the Bill will set up a new Office for Environmental Protection not only to provide advice, but to monitor, scrutinise and enforce environmental law across the UK. We have an opportunity to lead the world on environmental matters, and I welcome the fact that the Bill makes provision in a number of specific areas. I would like to focus today on two of those areas: air quality and waste reduction.

First, up to 36,000 deaths in the UK are linked to air pollution each year, which is known, above all, to contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Much attention is focused on fine particulate matter—solid and liquid particles from various sources of 2.5 microns or less, which can penetrate deep into lung passageways and enter the bloodstream. It is important to recognise that, although the very worst levels of air pollution are found in our major cities, air pollution affects all parts of the country. Recently, I carried a British Heart Foundation particulate monitor around my constituency as part of a wider study being conducted by the University of Edinburgh. Daily exposure to fine particulate matter was relatively low at 11 to 43 micrograms of matter per cubic metre, but for brief periods in the vicinity of main roads, I recorded levels greater than 10 times the current EU limits we subscribe to, and more than 20 times the World Health Organisation recommended levels. These figures are concerning, and I am pleased that the Bill contains a commitment to a new legally binding target for levels of fine particulate matter. I encourage Ministers to go further and consider whether a specific figure should be included in legislation at this point, based on WHO recommendations of an annual mean level of 10 micrograms per cubic metre.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
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I support my hon. Friend’s point. The legal enforceability of these limits is a vital consideration for the House. I was deputy leader of a local authority that took the last Labour Government to judicial review to try to force them to comply with EU air quality limits from which they sought and achieved a derogation, meaning that my constituents continue to be subject to the emissions from Heathrow, which already far exceed those limits. That demonstrated to me the weakness of the enforcement. As the new Office for Environmental Protection comes forward, I urge Minister to take very seriously the concerns outlined by my hon. Friend and which I support. Our residents want us rigorously to ensure that the limits are enforced at a local level.

James Davies Portrait Dr Davies
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That is quite right, and—in addition to average annual exposure—daily maximum exposure limits are also important.

Let me turn to waste reduction. The mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” remains as relevant as ever. Many local authorities have effective recycling initiatives in place. Denbighshire County Council in my constituency offers popular co-mingled and food waste collections. In Denbighshire, the capture rate of dry co-mingled recyclables is estimated at a very impressive 85% to 90%. Those recyclables go on to be separated at a modern and efficient site in Deeside. When looking to make new provisions, we should not lose sight of such successes, but equally we need to consider whether we can reduce the amount of waste we are producing, and, while our drive to reduce single-use plastics is ongoing, what our approach is to energy recovery through incineration. In particular, we should not generally be shipping plastic waste abroad, and certainly not without a clear idea as to how it will be managed appropriately. I am pleased that the Bill makes reference to the regulation of such shipments.

Producer responsibility is a key element of the Bill. I welcome the UK-wide provisions that encourage businesses to pay the full net cost of managing their products at end of life. This can help to drive up the use of sustainable and more easily reusable and recyclable packaging, and improve labelling on recyclable content. In doing so, however, we should consider the approach to small businesses and the need to avoid a disproportionate impact on them. It is also important to be clear about the timescale for the introduction of such a charge, as larger companies are likely to have the resources to develop more environmentally friendly products, whereas small and medium-sized enterprises might not have the same flexibility.

I endorse the proposal to facilitate a charge in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for single-use plastic items issued in connection with goods and services—for example, takeaways—following the clear success of the carrier bag charge, but we need to ensure that reasonable alternatives are widely available.

Many are pleased to see the proposals relating to a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the programme has the support of the Food and Drink Federation. A deposit return scheme can help to increase reuse and recycling, and tackle litter, but great thought needs to go into its set-up. For the sake of both consumers and producers, such a scheme needs to operate—or at least be compatible —on a UK-wide basis. We need to be certain that it makes environmental and practical sense to collect certain materials via a deposit return scheme as opposed to kerbside recycling schemes, and to bear in mind the ongoing economic viability of these local authority recycling schemes, which are partly funded by the collection of valuable materials such as aluminium.

The Government may want to consider the impact of such a scheme on small business owners and in particular shopkeepers. Many convenience stores will not have the space to store bottles or install reverse vending machines, and it is a real concern of the industry that customers will change their shopping habits towards larger stores as the deposit return scheme is introduced, as they have done in Germany.

I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this Bill, welcome the provisions within it and look forward to seeing it progress.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I am afraid that I have to reduce the time limit to six minutes.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
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Since before the EU referendum in 2016, my constituents have been raising concerns that Brexit would mean a watering down of the most important protections we have derived as a consequence of our membership of the EU. Again and again those fears were dismissed. We were told there was nothing to fear, accused of scare- mongering, and told to be quiet. Yet at the first test before them, the Government have failed. They have failed to reassure my constituents at all—failed to make a commitment to keep pace with EU standards and to avoid slipping back. The Government could easily have put a commitment to non-regression into this Bill. There is no reason not to do so. This is not about whether, in any hypothetical scenario, the Government cannot go further and faster than the EU; it is about being certain that we will not slip backwards. This is a fundamental breach of trust and of the commitments that were made both during the referendum campaign and at every stage subsequently by those who argued to leave.

Air pollution is one of the issues of greatest concern to my constituents. We have in Dulwich and West Norwood areas of extremely poor air quality. My constituents have watched with dismay as the Tories have been taken to court three times over illegal levels of air pollution and, instead of reacting with the concern and urgency that such a legal defeat would demand, have chosen to spend public funds unsuccessfully appealing against the court decisions—funds that could have been spent on developing the comprehensive air quality strategy that this country so badly needs. That strategy is still missing from this Bill. Air pollution is a public health emergency. Toxic air affects every organ of the body and contributes to as many as 40,000 premature deaths a year. In this context, it is inexcusable that the Government will not commit in this Bill to meet legally binding WHO targets for particulate matter by 2030.

On plastic pollution, again this Bill contains a woeful lack of ambition and detail.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend speaks eloquently about the very serious challenge that this country faces on air quality. Does she agree that this is a matter not just for London boroughs but for almost every urban area and some rural communities, and that it is one of the most significant threats to public health that is emerging in the 21st century?

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is a fundamental flaw of the approach that this Government have taken over the past five years that they have again and again pushed responsibility for air quality down to local authorities, forgetting that the circumstances are different in many areas of the country and that it is not within the gift of local authorities to address many sources of air pollution.

The role of plastic pollution in the ecological crisis is profound and devastating. So much single-use plastic is completely unnecessary. The Government could take action to begin the elimination of it now, yet this Bill introduces no bans. I want to draw attention particularly to the role of single-use sachets common across the catering and cosmetics industries. Globally, 855 billion sachets are thrown away every year—enough to wrap the entire surface of the globe in plastic. Replacement materials are available for most sachet packaging that render the use of plastics in sachets completely unnecessary. So I ask the Government to amend the Bill to include provisions under the banner, “Sack the Sachet”, to eliminate this harmful and unnecessary form of plastic pollution.

Finally, I want to address the related issues of biodiversity gain and nature recovery. In relation to biodiversity gain, there are key weaknesses and omissions in this Bill. Biodiversity gains should be protected in perpetuity. National infrastructure should not be exempt from it, and the provisions should cover the private as well as the public sector. I ask the Minister to look again at the proposals for biodiversity gain to ensure that they are comprehensive and genuinely deliver the net improvement that we need to see.

As parliamentary species champion for the common pipistrelle bat, I have similar concerns about the proposals in the Bill for nature recovery strategies. Nature recovery strategies have the capacity to play an important role in restoring habitats and enabling species recovery, but they will do that only if they are deliverable as well as descriptive. That means the Government resourcing local councils to prepare and implement nature recovery strategies. Will the Minister confirm that new burdens funding will be allocated to local authorities, to enable nature recovery strategies to be meaningful for the long term?

The Bill provides an opportunity to demonstrate that the Government are serious about the climate emergency and ecological crisis. As currently drafted, it does not do so, and there are critical weaknesses that, if left unaddressed, will prove to be fundamental flaws. I ask the Government to commit today to ensuring that the Bill cannot result in our regressing from EU standards; to strengthening many of the provisions; and to giving teeth to enforcement. The emergency we face demands nothing less.

Julie Marson Portrait Julie Marson (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate all my hon. Friends on their excellent maiden speeches. I made my maiden speech on Monday, partly so that I could make a contribution on such an important issue. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), I quoted Rudyard Kipling in my maiden speech, and I think his words bear repeating, because he says it so much better than I ever could. He wrote:

“Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made

By singing: ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade”.

Of course, that does not just apply to England—but the point is that we cannot just sit back. We have to work to preserve the things that we cherish, and I can think of few more important things to cherish than our environment.

The acceleration of human impact on the environment and subsequent growth in public demand to act make the ambitions of the Environment Bill essential. Habitat erosion, species loss and the disappearance of wildlife are problems for today, not tomorrow. The Government have rightly been ambitious in the Bill, and it should become a key driving force in our 25-year environment plan. Some 41% of species in the UK have declined in the past 50 years. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), I remember the dawn chorus. House sparrow numbers have declined by 60% since the 1970s.

I would like to make special mention of chalk streams. Some of our most beautiful rivers are chalk streams. They have been described as England’s rainforests because of their importance to our landscape and ecosystems. With their pure clear water, they are ideal for wildlife, allowing many species to thrive and breed in their water, on their banks and in their environment. Most of the world’s chalk streams are in England, and some of the best are in my constituency of Hertford and Stortford.

The Rivers Lea, Ash, Mimram, Beane and Stort are threatened by excessive abstraction, particularly since they face the effects of new developments with tens of thousands of houses. I welcome the abstraction licensing reforms, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) that we must take stringent measures to protect the rivers that serve us. Mandating a requirement for biodiversity net gain in the planning system is another extremely important step in the challenge to reverse environmental decline for future generations, while building homes and infra- structure for them.

We need to bring communities with us on this journey—communities such as the great farming community in Hertford and Stortford. I ask the Government to ensure that we have a system under which welcome covenants are introduced with flexibility and clarity, so that farmers and others do not sign away land without truly understanding the often irreversible implications for them and future generations.

Finally, I would like to highlight the impact that engaged communities can have at a local level. The River Lea Catchment Partnership and the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust are delivering great results, highlighting the importance of our local chalk streams and bringing back water voles to the rivers for the first time this millennium. Some 140 volunteers were out in Hertford last weekend planting a hornbeam hedge, which will draw in more wildlife to a recreation ground and contribute to our carbon reduction process. Yet another group were installing mink-proof nesting boxes for kingfishers along the River Stort. I would like to commend all those groups and others like them. They demonstrate the power of engaged communities and, along with the ambition and scope of the Bill, they are at the forefront of ensuring that we hand over a healthy, biodiverse world to our children and grandchildren.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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I am pleased to speak in this very important debate, and I congratulate everyone who has made their maiden speech.

After years of Government inaction on the environment and of facing an increasing climate emergency, the eyes of the nation—not only young people, but especially young people—are on this debate and on us today, asking: is this going to go far enough, is this going to go fast enough, and is this what Brexit was really all about? I do not think the Bill does any of those things, and I will outline a few of the areas I think my constituents in Putney are very concerned about, but which are also of real impact for people not only across the country but the world.

The first area is air pollution. New figures from Public Health England have revealed that the risk of dying from long-term exposure to London’s toxic air has risen for the third year running. King’s College research shows that, by the age of 10, children in London have a missing lung capacity the size of an egg for each lung. That will not grow back: it is permanent damage. It especially affects the poorer people of London, who often live on the most affected roads.

Putney High Street in my constituency is one of the most polluted streets in London, and I think we would find that many more were polluted if there were more air monitors. Green buses have made a huge difference to Putney High Street and to reducing air pollution, thanks to support from the Mayor of London and the Assembly, but more must be done. I am delighted that the Mayor is committed to meeting World Health Organisation targets for London by 2030.

