[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 21
Habitats Regulations: power to amend general duties
‘(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/ 1012) (the “Habitats Regulations”), as they apply in relation to England, for the purposes in subsection (2).
(2) The purposes are——
(a) to require persons within regulation 9(1) of the Habitats Regulations to exercise functions to which that regulation applies—
(i) to comply with requirements imposed by regulations under this section, or
(ii) to further objectives specified in regulations under this section, instead of exercising them to secure compliance with the requirements of the Directives;
(b) to require persons within regulation 9(3) of the Habitats Regulations, when exercising functions to which that regulation applies, to have regard to matters specified by regulations under this section instead of the requirements of the Directives.
(3) The regulations may impose requirements, or specify objectives or matters, relating to—
(a) targets in respect of biodiversity set by regulations under section1;
(b) improvements to the natural environment which relate to biodiversity and are set out in an environmental improvement plan.
(4) The regulations may impose any other requirements, or specify any other objectives or matters, relating to the conservation or enhancement of biodiversity that the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) Regulations under this section may also, in connection with provision made for the purposes in subsection (2), amend other provisions of the Habitats Regulations, as they apply in relation to England, which refer to requirements, objectives or provisions of the Directives.
(6) In making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must have regard to the particular importance of furthering the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.
(7) The Secretary of State may make regulations under this section only if satisfied that the regulations do not reduce the level of environmental protection provided by the Habitats Regulations.
(8) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement explaining why the Secretary of State is satisfied as mentioned in subsection (7).
(9) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(10) Regulations under this section may not come into force before 1 February 2023.
(11) In this section—
“the Directives” has the same meaning as in the Habitats Regulations (see regulation 3(1));
“England” includes the territorial sea adjacent to England, which for this purpose does not include—
(a) any part of the territorial sea adjacent to Wales for the general or residual purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (see section 158 of that Act), or
(b) any part of the territorial sea adjacent to Scotland for the general or residual purposes of the Scotland Act 1998 (see section 126 of that Act);
“environmental improvement plan” has the same meaning as in Part 1.
(12) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”
This new clause confers powers to amend the Habitats Regulations to require public authorities to comply with requirements or objectives, or have regard to matters, specified in regulations (for example requirements, objectives or matters relating to biodiversity targets under clause 1 or biodiversity aspects of the environmental improvement plan).(Rebecca Pow.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
12:40
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a), in subsection 2(a)(ii), leave out “instead of” and insert “in addition to”.

Amendment (b), in subsection 2(a)(b), leave out “instead of” and insert “in addition to”.

Government new clause 22—Habitats Regulations: power to amend Part 6.

New clause 2—Assessment of Plans

‘(1) The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017/1012 are amended as follows.

(2) In Regulation 63 (Assessment of implications for European sites and European offshore marine sites) the following are amended—

(a) in paragraph (1) for “must” substitute “may”;

(b) in paragraph (3) for “must” substitute “may”;

(c) in paragraph (4) for “must” substitute “may”;

(d) omit paragraph (5) and insert “In the light of the conclusions of the assessment, and subject to regulation 64, the competent authority may take the assessment into account in deciding whether it will agree to the plan or project”; and

(e) in paragraph (6) for “must” substitute “may”.”

New clause 4—Protected species: Hedgehog

‘(1) The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).

(2) At the end of Schedule 5 (Animals which are protected) insert—

“hedgehog

Erinaceus europaeus””



This new clause would add the hedgehog to the list of protected animals under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This would introduce a legal imperative to search for hedgehogs in developments, and a legal imperative to mitigate for them.

New clause 16—Protection of bio-diversity 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 that such a development does not have a detrimental effect on the local levels of nature conservation and bio-diversity.””

New clause 25—Duty to prepare a Tree Strategy for England

‘(1) The Government must prepare a Tree Strategy for England as set out in subsections (2), (3) and (4).

(2) The strategy must set out the Government’s vision, objectives, priorities and policies for trees in England including individual trees, woodland and forestry, and set out other matters with respect to the promotion of sustainable management of trees in these contexts.

(3) The Tree Strategy for England must include the Government’s targets and interim targets with respect to—

(a) the percentage of England under tree cover;

(b) hectares of new native woodland creation achieved by tree planting;

(c) hectares of new native woodland creation achieved by natural regeneration;

(d) the percentage of native woodland in favourable ecological condition;

(e) hectares of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) undergoing restoration;

(f) the condition of the England’s Long Established Woodlands; and

(g) hectares of Long Established Woodlands undergoing restoration.

(4) The Tree Strategy for England must set out—

(a) locations of additional planting of 30,000 hectares of woodland in the UK each year, as set out in the England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024;

(b) a plan for the maintenance of the trees and woodlands planted under the England Trees Action Plan 2021- 2024; and

(c) which authorities or individuals are responsible for the maintenance of the trees and woodlands planted under the England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024.

(5) The Government must publish—

(a) an annual statement on progress against the Tree Strategy for England; and

(b) any revisions of the Tree Strategy which may be necessary.

(6) The Government must publish a revised Tree Strategy for England within the period of 10 years beginning with the day on which the strategy or its most recent revision was published.”

The aim of this new clause is to ensure that the Government prepares a tree strategy for England. It will ensure that the Government has to produce targets for the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland in England.

New clause 26—Enforcement action against breaches of planning control in statutorily protected landscapes and areas of ancient woodland

‘(none) In the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, after Section 171B(2), insert—

“(2B) There is no restriction on when enforcement action may be taken in relation to a breach of planning control in respect—

(a) a Site of Special Scientific Interest;

(b) an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

(c) any other landscape that is statutorily protected for environmental reasons; or

(d) ancient woodland.”

New clause 27—Tree preservation orders on statutorily protected landscapes

‘(none) In the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, after Section 201, insert—

“(201A) All trees shall automatically be subject to tree preservation orders if they are in any of the following areas—

(a) a Site of Special Scientific Interest;

(b) an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

(c) a National Park; or

(d) any other landscape that is statutorily protected for environmental reasons.”

Amendment 45, in clause 95, page 96, line 18, after “biodiversity objective” insert—

“and contribute to the achievement of relevant targets and objectives under the Convention on Biological Diversity”.

Amendment 29, page 97, line 1, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

‘(5) After subsection (2) insert—

(2A) The authority must act in accordance with any relevant local nature recovery strategy in the exercise of relevant functions, including—

(a) land use planning and planning decisions;

(b) spending decisions, including land management payments;

(c) delivery of biodiversity gain; and

(d) any other activities undertaken in complying with subsections (1) and (1A).””

This amendment would require public authorities to exercise relevant functions in accordance with Local Nature Recovery Strategies. This would ensure that decisions that affect the natural environment such as planning decisions, net gain habitat enhancements and targeted investment in environmental land management are informed by the Strategies.

Amendment 46, in clause 102, page 101, line 36, at end insert—

‘(2A) The objectives of a species conservation strategy must be—

(a) to identify the factors that adversely affect the conservation status of relevant species of fauna or flora;

(b) to identify measures to improve the conservation status of relevant species of fauna or flora;

(c) to inform the definition of favourable conservation status of relevant species of fauna or flora; and

(d) taking the information set out pursuant to paragraphs (a) to (c) into account, to contribute to relevant planning, land management and conservation policies for those species of fauna or flora.

(2B) All provisions in a species conservation strategy must be in accordance with the mitigation hierarchy.

(2C) The Secretary of State must publish guidance relating to the content, interpretation and implementation of species conservation strategies.

Amendment 47, page 102, line 27, at end insert—

‘(8A) The Secretary of State must give financial assistance under the Environmental Land Management scheme to applicants who have contributed to the achievement of species conservation strategies, provided that the following conditions are met—

(a) the applicant meets the eligibility criteria under the Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021; and

(b) evidence is provided by the applicant in support of that payment request under The Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021.

This amendment would ensure that those receiving money from the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) would be able to claim financial assistance for their contributions towards achieving species conservation strategies.

Amendment 48, in clause 103, page 104, line 27, at end insert—

‘(8A) The Secretary of State must give financial assistance under the Environmental Land Management scheme to applicants who have contributed to the achievement of species conservation strategies, provided that the following conditions are met—

(a) the applicant meets the eligibility criteria under the Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021; and

(b) evidence is provided by the applicant in support of that payment request under The Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021.

This amendment would ensure that those receiving money from the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) would be able to claim financial assistance for their contributions towards achieving species conservation strategies.

Amendment 22, in schedule 14, page 216, line 37, leave out “maintained for at least 30 years” and insert—

“secured in its target condition and maintained in perpetuity”.

This amendment requires habitat created under net gain to be secured in perpetuity.

Amendment 41, in schedule 15, page 224, line 41, at end insert—

“Planning decisions, felling without a licence and failure to comply with restocking orders

6A (1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows:

(2) In section 70(2) (Determination of applications: general considerations), after “material considerations” insert—

‘(none) “including previous convictions held by the landowner for unlawful tree felling, and failure to comply with restocking and enforcement orders.”

This amendment seeks to include a provision for local planning authorities to be able to take unlawful tree felling and a lack of compliance with Restocking and Enforcement Orders by landowners into account when considering planning applications.

Amendment 26, in schedule 16, page 225, line 35, at end insert—

“, and free, prior and informed consent has been obtained from affected indigenous peoples and local communities”.

This amendment would require that the prohibition on using a forest risk commodity must also be in accordance with having obtained the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and local communities, in addition to complying with relevant local laws.

Amendment 27, page 229, line 30, at end insert—

“Regulated financial person

7A (1) A regulated financial person must not provide financial services for commercial enterprises engaging in the production, trade, transport or use of a forest risk commodity unless relevant local laws are complied with in relation to that commodity.

(2) A regulated financial person who provides financial services for commercial enterprises engaging in the production, trade, transport or use of a forest risk commodity must establish and implement a due diligence system in relation to the provision of those financial services.

(3) A “due diligence system”, in relation to a regulated financial person, means a system for—

(a) identifying, and obtaining information about, the operations of a commercial enterprise engaging in the production, trade, transport or use of a forest risk commodity to which it provides financial services,

(b) assessing the risk that such a commercial enterprise is not complying with relevant local laws in relation to that commodity,

(c) assessing the risk that a commercial enterprise is not complying with paragraphs 2 and 3 of this Schedule, and

(d) mitigating that risk.

(4) A regulated financial person must, for each reporting period, provide the relevant authority with a report on the actions taken by the regulated financial person to establish and implement a due diligence system as required by paragraph 3.

(5) A “regulated financial person” means a person (other than an individual) who carries on financial services in the United Kingdom and—

(a) meets such conditions as may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State; or

(b) is an undertaking which is a subsidiary of another undertaking which meets those conditions.

(6) In this paragraph—

“group” has the meaning given by section 474 of the Companies Act 2006;

“undertaking” has the meaning given by section 1161 of that Act,

“financial services” means—

(a) the provision of banking services including the acceptance of deposits in the course of business;

(b) the provision of loans in the course of a banking, credit or lending business, including by way of term loan, revolving credit facility, debentures and bonds; and

(c) regulated activities as defined under section 22 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 (SI 2001/544), in each case as amended, or

(d) such other financial services as may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

“commercial enterprise” means a person (other than an individual) who carries on commercial activities in any jurisdiction relating to the production, trade, transport or use of forest risk commodities.”

This amendment requires that persons who carry out financial services in the United Kingdom do not provide financial services to commercial enterprises engaged in the production, trade, transport or use of forest risk commodities unless they are complying with local relevant laws.

Amendment 36, page 229, line 34, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would make it a requirement, rather than just an option, that the Secretary of State make regulations under Part 2 of schedule 16.

Amendment 37, page 229, line 38, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would make it a requirement, rather than just an option, that the Secretary of State makes regulations to appoint the relevant enforcement authorities.

Amendment 38, page 229, line 39, after “persons” insert—

“, independent of the Secretary of State,”.

This amendment is intended to require the Secretary of State to transfer the powers of enforcement (such as issuing fines) to an independent enforcement authority, as they relate to the use of products derived from a forest risk commodity (a major source of forest deforestation).

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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What a pleasure it is to be back to continue our consideration of this vital legislation, which will set us on a sustainable trajectory for the future. I know that so many colleagues have been looking forward to today with great anticipation, as indeed have I.

Although the journey of this Bill may have seemed a little lengthy, I assure the House that we have not been resting on our laurels. During this time, there has been a huge amount of constructive, dedicated work, and I will outline some of it: a draft environmental principles policy statement, which will guide the Government in applying environmental principles, was published for consultation on 10 March; and on 24 March we launched consultations on the deposit return scheme and the extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging, and these are two key initiatives in the resource and waste measures of the Bill.

We are working at pace to ensure that the Office for Environmental Protection will be operationally ready to stand up as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. We have also announced that new measures to reduce the harm from storm overflows on our precious aquatic environment will be added in the other place.

At this point, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for his dedicated work on this issue. It has been a tremendous joint effort.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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Will the Minister also pay tribute to Surfers Against Sewage, which has done a marvellous job of lobbying and achieving a great outcome?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I am pleased the hon. Lady made that intervention, because of course I would like to pay tribute to Surfers Against Sewage, which has played a key role in all this for such a long time. Coming from the south-west, as I do, I very much know about the good work done by Surfers Against Sewage.

Today we are debating the nature parts of the Bill, which provide a framework of measures to support nature’s recovery in line with the ambition set out in our 25-year environment plan.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Minister will know that England lags significantly behind the other countries of the UK on tree planting to help tackle climate change. She will also be aware that there is no ring-fenced component to the nature for climate fund for innovative, green-minded local authorities, such as my own in Harrow, to put in bids so that we, too, can play our part in increasing tree coverage.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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As the hon. Gentleman will know, or I hope he knows, we launched our tree action plan just last week. It sets out the raft of measures we will use to enable us to plant our commitments and target on tree planting, which is 30,000 hectares by the end of this Parliament. There are measures in the action plan, and we have allocated £500 million from the nature for climate fund, so I would say there is a huge commitment to tree planting in this country.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I am going to continue.

The Bill also contains a coherent package of new duties, tools and support to drive improvement for nature: a 10% biodiversity net gain requirement on new development; a strengthened duty on all public authorities to conserve and enhance biodiversity—they will be able to do a lot of the tree planting mentioned by the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas); local nature recovery strategies, which will form the building blocks for a much wider national nature recovery network; species conservation strategies and protected sites strategies to improve conservation outcomes for habitats and species; targeted measures to protect existing trees and plant new ones—back to trees again; and due diligence requirements to prohibit larger UK companies from including forest risk commodities in their supply chains.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Will the Minister give way?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I always give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The Minister is always very kind, which I appreciate very much. Amendment 41 would give enforcement powers to councils and local bodies with responsibility for planning to ensure that no illegal tree felling is allowed. Do the Government intend to support that amendment? I believe that the Minister and I both love trees and want to see plenty of them. Will that happen?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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If the hon. Gentleman stays in the Chamber, he will hear what I say about trees—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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He doesn’t want to leave.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Of course he doesn’t, Mr Speaker, and he won’t be able to now. I hope he will be pleased by what he hears about what we are doing to protect trees.

Finally in this toolbox of measures to improve nature, we have conservation covenants to protect natural features of the land for future generations. Just last week, we announced a raft of significant measures to further deliver for the environment, and I am absolutely delighted to say that we have committed to an historic new, legally binding target on species abundance for 2030, which aims to halt the decline of nature in England. We will table an amendment on that in the other place and we will set a final target in statute following the agreement of global targets at the UN conference on biodiversity in Kunming, in China, in autumn 2021.

It is essential that we seize this opportunity to set our ambitions high and take action to deliver them. I think it is clear in the Bill that we are doing that. That is why, in addition, I am pleased to propose two Government new clauses today—new clauses 21 and 22, which will not only help us halt the decline in species but drive recovery. New clause 21 provides for a power to refocus the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to ensure that our legislation adequately supports our ambitions for nature, including our new, world-leading 2030 target to halt the decline of species. New clause 22 will allow us to amend part 6 of the 2017 regulations to improve the habitats regulatory assessment process. Where the evidence suggests that amending the regulations can improve the natural environment, make processes clearer and provide more legal certainty, to help improve the condition of our sites, we will have the means to do so swiftly.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I will give way to my right hon. Friend, a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The Minister is very kind in giving way. Will she assure the House that the Government’s determination to restore peatlands will be an important part of meeting their new 2030 commitment on species conservation?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my right hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to mention our peat action plan, which was launched just last week. Restoring our peatlands is a crucial part of improving nature. It is essential that we get the 30,000 hectares that we have pledged to restore restored. We have the funding and measures behind it to enable us to do that.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who I do not see in her place in the Chamber—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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She is online.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Okay—I will look up at the video screens. The hon. Lady will say that we need to lock in the protections of the habitats and wild birds directive as they are now, but if we are to deliver on our ambitious new target and reverse the downward trend of recent decades, we need to change our approach, and we need to change it now.