There are many ways in which this Bill fails to be ambitious enough on air pollution. It should include a legally binding commitment to meet World Health Organisation guideline levels for fine particulate matter pollution by 2030 at the very latest. Why have the Government chosen not to commit to WHO recommended guidelines in this Bill? They should strengthen the Office for Environmental Protection, making it independent and robust, and granting it the ability to levy fines and to make binding recommendations. It needs to have teeth, otherwise it will not be the effective body we need it to be, and we will not go far enough fast enough.

The Bill should include more of a modal shift towards cycling and walking, which is absolutely essential to cleaning up our air.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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Does my hon. Friend agree with Cycling UK, which is calling for an amendment to the Bill that would bring back the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998 and amend it to require the setting of targets for road traffic reduction? That could make a big contribution to a modal shift, and to improving air quality and indeed carbon emissions.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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I absolutely agree with cycling campaigners across the country who are asking for this. I know this Bill has an annual reporting mechanism on air quality, but I would like it to include this so that our roads become safer and to make it easier to store our bikes as well—two things that are absolutely essential to increasing cycling in the country.

The second area is Heathrow airport. Tomorrow the Court of Appeal is due to rule on a legal challenge to plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. The expansion of Heathrow is fundamentally at odds with the aims of this Bill. The two are completely incompatible, and expansion cannot go ahead. An expanded Heathrow will increase the UK’s carbon emissions by between 8 megatonnes and 9 megatonnes of CO2 per year, with much of it being dumped on green spaces such as Putney Heath in my constituency. It will dwarf a huge number of other carbon reduction areas that we might consider and that might be introduced by councils across this country.

Heathrow expansion will worsen air pollution levels in Putney. The Government have accepted that it would have a “significant negative” effect on air quality, and they have provided no evidence to show how Heathrow can both expand and comply with legal limits at the same time. It will also result in jobs being drawn away from other regions by 2031. According to analysis by the New Economics Foundation of the Department for Transport’s own data, jobs would be drawn away from regions—for example, 2,360 jobs would be drawn away from Bristol, 1,600 from Solihull, and 1,300 from Manchester. This is not just a London issue and problem. Heathrow expansion will result in an additional 260,000 flights per year, which is not compatible with the climate crisis we face. I therefore implore the Minister to intervene and reverse the Government’s decision to allow the expansion to proceed, and to use the Bill to legislate against all airport expansions that cannot clearly demonstrate that environmental targets will be met.

My third point is that the Bill must strengthen, rather than dilute, the European Union environmental framework that it replaces. The EU possesses one of the most comprehensive and effective environmental legal frame- works in existence. Currently, 80% of our environmental laws come from the European Union, and those laws have brought many benefits, such as a 94% drop in sulphur dioxide emissions by 2011. We were losing 15% of our protected sites a year, but thanks to EU regulation that is now down to 1%. More than 90% of UK beaches are now considered clean enough to bathe off. My constituents in Putney are concerned that the Bill will water down the protections that the EU has given us, and I have been inundated with emails about that. The Bill must include a straightforward and substantive commitment to the non-regression of environmental law.

My fourth point is that the Bill does not go far enough to protect our oceans. Right now, 93% of fish populations are overfished, and only 1% are properly protected. Next month is a huge opportunity to take action at the Global Ocean Treaty negotiations, and I implore a senior Minister to attend those negotiations and set ambitious targets—I would like to know whether that is being planned.

Communities in Putney experience some of the most acute environmental problems facing the UK. They suffer from some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country, and they will be some of the biggest losers following an expanded Heathrow. They cannot afford to have environmental standards go any lower. For that reason, I believe that the Bill fails them, and I implore the Secretary of State to do better. This long-awaited Bill is just not good enough—it is not good enough to say that it is okay. It will not tackle the climate emergency. It must include targets and more resourcing for local councils, and it must go further and faster on air pollution and carbon reduction. Only then will it be worthy of the label “world leading” on environmental action.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con)
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I am delighted that the Government have introduced this Bill which, together with the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill, shows that we are serious in our resolve to improve the environment and tackle climate change. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Ministers on creating a structure for long-term environmental improvement, on the application of the principle that the polluter should be financially responsible for the life-cycle of its products, on ensuring an improvement in the air that we breathe, and on seeking to improve biodiversity through the planning system. I am sure that all those proposals have widespread support.

Our aim must be to achieve the Bill’s goals while minimising the bureaucratic burden and retaining a sense of fairness in the application of its policies. With that in mind, I respectfully suggest that further improvements can be made to the Bill in the following three areas. First, the requirement to demonstrate a 10% increase in biodiversity currently applies to every planning application, irrespective of the size or nature of the development. Requiring a professional assessment of the biodiversity impact pre and post the development of a garden room extension, for example, first by the applicant and then by the planning authority to ensure conformity, is likely to increase bureaucratic costs, while not making any significant improvement to biodiversity. To address that, I invite the Secretary of State to consider exempting small planning applications, perhaps relating to single dwellings.

Secondly, the proposed powers to revoke or amend water abstraction licences without compensation, if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the revocation is necessary, have caused considerable concern among the farming community in my constituency, reliant as many of them are on abstraction licences to grow the food that we all need. I declare an interest, as a director and shareholder of such a farming company.

The subjective and undefined nature of the term “satisfied”, taken together with the chilling application of the all-encompassing “precautionary principle”, would impose a daily threat to every such dependent farming business of being effectively closed down without compensation on 28 days’ notice, all within the discretion of the local Environment Agency official. This is the Environment Agency that has no democratic oversight and currently no remit to consider the economic or social impact of its actions. What farm reliant on abstraction licences could afford to invest under such ongoing threat? What bank would lend on such a risk?

I encourage the Secretary of State to look again at offering periods of certainty associated with the grant of abstraction licences and requiring any decision to revoke or amend them to have proper regard to all relevant factors, including socioeconomic impacts, during the decision-making process. To have regard to all relevant circumstances when taking a decision is surely a basic principle for sound decision making.

Thirdly, I welcome the introduction of the concept of conservation covenants, but, to my reading, the current drafting of clause 102 leaves open the risk that a landowner could enter into a legally binding agreement that will apply to land in perpetuity without meaning to do so. There is no requirement for a qualifying agreement expressly to state that a legally binding conservation covenant is being created that may be binding in perpetuity—only that the document “appears” to show such an intent. If the agreement is silent on its term, it will be held to apply forever. I encourage the Secretary of State to consider making the identification of a conservation covenant and its term express requirements, to avoid unintended consequences and resulting litigation.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill, but its very ambition brings with it the potential for discord, as big changes will inevitably alienate at least a portion of society. On this wider note, and contrary to the apparent view of many of the Opposition speakers, I have faith in democracy. It is to me a self-evident truth that the best way to ensure acceptance of difficult policies is to have democratic oversight of the implementation process. People must continue to have a say in how they are governed if we are to retain their consent. Planning decisions, while often unpopular, are generally accepted as being part of the democratic process. Compare that with the feelings engendered by the sometimes arbitrary approach of, for example, the Environment Agency when seeking to impose its assessment of environmental protection. The frustrated, impotent despair of constituents. the subjects of such decisions, will be familiar to many hon. Members.

I look forward to the day when we collectively address the democratic deficit of the raft of policy-making non-governmental institutions. The Environment Agency and Natural England would be a good place to start.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate, especially after so many passionate and thoughtful contributions. Protecting the future of our natural environment must be a top priority for this Parliament. We have seen all too clearly in recent weeks the impacts of extreme weather, in the UK and across the globe. Without urgent and concerted efforts to tackle the climate emergency, such weather events will only become more frequent and more severe.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said in his opening speech from our Benches, we need ambitious targets and consistent action across the whole of Government to achieve them. The Bill provides a critical opportunity to strengthen environmental protection, safeguarding and enhancing the countryside and green spaces that we value, but it can also ensure that more people can access them, enjoy them and engage with the natural world. I want to restrict my remarks to this aspect of the Bill.

We know why access to green space matters. As a country, we face rising obesity levels, increasing evidence of poor mental health and widening health inequalities. A recent paper published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that visiting nature at least once a week was positively associated with general health and that connection with nature was positive for both physical and mental wellbeing. For example, people who live within 500 metres of accessible green space are more likely to meet recommended levels of physical exercise. Engaging with nature also encourages people to adopt pro-environmental behaviours.

I think the Government understand this. DEFRA’s 25-year environment plan recognises the benefits of countryside access and notes that the number of people who spend little or no time in natural spaces is too high. It specifically refers to data from the monitor of engagement with the natural environment survey, which shows that 12% of children do not visit the natural environment each year. The plan also recognises that the lack of access to nature is not equal. Residents in the most deprived communities tend to suffer the poorest health and have access to significantly less green space than people living in more affluent areas.

I am acutely conscious, as an MP representing an urban area with significant levels of poverty, that my constituents should not be disadvantaged in terms of access to wildlife-rich green space, and I know that this concern is shared by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, Greener UK and other national bodies, including the Ramblers—I declare an interest as a member—and Cycling UK. I and they welcome the Bill, including the introduction of a framework of legally binding targets, but I hope that it can be strengthened by requiring the Government to introduce targets around access to the natural environment and by giving the introduction of such targets in this area greater priority and certainty.

That could complement measures in the Agriculture Bill, which sets the framework for future financial assistance to landowners, including to support public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland and woodland, and better understanding of the environment. For example, clearer targets in the Bill could help to direct finance to improve the accessibility of public rights of way networks. Failing to give greater priority to targets to connect people to nature would be a missed opportunity.

I also call for two key elements of the Bill—biodiversity gain and local nature recovery strategies—to be supported by clear legal duties on local authorities, but, very importantly, backed by adequate resources and framed in such a way that they promote collaboration between planning authorities. As Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust notes, without these measures there is a real risk of deepening social inequity, with biodiversity gains potentially being exported to more distant parts of the county. Without appropriate resources, authorities may find it difficult to protect, let alone expand, green space, while also facing pressures to find space to meet targets for housing and transport infrastructure.

Let us not miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity for joined-up government, promoting health and well- being, boosting pro-environmental behaviour and ensuring that future generations understand and value the natural world.

Anne Marie Morris Portrait Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con)
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I welcome the Bill. Indeed, I spoke the first time it was debated on 28 October, and the concerns I expressed then are very similar to those I have heard today across the House. Clearly, the Office for Environmental Protection does not have the teeth it needs. There are ongoing issues about water pollution—certainly the current regime from the Marine Management Organisation and its testing body, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, a European body, is not fit for purpose. I also spoke about air quality and the challenges there, particularly with regard to the assistance needed from central Government to local government. It is on local government that I wish to focus my remarks this evening.

The Bill rightly places many obligations on local government and the whole public sector, but there are no counterbalancing obligations on Government to provide support. I am lucky. Both Teignbridge, my district council, and Devon County Council have declared a climate emergency and are putting plans in place and setting up a forum to secure local input. They need that forum. They need a way of interacting with the Government—this needs to be a joint project.

Devon aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030. That is a hugely ambitious aim, which certainly could not be achieved without central Government support. The county council has already reduced the carbon footprint by 40% since 2012-13, and has reduced carbon emissions from street lighting by 75%. It has established a net zero taskforce across the public-private voluntary sector, and has involved Exeter University. It is calling for evidence, and it has a new citizens panel. With the local enterprise partnership, we aim to make the region the UK’s provider of renewable energy, delivering—best case—£45 billion to our regional economy, but there are huge challenges involving, for instance, transport and travel.

In rural areas such mine, the car is key. We do not have many buses and we do not have many trains, so what might the Government do to support us? Many people in extremely rural areas have very old cars, and will not be able to afford a spanking new electric car. There will have to be a subsidy. Moreover, we do not have the necessary charging points. Teignbridge, my local district council, has two—or at least is applying for two—but that will not get us very far, especially as the car is the main form of transport.

If the Government would like to encourage buses, that would be fantastic. Give us some more, and make them electric! In that case, would the Secretary of State have a word with his opposite number in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government? At present, we are not allowed to apply for the new electric town bus scheme because we are not deprived enough. Well, Europe used to think that we were deprived enough: we used to get quite a lot of money. I sincerely hope that Ministers will look at that again.

As for trains, we are hoping that some of the new Beeching lines will be opened, but let us have some new trains—new electric trains. As for ships, yes, there is a lot water in the south-west, and there is a port in my constituency. Scouring is not the answer to environmental problems. The shipping industry knows that, and so do the Government, so will the Secretary of State do something about it?

We also need support from central Government for housing and planning. The planning regime is supposed to deal with environmental issues, but not in the way that is envisaged in the Bill. Significant change is needed. We know that building regulations are not fit for purpose: we need only look at our cladding problems to see that. Those regulations need to be rewritten with environmental issues in mind. We must give our district councils power to say no when developers come forward with plans that do not meet environmental criteria, never mind any others.

Building design and structure need a great deal of review, and I am afraid that we cannot rely entirely on the private sector for that. The Government have focused on domestic dwellings, but what is wrong with individual industrial buildings? What is wrong with the local hospital, school and fire station? Should they not be required to have solar panels fitted? The last attempt that was made locally in my area was refused by the Government because they wanted to do it themselves, and I cannot see that happening. There has been a great focus on solar panels for one of my local schools, Newton Abbot College, but the Government have said no, which is not right.

I welcome the standardisation of waste collection, but would the Government ask some of our retailers to consider possible alternatives to plastic? All that has happened is that we have moved from single-use bags to multiple-use bags which are being treated as single-use, or else retailers are giving us paper bags that simply break. We have rain in this country, and when it rains on a paper bag it dissolves in your hands. Will the Government do something technically to support a bit of research to sort this out, and get the retailers to sort out their packaging, which is really hard to recycle? They should keep it simple.

This is not all about objects and buildings; it is about people and processes. The Government should be asking the public sector to think about how it can do things differently. In primary and secondary healthcare, technology could be used far more efficiently to reduce our carbon footprint.

In summary, let me say this. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to some proper research? Will he commit himself to some sort of subsidy, particularly for those of us in rural areas? Will he engage with the private sector? Competition is a good thing, but reinventing the wheel is a complete waste of everyone’s money. Will he provide a local government forum so that we can raise issues and share solutions, and give young people a forum with which to engage? I sincerely hope that I will receive some responses from the Minister—if not tonight, in a written reply.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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I welcome both the Bill and the Government’s vision to ensure that we have a vigorous and ambitious environmental strategy as we leave the European Union. Generally, I believe that the Bill provides the necessary framework to protect and restore our natural environment, as promised in the Conservative general election manifesto. I acknowledge the work that the Government have done, and I will highlight briefly four areas of particular importance to the people I represent in Waveney and north-east Suffolk.

The Bill will enable the development of a nature recovery network, providing over 1.25 million acres of additional wildlife habitat to protect and restore wildlife. Such schemes should be widely encouraged, and I pay tribute to those involved in projects locally, including Bonds meadow in Oulton Broad, an historic landscape in a now urban area run by local community group, and Carlton marshes, an exciting and ambitious project promoted by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust to create a unique Suffolk broads landscape right on the edge of Lowestoft.

The Government’s clean air strategy should help to cut air pollution and save lives, and while the commitments to tackle air pollution in the Bill are welcome, I believe that we need to go further to tackle this threat head-on. A report by the British Lung Foundation, published in October 2018, found that 2,220 GP practices and 248 hospitals across the country were in areas with average levels of fine particulate matter above the limit recommended by the World Health Organisation. From my perspective, given that that is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, it is a matter of serious concern that Lowestoft was included in the top 10 most polluted GP surgery locations in the country. The Government must make significant improvements in this area and introduce a legally binding commitment in the Bill to meet the WHO guideline level for fine particulate matter pollution by 2030. We must also improve the monitoring of air pollution at both national and local level, to include accessible and robust health information and alerts.

Managing water is vital, and I will briefly highlight the impact of recent storms on coastal communities, such as those in Lowestoft, Pakefield and Kessingland on the Suffolk coast. In adapting to the impact of climate change, it is important that coastal communities are not forgotten and that the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from coastal erosion is prioritised. It is also necessary to have in mind the importance of water to agriculture in East Anglia, for irrigating vegetable crops. I declare an interest as a partner in a family firm. It is important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) has highlighted, that the Government promote a collaborative approach to managing this vital resource.

Finally, it is good news that the Bill provides for the creation of the Office for Environmental Protection. It will play an important role in holding the Government to account, and it will be able to provide written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law. To maximise its impact, it will be crucial that the OEP has independence from Government and a strong enforcement capability. As the Countryside Alliance charity highlights, the upper tribunal of the OEP must be empowered to grant meaningful, dissuasive and effective remedies. Crucially, just as policies to ensure the transition to a low-carbon economy must be embedded across all Departments and layers of national and local government, so must our environmental protections pursue the same course and be subject to the same test.

In conclusion, the Government have frequently stated that as we leave the European Union our current high environmental standards will be not only upheld but enhanced. This Bill can play an important role in ensuring not only that we have a green Brexit but that we continue to forge ahead as international environmental leaders.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
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We have had an excellent, thoughtful and informed debate, with contributions from many hon. Members from across the House. The several maiden speeches we heard this afternoon were universally first rate, and the Members who made them will have an important role to play in future debates on the environment. The hon. Members for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) acquitted themselves brilliantly.

I am informed that the hon. Member for Aylesbury appeared on “Blankety Blank”, and I can only add to that my youthful appearance on “Crackerjack”. I do not know whether that equates to “Blankety Blank”, but it perhaps goes some of the way. I am happy to visit the constituency of the hon. Member for Burton (Kate Griffiths) provided that I get a tour of the brewery and a ticket for the match on 5 May when Burton Albion are going to thrash Portsmouth—my local rival football team.

All this afternoon’s speeches, thoughtful and important though they were, concentrated on the imperatives of the Environment Bill. One imperative is that we ensure the maintenance of high environmental standards on leaving the EU and that there is no regression. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) worries that standards would be lowered and that the OEP will perhaps not be as independent as it should be in terms of enforcing standards. We heard from the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) about delivering on the promises of higher environmental standards, from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) about the independence of the OEP, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) on non-regression.

Another imperative is that we must be sure about how we are to treat the natural environment and biodiversity in the wake of the climate emergency. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) about the imperative of countryside access and natural spaces, from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester about biodiversity targets, from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on tree planting, from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon on net gain in biodiversity, from my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on biodiversity gain and species decline, and from the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) on biodiversity gain.

As for the imperative to enshrine standards on water, air quality and waste, we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Putney about air pollution and WHO guidelines, from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) on chemicals and air quality, from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, about water retention and standards, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West about air quality targets and his particular concern about beaches. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (James Murray) drew attention to air quality standards, and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke about going further on air pollution than we currently are. The hon. Member for Bath spoke about return schemes, removing plastic from municipal waste and knowing where waste ends up.

The hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) spoke about air quality, and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) spoke about targets and fine particle air pollution. The imperative in setting targets in these areas and more is to make them stick, and we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) about milestones and the lag in implementation.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West about the need for targets to be connected. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) about the targets having no teeth and about his concerns on the indoor air pollution targets.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon about concerns that targets can easily be set aside by the Secretary of State at his discretion. Indeed, we heard from the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) about the obligations on the Government to support local authorities and other agencies in making these things work—that was a vital contribution.

On both sides of the House, there is a view that this is not a bad Bill but that it could be much better. In short, the Opposition want a Bill that is

“a truly landmark piece of legislation, enshrining environmental principles in law, requiring this Government and their successors to set demanding and legally binding targets and creating a world-leading…watchdog to hold them to account.”—[Official Report, 28 October 2019; Vol. 667, c. 90.]

That is what we want, but they are not my words. They are the words of the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) in moving Second Reading when the Environment Bill last appeared on the Floor of the House.

Is this Bill, as it stands, that landmark piece of legislation? Will it stand the test of time and bind this and future Governments to the targets and practices it sets out? Is it a Bill for the future or just for the next period, to get the Government over an environmental hump, and then maybe the issue will go away? Well, it will not go away, which is why we need a Bill that delivers in the long term. Looking at the Bill as it stands, we know it probably will not.

The Bill is full of loopholes that allow the Government of the day to act, or not, as they think fit. It opens an enormous door that a future Government who are not committed to action on the environment and the climate emergency can walk through. The key issue of the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection is inadequately addressed. The target-making sections of the Bill do not cohere with the delivery sections. There is obscurity about how targets in the Bill are to be set and met. Altogether, it is not good enough.

The Bill has to bind Governments of whatever colour to doing the right things relative to the natural environment, water, waste, conservation and land use for the future, because we will secure a liveable environment and a secure home for species facing the consequences of climate change only if we do the right thing by the environment and keep on doing it.

We need a climate change Act for the environment, and what we have at the moment is a charter for now and not for tomorrow. That is why we will table a robust series of amendments in Committee. In the spirit of our jointly stated aim of making this Bill a landmark Act that will stand the test of time on the environment, we expect those amendments to be carefully considered and acted on by the Government in Committee. That is why we will not oppose Second Reading, but we expect that when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House we will be able, as a result of those amendments, to endorse it wholeheartedly as the Bill we all need for our environmental and climate futures.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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I am pleased to see you back in the Chair for the winding up of this most important of debates, Mr Speaker.

Having worked on the environmental agenda in one form or another for pretty much my whole life, it is a huge honour to be the Environment Minister in a Government who are putting the environment at the top of our agenda. Not only are we doing that, but we are demonstrating that we mean action on the environment with this Environment Bill, which will be a game changer.

As I am sure the shadow Minister will agree, the environment should not be about one party or one Government. Party politics should be put aside, which is why I welcome the Opposition’s support in not opposing the Bill tonight, albeit couched in much criticism that I believe is largely unfounded. I very much look forward to thrashing that out in Committee. This is a huge moment for us all as a nation; this landmark Bill will transform our approach to protecting and enhancing our precious environment, and set us on a much-needed sustainable trajectory for the future.

At the outset, I want to applaud all my hon. Friends who have chosen to make their maiden speeches during this crucial debate. They have chosen well, for they realise that this is such an important moment in our history. I applaud them for waiting this long and choosing to make their maiden speeches tonight. And haven’t they been wonderful? They have all been rivalling one another for the best constituency, but we have heard some great things about those constituencies. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) mentioned the singing statue and the statue of Disraeli; I welcome our former journalist, with whom I have a great deal in common, as he is going to add a lot to this place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) mentioned her dog, geothermal energy and her wonderful fisherman husband, of whom she is so proud. I was almost moved to tears, because I now feel proud of him too. My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), the doctor in the House, will bring so much experience through his knowledge of mental health, and I hope he will link that to the wellbeing of the environment and countryside, and the things we can gain from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti) follows in the footsteps of Dame Caroline Spelman, who did so much to champion biodiversity in this House. I loved his “dare to believe” statement and I am so proud. I am hoping that he is daring to believe in this Bill, and I thank him for choosing to speak today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Kate Griffiths) mentioned beer, JCB, fluorinating and, let us not forget, Uttoxeter. She is going to be a great voice here. Similarly, let me welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi), the first ever Conservative Member for that constituency and the first ever Marco here. I loved his infectious optimism for his area, which I know extends to this Bill—this is excellent. How brilliant it was to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) about her key making ancestors and to hear her standing up for green space, volunteers and Wolverhampton Wanderers. What a wonderful wealth of talent has come into our Chamber!