Now that we have the leading framework and targets set out in the Bill, we need to take responsibility for delivering the change needed to achieve our world-leading environmental ambitions. We need to create space for the creative public policy thinking that can help us to deliver those results. To that end, we have designed the new Government amendment with the specific aim of conserving and enhancing biodiversity. Under new clause 21(10), the power to amend regulation 9 can come into force only from 1 February 2023, once we have set the biodiversity targets and conducted the first review of the environmental improvement plan, as provided for in part 1 of the Bill. We have also been explicit that powers can be used only if they do not reduce the existing level of environmental protection. We will closely consult conservation groups, the OEP and others.

The clause will also require us to explain to this House how the use of the power would maintain the level of environmental protections provided by the Habitats and Species Regulations before any regulatory changes are made, and of course the House will have the opportunity to vote on any reforms. In addition, my colleague Lord Benyon will also chair a small working group, comprising myself, Tony Juniper, the chair of Natural England, and Christopher Katkowski, QC, which will gather information on how we might utilise the powers enabled through our Government amendments. We will have our first meeting before the summer recess. The group will consider the technical detail and will gather evidence from experts and stakeholders. The Green Paper will then offer a further opportunity for stakeholders to feed back on the initial proposals for reform. We will consult the new OEP on any proposals we develop before any regulatory changes are made.

On habitats protection, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), whom I am so pleased to see in his place, is right to raise the important issue of the protection of species such as the hedgehog. We all love a hedgehog, don’t we? I have released lots of rescued hedgehogs into my garden. The existing legislation focuses on deliberate harm against species, which, on its own, does not properly address the real challenges faced by species whose numbers are declining, such as the hedgehog. It is a priority for us to provide the legislative protections and policy interventions needed for our wildlife, including for declining species such as the hedgehog, and to deliver our 2030 target on biodiversity. He will therefore be pleased to learn that I have instructed my Department, as part of our Green Paper, to begin a review of this legislation, with a view to enhancing and modernising it. We intend to publish and seek views on our conclusions in the Green Paper later this year, and I give him an absolute commitment that this work will encompass the issues that he has raised and that I know he will be speaking about today, and that the final outcomes will ensure that we provide the kind of support that is desperately needed to reverse the decline in hedgehog numbers. I thank him in advance for championing this cause, because the hedgehog needs a champion.

Along with climate change, biodiversity loss is the defining challenge of our generation. Ensuring our protected sites can be restored to good condition, functioning properly as reservoirs for wildlife, and protecting our most vulnerable habitats and species is crucial to delivering on our environmental ambitions.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I congratulate the Minister on seeking to improve that Bill, as that is excellent. Four amendments have been tabled—two by me, one from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and one from my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller)—that address specifically tree preservation orders, more protections and closing loopholes for sites of special scientific interest. Will the Government listen closely to those amendments? If they think they are worthy of support, as I think they are, will they please incorporate them or ensure that they are incorporated in the other place?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my hon. Friend for that. I know that there are a lot of strong advocates for trees. We have some very strong measures in the Bill, as I hope he will already know—we have worked very hard on our tree protections. We believe that they, in conjunction with our tree action plan, mean that we have very strong measures for trees, but, obviously, we are always open to hear what colleagues have to say, because we have to look after and indeed increase our tree planting.

As I was saying, our ambition goes much wider than just existing protected sites; we want to see a much more abundant nature-rich Britain, with further action to bend the curve on species loss in this country. These powers to redesign our conservation regulations with these ambitions in mind form part of our plan to restore and enhance nature in this country. It is a must do, and we will do it. I commend these amendments to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before the shadow Secretary of State rises to speak, let me remind Members that the time limit on Back-Bench speeches is four minutes, as we have a lot of interest in this important Bill.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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Two years ago this month, it was Parliament that declared a climate and an ecological emergency. We were the first Parliament in the world to do so in what was a truly landmark moment in the fight against the climate and ecological crisis. I was proud to work on that declaration and proud that it was a Labour motion. We need more landmark moments such as that if we are to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in a meaningful way. We were promised that the Environment Bill would be a landmark Bill.

“Landmark” is what the Government kept saying, seemingly until England’s rolling hills were littered with press releases as far as the eye could see, but, sadly, it is not a landmark Bill.

Let us be clear about what the climate crisis means. If we do not take the bold action now that is required, the freak weather, the destruction of homes, job losses, food shortages, habitat loss and species extinction will only get worse. Since Parliament declared that climate emergency, the Department for Food and Rural Affairs has issued 508 press releases about the environment. The group plural for a set of press releases evades me. It could be a discombobulation, a tedium, or a wafer. None the less, the Government seem to have been more focused on the spin than the substance of the matter. The press releases, ambitions, targets and soundbites are no substitute for the bold action that we need on the climate.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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What does my hon. Friend make of the World Wildlife Fund’s statement that the Bill does not go far enough to protect the world’s forests and oceans? Specifically, I know that there is interest across the House in what is happening in neighbourhoods and suburbs. In my own constituency of Muswell Hill, Highgate and Stroud Green, there is a lot of concern about trees coming down unnecessarily. How can we make that vision a reality?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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Both my hon. Friend and the WWF are right that we need to see bolder action on forests and the oceans. It is a shocking indictment of this Bill that there is barely a mention of the oceans, which is a really important part of our environment.

Ministers must act in a quicker and more decisive way on the environment than we have seen to date. I hoped that the delay in the Bill would have given Ministers that time to be bolder, but I am afraid that they have not used their time as wisely as I would have liked. I welcome the steps forward that the Minister has announced, but they are not enough. The pace and urgency seem to be absent. Our rivers are polluted. There is not a single river in England safe to swim in. More species face extinction at home and abroad; more bees are dying from bee-killing pesticides, the use of which is legitimised by this Government; more plastics are entering our oceans; and dangerous particulates are entering the lungs of some of our most vulnerable. Where is the vision? Where is the landmark boldness that we were promised? Where is the rock-the-boat carbon cutting innovation? Where is the determination to push harder and harder to clean our air, protect our species, plant more trees and get us back on a course for nature recovery? Where is the World Health Organisation’s air quality targets in the Bill? Where is the boldness on ocean protection? We need that bold action not only to cut carbon, but to step up and protect our natural environment as well. If we have this approach that we can either solve a carbon crisis or an ecological crisis, we will solve neither. We need to solve both of them together, or neither of them at all.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I support the amendments, which are also in my name. Many constituents have written to me about these issues. Does he agree that there is a stark contrast here with the approach shown by the Welsh Labour Government? Let us take their tree-planting programme as an example. Since 2008, the Plant! scheme has planted a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales and also in Uganda, supporting forestation globally. The Welsh Government have also introduced a new moratorium on incineration, which affects my constituency and that of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), when it comes to that crucial issue of air quality

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank my hon. Friend for that. What the Welsh Labour Government have shown is that we can be bold and decisive and that we can take people with us on that journey. The “people first” approach in Wales is something that could be replicated in an English approach, but sadly, England has fallen further and further behind other nations in the United Kingdom. That is why I want the Minister to do more to preserve our precious habitats and biodiversity. If a car is speeding off a cliff, it is not enough simply to slow it down; we have to bring it to a stop and turn things around, and that is why Labour has tabled several amendments to try to inject some of the boldness that we need into the Bill. Let me turn to those amendments now.

13:01
The public want to see us plant more trees, but the thing about planting more trees is that more trees are not enough. We need to be bolder and bolder in the numbers we plant and the species we plant to ensure that we have a good mix of fruit trees, deciduous trees and other varieties of trees creating a rich biodiversity of habitats for our wonderful wildlife. The Committee on Climate Change, the independent body set up to advise the Government, has been clear that we need to raise our current 13% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals. That may need to increase further if the Government continue to miss other targets along the way. But the Government are missing their tree planting targets by 40 years. If we continue at the current paltry rate of tree planting, the Government’s own 2050 targets will not be met until 2091. I will be 111 years old in 2091. I would like to live that long, but I simply do not think the planet can wait for us to hit that low level of ambition that the Government have on this. More tree planting plans, more targets, more press releases and more paper printed out with those press releases will not plant the trees we need. I want the Minister to be bolder on this, and that is why we have tabled new clause 25, which would see the Government at least hit the Committee on Climate Change’s target, but I want them to go further.
Our Amendment 22 is another attempt to give the Bill some ambition on net gain. The Government have laid out some plans to regain and restore some habitats, and that is welcome, but they have stopped short of safeguarding this for the long term. Amendment 22 would require habitats secured under biodiversity gain to be maintained in perpetuity, rather than just for the 30 years envisaged by the Bill. That figure of 30 years matters. Can the Minister explain what will happen after the 30th year? What will happen in the 31st year? Will those protections fall away? Why was 30 years chosen and not a greater number? Habitats for wildlife can take decades or even longer to be become established, but they take minutes to be destroyed by a bulldozer. Protections matter.
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Government’s proposals on planning reform will actually make the proposals in the Environment Bill on net gain and protecting habitats far more difficult, in that they are a developers’ charter and the wishes of local people are likely to be overridden?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is why Labour is arguing for a comprehensive, joined-up approach from Ministers, in which DEFRA’s policies align with those of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and with Treasury funding. They do not do so at the moment; we have a developers’ charter that does not match the protections that the Minister is talking about. I believe the Minister when she says she is passionate about this, but I just do not see that read-across in Government policy. The peripheralisation of DEFRA in the Government debate is not helping to protect our habitats when other Ministers are able to get away with habitat-destroying policies and seemingly all we have is a Minister patting himself on the back for this Bill. That is not enough, and I am glad my hon. Friend raised that example.

I am worried that the Government’s approach to species conservation is seemingly ad hoc and represents an unambitious approach that seems to have overtaken DEFRA. Labour’s amendment 46 demands a strategic approach to species conservation through protecting, restoring and creating habitats over a wider area to meet the needs of the individual species that are being protected. It acknowledges the vital role that species conservation can play in restoring biodiversity and enabling nature’s recovery. Indeed, it builds on Labour’s amendment to the Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) at the last stage that would see a nature recovery by 2030. I welcome the steps forward on that but I would like to see more detail, because at the moment it seems like a good press release, but without enough action to ensure that the delivery is ensured.

Mr Speaker, you will know that I am a big fan of bees. I should declare an interest because my family keep bees on their farm in Cornwall. Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 of its 35 native species of bee. Bees are essential to our future on the planet, to pollinating crops and to the rich tapestry of biodiversity that depends on them. Bee health is non-negotiable; we must do all we can to protect our precious pollinators. On the first day on Report, the Conservatives voted down Labour’s amendment that would have restored the ban on bee-killing pesticides; on day 2 on Report—today—will the Government back or defeat Labour’s amendment 46 on species conservation? This really matters because bees really matter, and I think the concern is shared across party lines. The steps that the Minister has taken to support sugar beet farmers, especially in the east of England, is welcome. I want to support sugar beet farmers as well—I want to support British agriculture, which is especially needed given the risk of an Australian trade deal—but lifting the ban on bee-killing pesticides is not the answer. It will not help us in the long term.

Like many campaigners and stakeholders, we on the Opposition Benches are concerned that the overt focus on development in the explanatory narrative on clause 108 supplied by the Government suggests that it could fall into a worrying category. Labour’s amendment 46 seeks to correct that by putting nature-recovery objectives, underpinned by evidence, into the heart of the strategies and ensuring that each one abides by the mitigation hierarchy, starting with trying to conserve existing habitat and then moving to habitat compensation only when all other avenues have been exhausted. That will ensure that each strategy serves to recover a species, rather than greenlighting the destruction of existing habitats that are important to that species, in return for inadequate compensation elsewhere. Our amendment is common sense, it would strengthen the provisions in the name of the Secretary of State and, if passed, will show that this House cares about getting the most out of the Bill. I hope the Minister will give additional attention to those provisions when the Bill enters the other place.

On the other amendments that have been tabled on the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations and Government new clauses 21 and 22, I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—she and I share an awful lot in common on this matter—because on the face of it we are minded to agree that we cannot rely on the Government not to dilute the environmental protections currently in the nature directives. I heard what the Minister had to say and think her heart is in the right place, but I want to see things put in law. She may not be a Minister forever and we need to make sure that whoever follows her will have the same zeal and encouragement. I am afraid that unless it is on the face of the Bill, there is a risk that that might not happen.

We support amendments 26 and 27, tabled by the Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), on deforestation, the extension of due diligence requirements to the finance sector and the strengthening of protection for local communities and indigenous peoples. That is a good example of a Select Committee Chair proposing something meaningful and important that might not always get the headlines. He is playing an important role and we encourage power to his elbow.

In conclusion, the Bill has been stuck for too long. I had hoped that the delay in bringing the Bill forward caused by the Government would have altered the Government’s pedestrian approach and resulted in bolder action, with more amendments to the Bill to take on the concerns of non-governmental organisations, stakeholders and, indeed, the constituents we all represent. But on air quality, it fails to put WHO targets into law. It fails to require enough trees or seagrass to be planted. It fails to look at our marine environment in a meaningful way. On targets, it is weak, and the difficult decisions required to hit net zero seem to be parked for future dates. It is absent on ocean protection, which is surely a key part of our environment as an island nation.

Labour’s amendments would strengthen the Bill. In all sincerity, I encourage the Minister to look closely at them, because they are good amendments. But that is precisely why I fear that the Government will Whip their MPs to vote against them. I do not think that Ministers want a strong, landmark Bill; I think they want a weak Bill that allows them the freedom to park difficult decisions, delay urgent action and act in their own best interests rather than the planet’s. This Bill is enough to look busy—to do something—but not enough to make meaningful change. It is in that grey area that a real danger lies: enough to convince the public that something is being done without fundamentally changing the outcomes at the end of it—to lull people into a false sense of security that change is happening and does not require the difficult decisions that we all in our hearts know are coming.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, as always. I do not think it is fair to say that it is a weak Bill. May I probe the Opposition, as we are on Report, on the whole issue of biodiversity as a condition of planning permission? There are amendments on the amendment paper in that respect today; where do the Opposition stand on planning permission and biodiversity as a precondition thereof?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention; I know he always listens carefully to my speeches on this subject, and his question is a good one. We are facing a bit of a planning crisis. I am concerned that the developers’ charter that has been set out by the Government regarding planning on one side of Government practice does not fit neatly with what is being proposed in this Bill, on this side of Government practice.

If we are to have the expansion in a free-for-all for development that is being proposed by one Government Department, it is hard to see how that fits with the biodiversity protections on another side of Government. I would like them to gel together, because I want developers to provide the more affordable homes, the zero-carbon homes and the low-carbon homes that we need in all our constituencies. To do that, we need to send a clear message to them about how biodiversity is to be built into the planning system. Where, for instance, is the requirement for swift bricks to be built into new developments—building nature into them? Where is the requirements to have hedgehog holes in some of the fences, as we have seen from some developers?

There are an awful lot of good interventions on biodiversity and planning that create not unnecessary red tape or cost, but an environment where we can build nature into our new planning system. At the moment, I am concerned that those two things do not match together, which is why we want to see biodiversity much more integrated into the planning system. If I am honest, I think Government Members also want that to happen, which is why the planning reforms proposed in the Queen’s Speech do not fit with this Bill and why there is such concern.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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These are good individual ideas, but the problem is actually a much wider one. If we do not have a recycling culture in housing and planning, we are just going to use lots of greenfield sites. Doing so would damage not only our environment, but our communities; we would be doing social damage by leaving brownfield sites undeveloped. We need to start taxing greenfield sites and doing radical stuff, so that we get joined-up Government and use that money massively to clear the way for developing brownfield sites. That is what we need to be doing—not just putting in nice little bee bricks, as important as they are.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. I am a big fan of bee bricks as well as swift bricks. I fear that his intervention was aimed more at the Government than at me. I hope that the Minister will be listening carefully to her own Back Benchers, because, whether she agrees with the words of the Opposition or not, we need a bolder Environment Bill. We need it to be better joined up across Government because we are not there yet.

DEFRA was at the heart of Government when the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) was in charge, but it has lost its way. It has lost its va va voom. It is now dominated by a bland and dreary managerialism. Where is the energy and drive needed to tackle the climate crisis? The Department has a lot of decent junior Ministers—one of them is opposite me now—but I think it has lost its way. This Bill is okay. It is passable. It is a bit “meh”. But it is not landmark. Indeed, it is deliberately not a landmark Bill.

I say to the Minister: look carefully at Labour’s amendments and please let us work together to get this Bill back on track. I agree with her on the need for bold action; I just do not think that this Bill delivers it. If we are properly to address the climate and ecological crisis, we need more, bolder and decisive action than I am afraid this Bill includes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I remind Members that the speaking limit in effect for Back Benchers is four minutes. The countdown clock will be visible on the screen of hon. Members participating virtually and on the screens in the Chamber. For hon. Members participating physically in the Chamber, the usual clock in the Chamber will now operate. I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Neil Parish.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.