Let me get back to the Bill, as that is what I am supposed to be talking about. I have to pay tribute to a few others who are no longer in this House but who did so much work on this Bill: Richard Benyon; Mary Creagh, a great woman who served on the Environmental Audit Committee with me; Sarah Newton; Sir Oliver Letwin; Sue Hayman; and Sandy Martin. They have all been key in the progress of this Bill so far, as have many others on these Benches.

Obviously, I hardly need to reiterate the urgent case for action on the environment, as it is clearer than ever. We are witnessing a shocking decline in nature and biodiversity. Our countryside is increasingly denuded of its wildlife; we have lost almost half of our breeding curlews and so many wonderful species. We are facing climate change, with flooding here and bush fires in Australia. Those things all demonstrate that we need to take action and get on with it now, and that is what we intend with this Bill. I am sure the whole House agrees with me that we need more bees, butterflies and beautiful dawn choruses, and I believe this Bill will bring that about.

I should thank some of my colleagues here, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who was so optimistic about the Bill and praiseworthy in agreeing with it. This is why this Environment Bill is critical: it will drive environmental action across the whole of Government. This is not just about DEFRA; the environmental principles must be taken into account across Government policy making, through the policy principles statements. Policy will have to be pragmatic, balanced and take account of our net zero commitments. The duty on the Government to meet our new legally binding targets will ensure that all Departments and Ministers share responsibility and accountability for driving long-term environmental improvements. The Office for Environmental Protection will be able to enforce all environmental law and it will oversee all public bodies; unlike any EU framework, that will ensure accountability at the right level. The legislation takes a much-needed holistic approach to our environment—that is one of the benefits of leaving the EU. It is so much more holistic than what was happening before.

I have a few minutes to address some of the key points, of which there were many. There were some great and insightful contributions. Many Members raised the issue of non-regression. We have absolutely no plans to reduce our existing level of environmental protection. The existing regulations were implemented during the UK’s membership of the EU and are still in force in UK law now. They are enforceable in UK courts and will remain enforceable in UK courts. That has not changed. Any targets introduced through the Bill will not diminish our environmental protections but add to them.

Indeed, the UK is already at the forefront of environmental protection and a leader in setting ambitious targets to prevent damage to our natural world. We were so influential in this policy area in the EU. [Interruption.] I have a couple of examples for the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), because he is mithering away at me. Last year, the UK became the first major economy anywhere in the world to set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The UK’s landfill tax is one of the highest in Europe and is effectively reducing the disposal of waste and increasing recycling. Those are just a couple of examples but there are many more.

Non-regression was mentioned by many Members, including the hon. Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and for Glasgow East (David Linden). I hope that some of the things I have just said will have reassured them.

All that leads me to the not unrelated subject of targets. I am grateful to Members from a whole range of constituencies, some of which I have already mentioned, but particularly the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), for raising issues and concerns in relation to targets. Far from there being no teeth, through the Bill we will put in place a comprehensive system that will set long-term, 15-year targets. There will be interim targets every five years—that is in clause 10—to support the achievement of the long-term targets. On top of that, we will have a triple lock in law to drive the short- term progress. Let me run through those three things—

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not going to take any interventions because I want to get through some of the details.

The Government must have a plan on what they intend to do to improve the environment—that is under clause 7. The Government must report on the targets every year—that is in clause 8. The Office for Environmental Protection will hold us to account on progress towards achieving the targets, and every year can recommend how we can make better progress—that is in clause 25. It will all become clear in Committee. It is a step-by-step way of holding us to account and not reducing any of our standards.

The really important thing to mention is the Office for Environmental Protection, which was much mentioned by many in the debate, including the shadow Secretary of State. It was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who made an excellent speech, and the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray). My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) vociferously described the OEP and summed it up well, because he absolutely gets it. The very existence of the OEP is a clear sign of our willingness to be held to account for our actions. The OEP will have jurisdiction over all parts of Government and will hold regulators to account. Ministers will be under a legal duty to respect its independence—that is in schedule 1.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not going to give way.

That independence is vital for the OEP to be able to hold the Government to account effectively. It will have multi-annual financial settlements, which were welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and they will run over five years to provide financial stability. That is welcome; even if the Government changes, that will stay in place. Crucially, the OEP’s environmental remit will include climate change to ensure that we play our part in reducing global emissions. In that respect, I truly believe that we will be a world leader.

I will move on now to air quality, because, again, this was much mentioned. Clause 2 includes a requirement to set a new air quality target to reduce concentrations of fine particulate matter—the most damaging pollutant to human health. As a mother of a son who had asthma for many years while he was growing up, this issue is close to my heart. I have heard loud and clear all the comments that have been made today. [Interruption.] I am being disrupted by notes. I thought that the note said that someone was in the bar. [Interruption.] I am being told that Bim is here, but I am not allowed to mention him. [Interruption.] Okay, so he is not in the bar; he is behind the Bar.

Let me turn now to the very serious matter of air quality, which was mentioned by so many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who is very strong on the subject, and also my hon. Friends the Members for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) and for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies). This Government are committed to setting an ambitious target, which has the support of all sectors and citizens to drive real change and realise significant health benefits for people everywhere. To do this, we need to ensure that we follow a robust evidence-based process where everyone’s voice is heard and where everyone can play a role. That is why we need time to work together to get this target right, which is why it is not in the Bill. Many Members have called for experts to advise on these targets, and they will. That is exactly how it will work and how the target will be set up.

I will move to nature now, Mr Speaker, which I know is something that greatly interests you. Following consultation, we believe that the 10% net gain strikes the right balance between ambition, certainty and deliverability. If developers and local authorities are able to pursue higher gains—I am confident that many will—Government do not intend to restrict them. Biodiversity net gain will work with the local nature recovery strategies in the Bill to drive environmental improvements, and those strategies will be very much influenced from the ground up by all of those people with knowledge that we so want to get involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) mentioned knowledge and involving people who have that knowledge and expertise working on the ground, and that is one way that we will do it.

I want to touch on trees, because that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and the shadow Minister himself. The Government remain absolutely committed to reaching 12% woodland cover in England by 2060 and have reaffirmed that in the 25-year environment plan. The House should remember that the environmental improvement plan of this Bill is the first plan of the 25 year-environment plan. That is what it is; it enacts it. The manifesto committed to planting 11 million rural trees and an additional 1 million urban trees by 2022. We will shortly consult on that.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am really not going to give way, because I have not given way to anybody else. I know that my hon. Friend is a huge tree fan.

We will shortly consult on a new English tree strategy, in which we will set out further plans to accelerate woodland creation to reach our long-term goals, including our net-zero emissions by 2050, and to complement our Environment Bill. I was pleased that Members welcomed the urban measures in the Bill, too.

Members will not be surprised that I simply cannot get through all the comments that have been made. Climate change, by the way, has definitely been included in the Bill. I just want to say that there have been so many tremendous and insightful contributions tonight from right across the House. I am really sorry that I have not been able to answer all of the queries and questions raised today, but we do have answers to all of them. My door is constantly open to anyone who wants to raise these things again or share their views with me and with the rest of our team. Obviously, the Secretary of State is the key here. I really think that, together, we can make this a better world not just for us and for our children, but for our children’s children and all the creatures on this earth. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Environment Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Environment Bill:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 5 May 2020.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Maria Caulfield.)

Question agreed to.

Environment Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Environment Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State; and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Maria Caulfield.)

Question agreed to.

Environment Bill (Ways and Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Environment Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the imposition of requirements to pay sums in respect of the costs of disposing of products and materials; and

(2) the imposition under or by virtue of the Act of fees and charges in connection with—

(a) the exercise of functions, and

(b) biodiversity credits.—(Maria Caulfield.)

Question agreed to.

Deferred Divisions


That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motion in the name of Secretary Priti Patel relating to the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism.—(Maria Caulfield.)

Question agreed to.

Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords]

Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Programme motion
Monday 22nd June 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 26 January 2021 - (26 Jan 2021)
Second Reading
Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster)
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I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.

I will start by making clear what the Bill does not do. It does not change our extradition process or any safeguards that already exist in extradition proceedings. It does not make it more or less likely that a person will be extradited, and it does not in any way affect the current judicial oversight of the extradition process, or the character of core proceedings. Nor is the Bill concerned with the UK’s extradition relationships with other countries, or the criminal behaviours for which extradition can be sought from the United Kingdom. The Bill is concerned only with how persons who are wanted for crimes enter the UK’s court system. It changes when and how a fugitive who is wanted for a serious offence by a trusted country is brought before a UK court.

Currently, when UK police have a chance encounter with a person who is wanted by a non-EU country, they cannot arrest them. The officer is required to walk away, obtain a warrant from a judge, and then try to relocate the individual later to make the necessary arrest. That means that fugitives who are known to the police to be wanted for serious offences remain free on our streets and are able simply to abscond or, worst of all, to offend again, thereby creating further victims.

Let me give you a shocking example, Madam Deputy Speaker. In 2017, an individual who was wanted by one of the countries within the scope of this Bill for the rape of a child was identified during a routine traffic stop. Without the power to arrest, the police could do nothing to detain that individual there and then, and he is still at large. The Bill will change that and ensure that fugitives who are wanted by specified countries, and then identified by the police or at the UK border, can be arrested immediately. They can be taken off the streets and brought before a judge as soon as it is practicable to do so.

The usual way that police officers become aware of an international fugitive is after a circulation of alerts through Interpol channels. Interpol alerts from all countries are now routinely available to UK police and Border Force officers. Access to that information by frontline officers has created a situation whereby a police or Border Force officer might encounter an individual who they can see, by performing a simple database check, is wanted by another country for a serious offence. Many countries, including most EU member states, afford their police the power of immediate arrest on the basis of Interpol alerts, and this Bill will create a similar power with appropriate safeguards. That power will apply only to alerts from countries with which we already have effective extradition relationships, and—crucially—when we have confidence in their use of Interpol.

The warrant-based system in part 1 of the Extradition Act 2003 carries an immediate power of arrest for individuals who are wanted by EU member states. Last year, more than 60% of arrests made under part 1 of that Act by the Metropolitan police were the result of a chance encounter. Without a similar immediate power of arrest for people wanted by our key international partners, known fugitives will walk free.

Let me turn to the specific provisions in the Bill. It proposes a power for UK law enforcement officers to arrest an individual on the basis of an international arrest request—typically an Interpol alert—without a UK warrant having first been issued. The new power will apply only when the request has been issued by specified countries with which we already have effective extradition relationships and in whose use of Interpol and the alerts that they issue we have confidence. Initially, the power will apply to requests from the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Members will appreciate that we have taken care to tune the application of the powers to strike the right balance between ease of use by our law enforcement agencies and the provision of proper safeguards to those who might be arrested. The Bill will identify a designated authority, which will have the power to create an alert—typically an Interpol notice—only when it relates to a serious extradition offence. In practice, that will mean three things: first, the offence for which the person is wanted must be an offence in one of the United Kingdom’s jurisdictions; secondly, the offence must be able to attract a period of imprisonment of at least three years; and finally, the offence must be a serious one—that is, the seriousness of the conduct constituting the offence makes the certification appropriate.

What is intended by “serious” in this context is reflected by the proportionality assessment in section 21A of the Extradition Act 2003, which similarly refers to

“the seriousness of the conduct alleged to constitute the extradition offence”.

Operational bodies are well versed in applying the test in their consideration of other cases, and they can bring to bear considerable expertise in exercising the new power.

It is not frontline police officers who will have to decide whether an Interpol alert is from a specified country or for a sufficiently serious offence. The National Crime Agency receives Interpol requests and, as the designated authority, it will identify which alerts have been issued by a specified country and for a sufficiently serious offence. Arrangements are in place to ensure that, when the agency is satisfied, the request is underpinned by a warrant for arrest or conviction in the requesting country. The NCA will then certify that those alerts, including the immediate power of arrest, will apply. Certified alerts will be clearly distinguishable on the databases available to police and Border Force officers. Following arrest, the individual must be brought before a UK judge as soon as practical.

The Bill does not change any other part of the subsequent extradition process, and all the safeguards that currently exist in extradition proceedings, as set out under part 2 of the Extradition Act, will continue to apply. The courts will have the same powers and protections they have now—including the fact that they must ensure that a person will not be extradited if it would breach their human rights, if the request is politically motivated, or if they would be at risk of facing the death penalty.

The need for the power has been expressed by the law enforcement community. Members will be interested to know that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, QC, wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security on 2 March to explain why the power is needed; I will place his letter in the Library of the House. We will continue to strengthen our security with like-minded security partners across the globe. In future, additional countries could be specified if we have effective extradition relationships with them; if—crucially—we have confidence in their use of Interpol alerts; and if Parliament agrees to the extension of the arrangements to those countries.

Scrutiny of the Bill in the other place has served to improve it; however, two amendments were made on Third Reading that the Government have considered carefully but do not support. The first requires the Government to consult on the merits of adding, removing or varying a territory in the Bill with the devolved Administrations and relevant interested stakeholders; requires the Government to lay a statement before Parliament on the risks of adding, varying or removing a territory; and requires the Government, when a territory is to be added to the Bill, to lay a statement before the House to confirm that that territory does not abuse the Interpol system.

That amendment is not necessary. The Bill mirrors the existing provisions in the Extradition Act 2003 in respect of the designation of any additional countries, and the Government are committed to ensuring that Parliament has the ability to question and have the final say on whether any new territory should come within the scope of the legislation. Also, although extradition is a reserved matter, relevant officials are engaged in regular discussions with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations about how it should operate in practice.

The second amendment specifies that if a Government want to add territories to the legislation in future, they would not be able to add more than one country in a single statutory instrument. Similarly, we consider that that is not required and is unnecessarily burdensome. Again, the Bill already mirrors the existing provisions in the Extradition Act 2003 in respect of the designation of any additional countries. Including any additional countries in the Extradition Act is subject to a high level of parliamentary scrutiny and, similarly, there would be the opportunity for both Houses to debate and scrutinise proposals in relation to any new territory to which the provisions in this Bill might be extended. If the Government of the day were minded to make the case to Parliament that this legislation should be extended to six new countries, what specific value is added by considering six separate statutory instruments to do so? For those reasons, the Government do not feel these amendments will add further scrutiny to the legislation than is already in place, and therefore believe they should be reviewed during its passage through this House.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate the point I have made throughout my remarks. The Bill is first and foremost about protecting the UK public. Any individual arrested under the powers contained in it would be in front of a UK judge as soon as reasonably practicable, and the existing safeguards afforded to every person before the UK courts for extradition would remain as now. As a global leader in security, we want to make the best use of our overseas networks and international tools to protect our nation from those who would do it harm. The Government are committed to doing all we can to protect the public. This Bill is directed to that end, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his opening remarks, and I pass on my thanks to my Labour colleagues in the other place who took the Bill first, and who have worked hard to scrutinise and amend the Bill we see today. May I outline from the outset that the Opposition are not seeking to divide the House this evening on this Bill?

This extradition Bill seeks to fill a gap—the situation where police become aware of someone wanted by a non-EU territory, usually via the system of Interpol alerts, as the Minister has set out, but are unable to arrest them without a warrant from a court. The risk that the Bill seeks to address is that a wanted person may abscond or even reoffend before they can be detained. Thus the Bill seeks to give a power to UK law enforcement officers to arrest, without the need for such a warrant, for the purposes of extradition. Such a power already exists in relation to the European arrest warrant mechanism, which remains available to us until the end of the transition period at the end of this year.

At present, the Bill applies to extradition requests from only the following non-EU countries: Australia, Canada, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Switzerland and the USA. The Government position is that there is a high level of confidence in these countries’ criminal justice systems and their use of extradition.

Max Hill, the current Director of Public Prosecutions, stated in a letter to the Security Minister that

“this Bill strikes the right balance between ensuring sufficient human rights safeguards and delivering the capabilities that the police and CPS require in order to safeguard the public…

The Bill does not…make it more or less likely someone will be extradited, but it does increase the chances that persons wanted for serious offences by some of our closest and most trusted partners will enter, with all existing safeguards, the extradition process.”

I of course note his comments very carefully.

Turning to the contents of the Bill itself, it is a very short Bill with only two clauses. Clause 1 gives effect to the schedule, which creates the new power to arrest, and clause 2 outlines the extent and commencement of the Bill. The schedule amends the Extradition Act 2003, and inserts several new sections. Once the arrest has taken place, the individual must be brought before a judge “as soon as practicable”, which is in proposed new section 74A(3).

The noble Baroness Williams of Trafford said about this in the other place:

“I have listened carefully to the concerns raised at Second Reading and in Committee and have concluded that the new power of arrest in the Bill should be consistent in this respect with existing law and practice in relation to Part 2 of the 2003 Act, and that it should therefore mirror the wording ‘as soon as practicable’. That will ensure that individuals are not detained for any longer than is strictly necessary before being put before a judge. If, for example, an individual was arrested in central London, ‘as soon as practicable’ would in all probability be considerably less than 24 hours. Our operational partners have already proved themselves very effective at producing wanted persons before courts within strict timeframes, and the three UK extradition courts have proved strict arbiters of police actions under the ‘as soon as practicable’ requirement.

Additionally, if an individual is arrested and for legitimate reasons it is not possible to get them to court within 24 hours—for example, if they are arrested in a remote part of the UK or in an area affected by an extreme event—this change in wording will make the legislation operable across all parts of the UK in all circumstances.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 June 2020; Vol. 803, c. 1950.]

I am grateful for that explanation, which we will scrutinise carefully during the Bill’s passage through this House. We will be looking for assurances from the Government that “as soon as practicable” does not allow for individuals to be detained longer than is absolutely and strictly necessary.

Let me turn to the trusted partner countries listed in schedule A1 and the two amendments made in the other place, to which the Minister has already referred. The Government’s impact assessment states:

“Under the proposed new power, the police could arrest a suspect who was wanted for extradition by a trusted partner country (those who respect the international rules based system and whose Red Notices and Criminal Justice Systems the UK trusts) for a serious offence if that information has been properly certified.”

I believe that the Government’s hope is that more territories will be added to the partner list in future.

My Labour colleagues in the other place tabled an amendment, which was then made to the Bill, specifying that in allowing further territories to be added to the list, the following requirements must be met: that the Home Secretary has consulted with each devolved Administration and with non-governmental organisations; that a risk assessment has been laid before each House on the risk of the change; and that a statement has been laid before each House outlining that the territory to be added does not abuse Interpol’s red notice system. The inclusion of these safeguards is a perfectly sensible change that we will support in this House.

My Labour colleagues in the other place also supported a Cross-Bench amendment, which was then made to the Bill, which means that the Government can list only one territory to be added to the trusted partner list at a time. The Minister asked what the purpose was of having separate consideration of each territory. Quite simply, we would not want a situation to arise in which a future Government—this Government or another—listed, say, five territories, with differing standards of criminal justice systems and differing human rights records, to be offered to the House on a “take it or leave it” basis. Each territory should be considered individually on its own merits. We will seek to uphold that amendment during the Bill’s passage through this House. That is the most effective way to uphold the values of human rights around the world. I hope that the Government will listen. We will also be insisting that the Government regularly update the House on Interpol and on how effectively countries are working within the system.

What we must not do is close one gap in our security arrangements through the Bill, only then to open up another one that is much wider by not negotiating the effective security arrangement that we need with the European Union. In February the Government published their negotiating mandate. I was a little concerned by point 51, which states:

“The UK is not seeking to participate in the European Arrest Warrant as part of the future relationship. The agreement should instead provide for fast-track extradition arrangements, based on the EU’s Surrender Agreement with Norway and Iceland which came into force in 2019, but with appropriate further safeguards for individuals beyond those in the European Arrest Warrant.”

In my previous role as shadow Security Minister, I argued for the Government to give priority to the future security partnership, because the European arrest warrant has proved to be an incredibly useful tool for fighting and preventing crime. In 2018-19, 15,540 requests were made by UK-EU law enforcement using the European arrest warrant—1,412 arrests related to the EAW and 919 related to surrenders. I hope that during our consideration of the Bill the Minister will set out how the Government will provide for the replacement fast-track extradition arrangements by the end of the year, and whether this House will have the opportunity to scrutinise them in advance at the end of the transition period.

When the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), sought reassurance at Prime Minister’s questions on 3 June that

“from 1 January 2021, the UK will have access to the quantity and quality of data that it currently has through Prüm, passenger name records, the European Criminal Records Information System and SIS—Schengen Information System—II”,

the current Prime Minister said:

“That depends, I am afraid, on the outcome of our negotiations”.—[Official Report, 3 June 2020; Vol. 676, c. 846.]

But that the Government’s first priority is to keep people safe is not negotiable, and should be the Prime Minister’s first duty.

The Minister for Security last week gave evidence to the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee about the future security partnership with the European Union, saying that if an agreement could not be reached there would be

“some mutual loss of capability…there are alternatives and well-rehearsed plans”.

I hope that the Minister will enlighten us as to what exactly those well-rehearsed plans are.

It is in the public interest to have appropriate extradition arrangements in place with as many countries as possible, as that reduces the number of safe spaces in the world where those who could do us harm can go to hide, escape and get beyond the reach of our law enforcement, but as we have now left the European Union and as we move out of the transition period, it is vital that our future security relationship is given priority, and the Government must listen to the concerns of EU law enforcement on this in order for our streets to be kept safe.

The role that all our frontline policing plays in this is vital. We cannot legislate our way to safety and we cannot see issues in isolation. The Government must keep to their promise of delivering 20,000 additional police officers. The cuts to policing and preventive services have had a devastating impact over the past 10 years. There has been a sharp decline in certain types of crime during the lockdown, and, sadly, a rise in others, but none of the underlying factors that drive it have been addressed and there are real concerns that crime overall will rise rapidly as lockdown restrictions are lifted. It is vital that the Government plan for that in the coming weeks and months. Labour Members take our role in helping to keep people safe very seriously, so we will be closely scrutinising the Bill as well as the Home Office’s wider work against the central and vital test of keeping the public safe.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
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I agree with the shadow Home Secretary that this legislation fills a gap. It is a really important, sensible, sound and sober piece of legislation that meets a need and builds on our existing tried and tested relationships with valued partners across the globe. It is limited in scope and tightly focused, and the amendments passed in the other place to ensure that people should be brought to a judge as soon as possible are incredibly sensible, understanding the geographical nature of our country and addressing clause 39 of Magna Carta—no imprisonment without due legal process.

The Bill addresses a real need to get people off the streets as quickly as possible. The most interesting part of the Bill has been that most extradition seems to revolve around chance encounters; as the Minister said, 60% of people just happen to be stopped in traffic incidents or other minor legal infractions. I am particularly glad that this legislation will enable us to get those people to speedy justice, rather than allowing them to slip through the net for something that might not have been a crime that they would otherwise be arrested for. I am also glad that it does not change any safeguards in our extradition practices; that is a fundamental underlying principle of this legislation. As the legislation only applies to people whose crimes would lead to a sentence of over three years, and is considered a serious offence in the UK, there are quite clearly sensible safeguards in place to protect people.