I welcome the return of the Environment Bill and commend Ministers on bringing it back so quickly after the Queen’s Speech. Let me start by welcoming the recent publication of England trees action plan, which sets out ambitious targets for tree planting. I was pleased to see that it also includes plans to deliver what I have previously described as smart tree planting. What I mean by smart tree planting is not simply planting large numbers of trees, but planting the right trees in the right areas so that they can help to mitigate soil erosion and form natural flood defences. I welcome the fact that new woodlands are to be planted that will enhance biodiversity and have recreational benefits, but I emphasise that trees are also a living crop; we want to see them grow and mature, and we will use them for building our houses and will capture the carbon. I therefore want to see the right varieties planted to form the timber of our future buildings.

While we are rightly going to great lengths to deliver sustainable forestry policy in England, we must not miss the opportunity to send equally ambitious targets to protect forests overseas, many of which are very sadly facing an unprecedented threat. In 2020 alone, some 11,000 sq km of the Amazon were lost to deforestation—the most in 12 years. That is an area nearly twice the size of Devon lost in one year. Large-scale commercial agriculture accounts for a large proportion of that. We cannot allow this to go on.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine
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I am very happy to put my name to amendments 26 and 27, in particular amendment 27, on financial services. Many of our constituents will invest with and use UK financial institutions, banks and pension funds, and they will have very little sight of the investments that they make around the world that could assist deforestation of the Amazon. Is not the key point that we cannot just rely on transparency—that it is a duty of the House to act, and this legislation is a golden opportunity to do that?

13:15
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, especially in terms of pension funds. People do not always know which companies their pension funds are investing in and what those companies are investing in—are they investing in Malaysia or in large cattle ranches in Brazil, where deforestation may be taking place? We need to tighten up on this, and I very much welcome his intervention.

Not only are rainforests a carbon sink, but they hold 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They help to maintain our delicate global ecosystem, so I am pleased that, as part of the Bill, companies that cause illegal deforestation will be held accountable. The requirement for large companies to undertake due diligence on their supply chains is an important step, but the Bill should go further in tackling the practice.

As Members will know, I have tabled two amendments to the Bill to ensure that the measures have the teeth to tackle the problem. First, amendment 26 proposes that we put into law protections for the rights of indigenous people, requiring that

“free, prior and informed consent has been obtained from affected indigenous peoples and local communities”

before big companies go in and develop land. That is important because, while the Government’s new provisions reference the need for companies to ensure that local laws are respected, they do not consider that the rights of indigenous communities are not always respected in law.

I have visited Brazil; I have seen the trucks going through the forest and the people in the back of them with sub-machine-guns. I can assure the Government that it is not easy for indigenous people to have rights in places where there is no real rule of law in parts. Indeed, 80% of indigenous lands do not yet have secure legal rights. In those places, local people are rightly defending their own land from aggressive development, but at great risk. In February 2019, I had the honour of meeting the chief of the indigenous population in the Amazon. He told me of the daily struggles that he and his people experience in protecting their homes from illegal land clearance. Research shows that more people than ever were killed in 2019 for defending their land. Over 200 were killed—an average of around four people a week. Not only are indigenous people being killed, but many are seeing the land on which their livelihoods depend being destroyed. Amendment 26 would not only save lives but would save livelihoods—something that I know the Government care greatly about. I ask them to look carefully at this issue.

The second measure that I would like the Government to implement to tighten up the Bill is amendment 27. I firmly believe that we must ensure that the legislation includes the financial sector, which is in many cases bank-rolling deforestation in places such as Brazil and Malaysia. If we do not include the financial sector in these measures, we are missing out one of the most integral parts of the supply chain and leaving a large loophole in the law.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
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Mr Speaker, you might recall that there used to be a TV game show called “Bullseye”, in which the legendary Jim Bowen consoled failed contestants with that cruellest of catchphrases, “Let’s have a look at what you could have won.” As we come to the end of the long process of this Environment Bill, a lot of folk might be thinking that it was Jim Bowen presenting it.

I will be as generous as I can and say that there were good intentions behind the Bill, or at least the stated intentions were good back when it appeared many, many moons ago. There was admirable ambition to enshrine environmental protections in law, to set proper targets and to establish the Office for Environmental Protection—high aims, except those rules would not apply to one of the most polluting and environmentally damaging parts of the state, the military. They also would not apply to anything that might be classed as national security or taxation or spending. Those are pretty big areas of government: if taxation and the allocation of resources are exempted, a massive part of governance will walk happily by without casting a glance in the direction of the environmental protection regulations.

Then of course in the Bill’s Committee stage the Government introduced amendments and new clauses that limited the power of the Office for Environmental Protection to take enforcement action, creating thresholds for reviews, moving the review from tribunal to court, limiting the OEP’s power to intervene in judicial reviews brought by others, and imposing even greater limitations on its own power to initiate judicial reviews. To top that off, Ministers took the power to be able to direct the OEP on what it should be enforcing. It has gone from a powerful and independent body to a mere arm of the Government before it is even born—a bit sad, really.

There are still things to be welcomed, however, the setting of a species recovery target being one. It should be a declaration of intent—a commitment to reversing some of the harm that has been done—but it needs clarifying and it needs political will behind it to get to any kind of a delivery phase. It also needs cash—plenty up front to get it started, as well as an ongoing commitment to keep funding the work.

We have seen what has happened to Natural England: how the funding cuts stripped that body of its ability to do its job; how its feet got cut away from under it; how a decade of austerity has rendered it unable to function properly. Budget cuts have led to pay cuts, cuts in grants, cuts in staff numbers and cuts in assessed programmes. That is a terrible way to treat staff—a horrendous betrayal of their loyalty and hard work—and I hope Ministers, and those hoping one day to replace them, think on that. Natural England’s Government funding was cut by two thirds between 2010 and last year. Staff numbers have gone down by a quarter since 2010 and those who remain have seen real-terms pay cuts. The ability of the agency to do its work is compromised, if not fatally damaged. Its recovery, if it can recover, would depend on substantial investment in cash and in political capital, but, given how the Office for Environmental Protection has been gutted even before it has been created, I cannot see much hope for Natural England. Perhaps the Minister can tell us in her closing remarks how that will pan out.

This is almost entirely England’s problem of course, because it is England’s Government failing on the environment and this Bill is largely an English Bill, but what is done in England affects Scotland in many ways, including funding, because we are stuck in this constricting Union, for the moment at least. I would be happy to see England sort it out for Scotland’s sake, but even more so for the sake of the environment.

We will, however, of course all be in agreement with amendment 26; who in Parliament would ever think it appropriate to go taking the resources of other peoples and lands without the consent of those peoples? Such pillaging of communities should be beyond the pale.

The UK Government could just for once look to Scotland and the initiatives a Government who are ambitious for their citizens and mindful of their duty to protect and improve our environment can legislate for, such as our commitments to active travel and the restoration of our peatlands, our deposit return scheme soon to be implemented, further planting of new woodlands, implementation of the WHO recommendations on PM2.5 on air pollution, creation of the largest green space project in Europe, the central Scotland green network, and much, much more, with green recovery placed at the heart of successive policy publications: actions rather than just words.

Even in this year when COP26 is to be hosted in Glasgow, the commitment of the UK Government to sorting out some of the mess is minimal if it exists at all. France managed to create the Paris agreement when it headed the conference of the parties; the UK is busy greenwashing what it can and dismantling the rest. Biden is doing the work the UK Government should be doing: dragging commitments out of other Governments. The UK Government like to pretend that the UK is a world leader, but it cannot even lead a conference.

There are elements missing from the Bill that will have to be addressed in the near future, including the lack of clear and binding plans to reduce waste. The World Health Organisation guidelines on particulate levels reduction are missing, and there is nothing on plastic pollution—many public bodies are exempt from the law. I have already mentioned the military and anything that can be covered by the nebulous national security definition, but there are plenty of other examples. To spare the blood pressure of the ardent Brexiteers, I promise I will not mention the rolling back on existing EU protections, but it is there. As the EU continues to press ahead, keeping to environmental protections that the UK’s Environment Secretary described as “spirit-crushing”, the UK will fall behind.

Protecting the environment and making some progress on addressing the climate emergency takes effort, fortitude and a bit of guts to tackle the unpopular things that need to be done. I do not see any evidence of that kind of grit in Whitehall and that is a great shame. Jim Bowen never had the environment behind that screen, but I cannot help reflecting on the fact that this should have been a big win, but is instead a sorry look at what we have not won.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
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I tabled new clause 2 to address the proposed general licensing requirements for the release of game birds and the environmental benefits of shooting. A campaign group named Wild Justice is repeatedly challenging DEFRA. As a result, Natural England must make assessments of the potential damage to EU-protected sites before granting licences for the release of game species. The proposed assessments are intended to take years to achieve, thus halting the granting of licences. The new clause would shift the requirement for Natural England from mandatory assessments to doing them on a common-sense, case-by-case basis.

Campaign groups such as Wild Justice would like to end all country sports. Often fuelled by emotive and ill-informed rhetoric, such campaigns do not recognise the importance to the environment of country sports and their contribution to not only the rural economy but the conservation of land. The gross value added of shooting stands at £1.7 billion in England and £2 billion in the United Kingdom—£240 million in the west midlands alone. Shooting adds 350,000 direct paid jobs to the market and accounts for 10% of the total amount spent on outdoor recreation each year.

Every year, 3.9 million work days are spent on conservation —the equivalent of 16,000 full-time conservation jobs. Up to 700,000 hectares of farm land are planted with wild bird seed mixes and pollinator strips as a result of game bird management. That is five times greater than the land owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Game shooting estates often have 65% more hedgerows than normal farm land. Most statistics show that the sport is not the preserve of the elite: figures from 31 March show that 159,483 firearms certificates and 567,358 shotgun certificates were on issue in England and Wales. That means that at least 1.6 million people are shooting in the UK.

Pheasants have been in the UK continually for the last 2,000 years. Their release, management and subsequent hunting predates all site protections. Indeed, game bird release and management have largely been responsible for the existence of sites of high nature value that are worth protecting. Some 28% of woodlands in England are managed to some extent for game birds—more than are managed for nature conservation. We therefore need to do considerably more to ensure that, if the new clause does not suit the Minister exactly, such provisions are taken on board.

Natural England has two tools to monitor sites: the improvement programme for England’s Natura 2000 sites—IPENS—and a designated sites view, or DSV. The latter identified game bird release as causing an impact across seven sites of special scientific interest—the equivalent of 134 hectares. For context, England’s SSSI network covers 4,100 sites and that is more than 1 million hectares. The worst impacts on nature, unfortunately, are caused by dogs and walkers, and nobody wants to see them campaigned against, so I hope that DEFRA will adopt the gist of this amendment to protect itself—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I call Kerry McCarthy.

13:30
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I would like to begin by praising the work of Wild Justice, whose members are far from ill- informed, absolutely passionate about nature conservation and do some excellent work. I was waiting for the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) to mention Labour’s amendment on peat burning. I know that is in the next group, but it was quite surprising that he—

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I ran out of time.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Yes, well, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can come back for the next debate and make an intervention to show that he supports that amendment. [Interruption.] He can intervene on me, of course.

I would like to speak primarily in favour of amendments 26 and 27, tabled by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish); I believe that birthday congratulations are in order today. Deforestation, which destroys vital carbon stores and natural habitats, is both one of the central drivers of the climate emergency and a driver of the devastating decline in biodiversity. As we have heard, it also plays a role in displacing people from their land and leads to modern slavery and exploitative working practices. It is clear that we need a no-tolerance approach to any deforestation in our supply chains, legal or illegal.

The Bill comes before us in a slightly better state than its many previous incarnations due to the Government’s new proposals on due diligence in deforestation, but unfortunately they fall far short of what is needed. The primary issue is that they act only to eliminate illegal deforestation. That ignores the fact that some nations, most notably Bolsonaro’s Brazil, are chipping away at legal protections on deforestation and enforcement mechanisms to identify and prevent it. For instance, the Brazilian Parliament is set to approve new legislation dubbed “the destruction package” that will accelerate deforestation in the Amazon by providing an amnesty to land grabbers and allowing deforestation on indigenous lands for major construction projects. Preliminary WWF research shows that 2 million hectares of forest and natural ecosystems could be legally deforested in the Brazilian territories that supply soya to the UK.

This Bill is a unique opportunity to send a message to those states that fail to act to protect our planet. That is why I urge the Government to think again and to strengthen their proposals to include legal deforestation to show true climate leadership ahead of COP26. I am sure that, if we do not accept these amendments today, the noble peers in the other place will have strong words to say about that, and I hope they will send the Bill back to us suitably amended.

Amendment 27 would prevent financial services from working with firms linked to illegal forest-risk commodities. We cannot claim to be tough on deforestation if we allow British financial institutions to support firms linked to it. These damaging investments are deeply embedded in our economy and sometimes even in our own personal finances. Shocking analysis from Feedback published today shows that even the parliamentary pension fund has investments in companies such as JBS Investments that have been repeatedly linked to deforestation. It is not good that we are being drawn into complicity in this situation through our parliamentary pension fund. I therefore hope the Government will accept these amendments and begin to show global leadership.

I very much support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench, including new clause 25 calling on the Government to prepare a tree strategy for England. We are trying to do this in Bristol in terms of doubling the tree canopy and with our One City ecological emergency strategy, which I encourage other cities and towns to emulate. I also support amendment 22, which would embed the net gain of habitats in perpetuity. I urge colleagues across the House to accept these amendments. If we fail to do that today, as I said, I am sure that the noble Lords in the other place will take up these causes with their customary vigour.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this landmark Bill, which aims to ensure that the environment is at the heart of Government policy. I am pleased that it intends to better conserve our environment, tackle biodiversity loss and regenerate parts of our great countryside.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for his tireless efforts on environmental issues, including his work on food labelling and environmental sustainability. I was very proud, in the previous Parliament, to co-sponsor his Bill on that matter, much of the contents of which are set to come back to this House later today. This, along with new clause 4, demonstrates that so much more can be done to strengthen our commitments to the environment by protecting vulnerable species. I welcome the Minister’s statements today and her commitment to review ways that we can reverse the decline in hedgehog numbers.

I think we can also help the population to make informed choices. Recently, I visited Rodbaston College in my Stafford constituency. I was delighted to tour the animal zone, where a number of my young constituents are learning to work with a variety of animals, learning how to protect our native species such as the otter and learning to train for careers in conservation. New clause 4, which aims to insert hedgehogs into the Bill as a protected species, is an important reminder of how interconnected nature is, and the important need to retain and to protect species such as the hedgehog.

It may surprise some people to know that a key factor in the reduction of the number of hedgehogs is in fact keeping gardens too tidy and the lack of wildlife corridors in fenced-in gardens. Last week, I was pleased to re-form the all-party parliamentary group for fruit, vegetables and horticulture, which I co-chair, and I led a conversation with Alan Titchmarsh, in which we discussed how gardeners can work with nature to improve habitats for other wildlife, including hedgehogs. New clause 21 aims to protect habitats better. I think we can all do our bit by providing wildlife corridors and creating hedgehog homes, as I have in my own garden. No Mow May is an initiative that is very popular with my constituents: people do absolutely nothing to their lawn in May, which can significantly improve the ecosystem of their garden. The wonderful thing about nature is that it wants to recover. We just need to give it the opportunity to do so.

I believe that the measures in this Bill lay the groundwork to significantly improve our environment. The Bill, particularly new clause 21, clearly demonstrates our Government’s commitment to protecting the unique and diverse habitats that we have in Britain. I was pleased recently to visit the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre to see at first hand its project to replicate a wide variety of habitats in Staffordshire, including woodlands, ponds, and wet and hay meadows. These habitats are providing homes for a range of flora and fauna. The measures in the Bill ensure that we can protect these for generations to come.

One of the reasons these steps are so effective and increase biodiversity is that we are helping other species in the ecosystem to thrive, which in turn leads to a richer and more resilient environment. That is why I believe it is so vital that we reverse the biodiversity loss we have already suffered in the UK, and that is why I welcome the focus in the Bill. I welcome the Bill along with the new clause I have discussed due to their aim to conserve our environment and increase biodiversity. We need to protect and improve our precious environment for generations to come.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this important debate today. I would like to cut to the chase, because time is short. I think it is worth reiterating the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard): we do face a climate emergency and an ecological emergency. Put simply, these are existential threats to humanity on this planet. We must, as he rightly said, not only slow down the car that is speeding towards the cliff, but stop it, turn it around and drive the other way.

The question we need to discuss today is whether this Bill is enough to stop that car. In my opinion, it simply is not. It does make some small steps forward—I grant the Government that, and I am very keen to work with colleagues across the House on this matter—but I think we have to be honest with ourselves: it does not take the significant series of steps that we all support, I would hope, and that we as a country and the wider world urgently need.

I will highlight three key issues before mentioning a few local points. On tree planting, I am not sure the Government fully understand the difficulty of rolling out a major programme of tree planting, given the wide range of landowners they need to work with, the importance of supporting local authorities and the practical difficulties, such as the number of man and woman hours that it takes to plant a large number of trees. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), rightly spoke about the importance of biodiversity and supporting trees—which are not only good in themselves in capturing carbon, but have a beneficial effect on the landscape, for example, stopping erosion—and about promoting native trees rather than those that do not support such a wide range of animals and plants. The interesting comparison here is a sycamore versus an oak tree. An oak tree might support 1,000 plants and animals, but a sycamore, which is not native, does not support anything like that—it supports only a few species.

There are also important weaknesses in terms of air quality. This is a major issue in my Reading East constituency, where a huge amount of traffic flows through the town, a legacy problem with the way roads are laid out in our area, and many families have severe concerns about the health of children, older people and the population as a whole.

On the oceans—my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport also mentioned this issue—we face a huge challenge around the world, with the growth of plastics in the oceans. There are many other problems as well.

I would like to work on a cross-party basis with colleagues, but we need to understand the urgency of the matters that should be addressed by the Bill. Our residents in our local communities are telling us that. I am sure I am not the only person here present today who has a groaning postbag, with many different concerns raised by local people. There are far too many to mention in full, but I want to just cover a couple of them.

A good example is the scale of concern about sewage flowing into rivers. Reading sits on the River Thames and the River Kennet. We have a large population, with people who want to wild swim in the Thames and other water users. Many people enjoy boating and fishing. We need to deal with this problem urgently and it relates to the other issues we have talked about today.

In my area, we are also very concerned about the planning liberalisation proposed by the Government, which is completely mistaken. As many Conservative Members who represent similar seats in southern England will know, it could dramatically change the local landscape, lead to a huge amount of infilling between existing towns and cities, degrade the quality of life in existing suburbs by putting large blocks of flats between rows of existing houses, and lead to building on the green lungs of towns and cities. So I urge the Government— I realise this does not relate directly to this Bill—to address this matter, completely scrap and reconsider their approach to planning, and revert to the traditional tried and tested approach which has stood us in good stead since world war two.

Very briefly—I realise I am in danger of running over time, Madam Deputy Speaker—I will indicate my support for new clause 25, on trees; amendment 46, on the rainforest, from the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, which I whole- heartedly support; amendment 22, on habitat protection; new clause 12, on banning fracking—a very important measure and there are local concerns about that in our area—and new clause 24, on banning heather burning.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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I will speak to amendment 45. Clause 95 is an important step forward because it changes the duty on public authorities: the duty is not just to conserve biodiversity, but to enhance it. That is a big change and one of the big measures in the Bill. Amendment 45 would add to that by requiring public authorities to consider what action they can take to contribute to the achievement of targets under the UN convention on biological diversity. This is a big year with COP26 coming up, but we also have, at Kunming in October—about the time the Bill may well become law—the renewal of the convention and the plan for the next 10 years. I invite the Minister to consider how we can leverage the nature target, for example, which has just been announced, to make such commitments international so that we are changing not just Britain, but the world.

The last CBD that set out a 10-year plan was in 2010; the Aichi targets. It is true that in our country we have done a lot of the things that were proposed, but internationally only one target out of 20 has been achieved: number 11, on protecting 17% of land and water. There is an opportunity, later this year, to go much further. The Government have already made commitments on the sort of measures we should be trying to negotiate, such as protecting 30%, not 17%, of land and seas, and protecting species. I think there is an opportunity to put this in the Bill, although I am just probing the Minister on that. Really, I want to know what the Government’s plans are to take the initiatives in this landmark Bill and make them international. I know the Minister probably has a lot to say when she winds up the debate, but it would be welcome if she touched on the global aspects.

13:45
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will restrict my remarks to amendments 47 and 49, which stand in my name, and amendment 29, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). The amendments have in common the aim of protecting the landscape and the environment both in very rural areas like mine and in urban and suburban parts of the UK that are threatened by the Government’s planning reforms.

Amendments 47 and 49 would ensure that environmental land management schemes contain a mechanism to deliver adequate financial support to our farmers for delivering landscape benefits, in particular species conservation and protected site strategies, and so rewarding our farmers for maintaining the beauty of our landscape. We have done that inadvertently through various funding schemes over the past few decades, but it is about to drop by the wayside. It is hard to put a price on landscape beauty, but it is vital that we do so.

In the lake district and the Yorkshire dales, in a normal year our Cumbria tourism economy is worth more than £3 billion and employs 60,000 people in our county—tourism is comfortably the biggest employer in Cumbria. Underpinning that economy is the beauty of the landscape.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman. Farming, landscape and tourism are closely integrated. As we deal with the Environment Bill, we have to remember that agriculture and tourism are interlinked, especially in the rural parts of this great country of ours.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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The Select Committee Chair is absolutely right, and I completely agree. We have to find a mechanism to make sure that we reward those who maintain the beauty of our landscape.

I have often been in places such as Barbondale, Dentdale, Langdale, Kentmere, Longsleddale and other glorious bits of my part of the world. I almost feel compelled to express envy of the hill farmer I am with in his or her glorious environment, but often the response is a slightly sad look that says, “I can’t eat the view.” It is all very well having a beautiful place, but if those who work there make a pittance, what good is it to them? That is what is happening in the uplands, where people are steadily moving away as farms fail and close. The Government’s plan to offer early retirement to farmers offers no mechanism to get young people in to replace them, and just in the last few days, the only agricultural college in Cumbria has closed.

I am desperate to ensure that the ELMS rewards farmers for landscape value, but there is currently no effective mechanism to do that. That should be added, which is why the amendment matters. I am also concerned about what the Bill means for the status of some of the beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. UNESCO awarded world heritage site status to the lake district just a few years ago. The report that resulted in the award of that status gave as much credit to the farmers as it did to the glaciers. These are managed, crafted landscapes, and we should reward the farmers who provide them.

There are many bad things about our not being in the EU, but one good thing is that we do not need to borrow EU measures. We do not need to borrow the plan for funding ELMS through the mechanism of income forgone. We should be rewarding farmers for the value of what they do, not paying the pittance they were paid in the first place.

In the time left, I will speak to amendment 29. Local nature resource strategies are a good idea. They are welcome, but they are weak, and they will not be worth the paper they are written on if they are not material to the considerations and decisions made by local planning committees. If we are to protect our green belt, whether it be in such places as the constituency of the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), other parts of the ring around London, or indeed a very rural area like mine, we must not put planners in a situation where they have no power to prevent developers from damaging the countryside or, as is the case in a place like mine, to prevent developers from delivering up to 50 houses without having to deliver a single affordable property.

Nine out of 10 planning permission applications get passed. More than a million planning applications for homes have not been delivered. Planning is not the problem; planning is the protection for our communities and our environment. That is why this amendment is important to try to undo and mitigate some of the Government’s attack on our rural communities.

Julie Marson Portrait Julie Marson (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), and it is a real pleasure to speak in this debate. It was over a year ago that I made my maiden speech specifically so that I had the opportunity to contribute to the Second Reading of this Bill, so it is a pleasure to be back here again.

It is worth reflecting on the context of where we are now, because in the intervening time, the pieces of our country and the world have been almost thrown into the air, and we still do not quite know where they will land. The pandemic makes the Bill even more important than it was over a year ago. It is fair to say that all of us have had time to reassess priorities. We have considered our priorities in life—our quality of life, our family, our health and our friends—and this Bill has become even more important, because many of us, with the roads quiet and having limited time to get out, have reflected on the importance of our natural environment and what is around us. Our appreciation of nature and the need to focus on species loss and the things that make our environment unique to our localities are even more important than they were.

With respect, I must disagree with the shadow Secretary of State’s characterisation of this as not being a landmark Bill, because it is a landmark Bill. It is a bold Bill. I particularly reject the characterisation that it is a mark of a Government or, indeed, any Member on the Government Benches not caring about the environment, because it absolutely is not that.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald
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In our area, there are a lot of chalk streams. Does my hon. Friend agree that for our population and our area, points that the Government have agreed on, such as not having sewage overflows into the streams and treating low flows as damage that has to be restored, are incredibly valuable things?

Julie Marson Portrait Julie Marson
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend and neighbour, because I will come on to mention chalk streams, which are such a vital part of our environment as a country, particularly in Hertford and Hertfordshire. In Hertford and Stortford—I may be biased—we have one of the most beautiful places in the world to live and work, and this Bill is important to me and my constituents.

We are going to rely on many of the Bill’s provisions. Development is a major driver of species loss and environmental degradation, so the biodiversity net gain requirements will be critical for us in protecting our environment. We have swathes of green belt that will be developed, and there is lots of infill development. This Bill will be really important to help us to retain our environment in those circumstances. I thank the Minister for her engagement with the all-party parliamentary group on chalk streams, because that has produced some strong commitments and practical solutions.

In my constituency in Hertfordshire, we have five amazing chalk streams: the Stort, the Mimram, the Beane, the Ash and the River Lea. We all know that they have been called the rainforests of the environment, because they are so key to diversity in the ecosystem. I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the provisions in the Bill about chalk streams are extremely welcome and important.

I am pleased to speak also as the RSPB champion for the kestrel, because these things are inextricably linked. In Rye Meads nature reserve in my constituency, the kestrel has declined drastically, but focus on chalk streams and the wildlife they produce will help the kestrel as well. The environment is so complex, and I welcome the progress we have made and thank the Minister for her engagement on that.

When I spoke last time, I quoted Rudyard Kipling, and although I will not overuse his beautiful words, what he said is that we cannot just sit back and expect everything—our beautiful land—to happen without us playing our part. I believe that this Bill is very much us playing our part.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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The environment is the bedrock of our economy and our wellbeing. It is not something separate from ourselves; it is in the food we eat and the places where we live. I know this, as do my constituents in Feltham and Heston. Whether they are emailing me about biodiversity, badger culling, air pollution, habitats, parks, clean and green streets or everything in between, it is clear that they care about the environment and about the other creatures that we share nature with. Indeed, I was a member of Friends of the Earth before I joined the Labour party as a teenager.

As we prepare to host COP26 in November and as we leave the EU’s regulatory frameworks, now is the time to create positive, impactful, long-lasting environmental protections. Unfortunately, the Government do not seem prepared to strengthen our legislation fully on environmental protections, instead seeming to give the Secretary of State too much discretion and refusing to implement too many of the changes that we need. Lockdown highlighted more than ever the importance of nature for our nation’s health and our wellbeing, but under the Tories, wildlife has been on a downward spiral, with 44% of species in decline over the last 10 years and tree planting targets being missed by over 50%. I want to see nature protected, which is why I am also supporting new clause 25—along with others I have signed that are in the name of the Opposition Front Benchers—to ensure that we are focused not just on planting new trees, but on protecting and maintaining existing woodlands. Hounslow Council’s work on this has been inspiring, and I am proud to also be an environmental champion.

I want to speak briefly about plastics, because the pandemic has also vividly illustrated the scale of waste created by single-use and throwaway packaging. Public, political and corporate concerns over plastic pollution are strong. We have a real opportunity to reduce the volume of single-use plastics that are harming our environment, our oceans and our health.

In March 2018, the Government first confirmed that they would introduce a deposit return scheme in England for single-use drinks containers, including plastic, glass and metal. This went out for consultation in February 2019. Respondents to the consultation overwhelmingly backed a deposit return scheme, which is also very much supported by Heston Action Group, Cranford Action Group and many others across west London and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury).

The Government were going to introduce a deposit return scheme from 2023, but two months ago, a consultation document confirmed that it would not now happen until late 2024 at the earliest. There is a clear case to proceed, so can the Minister explain why they need to explore whether there is a continued appetite for a deposit return scheme in a post-covid context? This is an excuse, not a reason. We should be introducing a deposit return scheme well before late 2024. Although proposals to establish a DRS are contained in the Bill, it does not say what materials will be included within a scheme, nor the deposit price.

World Environment Day is on 5 June, just next week. We need to be engaging young people on the importance of our natural world. I recently held an environment photography competition inviting young people aged 18 and under to send in a drawing or photo that represented nature to them, so we can see the environment through the eyes of young people. The entries have shown how much young people in Feltham and Heston care about the environment and about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. We cannot let these young people down. It is their futures that this Bill will affect, and it is this Parliament’s responsibility to protect our environment for the generations to come. This needs a serious long-term plan and the political will to deliver it.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con) [V]
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Many of us will be glad to see the back of endless Zoom calls that merge into one another. One that will always remain with me was the first time that I met Des, the brown long-eared bat. It was the first time that I had seen one of these remarkable creatures close up, and he did indeed have the most spectacular ears, almost as long as his body. I was meeting Des because I am the Bat Conservation Trust’s species champion for brown long-eared bats—a species that are quite common in Rushcliffe and across Nottinghamshire, but whose numbers are in decline owing to habitat loss. Sadly, Des and his fellow bats are not alone. In the UK, there has been on average a 13% decline in species abundance since 1970, with a steeper decline seen in the past 10 years. Species extinction is a very real danger for one in 10 species here in the UK. That is why the provisions in the Bill are so important. I strongly welcome the requirement for all new developments to have a biodiversity net gain of over 10%.

14:00
New homes are important, but we must do more to protect our beautiful countryside from overdevelopment. We must exhaust our options on local brownfield sites before allowing more development on nearby countryside. Thanks to the Bill, the homes that we build must deliver, rather than detract from, biodiversity. That will be so important for species, like bats, that use existing structures for their roosts and are loyal to them. The type of homes we develop can make a huge difference to how welcome they feel.
I also welcome the requirements for local authorities to produce nature recovery strategies as part of a 500,000-hectare nature recovery network, the largest restoration project in England’s history. I am delighted to hear that the Bill will be further strengthened with a legally binding target for species abundance. This will halt the decline in nature in England by 2030. It is a world-leading measure, which will help to redress the biodiversity loss that we have seen in the past 50 years.
I am also relieved that the Bill will help to tackle biodiversity loss overseas, in particular illegal deforestation, which is the cause of half of all tropical forest deforestation. We will be the first country in the world to put due diligence requirements on large businesses that use forest-risk commodities in their products. Any such commodities must be produced in accordance with local laws. Businesses must establish a system of due diligence for each regulated commodity and report annually on it. That process rests on the principle of productive partnership with Governments around the world, building on successful programmes like the Partnership for Forests programme, but we must remain alive to the reality that local laws may be distorted and changed to suit commercial agendas. I am thinking in particular of the shameful actions we are seeing from the Brazilian Government. We must be prepared for even stronger action to protect tropical forests if this does not change.
This Environment Bill is a fantastic step forward. It provides a strong platform for our negotiations at the UN biodiversity conference and our presidency of COP26 this autumn, and I look forward to telling Des at our next meeting the good news that we have passed the Bill.
Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) [V]
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I am pleased to speak in this vital debate. Given the short time that we have, I shall focus on new clauses 21 and 22, two wide-ranging new clauses tabled by the Government, and my amendments (a) and (b), which I plan to press to a Division.

These new clauses would give the Secretary of State the power to amend the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. These are critical pieces of legislation, the mainstay of conservation law. Although there is undoubtedly a strong case for aligning laws that protect habitats and species with the goal of halting the decline of nature by 2030, I am concerned that the Government proposal is for new regulations that in fact could replace the habitats regulations and risk losing vital protection for wildlife, rather than adding to them. Yet the Bill is not a replacement for the nature directives. They serve two distinct purposes. The first—the Bill—sets an overarching nature’s recovery. The second provides protection for particular species and habitats, including particular local populations and individual specimens.

In order to fully restore nature, we need both species and site-specific protection, as well as a bold overall goal. As these new clauses are currently drafted, though, they risk removing the much needed protection of species and nature-critical areas, such as great crested newts or special areas of conservation, with significant damage to particular wildlife being masked by hoped-for overall trends of improvement. We know that the scale and health of individual populations are crucial to restoring biodiversity. I am also concerned that there has been no prior consultation or engagement with stakeholders on these amendments and that neither an impact assessment nor the supplementary delegated powers memorandum has been published.

In the light of those concerns, I have tabled two small amendments to new clause 21, simply replacing “instead of” with “in addition to”, which would ensure that the existing objectives in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations are not replaced, but added to. They would enable the habitats regulations to be aligned with the objectives outlined in the Environment Bill without risking the protection of specific sites, species or populations.

These amendments are not about being frozen in time. I recognise that change is necessary—I was online earlier listening to the Minister’s introductory remarks, so I heard what she said—but the new framework must be about improving environmental protection rather than creating the potential at least to weaken it. Even if this Government have no plans to weaken regulations, as I hope they do not, this is a once-in-a-generation Bill and it must be future-proofed. There is no guarantee that a future Minister in a future Government will not choose to use this opportunity to water down protections, and we need safeguards against that. These are therefore entirely reasonable amendments, which I hope very much the Government will support.