This piece of legislation is not before time, and I welcome the fact that speedy extensions can be made to new countries via statutory instrument with the appropriate safeguards in place, rather than having to go back to primary legislation. I support the Bill and look forward to its speedy passage through the House.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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I want to address the question of whether and how the Bill could be used after the end of the Brexit transition period. For 16 years, the European arrest warrant has been Britain’s best crime-fighting tool. It is significantly faster and cheaper than its predecessor arrangements, and it may well be faster and cheaper than what might replace it. The Minister was at pains to highlight the limited scope of the Bill, but the Government themselves have suggested that the Bill could be used to extend extradition arrangements to other countries, including EU countries after transition ends and our membership of the European arrest warrant ceases. The Bill focuses only on extraditing criminals from the UK, but it is clear that this could be used as a basis for striking bilateral deals in the future.

The Government will know that Germany, Slovenia and Austria do not extradite their own citizens to other countries, with the sole exception of its being done under the European arrest warrant. What kind of arrangements do the UK Government hope to operate in those cases? If EU countries do not want to sign bilateral extradition deals, the UK could become a haven for criminals. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), herself warned in 2014 that leaving the European arrest warrant made the UK potentially a “honeypot” for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice. Similar concerns were raised in the House of Lords just last week in the context of this Bill.

The Government have said that they are committed to the European convention on human rights, yet they are refusing to formalise that commitment, even though that jeopardises our chances of agreeing a deal on extradition and other security issues. If the Government are genuinely committed to keeping the European convention on human rights, why not put us in a stronger negotiating position by making that commitment clear? We are four years on from the Brexit vote, with no agreed plans on what will replace our best crime-fighting tool, which we are due to lose in less than six months.

When the UK was a member of the EU, we participated in about 40 free trade agreements with more than 70 countries. We are now about to embark on renegotiating some of those from scratch. If the UK seeks to do valuable trade deals with a country that has a poor human rights record, to what extent will the Government be prepared to soften their extradition arrangements in favour of that country in order to secure that deal? What mechanisms will the UK put in place to ensure that that does not happen, so that we do not make ourselves vulnerable to the possibility of having to extradite people to countries with poor human rights records, where we do not have confidence in their justice system? I agree with the shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who said that the amendments passed in the House of Lords were the most effective way to uphold our commitment to human rights, and the Liberal Democrats support them.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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I have listened carefully to what the hon. Lady has said, and I have to tell her that I do not have much confidence in the justice system in Romania, bearing in mind the Adamescu case. Surely she must appreciate that within the EU there are severe shortcomings with the European arrest warrant scheme.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper
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That is one example that backs up the justification from the shadow Home Secretary earlier about why we should be dealing with individual applications from individual countries, so I see the hon. Member’s point as an argument in favour of the amendments that the Lords brought forward last week.

But we are discussing this Bill, which on paper is very limited in scope but which we know could be used more widely at the start of next year to create extradition arrangements with EU countries if those other fast-track deals are not done. Given the sombre statement that we have just had from the Home Secretary about a suspected terrorist act on our own soil, and the importance of ensuring justice for all those affected by that incident, it seems barely believable that we are now discussing an incredibly limited Bill that might, albeit not by design, become a poor and incomplete replacement for the European arrest warrant, our best crime-fighting tool, which we might lose in just six months, putting the UK at risk of becoming a “honeypot” for Europe’s criminals.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I have spoken on the issue of extradition on a number of occasions in the House, as I seek to ensure that we have in place understandings to allow the extradition of terrorists to our shores, as well as reciprocal arrangements. I commend the Minister and our Government for presenting the Bill—well done to him for introducing it. He outlined an example of something that will not be able to happen again, and that is why it is good to have this extradition legislation in place.

I am grateful to the Lords for their amendments that introduce additional safeguards to the process of adding further territories in future. I have no doubt that there will be a need to do just that. This accurately reflects the concern about the possibility of countries with poor human rights records abusing the extradition system. We simply cannot allow that to take place, and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) outlined that well in his intervention.

It is clear that these initial countries—Australia, Canada, Lichtenstein, New Zealand, Switzerland and the USA, along with some other EU countries—will not abuse human rights, and we can be content to allow them to be included. However, the Lords amendments look to the future to ensure that, for example, while we might have trading deals with China, we would not be comfortable extraditing political prisoners there. The same can be said for many countries, and for many reasons, such as freedom of religion or belief. I chair the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief, and I think of China’s human rights abuses of many people—of Christians, in particular, and of the Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong. It is really a despicable country when it comes to human rights. This is an issue of grave concern to me, and we must ensure that we offer protections for those who face losing their life simply because they chose to follow Christ.

I further agree with the terms for the Brexit negotiations and I welcome a withdrawal based largely on the EAW, but including further grounds on which extradition can be refused. These include the right for parties to refuse to surrender their nationals, as well as a requirement of double criminality. The act for which the individual is sought must constitute an offence in both jurisdictions, but the parties can waive this requirement on a reciprocal basis for certain serious offences, and that has to be good news. Unlike the EAW, this waiver will be optional.

The Bill also provides for parties to refuse on a reciprocal basis to surrender individuals sought for political offences, with an exception of certain specified terrorist offences. I agree on all these matters. In Northern Ireland, we saw many years of terrorists fleeing from their crime and finding refuge in the Republic of Ireland, only to return to carry out further crimes. I have spoken in the House before about my cousin, Kenneth Smyth, who was a sergeant in the Ulster Defence Regiment, and his comrade, Daniel McCormick. Both were murdered on 10 December 1971. Those responsible escaped across the border and nobody ever made them accountable for their crimes. It is absolutely despicable and wrong. They may not have been made accountable in this world, but they will certainly be accountable in the next, and I look forward to that. Acts of terrorism cannot be excluded from any extradition policy. Indeed, they must be the foundation for it and that is why I look to Government for leadership and commitment, which clearly will be there.

I welcome the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), to his place. He and I have been good friends over the last few years and I am very pleased to see him there. Extradition is an essential part of any civilised country, and I believe that the foundations contained in the Bill allow effective extradition in all good conscience. I welcome the Bill.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to close this debate for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to follow my good friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

This has been an insightful and productive—albeit brief—exchange on a Bill that is short and technical, but which contains important new provisions on very important matters. As the shadow Home Secretary said, the Opposition are committed to keeping the British people safe, and that includes making sure that serious criminals who make their way into our country or commit offences in other countries cannot rest easy, freely walk our streets or evade the law’s full force, and we fully endorse the UK working within an international framework to ensure that. That is why we broadly support the Bill and will not seek to divide the House this evening. We hope to work genuinely with the Government and Members from all parts of the House to improve the Bill as it progresses.

As has been said, the Bill aims to fill a gap that currently exists for UK law enforcement and allows a police constable, customs officer or service policeman to arrest without warrant a suspect wanted for serious offences in certain countries upon the basis of a certified extradition request, typically an Interpol red alert. As the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) said, many encounters with such suspects take place by chance or due to other infractions, so it is good that the power will exist to deal immediately with other more serious issues on the basis of an extradition request. As such, the Bill will enable a similar process to that currently in place with the European arrest warrant for countries external to that mechanism, but with which the United Kingdom has formal extradition arrangements.

We understand the need for this change to expedite the proceedings through which suspects enter the criminal justice system, so we broadly support the Bill’s ambitions. It is of critical importance that we ensure that serious criminals—let us not forget that in some cases, they are wanted abroad for the most heinous crimes—are arrested and swiftly brought to justice before the opportunity arises for them to reoffend or to abscond. In carrying out our overriding priority to keep the British public safe, we fully accept that, in a world where criminals increasingly respect no national borders or boundaries, we must work to achieve that in collaboration with our international partners and their criminal justice systems.

As the Government take the legislation forward, we will press them to ensure that reasonable and proportionate safeguards, such as those won in the other place, are addressed. While we agree with legislating on the basis of those currently specified as trusted partners in the Bill, we should not and must not leave the door open for any future addition of countries that shamefully fail to uphold human rights and liberties or that frequently abuse the Interpol red alert system for nefarious ends by targeting political opponents, journalists, peaceful protesters, refugees, human rights defenders or people on the basis, as the hon. Member for Strangford said, of their religious faith.

I welcome the specific mention by the Minister of the role of the National Crime Agency in helping to adjudicate. We believe it requires a thorough process of consultation and assessment before a territory is added, varied or removed. Issues such as the use of the death penalty should be a factor in the decisions we make. Consultation —first with the devolved Administrations, who can bring valuable expertise and so often have powers relating to justice and, secondly, with relevant non-governmental organisations and experts—is at the heart of the amendment made in the other place. There should then be an assessment made on the risks of the proposed changes and, where the proposal is to add a territory, on the basis of evidence and judgment.

We also believe it sensible to ensure that key criteria are met for grouping countries, where more than one country is specified at any one time, allowing for proper parliamentary oversight of any territory taken on the merit of its respective case. It is for the Government to provide those assurances, otherwise we see no other way to add countries but individually.

We believe those to be reasonable, proportionate and practical suggestions that will improve the quality of the Bill, as well as any prospective changes to it in the future. That is why we urge the Government to engage with us on the changes as the Bill proceeds.

There are, however, several critical points that the Bill does not address, including the Government’s woeful lack of progress on future security and criminal justice arrangements with the European Union. Any loss of capability, regardless of whether it is mutual, would have a disastrous implication for UK law enforcement’s ability to identify and question suspected criminals and thus keep our country and its citizens safe.

Specifically on extradition, for example, we know that the UK and EU falling back on to prior arrangements —specifically the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition—would add delay, complexity and difficulty to proceedings.

That is not my assessment but that of the previous Conservative Government and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary. Time and time again, the Government say they are optimistic that a full and comprehensive arrangement can be agreed before the transition period ends on 31 December, but frankly time is running out. We and the men and women who work every day in our law enforcement agencies need to see progress on this. Although I entirely accept, too, that the Bill relates solely to powers conferred on UK law enforcement, we need to understand what exactly the Government are doing to ensure adequate reciprocity in future extradition arrangements, particularly if we lose the powers we currently enjoy under the European arrest warrant and other such mechanisms—a point made forcefully by the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper).

Legal experts with specialisms in extradition have been clear that the loss of the European arrest warrant is of far greater concern than the current capability gap addressed by the Bill. Although the measures in the Bill are welcome, the countries it identifies represent only a tiny proportion of those subject to a European arrest warrant request in recent years. The assumption is that the provisions in the Bill could be applied to EU countries in due course, but the Government seem a little confused on that point. In the explanatory notes to the Bill they suggest that they would do precisely that through statutory instruments, but the Minister in the other place said the Bill was not an attempt to replicate the capability of the European arrest warrant. Will the Solicitor General clarify what exactly the Government’s approach to this is? It simply cannot be the case for our country going forward that we are unable to bring to justice criminals wanted for serious offences here in the UK because they are elsewhere, while the reverse is perfectly possible. That imbalance has occurred even in our relationship with our closest ally, the United States of America.

The Government must reassure the public that their priority is protecting British interests and British citizens, and upholding the international rules-based order in this process. We must do all we can to ensure that robust mechanisms are in place so that suspects wanted here in the UK who have made their way abroad can face justice. That has been articulated most ably in recent months by the family of Harry Dunn. I reiterate our support for them and our call for the Government to engage fully with them and provide the answers they are demanding.

In conclusion, we fully accept the need for comprehensive legislation to address the gap that currently exists for UK law enforcement prior to extradition proceedings. In a constructive spirit, the Opposition will work with the Government on the Bill, seeking to fully scrutinise it in Committee and ensure that reasonable protections remain in place. I am sure the Solicitor General will agree that it is important that we get this right, and I know that Labour Members, and Members across the House, will do our best to assist the Government in ensuring that we do.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Solicitor General (Michael Ellis)
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I am hopeful that all Members can unite in a common commitment to protect the British public, and I am pleased to have the shadow Ministers, Labour Members and, indeed, other Opposition Members’ support in that.