In the last bit of time that I have left, I simply want to say a few words about new clause 16, tabled by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), which would make the protection of biodiversity a condition of planning permission. I am sure the Minister is aware of the threat currently faced by Knepp estate, one of the UK’s best known and most successful rewilding projects, by a development being proposed by Thakeham Homes, which would destroy local habitat and obstruct vital wildlife corridors and connections between Knepp and neighbouring areas. As this project will deliver on the objectives laid out in the Environment Bill, I would welcome confirmation that the Minister is in contact with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that he is championing its cause and will intervene in this case.

It has been 25 years since the last UK-wide Environment Act was passed. In that time, the speed and scale of destruction have increased dramatically. We need a bold new Bill and we need to do more to make this Bill what we need.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Sarah Dines (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)
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It is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on this important Bill and on a vital issue that is central to the people of Derbyshire Dales and, indeed, of the world. This is a landmark Bill and I have been waiting for it for many years.

Environmentalism is at the heart of building back better, not just on these islands but as part of the Prime Minister’s vision for a global Britain. Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss was listed as the United Kingdom’s No.1 international priority in the recent review of defence and foreign policy. There can be no doubt that the environment is safest when it is in the hands of a sensible Conservative Government. Rather than delivering hot air, this Government are delivering conservation.

Of special interest to Derbyshire Dales is what the Government are doing in relation to tree planting and peatland restoration. These are huge issues locally and should be so internationally. It is through the nature for climate fund and also with the creation of the Nature Recovery Network that we will see better policies and better things going forward. We will also get a more connected and richer wildlife habitat.

I welcome the fact that, in a 25-year environment plan, the Government will be introducing three new schemes, which are very well thought out and planned, to reward farmers and land managers for producing public goods. Such planning is non-existent on the Opposition Benches. These schemes are most welcome and will be adapted, I am sure, to suit all of our farmers, including my upland farmers in Derbyshire Dales.

In the months since my election, I have been delighted to meet and work with organisations locally that care deeply about this—they are committed to the environment in Derbyshire Dales—such as Moors for the Future partnership, which is leading the country in this area, and the Minister knows full well about its work. This work is vital and it is the Conservative Government who are supporting it. Free of the shackles of Europe, we can focus on what we can do on our part of this precious planet.

I have visited many farmers in my constituency. They are a quiet and rugged people. They do not need to be attacked; they need to be supported. They live and work in a day-to-day partnership with nature, and this Government are doing that. I know just how much all the people of Derbyshire Dales care about the environment. I recently met with the Wirksworth Anglican church and other churches in the Wellspring group, which care passionately about the environment. Whatever people’s politics, if they care about the environment, I will work with them and get this Government to continue their good work on the environment.

With new technology and industry, under this Conservative Government we will be leading the way for not just a greener UK but a greener world. Derbyshire County Council, ably led by Councillor Barry Lewis and his newly elected Conservative colleagues, is at the forefront of plans to try to introduce a fleet of zero-emission hydrogen buses, supported by smart mobility hubs. These are huge advances being made by Conservatives working together across the whole nation. There is also the county council’s new £2 million green entrepreneurs fund, which will support small and medium-sized businesses. In terms of the emphasis on local authorities, Derbyshire Dales District Council, led by Councillor Garry Purdy and his hard-working councillor Sue Hobson as deputy, works tirelessly on environmental issues, promoting things as small as wild flowers and trees, which are hugely significant.

In conclusion, the people of Derbyshire Dales, the farmers who till this land and care for their livestock and the people who live on our moors and our uplands are in touch with the environment; they need support and help, and this Government are giving it. While they need no prompting to look after that landscape, the provisions in the Bill will make their job a lot easier. This is a Government who are actually delivering.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I will speak briefly in favour of four amendments. First, I pay tribute to the Minister for her hard work in seeing the Bill through and the fact that, even now, she is determined to try to improve it by adding new clauses, showing diligence on her and her team’s part, which we all welcome. I especially welcome the action on sewage. We had problems in Ryde and Sandown recently with sewage coming from Southern Water, so such action is welcome on the Isle of Wight, and I congratulate Surfers Against Sewage and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) on his great work, as well as the Minister on supporting it.

Of the four amendments I will refer to, one is tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), one by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and two by me. They are probing amendments, seeking reassurance. If the Minister thinks that the work is in the Bill, that is good enough for me, but I would like to put these ideas forward to ensure that they are.

On amendment 41, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke amendment, I find it absolutely bizarre that character is not a prerequisite for major planning applications—I am not talking about a bungalow extension or a patio but significant development. Criminal records, poor behaviour, threats to intimidate others and mass tree felling do not seem to be things that we can take into account.

We have a Mr John Cooper in the Isle of Wight who owns a caravan park in an area of outstanding natural beauty. He has recently cut down 50 oak trees to build a caravan park extension. If that planning permission comes forward, we cannot turn him down on his appalling behaviour. He has gone to ground since then, and it would be nice if he made a public statement to folk on the Isle of Wight on what he is up to. I thank Councillor Peter Spink for pointing this out. Character needs to be part of the planning process, because we know that there are some rogue developers. I know that this is about planning, but importantly, as I am sure the Minister would agree, it is also about environmental protection. The more layers and safeguards that we can put in to protect landscape, the better.

I will not go into new clause 16, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, because I know that she will speak to it soon very eloquently. In the remaining minute and a half, I would like to speak to my two amendments. New clause 27 would require tree preservation orders for all mature trees and protected landscapes. It is a no-brainer, unless the Minister says, “Actually, Bob, I think we’ve got this covered. We accept the argument, but our proposals go further,” and I will take that on trust.

New clause 26 is on SSSIs, which are very important. I have an SSSI on the Isle of Wight that is about to be concreted over because of a loophole in planning and environmental law. I have written to Ministers about this, and I am afraid to say that the responses have been a little perfunctory, to put it mildly. There is clearly a problem here, because there is a time limit under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which means that if someone has a caravan or temporary home on a SSSI and it is not taken away within a certain timeframe, they can effectively develop that SSSI. They may not be able to stick permanent homes on it, but they can stick 200 caravans on it and concrete over the entire SSSI. How on earth can that be right? I know the Minister is concerned about the environment, so if she thinks that is covered in the Bill, I take it on trust, but if not will she please take forward this new clause and incorporate it either here or in the other place? This is absolutely a useful provision that closes an important loophole where SSSIs are damaged recklessly by people who deliberately game the system. I thank her for listening.

14:15
Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP) [V]
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I am grateful for this opportunity to speak on clauses relating to nature, biodiversity and conservation in this important Bill. Although some of them relate to devolved matters, as with most of the big challenges of this century the environment and nature do not respect borders and it is important that strong legislation is in place across these islands to reverse the decline of nature and protect native species and biodiversity.

The Social Democratic and Labour party has just undertaken a big consultation ahead of private Members’ legislation on biodiversity loss in Northern Ireland. We found significant support for stronger legislation to protect nature, including the need for short-term and long-term targets, cross-departmental responsibility and a co-ordinated response and approach across Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, in particular Northern Ireland, with more than 11% of indigenous species at risk of extinction. This is the price being paid for a fairly obsessive approach to economic growth and expansion at all costs. To date, the UK and others have continuously and consistently missed targets in relation to biodiversity recovery, including any of the 20 Aichi targets agreed in 2010. Although this is by no means a failure of the UK Government alone, as one of the largest economies and a major contributor, directly and indirectly, through activities across the world, the UK must take seriously its leadership role, particularly in this year when it hosts the G7 and COP26. I welcome the commitment to conservation strategies in the Bill and believe that they can be strengthened by amendment 45, which seeks to avoid a repeat of the IT failures and to ensure that those targets are meaningful and met.

We are experiencing the impact of the decline and destruction of nature in the wellbeing of people around the world, from the destruction of the habitats of indigenous people and the emergence of climate refugees to, of course, the spread of disease. We are well beyond crisis point, and if that was not clear before the pandemic surely that has educated us all about the stark links between the destruction of nature and our lives. An intergovernmental report has warned that we are in the era of pandemics unless the destruction of the natural world is halted. Again, that has happened not by chance but through an obsessive pursuit of growth.

Among the most important provisions in this Bill are those that can force UK companies to look at their supply chains and ensure they are not supporting illegal deforestation in other countries. I particularly welcome amendments 26, 27, 36 and 37, which I have signed, which would strengthen and enforce provision against illegal deforestation. The UK is one of the biggest sources of finance linked to companies involved in deforestation and we cannot hide any longer behind the lack of transnational governance or the lack of enforcement or binding regulations in countries of operation; we cannot look the other way from activities done overseas to the economic benefit of companies here or to underpin consumption habits here. It is positive that global brands have urged the strengthening of that law, but it is important that the Government ensure that supply chains are transformed.

This is a very important Bill offering a big opportunity to strengthen legislation, but it needs to be improved by many of the amendments that have been tabled, including those I have mentioned.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. This place is admired for its rigorous scrutiny—the new clauses and amendments proposed by Members from across the House are no exception—and I believe the Government are genuinely listening to concerns. Further amendments have been made to the Bill since I served in the Public Bill Committee last year.

The changes being debated today are important to the residents of Truro and Falmouth, because Cornwall is on the frontline of the UK’s battle against climate change. With respect, I disagree with the shadow Minister, because in my opinion this is a landmark Bill. It is not the end of the story or even the beginning of it, but it is a landmark moment. It puts in place a world-leading framework for environmental improvement and governance, including legally binding targets and environmental improvement plans; an independent green watchdog which will help Parliament and more importantly, my constituents to hold the Government to account on their commitments; and measures to reverse the decline in nature at home and overseas and to tackle waste. Ministers know that this is part of an ongoing process and that we Back Benchers will continue to press further, harder and at pace.

On water quality, the extensive work and lobbying by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, have resulted in the Government’s commitment to publishing a plan by 2022 to reduce sewage discharges and to report to Parliament on progress, and to place a legal duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis. The Bill also requires the Government to set a legally binding target for water quality. That will be particularly welcomed by Surfers Against Sewage, which is based in St Agnes in my constituency and campaigns tirelessly on this issue. I continue to press Government on its behalf and on behalf of everyone who, like me, regularly swims outdoors.

I praise the Government on new clause 21, which Ministers set out previously. It amends the Bill to set additional legally binding targets for species abundance for 2030 to halt the decline of nature. That could be the “net zero” for nature, finally addressing the biodiversity decline, and I am pleased that that target will go alongside other legally binding targets for waste, water quality and air quality.

I have concerns about how compatible this is with the forthcoming planning White Paper, and I wish to give an example of what can be achieved if the will is there. On the A30 between Chiverton and Carland Cross, in the midst of my constituency, Costain is delivering an 8.7-mile dual carriageway for Highways England. Journeys on this part of the road are regularly delayed and congestion often brings the traffic to a standstill, especially in peak holiday time, and as a result the Cornish economy is being held back. Following a recent visit to the project and a meeting with the team, it is evident to me that they are committed to protecting nature’s net gain. Biodiversity and conservation improvements are at the heart of the scheme. The project has a 10% biodiversity net gain target and is predicted to smash it. Developers take note: this is possible. Costain and its environment manager, Ali Thomas, are deeply committed to and passionate about protecting the environment. The landscape and ecological design proposals they have developed include planting nectar-rich wild flowers indigenous to Cornwall; tree and hedge planting, which will replace loss; crossings for otters, bats, badgers and other animals that will be built along the road; and a variety of foraging, nesting and roosting opportunities for other species. Other innovative measures are happening, but I do not have time to go into that this afternoon.

To conclude, with the G7 in Cornwall next month and COP26 in Glasgow later this year, we hope that this Environment Bill, which is a truly groundbreaking piece of legislation, will signal to the rest of the world that this Government and this country are serious about protecting our environment for the long term.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The World Wide Fund for Nature’s “Living Planet Report 2020” showed an average 68% decline in mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970. That is heart- breaking. We are in a climate and ecological emergency, but, as we all know, with this Bill we have a real opportunity to change course. We could still restore biodiversity, increase wildlife numbers and protect nature. Sadly, the Labour amendments proposed in Committee were rejected and defeated by the Government. Those amendments concerned protecting and enhancing the powers of the OEP, World Health Organisation air pollution limits and comprehensive action on waste and recycling. The draft Bill was a missed opportunity. It has since been improved in some ways, but as colleagues and many environmental non-governmental organisations have highlighted, we have much further to go. The Government need to stop resisting concrete protections set down and start putting their money where their mouth is and protecting our environment.

Like other Members, I want to talk about deforestation. We need to remove deforestation and conversion from UK supply chains, and increase due diligence obligations. There are elements of due diligence in the Bill, but, according to the World Wildlife Fund, they do not go far enough to protect the world’s forests and other natural ecosystems, nor do they meet the UK’s goals on climate and nature. That is why I support amendments 26, 27, 36, 37 and 38, which would ensure that these due diligence measures covered deforestation and financial institutions, as well as being subject to a more progressive review requirement.

The Bill as it stands does not address the financing behind deforestation. Global Witness’s research points to evidence that suggests that financial institutions are failing to act on deforestation risks and will not be required to do so until bound by law; it is time that we did that. It is crucial that free, prior and informed consent is obtained from indigenous peoples and local communities, and that relevant local laws are complied with. It is also crucial that decisions affecting the natural environment, such as planning decisions, are informed by local nature recovery strategies.

On biodiversity, Labour is drawing a clear line through amendment 22, which would require habitats secured under biodiversity gain to be maintained in perpetuity, rather than the current 30 years specified in the Bill. It would also ensure that the habitat secured under biodiversity gain is secured “in its target condition”.

On trees, new clause 25 has my full support, as the Blaydon constituency has breathtaking woodlands and forests. The Government should publish a proper tree strategy for England. The current plan sets targets for tree planting, but has little else on protecting, maintaining and restoring existing woodlands. We need a full strategy that holds the Government to account and sets targets for such areas.

Amendment 46 would ensure that species conservation strategies contribute to nature recovery, and that the measures within them contribute to the enhancement of the conservation of species they concern. This could, for instance, ensure that effective strategies are put in place to restore the populations of bees and other pollinator species, and protect them from pesticide use.

On local government, the Bill’s aspirations could be undermined by the planning White Paper. Local authorities must be funded properly if they are to make the most of biodiversity gain in planning applications.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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It was an honour to serve on the Environment Bill Committee, as it is to speak today on Report. My thanks go to the Minister and all who have worked so hard on this landmark Bill.

The biodiversity amendments are particularly important to my constituency of Ynys Môn, with its incredible biodiversity supporting common and rarer species. The rare lesser-spotted yellow rock rose—the county flower of Ynys Môn—grows near my home, and at a visit to the National Trust Plas Newydd last week, I was lucky to see native red squirrels. Anglesey Sea Zoo offers an introduction to the secrets of the local marine world. When I joined a North Wales Wildlife Trust beach clean this month, I was horrified to find hundreds of plastic cotton bud shafts, tiny plastic nurdles, foreign plastic containers and bottles old enough to be labelled in shillings.

Last week, one of my young constituents, Wilfy, took me on a walk past Llyn Penrhyn to Ysgol y Tywyn as part of National Walk to School Week. He and his friends in Mrs Griffiths’s class spoke of their concerns about the impact of non-biodegradable waste on their natural environment. We all do our bit for the island. Next Tuesday, I am running my own beach clean as part of Spring Clean Cymru. Gerald Thomas and other farmers plant and maintain native species hedgerows, and sick and injured hedgehogs are restored to health by Sue Timperley at Hedgehuggles. Sue will be delighted to hear the Minister’s news on hedgehogs today.

We cannot achieve the biodiversity targets proposed in the Bill without global action. Non-biodegradable waste is a global problem, and it affects the symbiotic relationship of our natural environment. Both the UK and Welsh Governments have already banned the supply of some non-reusable plastics. Part 6 of the Bill covers England only, but I urge the Welsh Government to enact similar legislation on biodiversity targets as soon as possible.



This year, the UK holds the presidencies of both the G7 in Cornwall and COP26 in Glasgow, and I hope we will use this Conservative Government’s landmark Bill to lead the way on global action to make long-term improvements for habitats and biodiversity worldwide. If we achieve nothing else, let us give Wilfy and his class- mates on Anglesey a natural environment that improves as they get older, not one that continues to decline.

14:30
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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Every aspect of this Environment Bill will have an impact not only now, but for decades if not centuries, so I am pleased to see it return to the House because we cannot afford to wait. Inaction risks the lives of our children, grandchildren and future generations, and legislation on targets, plans and policies is essential to turn the tide. Yet, sadly, this Conservative Government have not shown the ambition needed, while pushing back responsibilities on legally binding targets for two decades and failing to put in place concrete protections for the environment from trade agreements. Given their current record for making promises and not delivering, forgive me if I am not surprised.

Sadly, my Slough constituents know the impact of the environment on their lives acutely. Slough has the second highest death rate from the deadly air pollutant PM2.5. While excellent work is being done at local level by Slough Borough Council, with its low emission strategy and air quality action plan, if nothing further is done at a macro level by Government, we will continue to breathe these dangerous levels of pollution. So can the Minister outline why the Tories voted down the Labour party’s attempts to write World Health Organisation air pollution limits into this Bill?

It seems as though Government rhetoric far outweighs action when it comes to the environment. This is epitomised by the England trees action plan, with targets being missed, staggeringly, by over 50%. This has a real impact because, being a densely populated urban area, Slough has the lowest level of tree canopy in Berkshire and is below the national minimum target of 20% tree cover. While the Labour council with its limited resources is planting 9,000 trees locally, again, more must be done nationally by providing adequate funding, direction and resources to local authorities. As the WWF rightly notes, this Bill does

“not go far enough to protect the world’s forests and other critical natural ecosystems.”

How can the Minister and the Government allow this to continue?

Sadly, this trend extends to biodiversity and species conservation, with very real consequences for my constituency and our planet. Another local project I recently visited, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, has seen this in Slough’s Salt Hill stream:

“Fish were dying. It was clogged up with old car tyres, carrier bags and household waste. Water quality had deteriorated and its future looked bleak.”

However, its incredible work with the community has meant improved water quality, new homes for wildlife, and engagement and education for local people, but it should never have got to this point. Why are the Government so slow to act to stop the ecological devastation brought about by the continual discharge of untreated sewage, plastics and other effluents into our rivers and oceans?

Nationally, over the past 10 years, wildlife in Britain has seen a 44% decline in species, with some charities calling it a “lost decade for nature”. Again, targets have been woefully missed. The Government conceded last year that they have failed on two thirds of targets agreed at the convention on biological diversity in 2010, but analysis by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds later showed that on six of those targets the UK has actually gone backwards. We must set ourselves ambitious targets and ensure accountability so that they are achieved. This is not the time for complacency, and we should be under no illusion: warm words will not tackle the pressing environmental and climate crises that we are facing as a society.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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I rise to speak to amendment 41. It is a probing amendment, which aims to strengthen this important Bill further by including a provision to enable local planning authorities to take unlawful tree felling and a lack of compliance with restocking orders into account when considering planning applications. I thank my former researcher, Annabel Jones, for her work in making the case for change that I am presenting today.

I very much welcome the work that my hon. Friend the Minister has done to make sure that the Bill is the groundbreaking measure that is before us today. I also give my wholehearted support to new clauses 26 and 27, which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) tabled. He spoke eloquently about the need for that change.

I want to focus my remarks on the provisions about tree protection. The Government should be applauded for the trees action plan and the measures in the Bill, which have significantly strengthened protection for one of our vital pieces of green infrastructure. I particularly welcome schedule 15, which directly addresses some of the problems that my residents experienced when a group of landowners illegally felled more than 600 trees, causing environmental devastation in what was an environmental buffer zone. With the Government’s support, the Forestry Commission used its enforcement powers to issue restocking orders, but the landowners did not comply with much of that. Under the Government’s new proposals, enforcement would be much tougher and that is welcome. However, I look forward to the Minister’s response to my amendment to see if we could strengthen it further.

The problem is not unique to Basingstoke. The illegal felling of trees is on the increase and a common motive is taking advantage of the housing development value of the land. In recent years, there have been countless flagrant breaches of felling regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight mentioned a case in his constituency, but there are other cases—in the New Forest, Swansea, Horley and Langley—where trees have been unlawfully felled and in some cases not replanted, even after enforcement action from the courts.

Landowners flout the law because they think can get away with it. Schedule 15 roundly deals with cynical actions by landowners by allowing the courts to reissue planning notices, but amendment 41 is designed to create even more of a disincentive for landowners to flout the law by amending the Town and Country Planning Act to allow local planning authorities to take into account unlawful tree felling and a lack of compliance when considering planning applications. I hope that the Minister can consider that today because I and many of my constituents feel that it is inherently wrong for landowners to profit financially from their unlawful deforestation of land. I hope that this probing amendment will capture her attention and I am keen to hear her response.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and I endorse her comments about amendment 41 and tree felling. I totally support what she hopes to achieve with her probing amendment. In an intervention on the Minister, I asked a similar question and the Minister kindly gave a commitment, so perhaps the right hon. Lady and others will be encouraged by the Minister’s response.

The hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) talked about the importance of trees, not only here but across the world and mentioned amendments 26, 27, 36 and 37, which refer to deforestation around the world, and the importance of playing our part in tackling it. I also endorse that.

I want to speak about parts 6 and 7 of the Bill on tree planting. They tackle a particular issue of many trees being felled and the land built over without proper licensing or adhering to permissions. Amendment 41 provides for local planning authorities to take unlawful tree felling and landowners’ lack of compliance with restocking and enforcement orders into account when considering planning applications. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke referred to the removal of 600 trees, some of them important trees. I would like to know and have on record whether the Minister believes that the Bill addresses that issue robustly.

Trees are our lungs, so it is imperative that, any time a tree is felled, it is thought out and the consequences considered, and that steps are taken to replant the trees that have been chopped down. On the family farm we have been able to plant some 3,500 saplings, which is a commitment we have given, and they have grown into trees. It is a beautiful spot on the farm but, importantly, it has also helped our environment by reducing CO2 and creating wonderful habitats for local wildlife.

I believe that more can be done to encourage landowners to plant trees. The Minister in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has committed himself and his Department to plant 1 million trees on Northern Ireland Water land.

I commend the recent publication of the “England Trees Action Plan”, which contains some important initiatives. It is believed that the Government could do more tree-themed activity on a statutory footing, to fill in the gaps left by the ETAP on protection, restoration and regeneration.

I fully support the comments made by the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) about the value and importance to the rural countryside of game shooting and the jobs and tourism it creates.

I understand the rationale behind the strategy for conservation, but it does not include help for tree planting. I believe the Minister is committed to tree planting, but perhaps she will comment on that in the wind up.

I endorse the shadow Minister’s comments on the importance of bees to creating the correct balance of habitats in the countryside, and the importance of ensuring the Minister takes that on board. I also endorse and commend the Government, and the Minister in particular, for their commitment to the preservation of hedgehogs. I read in a magazine the other day that badgers are one of the greatest predators of hedgehogs, so perhaps we can protect the hedgehogs by controlling the badgers.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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As I have said before in this Chamber, there can be few things more important for any Member of Parliament than being able to say, “We played our part in protecting our natural environment for future generations.” This Bill contains one of the most ambitious programmes to conserve and enhance nature ever undertaken in this country. That includes, as we have heard today: setting a demanding 2030 target for species conservation and biodiversity; delivering a nature recovery network and local strategies for nature; creating a whole new income stream for conservation through biodiversity net gain; committing land to nature for the long term using conservation covenants; and cracking down on the use of commodities produced via illegal deforestation.

The Bill is just one element of an even wider conservation package being taken forward by this Conservative Government, including replacing the common agricultural policy with environmental land management schemes, a massive uplift in tree planting and an action plan to protect our peatlands. Peatland areas are an iconic part of our landscape in these islands, and they are our largest terrestrial carbon store, they are a haven for rare wildlife and they provide a crucial record of our past. I warmly welcome the Government’s promise that they will take action to reverse the loss of peatland habitats and restore more of these landscapes to their natural state. I very much hope that will include delivery of the great north bog project.

New clause 16 would require planning permission to be refused if it would have a detrimental impact on nature conservation. I am afraid that much of the good work done under this Bill could be undone if radical changes to the planning system mean that we concrete over our green and pleasant land. Implementing the “Planning for the Future” White Paper would mean a massive centralisation of power through setting development management policies nationally rather than locally. Compliance with design codes could become sufficient to override long-standing principles restricting density, massing and bulk, and local democratic input would be removed altogether in zones designated for growth.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. It concerns us that there is potentially a dichotomy between these fantastically good ideas on the environment and the fact that we may undermine ourselves by having the wrong culture behind the new planning Bill.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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My hon. Friend makes a valid point. This is a great Bill and we do not want it undermined by the planning Bill that is to come. My constituency of Chipping Barnet already feels under siege from inappropriate, high-density development, even before these radical planning reforms come into force. If the Government are truly committed to the environmental aspirations of the legislation before us this afternoon, they must think again about their planning Bill, and I urge them to do that.

14:45
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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Hon. Members will be pleased to know that the children of Our Lady of Victories Primary School in Putney have been writing to me about the issue under debate this afternoon. Thirty members of year 6 wrote to me with lovely pictures all about the environment, and most of them said that the most important issue to them was the environment and tackling climate change, so I know the eyes of those children and children across the country are on us this afternoon as we debate this.

I was on the Environment Bill Committee last November. We spent a long time discussing it line by line, with many, many amendments, and this is the third time that I have debated the Bill in the Chamber. I am very glad that it is back. It is not missing in action—it is here today—but I am disappointed because it could have gone further. Despite all our work poring over the Bill and all the evidence submitted by civil society groups, we see a Bill before us that will still fail to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. I am worried that it is just warm words without the back-up of a really strong Office for Environmental Protection, whose remit and powers have been watered down since the Bill was last before the House.

I will focus today particularly on trees. It is welcome that the Government have announced, in the past week, the England trees action plan, but we now need strong wording and a much more ambitious plan in this legislation that will drive the action that is needed across Government, the economy and society. In Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, we love our trees and our green spaces and we know that, across the country, trees are essential for climate reduction, meeting that net zero target, biodiversity and our mental health. However, the UK has one of the lowest areas of tree coverage of any country in Europe. At current rates of planting, it will reach its own target only by 2091, as was pointed out earlier by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). That is 40 years off the target of 2050 and it is an example of where we can have a lot of warm words and keep talking things up, but if we do not have enforceable action by the Office for Environmental Protection, as there should be, we will be coming back here in one year, in five years or in 10 years’ time and we will not see the amount of tree planting that we need.

The action plan was originally promised as a 30-year vision for England’s trees and woods, but it has been published as a shortlist of commitments, with three years of funding. Long-term funding is needed for any real environmental action. Clear timescales are needed to ensure that objectives are met, and clarity on that funding beyond 2024 will be absolutely necessary to give the sector long-term security. I welcome the provision for consultation with local people about tree felling that will happen in their roads, and I think that will give people the power they need to stick up for their local trees, which will be very good. However, Ministry of Defence land should have been included in the Bill. We have power over so much of our swathes of land in this country and the armed forces have environmental targets and actions, so they would be able to put such provision into place. Why is MOD land not included, because we could have lots of tree planting? I share the concerns that other Members have expressed today that this Bill will be undermined by the planning Bill.

Despite the progress over the last week, there is an urgent need for a medium to long-term strategy with clear targets to ensure that we protect, restore and expand our woodlands and trees. New clause 25 sets out what targets these should consist of and I hope it will be supported by the House. It will go some way towards rescuing the Bill, as will the other amendments that I will be supporting today, along with my Labour colleagues, and I urge colleagues to support them to improve the Bill.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). I have sympathy with a lot of what she says about trees, but it is really important for the House to remember that it is also a matter of restoring marine conservation areas and wetlands. Many alternative habitats offer better ways of capturing carbon than simply planting new trees, so we must focus on the full range of habitats and not just on one aspect, however important trees are—and I will be talking later, if I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, about deforestation.

For this section of the debate, I want to talk about why I tabled new clause 4. I welcome the Minister’s comments and I welcome the announcements from the past week. What the Secretary of State said last week is enormously important if we are to start to reverse the decline of species in this country. It is tragic: back in the 1950s, there were something like 30 million hedgehogs in this country. Now, there are estimated to be 1.5 million. That is a catastrophic loss. When I was a child, hedgehogs were around in the garden all the time. I have never, as an adult, seen a hedgehog in my garden or anywhere near it. This is a tragic loss and one we have to work to reverse.

There is a whole range of reasons why that has happened, including habitat loss and the loss of wildlife corridors. It is enormously important, in looking at planning policies, that we focus on how we ensure we maintain wildlife corridors. It is also about the protections available. As the Minister knows, I have had a lively debate with the Department over the weeks. I welcome the approach she has taken. I understand the shortcomings in the existing law, but the reality is that it is nonsense that the hedgehog, which has had a 95% decline in its numbers, is not protected, whereas species that are much less in danger and whose numbers are recovering are protected.

The existing law protects primarily against malicious action by human beings, but of course not all species that are endangered have faced malicious action from human beings. A hedgehog does not face that, particularly, but some other animals on the list, such as the lagoon sandworm, valuable though it may be, is not in my view facing direct malicious action from human beings either. It faces threats to its habitat, and so do hedgehogs. We have a situation today whereby if a developer is going to clear a bit of land for development, he or she has to do exhaustive work to establish if newts are present. Much as we love the great crested newt, which is a fine species, it is not actually endangered in this country. We have laws about it in this country because it is endangered elsewhere in the European Union—happily not in the United Kingdom—but there is no obligation to see if other species such as the hedgehog are present. Developers can just bulldoze a hedgerow without checking if there are hedgehogs asleep in it.

I would like to see a holistic approach to any new development, where it is necessary to do a broader assessment of the presence of species and take action accordingly to protect them, and not have a focus on one individual animal as opposed to another. We have too many species that have declined in numbers. We should be protecting them all. Of course, we will need to develop in the future to ensure we have homes available for people in this country, but that needs to be done in a careful way: protecting wildlife corridors, protecting numbers, and ensuring that the steps we take maximise the potential to retain, restore or develop habitats of our species.

I welcome very much what the Minister has said today about hedgehogs. I think everyone in this House will welcome any measures we can take to protect them. I pay particular tribute to the former MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, Oliver Colvile, who was the first champion of hedgehogs in this House. I hope we will all be hedgehog champions going forward. We shall be holding the Minister’s feet to the fire to make sure her Department delivers.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We should be going by video link to Mike Amesbury, but we shall come back to him.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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I can boldly say that Stroud is not only the best place to live according to a national newspaper, but it is the most environmentally focused constituency in the country. The letters I receive from young people are frequently about the environment. Importantly, while politics and the news are often focused on carbon targets, children lobby me about biodiversity and species. They are smart and we must listen to them. I look at my own baby daughter’s enthusiasm for small creatures and nature, and I wonder what will be left by the time she is growing up.

Nature is in decline; this is an issue globally. Despite the protections being put in place in the Bill, there is a stark decline in the UK too, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) set out in relation to hedgehogs. I campaigned with colleagues in the Conservative Environment Network to set a target in the Bill to halt species decline, as it matters to my constituents and my family. The Secretary of State listened, and the Bill will now include a legally binding target for species abundance by 2013. This is a genuinely world-leading measure that shows real commitment to our future generations, as it puts nature firmly as a priority across Government. It could be the net zero equivalent for nature, and we need that. As I know from knocking on thousands of doors over the years that even in places such as Gloucestershire there is still a lot to do to get people to understand what is needed to help the environment. Families are busy and stretched, and sometimes do not think there is anything they can do to make change in their daily lives. I therefore applaud the fact that in such a wide-reaching Bill there is a determination to include a local effort.

In Gloucestershire our Local Nature Partnership is already well advanced. I give credit to the board led by Doug and Matt. The LNP has developed a national exemplar approach to nature capital mapping, which will enable us locally to measure performance in future and identify opportunities for environmental investment locally. We have discovered that Stroud has a tree coverage of 11% and we want to get to a target of 20%. This is all alongside an LNP commitment to create scale-led woodland and to extensive tree planting to sequester carbon while providing many other benefits for wildlife and our wellbeing. I also give credit to groups such as Transition Stroud and our fantastic climate action nature groups throughout the district. I have spoken to the Minister before about these community groups, who are dedicated to action on climate change. These local teams will soon have legislation that is as ambitious for the planet as they are.

I cannot be on my feet without talking about my expert conservation friends at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. I am supporting them in their proposals to create 100,000 hectares of wetland to address the climate, nature and wellbeing crisis. A blue recovery would achieve habitat creation to assist the Government’s goals in this Bill and also in the 25-year environment plan. Of course, 2020 was a tough year, but in the WWT we still saw some species bred for the first time on-site, including kingfishers and a number of butterflies such as the brown hairstreak. WWT received £1.6 million from the Government’s green recovery challenge fund to help safeguard the south-west Somerset coast against the effects of climate change, and we are restoring 130 hectares of habitat for wildlife. I should also mention that the skilled Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust received £250,000 to rebuild landscapes for nature’s recovery in our beautiful county.

I am concerned that we need more information to set out how our biodiversity targets are being met. We need to make sure that farms are being supported to help their work on their land. I also share colleagues’ concerns about the planning issues and whether that will undermine efforts. However, I thank the Minister and the Government for this Bill. I do think it is positive and I encourage everybody to get behind this work.

Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) (Alba)
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Obviously my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) will be supporting this Bill. It does not go as far or as fast as perhaps we would all wish, but it is what is before us, and given the scale, nature and urgency of the crisis we are facing, it deserves our support.