This is about helping UK policing. I am sure we can all recognise without hesitation the increasingly global society in which we live, and we are sadly all well aware of the threats we face from cross-border criminality. I am confident that this legislation will make the United Kingdom safer. The Bill will ensure that where a person is wanted for a serious offence by a trusted country—I repeat, because those are operative terms: a serious offence by a trusted country—our police have the power, then and there, to get them off our streets, into the court system and before a judge here in the United Kingdom.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker
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I am sorry that I missed the opening speech. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that, as a country outside the European Union, we will not repeat the error forced on us as a member state of thinking that the integrity of the justice systems in all EU member state countries are of an equally high standard? We might, for example, recognise that the Adamescu case in Romania, which I mentioned earlier to the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper), demonstrates that some countries are not fit to be included in the list.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Solicitor General
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As my hon. Friend knows very well, changed arrangements now with the European Union allow this country to conduct itself with fresh ideas and fresh considerations. But it is important to recognise that the Bill applies to a limited number of countries, with which we have an extremely good relationship, and in which we have considerable trust. Indeed we have considerable experience of their processes and judicial systems.

I just want to touch on a couple of remarks made in this brief debate by hon. Members from across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) talked about the Bill being not before time. He is right to say that. He supports the mechanisms, including the statutory instrument mechanisms, which will allow an ease of process for the Bill going forward.

The hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) talked about the Bill not being about the European arrest warrant and she is right. This is a matter of supporting our police here in the United Kingdom. Clearly, we are involved in negotiations, but nothing is more important, as she will recognise, than the safety of our people. The Bill is limited in scope, but it is important.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), whose interventions in this House are always very welcome, mentioned, rightly, that the countries in the Bill are trusted partners. I am very pleased that he welcomes it.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), spoke in similar terms. It is important that on these measures, especially in times like these, we can speak as one about the security of the people of this country and recognise that the legislation does not change any other part of the subsequent extradition process. All the safeguards that currently exist in extradition proceedings in this country, set out under part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003, will continue to apply. The Bill does not do anything to change that. The courts will have the same powers and protections as they do now, including the fact that they must ensure that a person will not be extradited if doing so would breach their human rights in any way; if the request is politically motivated; or if they would risk facing the penalty of death. Our courts can be trusted—the examples are legion—to make sure that the provisions are adhered to.

The Bill seeks to deal with a very simple issue. Currently, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) mentioned in opening the debate, a potentially dangerous wanted individual who is known to the police can potentially remain at liberty on the streets of this country, able to offend, able to reoffend and able to abscond. Examples exist where that has happened. The new power will see people who are wanted by a trusted country for a serious crime, and who may be a danger to the public, off our streets as soon as they are encountered.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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In short, it will extradite them more quickly.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Solicitor General
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It will not change the process of extradition, but it will mean that police officers will potentially be able to arrest more quickly because they will be able to act when they have cause to do so.

In conclusion—

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Solicitor General for giving way. I am also grateful to him for recognising the position of my colleagues on the Labour Front Bench. He is absolutely right to say that we are united in this House. There is no difference in this House when it comes to the safety of the British people and the extradition of those who need to be extradited. We may disagree on the best way to achieve that, but we are united in that aim.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Solicitor General
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I am very pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say that and it does not come as any surprise to me.

The Government are steadfast in their determination to ensure that officers, upon whom we rely to keep us safe, have the powers they need to do just that. The Bill will provide a small, but important part of that armoury. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Extradition (Provisional Arrest) BILL [Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords]:


The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(2) Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings in Committee are commenced.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(4) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(5) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Question agreed to.

Environment Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the Order of 26 February 2020 (Environment Bill: Programme), as varied by the Order of 4 May 2020 (Environment Bill: Programme (No. 2)), be further varied as follows:

In paragraph (2) of the Order (conclusion of proceedings in Public Bill Committee), for “Thursday 25 June” substitute “Tuesday 29 September”.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Environment Bill (Programme) (No. 4)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the Order of 26 February 2020 (Environment Bill: Programme), as varied by the Orders of 4 May 2020 (Environment Bill: Programme (No. 2)) and 22 June 2020 (Environment Bill: Programme (No. 3)), be further varied as follows:
In paragraph (2) of the Order (conclusion of proceedings in Public Bill Committee), for “Tuesday 29 September” substitute “Tuesday 1 December”.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
International Trade
That Matt Western be discharged from the International Trade Committee and Lloyd Russell-Moyle be added.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
National Security Strategy (Joint Committee)
That Sir Edward Leigh be a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
1st Allocated Day
[Relevant documents: Eighteenth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2017-19, Scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1951; and Fourteenth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2017-19, Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1893.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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After Caroline Lucas, there will be a four-minute time limit on Back-Bench contributions.

New Clause 1

Environmental Principles: Public Authorities

‘(1) A public authority, must, when exercising their functions (including the making of policy and legislation), act in accordance with the environmental principles currently in effect.

(2) The duty in subsection (1) does not apply to policy relating to Wales.

(3) In this section, “legislation” means—

(a) an Act of Parliament; and

(b) subordinate legislation.’—(Caroline Lucas.)

This new clause would require public authorities to act in accordance with environmental principles when exercising their functions.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) [V]
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 5—State of nature target

‘(1) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to set a target to halt and begin to reverse the decline in the state of nature in England as soon as reasonably practicable and no later than 2030.

(2) The target in subsection (1) shall be known as the state of nature target.

(3) The Secretary of State must ensure that the state of nature target is met.

(4) A draft statutory instrument containing regulations that make provision for how progress toward the state of nature target will be measured must be laid before Parliament at least one month before the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

(5) Before laying before Parliament a draft of a statutory instrument under this section, the Secretary of State must obtain, publish and take into account the advice of relevant experts, including—

(a) The Environment Agency;

(b) Natural England;

(c) The Office for Environment Protection; and

(d) The Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

(6) In this section—

(a) the abundance and distribution of species;

(b) the risk of extinction; and

(c) the extent and condition of priority habitats.’

This new clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to set and meet a target to begin to reverse the loss of biodiversity in England no later than 2030. This timetable would align with the new Convention on Biological Diversity goals that are due to be agreed in 2021.

New clause 9—Environmental objective and commitments

‘(1) In interpreting and applying this Act, any party with duties, responsibilities, obligations or discretions under or relating to it must comply with—

(a) the environmental objective in subsection (2); and

(b) the commitments in subsection (3).

(2) The environmental objective is to achieve and maintain—

(a) a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment;

(b) an environment that supports human health and well-being for everyone; and

(c) sustainable use of resources.

(3) The commitments are—

(a) all commitments given by Her Majesty’s Government in the United Nations Leaders’ Pledge for Nature of 28 September 2020, including, but not limited to, the urgent actions committed to be taken by it over the period of ten years from the date of that pledge;

(b) any enhanced commitments given by Her Majesty’s Government pursuant to that pledge, any other pledge, and any international agreement; and

(c) all relevant domestic legislation, including, but not limited to, the Climate Change Act 2008, as amended from time to time.

(4) Without prejudice to the generality of the requirement in subsection (1), that requirement applies to—

(a) the Secretary of State in setting, amending and ensuring compliance with the environmental targets; preparing, amending and implementing environmental improvement plans; and performing all their obligations and exercising all their discretions under this Act;

(b) the Office for Environmental Protection and the Upper Tribunal in performing their respective obligations and exercising any applicable discretions; and

(c) all other persons and bodies with obligations and discretions under, or in connection with, the subject matter of this Act.’

New clause 11—Environmental targets: plastic pollution

‘(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations set targets (“the plastics reduction targets”) in respect of the reduction of plastic pollution and to reduce the volume of non-essential single-use plastic products sold.

(2) The plastics reduction targets may, but need not, be long-term.

(3) The duty in subsection (1) is in addition to (and does not discharge) the duty in section 1(2) to set a long-term target in relation to resource efficiency and waste reduction.

(4) Section 1(4) to (9) applies to the plastics reduction targets and to regulations under this section as it applies to targets set under section 1 and to regulations under that section.

(5) In this section—

(a) the term “plastics pollution” means the introduction of plastic materials or plastic-containing products into the environment, and

(b) the term “non-essential single-use plastic products” means products intended to be used once then disposed of where their use is not essential for medical, environmental, health and safety, national security or other essential purposes as defined by the Secretary of State.’

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to set targets to reduce plastic pollution and reduce the volume of non-essential single-use plastic products sold.

New clause 14—OEP function to consider housing targets

‘(1) The OEP will have the power to consider appeals on housing targets set by public authorities in England.

(2) An individual affected by the targets in subsection (1) will have the right of appeal to the OEP.

(3) In determining an appeal under subsection (1) the OEP may either—

(a) reject; or

(b) reduce the housing target set by the public authority.

(4) In dealing with the appeal set out in subsection (1) the OEP must have regard to the impacts the housing targets will have on compliance with the UK’s environmental targets.’

New clause 15—Net zero carbon target as condition of planning permission

‘(1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as set out in section (2).

(2) After section 70(2), insert—

“(2A) Any grants of planning permission for residential development in England must be subject to a condition to secure that a net zero-carbon target objective during construction and ongoing occupation of the building is achieved.”’

New clause 17—Strategy for new economic goals to deliver environmental protection and societal wellbeing

‘(1) Her Majesty’s Government must prepare a strategy for the adoption of new economic goals to deliver environmental protection and societal wellbeing.

(2) “Environmental protection” in subsection (1) means the protection of humans and the natural environment from the impacts of human activity as defined in Clause 44.

(3) The new economic goals must address—

(a) the environmental targets in this Act,

(b) the Climate Change Act 2008,

(c) the UK’s commitments under international environmental agreements, laws and treaties,

(d) the wellbeing of future generations,

(e) the overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption and economic activity, and

(f) the contribution of the UK’s consumption and production to the state of the global environment, in relation to nine planetary boundaries—

(i) Stratospheric ozone depletion,

(ii) Loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and extinctions),

(iii) Chemical pollution and the release of novel entities,

(iv) Climate change,

(v) Ocean acidification,

(vi) Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle,

(vii) Land system change,

(viii) Nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere and oceans, and

(ix) Atmospheric aerosol loading.

(4) The strategy must—

(a) set out how the new economic goals will replace growth in gross domestic product as the principal measure of national economic progress,

(b) set out a vision for how the economy can be designed to serve the wellbeing of humans and protect the natural environment,

(c) include a set of indicators for each new economic goal, and

(d) set out plans for the application of new economic goals and indicators to central and local government decision-making processes including but not limited to Central Government Guidance on Appraisal and Evaluation produced by HM Treasury (The Green Book).

(5) In drawing up the strategy, Her Majesty’s Government must obtain, publish and take into account the advice of—

(a) experts in the field of ecological economics,

(b) a nationally representative citizens assembly,

(c) trades unions,

(d) businesses,

(e) statutory agencies,

(f) representatives of local and regional government, and

(g) any persons the Secretary of State considers to be independent and to have relevant expertise.

(6) The strategy must be laid before Parliament within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.

(7) The Government must lay before Parliament an annual report on progress towards meeting the new economic goals and their efficacy in delivering environmental protection and societal wellbeing.

(8) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than one month after the report has been laid before Parliament, move a Motion in the House of Commons in relation to that report.’

This new clause requires the Government to prepare a strategy for the adoption of new economic goals that are designed to deliver environmental protection and societal wellbeing and to report annually on these goals.

Amendment 21, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert—

‘(e) Public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment.’

This amendment is designed to require the Government to set legally-binding, long-term targets to increase public access to, and enjoyment of the natural environment.