Even though this Bill is primarily English and Welsh, we will be supporting it, and there are two good reasons for that. First, it is a global issue that this Bill and indeed other aspects of policy are seeking to address. Climate change and the actions that are damaging our biodiversity everywhere across the planet transcend all national borders and all national boundaries. It may be tragic and sadly ironic that many who have contributed the least will suffer the worst, but the fact is that all of us will be harmed and all of us are required to act. Secondly, there are issues that Scotland can learn from. Although a legislative consent motion has been given by the Scottish Government to move on some matters, there are issues that the Scottish Government themselves could do with picking up on, and I will refer to those if I have time.

We support the amendments, particularly amendments 26, 27, 36 and 37, because we have to seek to expose those who are taking actions to fund and fuel this crisis, especially those who are based domestically. We are a global village. What we do in this country does affect other places. Our carbon footprint is reducing, although we have to do much, much more. We can never forget that it was in this country that industrialisation took off and that it contributed greatly to the problems we face today. That is why there is a great deal of legitimacy in the calls from the undeveloped or developing world for this country and other developed nations to go further and faster, rather than simply looking at them.

15:00
I listened to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) speaking about his amendments, which I support. He rightly narrated the dangers and challenges in Brazil, with the effects of deforestation in the Amazon basin. We need to act, because the points he made were quite correct. This is not simply about rogue ranchers in the Amazon rainforest; nor is it simply about failures of action or complicit actions by leaders such as Bolsonaro; nor, even more whimsically, is it due to the love of young people—or indeed all people—in this country and the USA for cheap burgers. It is a structural problem. It is about funding and finance for those who carry it out. It is not being done by indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest, nor is it being done by individuals in isolation. It is not random, isolated or individual in the main; it is planned, co-ordinated and funded, and we in this country are complicit in that. That is why we need to act. We need to make sure that we have the legislative powers not simply to monitor and scrutinise, but, more important, to take action against this. Only in that way will we address the issues the hon. Member correctly raised. This is about us playing our part here to support theirs there.
Scotland equally has lessons to learn. Although the rhetoric has been good, and I fully support it, and although targets have been set, and they are to be welcomed, we must have constructive action too. Reference has been made to other parts of the UK, beyond England and Wales, planting more trees. That is correct, but equally it should not simply be a cash crop for wealthy landowners, as it was decades ago—a way for people to reduce their supertax or higher rates liability. We have to take action to ensure that we have not only targets, but the powers to make them enforceable. As well as protecting the “third” and developing world, as have to take powers here in Scotland to make sure that we play our part.
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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The time limit is now reduced to three minutes. I call Flick Drummond.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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I know the Bill is welcomed by many people in Meon Valley. It will help to secure the health of our environment and biodiversity. I am in touch with local organisations such as Hampshire CPRE and Winchester Action on Climate Change, as well as our farmers, local councils and community groups, who have all sent in their views to me as the Bill has evolved. There is support for our work across society. It is an important part of levelling up that contributes to the future of us all. The action on peatlands taken under the Bill will protect about 10% of our land area and is very welcome, as is our commitment to tree planting.

In Meon Valley, the health of our chalk down land is of primary importance to agriculture and the environment. While we are encouraging farmers to plant more trees and hedges, it is important—especially for small farmers—that we support the productivity and health of pasture land through soil improvement and restoration. The Bill sets the framework for the development and introduction of targets, and I am pleased to see the environmental improvement plan mentions soil health and makes a commitment to achieve sustainable soil management by 2030. As I mentioned in a previous debate, 80% of our soil is dead, so I am particularly interested in how we can promote soil health, which is vital to farm productivity and nature recovery generally. We have cut right back on pollutants we put into the ground, but there remains more we can do to promote healthy soil.

We must ensure that there is a plan for all five of the identified soil types to promote better health and recovery. Pasture land is a key component of this and is vital to farmers across Meon Valley, with many finding that soil can be regenerated through improved carbon capture, water infiltration, soil fertility and nutrient cycling. They see an increase in biodiversity, and we need to support them. In addition, healthier pasture lands lead to lower fertiliser and pesticide use, which can in turn benefit the health of our rivers.

I welcome the clauses on water abstraction from rivers. I have two chalk stream rivers in my constituency: the River Meon and the start of the River Itchen. Chalk streams across the country are already in a shocking state of health. The WWF report says that only 12 out of England’s 224 chalk streams are protected, and of those, only 15% are classed as adequately protected and meeting conservation objectives. I am pleased that both rivers in my constituency are among the few protected, but better management of pasture land will reduce the need for pesticides and fertilisers that run off to pollute rivers. Through working alongside farmers and ensuring pasture land and soil health are valued alongside woodland and peatland, we can improve the health of our rivers and our environment. There is a lot to welcome in this Bill, and I know that it is just the start to making our environment better for everyone.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab) [V]
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My constituency is home to beautiful countryside and woodlands, with picturesque walks that even Downing Street advisers and Select Committee witnesses have been known to enjoy. The bluebells in Houghall woods are particularly beautiful in April.

Whether it is water quality, habitat conservation or air quality, I receive hundreds of emails from constituents on environmental issues. In Durham, we are proud of the natural beauty of our county. We want to protect and cherish it. Out of all the emails I have received on the Environment Bill, every single one without fail argues that it simply does not go far enough. So far, this Bill is largely full of half-measures and token gestures. Like me, my constituents cannot understand why the Government opposed our amendments on improving air quality and limiting the use of bee-killing pesticides when the Bill was last debated. No doubt we will be similarly frustrated if the Government vote down our common-sense amendments today.

The Government need to face the reality of our current situation. We are in a climate and ecological emergency, the effects of which are already being seen in the UK and across the world. We need firm and decisive action. Whether it is the social and economic recovery from the covid-19 pandemic or agricultural regulations, every decision the Government make should consider the environmental impact and how we can best restore this planet.

It is widely accepted that, when it comes to tackling the climate emergency, we cannot go far enough or fast enough, yet everything the Government do lacks the seriousness and urgency that the situation demands. The WWF has said that

“the Bill does not achieve what has been promised: gold standard legislation, showing global leadership”.

Of course, we need an environmental Bill, but we need one that has teeth.

There is nothing in the Bill to ban fracking. The world’s oceans are being disregarded while environmental protections under the European Union framework have been replaced with flexible targets that could weaken the environmental standards we have been so proud of for so long. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Government are avoiding committing to iron-clad environmental protections in case they need to sell out British standards in future trade deals.

To finish, I cannot help but agree with my constituents’ belief that the Bill remains a missed opportunity. As the newest supporter of the climate and ecological emergency Bill, I urge the Government to introduce legislation that treats the climate emergency with the gravity it requires and to launch a green industrial revolution that places the environment at the heart of our economy and society.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab) [V]
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The climate and ecological crises are the gravest threats we face, and no one, in no part of their lives or those of their children, is immune from the challenges we face due to climate. Despite being decades in the making, we no longer have decades to solve or tackle the challenges ahead of us.

The 2020s must be the decade for decisive and bold action. For the UK to be a global climate leader, the steps we take here at home must align with climate commitments overseas and vice versa. We must work collaboratively with our international partners and support developing nations. There must be mutual reinforcing and climate must be a thread that weaves through all parts of government. If done correctly, this can act as a catalyst for real advancement in health, wellbeing, security and prosperity at home and overseas. It can both free us and equip us with the tools we need now and in the future to live better and healthier lives.

However, in the year when the UK hosts both the G7 and COP26, we are far from reaching the necessary action we need. We are failing to meet 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets. We are one of the most depleted countries in the world. Wildlife in Britain has been seriously threatened over the past decade. Half our species are in decline and one in seven native British species are at risk of extinction. We have seen flooding increase in recent years, up by more than a quarter across the UK compared with previous decades. We know that, like health, the impact of climate breakdown is disproportionately felt by those who have contributed to it the least, but rather than put us on a path to net zero by 2050 and build the solutions we need now to protect the environment, delay, indecision, short-termism, arrogance and recklessness are all on display from this Government. This will aggravate and deepen the challenges, which will impact future generations.

This is the fourth time I have spoken on the Environment Bill. The purpose is to debate and improve, not to debate and stonewall. We need—and future generations deserve—a piece of legislation that is up to scratch to meet our objectives and that acts as a launch pad for reforms and progress for the era that must come next, so that we can get the job done, not only to protect but to strengthen and advance our environment.

In Wales, we see Labour showing how it is done, with a Welsh Government forestry industrial recovery scheme, an effective ban on fracking and the restoration of our peat bogs with a national peatlands action programme. We need bigger, bolder action to address this climate and ecological emergency right now.

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)
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The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), is a diligent and well-respected Member of Parliament, and we have worked together on many issues in the past. Indeed, we have worked so well together that I have often felt he might be more comfortable on this side of the House. However, earlier today, he described the Bill as a “meh” Bill. I have been going through the Bill, and I would like to draw all Members’ attention to what this “meh” Bill actually delivers.

The Bill delivers targets for air quality, biodiversity, water, waste reduction and resource efficiency. It introduces an environmental improvement plan. It introduces environmental principles embedded in our domestic policy making. It creates an Office for Environmental Protection. It ensures that, under all new Bills containing environmental law, statements must be laid before Parliament on how they will maintain environmental standards. It ensures that the Government must conduct a review every two years of significant and effective international environmental legislation to ensure that we are leading the way internationally on the environment. It extends producer responsibility to make producers pay 100% of the cost of disposable products. It creates powers to introduce new resource efficiency standards for products to ensure better durability and recyclability. And I could go on, and on.

This is not a “meh” Bill. This is a transformative, world-leading, exciting, ambitious Bill that is delivering not just for the British people but on our duty to future generations and indeed, this planet. I represent a Scottish constituency, and the only thing I regret is that quite a lot of the provisions in the Bill will not affect my constituents. I can only hope that the Scottish Government go as far and as fast as this Government are proposing to do for the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is one area of the Bill that I think stands out above all others, and that is the introduction of powers allowing the Government to set out mandatory requirements on larger businesses that use agricultural commodities associated with wide-scale deforestation. Deforestation is one of the biggest threats to the health of this planet. Right now, one fifth of the Amazon rainforest is emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. That is a terrifying statistic: 20% of that major rainforest, the lungs of the planet, is emitting more carbon dioxide than it is absorbing. Our proposals to ensure that we sustainably source all products that might be used in agriculture are essential in delivering on our commitment to cut down on illegal deforestation, which accounts for 95% of deforestation in the Amazon and other rainforests around the world.

This is a great Bill, and I know that, deep in his heart, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport welcomes it strongly.

15:15
Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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I shall be seeking to press my amendment 29 to a vote.

I very much welcome this Environment Bill and many of the provisions that it makes. All over the country, we are suffering from severe environmental decline and degradation, and the results are visible in every community. From the damage to our chalk streams to the decline in our native wildlife species, the evidence of the impact of modern life on our natural environment is irrefutable. Nobody can fail to understand the implications of this decline.

A year or so ago, I attended a fascinating talk by the Kingston Beekeepers Association, which really enhanced my understanding of the essential role that bees play in maintaining the healthy plant life on which our human species depends, yet bees are among the species most threatened by modern industry, agriculture and housing development.

It is clear to everyone that much more needs to be done to strengthen powers at national and local level to prioritise the environment at every level of our decision making. As the decisions that have the most impact on our environment are made by our local authorities, especially around planning, it is vital that we enhance the powers that local government has to protect our environment.

I welcome the requirement in the Bill for every local authority to prepare a local nature recovery strategy to address the specific challenges in their own local environments. That will help to co-ordinate all local policy and decision making with an environmental impact by identifying and addressing the specific biodiversity challenges of individual areas. However, the Bill only requires local authorities to “have regard to” the LNRS. My amendment seeks to ensure that all local authorities must take the local nature recovery strategy into account when making decisions about planning or land use, as well as spending decisions.

We have seen successful trials of local nature recovery strategies in Buckinghamshire and other places. Buckinghamshire, in particular, is the site of many areas of vitally important woodland and chalk streams. We know that local people are deeply concerned about the degradation of those valuable natural assets and support the development of strategies that can combat environmental decline. It is essential that local authorities have the tools and powers that they need to be able to protect their communities.

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Ham House, a National Trust owned property in my constituency, last Friday. The staff there talked me through the sustainable management of their grounds, including the adaptations that they have had to make to deal with climate change. The National Trust, as part of Greener UK, a coalition of environmental charities, supports my amendment. Like me, it recognises that the value of LNRSs can be realised only if they are properly applied to all aspects of decision making.

This Government have a record of delaying decisive action in the face of a looming crisis. They have an opportunity with this Environment Bill to learn from their past mistakes and pursue a course of action that is equal to the size of the challenge. None the less, the Bill needs to be strengthened by my amendment if it is to make the difference that we need to see.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney).

The events of the past 12 months in particular have shown us the advantages of getting out and exploring nature on our doorstep. It is crucial, as we build back greener from the pandemic, that we take advantage of this opportunity to protect those green spaces and reflect on the world that we want to see for our children and their children.

I was very proud that this Government was elected on the strongest ever manifesto for the environment, and this Bill is critical to implementing that commitment. Central to this legislation is a commitment to leave the environment in a better state than when we found it. This is a world-leading measure that could be the net zero equivalent for nature. It is critical in our action to address biodiversity decline.

I am particularly pleased to see the commitment to tree planting in the Bill. I also welcome the introduction of local nature recovery strategies, which will allow us to map local assets and identify areas suitable for recovery.

Our changing climate is becoming associated with more extreme weather, higher risks of drought and an increase in flooding, which affected so many of the homes in my constituency in Sankey Bridges, in Heatley, and in Dallam and Bewsey during Storm Christoph in January.  The Minister was incredibly supportive and helpful during that time. Many local residents, though, are still not back in their homes, and are unlikely to be so anytime soon. Will my hon. Friend look at what more she could do to support those residents and Warrington Borough Council? I am very pleased that the Bill introduces additional requirements on water companies, enabling more resilient solutions.

Many of the environmental issues that we face have distinct local elements, and responding to challenges at a local level, in Warrington, not only allows for bespoke and more appropriate responses, but drives the potential for innovation. I want to mention air quality briefly. Warrington has historically had some of the worst air quality in the north-west of England, because of its location surrounded by motorways with high levels of congestion, and historically because of the location of a coal-fired power station at Fiddler’s Ferry. Now that has closed, and the air quality is already improving. My question to the Minister is, how can we leverage the Government’s nature target and commitment to improve air quality, not only in Warrington but across the UK, and given our presidency of COP, set out an ambition for a global improvement too? Finally, I welcome the work being undertaken by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to protect some of our most vulnerable habitats locally, particularly through its peat free campaign.

The Bill will manage the impact of human activity on the environment. It creates a more sustainable and resilient economy and, critically, it engages our constituents and local government to improve environmental outcomes. I very much look forward to supporting it.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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I want to speak to new clause 25, amendment 46 and amendment 22, which would cement in legislation forward-looking protections for trees, deforestation, species conservation and biodiversity gain.

We are in a climate and ecological emergency. Many of my Luton South constituents have contacted me deeply concerned about nature and biodiversity in the UK and across the world. The Bill was an opportunity to embed ambitious environmental protections in law and to kick-start a nature recovery ahead of COP26 and the convention on biological diversity, COP15.

The state of nature is very alarming. Wildlife in Britain is in freefall, with 44% of species in decline over the last 10 years. One in seven native British species are now at risk of extinction. UK tree planting targets were missed by over 50% in 2019-20, and across the world the World Wide Fund for Nature’s “Living Planet Report 2020” found that there had been an average 68% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970.

So instead of a radical plan that shows global leadership in addressing the climate and nature crisis, the Government’s Bill dramatically falls short of what is needed. As the Environmental Audit Committee stated, the draft Bill

“is a missed opportunity for taking a holistic approach to environment and climate change, placing them at the heart of Government policy.”

I believe that the Government are resisting concrete, ambitious protections, so that our environment can be used as a bargaining chip that would undercut Britain’s environmental standards.

I hope that the Government will support the Opposition’s amendments that seek to enhance the protections in the Bill. We need the Government to publish a tree strategy for England, coupled with clear targets that would drastically increase woodland coverage, to protect and maintain new and restored existing woodlands. New clause 25 would ensure that the Government’s tree strategy was transparent about the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland. As the planting of trees is a local issue as much as a global issue, will the Minister commit to ring-fencing a significant proportion of tree-planting grants of the £640 million Nature for Climate fund for local authorities, so that they can plant trees at scale and play their part in tackling the global crisis?

We also need the species conservation strategies to contribute to nature’s recovery. Amendment 46 would help deliver that, and could ensure that effective strategies are put in place to restore bees and other pollinator species and protect them from harmful pesticides. Amendment 22 would require the Government to commit to maintaining habitats that are secured under biodiversity gain in perpetuity, rather than the 30 years currently specified in the Bill. These amendments would embed sustained, forward-looking action in law to begin to reverse species decline and loss of species, and set nature on a path to recovery.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s closing remarks.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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It is a real privilege to once again speak in this place to express my support for the Environment Bill. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to serve on the Bill Committee and to see all the hard work that has gone into this piece of legislation. I repeat my for all the work that she has done in bringing forward this Bill.