Amendment 40, page 2, line 20, at end insert—

‘(10) In setting a target, the Secretary of State must take into account any targets set by Senedd Cymru.

(11) If the UK Government seeks to spend funds from the Shared Prosperity Fund on infrastructure in Wales, an impact assessment must be carried out and published on the effect of the infrastructure project on the target set by Senedd Cymru.

(12) If the impact assessment under subsection (11) finds that the infrastructure project would have a negative effect on the achievement of the target set by Senedd Cymru, the Secretary of State must seek and receive the consent of Senedd Cymru to that infrastructure spending.’

This amendment would ensure that the consent of Senedd Cyrmu would be required before the UK Government could use the financial assistance powers in the UK Internal Market Bill to spend via the Shared Prosperity Fund on infrastructure projects in Wales which would undermine environmental targets set by Senedd Cymru.

Amendment 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must—

(a) be less than or equal to air quality guidelines established by the World Health Organization in 2005; and

(b) have an attainment deadline on or before 1 January 2030.’

This amendment is intended to set parameters on the face of the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest.

Amendment 25, page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must—

(a) be less than or equal to 10µg/m3;

(b) follow World Health Organisation guidelines; and

(c) have an attainment deadline on or before 1 January 2030.’

This amendment is intended to set parameters on the face of the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest.

Amendment 5, in clause 4, page 3, line 31, at end insert

‘, and

(c) interim targets are met.’

This amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to meet the interim targets they set.

Government amendment 6.

Amendment 28, in clause 7, page 5, line 12, leave out “may” and insert “must”

This amendment would require the Government to include steps to improve people’s enjoyment of the natural environment in its Environmental Plan.

Amendment 39, page 5, line 21, at end insert—

‘(7A) If an exemption is granted under Article 53 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council, concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market, which is likely to affect species covered by an environmental improvement plan—

(a) a report must be laid before Parliament within one month of the exemption decision on the likely effects of the exemption on populations of—

(i) bees,

(ii) other pollinators, and

(iii) other species,

(b) the scientific advice given to ministers relating to the exemption must be published as an addendum to the report, and

(c) a Minister of the Crown must, not later than one month after the report is laid before Parliament under paragraph (8), move a Motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.

(7B) The requirement in subsection (7A) shall apply retrospectively to exemptions granted within the last 12 months of the coming into force of this Act.’

This amendment places requirements on Ministers to allow parliamentary scrutiny of exemptions granted to allow plant protection products banned under retained EU law (such as neonicotinoid pesticides), where they are likely to impact bees and other species covered by an environmental improvement plan.

Amendment 4, in clause 16, page 10, line 15, at end insert—

‘(3A) When applying the precautionary principle, the policy statement must comply with the provisions of the regulator’s code and must include—

(a) a procedure for identifying and recording risk; and

(b) a procedure for identifying and recording the social, economic and cultural impacts of action and inaction.

(3B) The policy statement in subsection (3A) must also include instructions for taking into account all activities with an environmental impact on any area of land under consideration and a procedure for ensuring that any action taken—

(a) is proportionate to the risk posed by each activity on the land being considered; and

(b) balances short term impacts against the achievement of the land’s conservation objectives.

(3C) The precautionary principle should only apply in response to risks that are—

(a) more than hypothetical in nature; and

(b) serious and irreversible.’

This amendment sets out the definition of the precautionary principle when it is used in accordance with the provisions of this Bill.

Amendment 1, in clause 18, page 11, line 20, leave out from “benefit” to end of clause and insert—

‘(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to policy so far as relating to Wales.’

This amendment removes the proportionality limitation and the exceptions for armed forces, defence policy, tax, spending and resources from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles.

Amendment 43, page 11, line 24, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).

This amendment removes the exceptions for armed forces, defence and national security policy from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles. It also removes the exceptions for tax, spending and allocation of resources.

Amendment 23, page 14, line 29, leave out Clause 24.

Government amendment 31.

Amendment 44, in clause 45, page 27, line 15, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).

This amendment removes the exceptions for armed forces, defence and national security policy and the exceptions for tax, spending and allocation of resources from the definition of environmental law.

Government amendments 9 to 20.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to move new clause 1. This Bill could not be more important. It is 25 years since the last dedicated Environment Act was passed. During that time, the speed and scale of environmental destruction has increased dramatically. The UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and Ministers simply are not rising to that challenge. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Government are failing to meet fully 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets.

Despite the Government’s aim to be

“the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”,

this Bill has languished in Parliament for more than 200 days before Committee resumed. As a consequence, there is now a governance gap, with only interim measures in place where a fully-fledged Office for Environmental Protection should have been. Worse, we now hear that the Bill is to be delayed by at least six months, because Ministers have apparently run out of time to pass it in Parliament.

Of course we understand the pressures that covid has put on the parliamentary timetable, but the Government have had more than four years since the referendum, two years since the draft Bill was published and one year since the UK left the EU to get these plans in place. Their failure to do so is utterly incompetent. Will the Minister give us a precise date for both the next Report stage and the missing policy statement that is linked to the environmental principles? It is to those principles that I now turn, because my new clause 1 and amendment 1 are on the environmental principles, and I plan to push new clause 1 to a vote.

Ministers promised that, post Brexit, environmental standards would be not only maintained but enhanced, yet this Bill does not even come close to making up for what we have lost by leaving the EU. It sets out five important principles, including prevention, precaution and polluter pays. Under EU law, it is a requirement that those are actually applied when law making and that they cover all public bodies, not just Ministers. However, the Bill significantly weakens their legal status because they do not apply to public bodies, and there is no such duty on Ministers to act in accordance with the principles. Instead, there is only a duty to “have due regard” to a policy statement that the Government have not even bothered to published yet.

The Minister has tried to persuade us that “due regard” is at least as strong as “in accordance with”, yet her case simply does not stand up to scrutiny. In 2018, the Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 found that the duty to “have regard” to contained in that Act was

“weak, unenforceable and lacks clear meaning.”

Adding the word “due” in front of “regard” does not change that. There are plenty of examples of other legislation in which public authorities are required by statute to act in accordance with or to take actions to comply with—for example, the Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 or the Planning Act 2008.

We can only conclude that, in this instance, the Government deliberately intend to weaken these provisions and, as a consequence, to drive a coach and horses through fundamental EU protections. New clause 1 would extend the duty to all public authorities and broaden the scope of the principles. Crucially, it would strengthen the duty from “have due regard” to “act in accordance with”, and it would apply directly to the principles, rather than a non-existent policy statement.

Amendment 1 addresses further absurdities in the Bill—in this case, the exclusion of the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury, and indeed anyone spending resources within Government, from having to consider the principles at all. That really is ludicrous. My amendment therefore removes the proportionality limitation from the environmental principles, as well as the exclusions for the MOD and the Treasury.

New clause 17 is vital because it recognises that even if we do succeed in strengthening this Bill, efforts to protect and restore nature will ultimately fail unless we also address the underlying economic drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem destruction. The new clause therefore requires the Government to prepare a strategy for the adoption of new economic goals so that social and environmental gains sit at the heart of the Government’s economic plans and measurements. If we stick with the current economic rulebook, we will continue to see the hard work of DEFRA undermined by the overriding short-term economic priorities of the Treasury, and above all the pursuit of infinite GDP growth on a planet of finite resources. For decades, we have seen Ministers commit to environmental goals and targets only for those goals to be missed time and again. Nature’s dangerous decline continues apace, at a high cost to current and future generations. This time we need to do things differently. Some major business voices are also urging Government to do the same. Consider this from the Business for Nature coalition, which says:

“Governments, companies and financial organizations would take better decisions if they used information ‘beyond short-term profit and GDP’ that includes impacts and dependencies on nature, as well as synergies and trade-offs informed by science and planetary boundaries.”

New clause 17 is all about better, more consistent decision making across Government so that the environmental ambition in this Bill is not undermined by conflicting goals of other, more powerful Departments. While I will not be pressing it to a vote, I do hope that the Minister will commit to taking this forward with the urgency it requires.

Turning to amendment 21, green space has become more important than ever over the past 10 months, yet access to nature is far from equal. My amendment seeks to address that. Some 2.6 million people in the UK have no publicly accessible green space within walking distance, and one in eight British households has no access to a garden—an inequality that disproportionately affects those in black and minority ethnic communities. Currently the Bill states:

The Secretary of State may…set long-term targets”


“people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”

However, because this is not a priority area, it risks being overlooked, with funding and resources being diverted elsewhere. My amendment remedies this omission by promoting access to and enjoyment of nature as a priority area for long-term targets. This change not only has the potential to equalise access to nature but would also come with wider benefits to physical and mental health.

Finally, I would like to indicate support for a number of other amendments, including amendment 23 on the Office for Environmental Protection. When it comes to enforcement, the OEP is being presented as a new, independent watchdog. In reality, it is more like a ministerial lapdog kept on a tight leash, with Ministers given the power to steer it by offering so-called guidance that the OEP is bound to consider. Since Ministers also control its budget and its board, it is entirely likely that such guidance will actually be felt, in practice, rather more as an instruction. The Minister has argued that the Government already routinely offer guidance to other non-departmental public bodies. While it is true that they do to some, they certainly do not have power to issue guidance in relation to bodies charged principally or partly with enforcing potential breaches of the law by other public bodies. That is a crucial difference. That is why I support the amendment that would delete this guidance, which was added to the Bill at a very late stage.

I also support amendments that intend to ensure that interim targets are legally binding. There are strong amendments to improve air quality, and to align our state of nature targets with those from the convention on biological diversity and with the objectives of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which I introduced into Parliament last year.

This is a hugely important Bill. It is unbelievable that we are seeing, yet again, a delay to its coming forward. The Minister must now undertake that in the extra time she is going to achieve, she will strengthen the Bill to make it fit for purpose so that it comes close to some of the aspirations that she and her fellow Ministers have expressed before.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Before I call the Minister, let me say that, as I have indicated, there is a four-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. The vast majority of contributions will be via videolink. Can I say to those who are contributing via videolink that there is a clock on the device you are using, so please keep an eye on it? There are no interventions on you, so it should be straightforward as to when you finish your contribution. If you try to exceed that time, you will be automatically cut off. For those contributing in the Chamber, the clocks will be working in the usual fashion.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to begin by setting out why this Environment Bill is so important. Members on all sides of the House agree that on the whole—despite, I must just say, some notable successes where farmers, Government and conservationists are working together—the desperate decline of our natural environment and biodiversity has gone on for far too long. We need to act to improve the quality and the quantity of habitats for our fellow species across the board, and we need to re-establish the equilibrium of the habitats and ecosystems.

Our UK indicator for farmland birds shows that we have had a decline of 50% in those birds since 1970. The lapwings I grew up with on the farm at home are no longer there, nor are the yellowhammers. Insect pollinators have declined by 30% since 1980, so in place of that hazy buzz we were all so used to there is now, in many places, silence. This matters not only because people treasure our species and habitats—and, goodness, we have really appreciated that in lockdown during the pandemic, have we not?—but because they underpin vital processes such as carbon storage or pollination. That is why we are laying the foundations for nature’s recovery through this Bill, delivering the tools needed to drive the change we want to see.

Legally binding targets for environmental improvement across at least four priority areas must be set. Our ambitious targets across air quality, water, waste and biodiversity will drive long-term action. Through this Government now and future Governments, we will be held accountable by Parliament if progress lags. I know the House will also be particularly interested to hear that we will set not one but two legally binding targets to tackle harmful air pollution across the country. The Bill will require current and future Governments to produce an environmental improvement plan, which must be reviewed and reported on regularly. The Bill creates a tough new independent Office for Environmental Protection to hold all public authorities—from local authorities to central Government—to account on reaching these goals. It will enforce the delivery of all environmental law, including, for example, our net zero target.