All of us in this House will agree that the environment is precious, and I care deeply about protecting and enhancing it for future generations. As the Minister will be well aware from my interactions with her, from lobbying to stop the development of the Aire valley incinerator to the recent granting of bathing water status on the River Wharfe in my constituency, I and many of my constituents across Keighley and Ilkley care deeply about enhancing our environment. As I deliver this speech, two of my constituents, Patrick Godden and Jack Hanson, are completing a walk from Ilkley to Westminster to raise awareness and funds for the Ilkley clean river campaign, a group that has campaigned hard to improve water quality in the River Wharfe. Measures in the Bill such as the statutory duty on water companies to develop sewage management plans and the changes to the water companies licensing process will ensure that the River Wharfe and many other rivers up and down the country have better water quality and biodiversity and enhanced aquatic ecosystems, and I wholly wholeheartedly approve of that.

I am delighted that this Government are following other countries in introducing conservation covenants. The Government have acknowledged the important role landowners can play in conservation efforts. The current system makes it difficult for legal obligations on environmental protection to stay in place once land is sold or passed on, and conservation covenants will help. These long-term commitments will ensure positive opportunities for conservation are not missed, and the conservation covenants will introduce obligations to improve conservation as long as public good will is there and will help restore the natural qualities of our land.

There are other great measures in this Bill, such as local nature recovery strategies; the Government have recognised that local nature recovery must start at the local level, and that will make a huge difference locally. I would briefly like to mention my support for amendment 41 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), a probing amendment which seeks to include a provision for local planning authorities to be able to take unlawful tree felling and lack of compliance with restocking and enforcement orders by landowners into account when considering planning obligations.

We have an obligation to ensure that the next generation inherits a healthier planet and the Environment Bill goes a long way to achieving that.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab) [V]
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I welcome the opportunity to speak once again on this important piece of legislation and am thankful to the many constituents who have urged me to support the strongest possible protections for our natural world, as well as Cheshire Wildlife Trust, which is such a powerful and passionate advocate for nature across the Wirral and Cheshire.

The UK is in the midst of an intense biodiversity crisis. In just 50 years, 41% of all species have declined, with 15% brought to the brink of extinction. Most worryingly of all, bees, which play such an important role by pollinating 70% of all the crops we eat, are under existential threat; since 1900, 13 species have been lost with another 35 at risk.

Time and again the Prime Minister has promised bold and decisive action to tackle the existential threat of biodiversity loss and ecological crisis, but, as is so often the case with this Government, the reality fails to match the rhetoric: not only does this Bill fail to bring forward the measures that are badly needed to halt ecological collapse, but it does not even maintain the comprehensive environmental protections that we had as a member of the European Union. I am therefore very grateful to the hon. Members who have tabled important amendments to this Bill, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones).

I was especially glad to add my name to new clause 25, which would commit the Government to publishing a national tree strategy for England. England is one of the least wooded countries in the western world, with just 13% of all land covered by woodland compared with an average of 44% in mainland Europe. Increasing woodland has a vital role to play in tackling climate breakdown and promoting biodiversity, but fewer than 50% of the annual tree planting targets were met in 2020. That is simply not good enough.

I also urge Members to join me in supporting new clause 24, which would enshrine vital protections for our peatlands into law and introduce a comprehensive ban on the burning of heather on all upland peat. Peatland plays a vital role not only in promoting biodiversity but also as a natural carbon sink, yet the Government have failed to safeguard this precious natural resource. Some 80% of the UK’s 3 million hectares of peatland are chronically damaged, with around 60% enjoying no protection whatsoever.

Warm words simply are not good enough; today’s votes provide us with an opportunity to prove we say what we mean in tackling the biodiversity crisis, so I call on the Government to put their money where their mouth is and join me in supporting these and many other amendments tabled today.

15:30
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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This is a landmark Bill, and I am hugely proud to support it. We quite rightly talk a great deal about climate change, net zero and the world-leading targets we are setting, but specifically what are we doing to protect nature and biodiversity? It is a headline we hear less about, and it needs to sit alongside our climate change agenda, because our duty to protect habitats and species is as important as our need to decarbonise. That is why I am delighted to back Government new clauses 21 and 22. Restoring nature and committing to a legally binding target on species abundance by 2030 must be at the forefront of our agenda. This builds on our commitment at the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature in September 2020, where we were one of the leading nations to commit to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

Through our recent Environmental Audit Committee work, it was shocking to learn that only 14% of our rivers are considered to be in good ecological condition. What must we be doing to our biodiversity in the protection of nature? In a developed country in the 21st century, we must do better, and now we will. We have to put a stop to 50 years of decline in nature’s rich habitats and pay heed to the Dasgupta review.

For instance, I am delighted to see that biodiversity net gain is to become a key component of the Town and Country Planning Act. This is very important in my constituency, and I call on my local council, North Norfolk District Council, to get ahead of the game. It should be employing ecologists on its planning team to lead in early design and planning, to ensure that biodiversity and nature recovery are incorporated in the heart of local planning and needs. As well as local and domestic issues, we have to lead on the world stage. The new clauses will ensure just that by aligning the commitments and international biodiversity targets that are to be negotiated in China later this year.

We know that it is people who have contributed to the destruction of nature, and it is people who will put it back together again. Nowhere is there a finer example of conservation in my constituency than the sterling work of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust volunteers and the Old Canal Company. I recently visited them to see their restoration work and improvement of nature and biodiversity on the waterways that they have restored. It was quite breathtaking. It shows that these new clauses, if followed, will make a real difference to nature.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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We cannot continue to take nature for granted. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of nature for our physical and mental wellbeing. It has also exposed the inequalities that exist, as so many families do not have close and easy access to open green space. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world: 14 of 24 biodiversity indicators show long-term decline; 41 of the UK’s species have declined, with 15 at risk of extinction; and 0% of England’s waters are now classed as in good health, compared with 16% in 2016.

The Government have failed on nearly all the UK’s commitments on nature made in 2010. They have failed on the health of our rivers, lakes and streams. We must take every opportunity to address the UK’s ecological crisis without delay. We need a strategy for doubling nature. The Environment Bill is an opportunity to do just that, but it needs to be much stronger. As it stands, the duty to use local nature recovery strategies is much too weak. I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to support amendment 29, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). This amendment would give teeth to the local nature recovery strategies, because it ensures that biodiversity will be embedded in all public authority decision making. Like climate action, biodiversity gains begin at home. Liberal Democrat councils across the country are fighting to do just that.

There are very simple things that can help. In Bath and North East Somerset, for example, we have introduced a strategy whereby we just do not mow grass verges in order to allow flowers and blooms to spread. Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their communities and landscapes, and we must give them the powers and resources they need to help the UK to tackle its nature emergency.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank all hon. Members who have tabled amendments. However, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), in his tirade at the beginning seemed totally unaware of just how many measures this Bill will introduce to look after and protect our environment, the countryside and nature. It truly is a landmark Bill. I will give him some quotes from environmental non-governmental organisations just last week: Greener UK said this was a “watershed moment for nature”; the RSPB applauded us for taking this “ambitious step”; and Countryside Link called this

“a tremendously important milestone toward world-leading environmental law”.

I think the shadow Secretary of State has been under a stone like some rare species. I would like to drag him out into the light so that he is able to appreciate what we are doing, like so many colleagues here today who have all grasped it, including my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson), for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), for Warrington South (Andy Carter), for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore).

I do not have much time, but I am going to touch on as many points raised in this debate as I can. I ask Members please to come and see me if I have not managed to address their points. I turn first to amendment 22, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). Setting a minimum duration in law would deter developers and other landowners from offering land for habitats. Furthermore, this amendment would risk creating permanent obligations to maintain particular types of habitat that may not be resilient to future ecological or climate changes.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) for applauding our nature target, and totally agree that international action is imperative so that we show that we are leading the way, particularly with the CBD.

I turn to new clause 16. I can reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) that the Environment Bill lays the foundations for environmental protection that will be supported by the Planning Bill. Our planning for the future White Paper reiterates our strong commitment to biodiversity net gain. I also reassure her that in line with our manifesto commitment, existing policy for greenbelt protection will remain.

Amendment 29 would risk limiting the decision-making direction of public authorities with regard to local nature recovery strategies. It would be unreasonable for national bodies such as Network Rail or Highways England to be required to comply with many strategies. In fact, this amendment could, perversely, result in lower environmental ambition.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) rightly brings the issue of illegal tree felling into this debate through amendment 41. The Bill does provide a deterrent to the illegal felling of trees by introducing unlimited fines and making tree restocking orders a local land charge. It will close a loophole raised by so many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely).

I turn to the tree strategy in particular and new clause 25. I am pleased to report to the House, as I have already mentioned a number of times, that we launched our trees action plan just last week, and that renders this new clause completely unnecessary.

Let us turn now to hedgehogs, of course. I keenly support the intention of new clause 4, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Although I cannot accept the amendment, I hope that he is reassured by the commitments I made earlier. I fully reiterate his comments about the importance of habitats. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke) also rightly raised the issue of hedgehogs.

New clause 2 would significantly reduce existing protections and remove the duty on decision makers to reject plans or projects that could harm protected sites.

I must touch on the due diligence clause mentioned by so many people, including the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and for St Albans (Daisy Cooper). The Environment Bill will benefit nature not just abroad, but internationally.

On amendments 26 and 27, I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—happy birthday, by the way—that deforestation must be tackled if we are to achieve our climate and biodiversity targets, and legality is at the heart of our requirements.

In conclusion, new clauses 21 and 22 introduce powers that will restore protected sites to good condition and they are critical for the Government. This Government are clear about their commitments on the environment, and I hope I have been able to assuage the concerns of all Members who have tabled amendments today.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 21 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

15:40
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day and 26 January).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
New Clause 22
Habitats Regulations: power to amend Part 6
‘(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend Part 6 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/1012) (the “Habitats Regulations”) (assessment of plans and projects) as they apply in relation to England.
(2) In making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must have regard to the particular importance of furthering the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.
(3) The Secretary of State may make regulations under this section only if satisfied that the regulations do not reduce the level of environmental protection provided by the Habitats Regulations.
(4) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement explaining why the Secretary of State is satisfied as mentioned in subsection (3).
(5) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(6) In this section “England” has the same meaning as in section (Habitats Regulations: power to amend general duties).
(7) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.” —(Rebecca Pow.)
This new clause confers power to amend Part 6 of the Habitats Regulations.
Brought up, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 25
Duty to prepare a Tree Strategy for England
‘(1) The Government must prepare a Tree Strategy for England as set out in subsections (2), (3) and (4).
(2) The strategy must set out the Government’s vision, objectives, priorities and policies for trees in England including individual trees, woodland and forestry, and set out other matters with respect to the promotion of sustainable management of trees in these contexts.
(3) The Tree Strategy for England must include the Government’s targets and interim targets with respect to—
(a) the percentage of England under tree cover;
(b) hectares of new native woodland creation achieved by tree planting;
(c) hectares of new native woodland creation achieved by natural regeneration;
(d) the percentage of native woodland in favourable ecological condition;
(e) hectares of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) undergoing restoration;
(f) the condition of the England’s Long Established Woodlands; and
(g) hectares of Long Established Woodlands undergoing restoration.
(4) The Tree Strategy for England must set out—
(a) locations of additional planting of 30,000 hectares of woodland in the UK each year, as set out in the England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024;
(b) a plan for the maintenance of the trees and woodlands planted under the England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024; and
(c) which authorities or individuals are responsible for the maintenance of the trees and woodlands planted under the England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024.
(5) The Government must publish—
(a) an annual statement on progress against the Tree Strategy for England; and
(b) any revisions of the Tree Strategy which may be necessary.
(6) The Government must publish a revised Tree Strategy for England within the period of 10 years beginning with the day on which the strategy or its most recent revision was published.” —(Ruth Jones.)
The aim of this new clause is to ensure that the Government prepares a tree strategy for England. It will ensure that the Government has to produce targets for the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland in England.
Brought up.
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
15:43

Division 15

Ayes: 217


Labour: 193
Liberal Democrat: 11
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 2
Alba Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 352


Conservative: 352

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Clause 95
General duty to conserve and enhance biodiversity
Amendment proposed: 29, page 97, line 1, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
‘(5) After subsection (2) insert—
(2A) The authority must act in accordance with any relevant local nature recovery strategy in the exercise of relevant functions, including—
(a) land use planning and planning decisions;
(b) spending decisions, including land management payments;
(c) delivery of biodiversity gain; and
(d) any other activities undertaken in complying with subsections (1) and (1A).””—(Sarah Olney.)
This amendment would require public authorities to exercise relevant functions in accordance with Local Nature Recovery Strategies. This would ensure that decisions that affect the natural environment such as planning decisions, net gain habitat enhancements and targeted investment in environmental land management are informed by the Strategies.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
15:53

Division 16

Ayes: 210


Labour: 195
Liberal Democrat: 9
Independent: 2
Alba Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 359


Conservative: 352
Democratic Unionist Party: 8

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates. 
New Clause 12
Well consents for hydraulic fracturing: cessation of issue and termination
“(1) No well consent which permits associated hydraulic fracturing may be issued by the Oil and Gas Authority (‘OGA’).
(2) Sections 4A and 4B of the Petroleum Act 1998 (as inserted by section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015), are repealed.
(3) Any well consent which has been issued by the OGA which—
(a) permits associated hydraulic fracturing, and
(b) is effective on the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent shall cease to be valid three months after this Act receives Royal Assent.
(4) In this section—
‘associated hydraulic fracturing’ means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which—
(a) is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and
(b) involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—
(i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or
(ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total, or
(iii) acid intended to dissolve rock;
and ‘well consent’ means a consent in writing of the OGA to the commencement of drilling of a well.”—(Ruth Jones.)
This new clause would prevent the Oil and Gas Authority from being able to provide licences for hydraulic fracturing, exploration or acidification, and would revoke current licences after a brief period to wind down activity.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 19—Labelling scheme for the environmental sustainability of food

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme requiring food manufacturers to label foods offered for sale in the United Kingdom to indicate the environmental sustainability of their origins.

(2) That scheme must make provision for a kitemark indicating the environmentally sustainable origins of a food.

(3) The kitemark may be applied to:—

(a) raw food commodities,

(b) processed food products, and

(c) the ingredients of processed food products.

(4) The definition of ‘environmentally sustainable origins’ under the scheme must incorporate an assessment of whether the agricultural or manufacturing processes involved in the production of a food—

(a) protect the habitats of species listed internationally as endangered,

(b) avoid biodiversity loss,

(c) avoid deforestation, and

(d) avoid significant increases in net carbon emissions.

(5) The scheme may make provision for—

(a) enforcement, and

(b) civil sanctions in relation to labelling and use of the kitemark.

(6) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.

(7) Before making regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Scottish Ministers,

(b) the Welsh Ministers, and

(c) the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.

(8) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a draft statutory instrument containing the proposed scheme before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day this Act receives Royal Assent.”

New clause 24—Prohibition on burning of peat in upland areas

“(1) A person must not burn specified vegetation on land in England which is within an upland area on peat.

(2) In this section—

‘specified vegetation’ means heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse or vaccinium, and

‘upland area’ means all the land shown coloured pink on the map marked as ‘Map of Upland Area in England’ held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but does not include the land coloured pink in the Isles of Scilly(a).”

The new clause extends the coverage of the peat burning ban from the 142,000 ha of upland peat currently covered to the full 355,000 ha of upland peat in England.

New clause 28—Labelling scheme for the informed purchase of environmentally sustainable food

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for a scheme requiring food manufacturers to label foods offered for sale in the United Kingdom to indicate the environmental sustainability of their origins.

(2) The scheme in subsection (1) must make provision for a kitemark indicating the environmentally sustainable origins of a food.

(3) The kitemark may be applied to—

(a) raw food commodities,

(b) processed food products, and

(c) the ingredients of processed food products.

(4) Food labelling under the scheme must include a declaration about food miles, which is defined as the distance travelled from the country, or in the case of domestically produced food the region, of origin.

(5) The declaration in subsection (4) must be given in words and numbers, but may also be presented using graphical forms or symbols provided that the graphical forms or symbols meet the following requirements—

(a) they are based on scientifically valid consumer research and do not mislead the consumer as referred to in Article 7 of the retained Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council as amended in the Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019;

(b) their development is the result of consultation with a wide range of stakeholder groups;

(c) they aim to facilitate consumer understanding of the contribution or importance of the environmental impact of the food;

(d) they are supported by scientifically valid evidence showing that such forms of presentation are understood by the average consumer;

(e) they are objective and non-discriminatory; and

(f) their application does not create obstacles to the free movement of goods.

(6) The scheme may recommend to food business operators the use of one or more additional forms of presentation of the environmental indications that they consider as best fulfilling the requirements laid down in paragraphs (a) to (f) of subsection (5).

(7) The scheme may make provision for—

(a) enforcement, and

(b) civil sanctions in relation to labelling and use of the kitemark.

(8) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.

(9) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a draft statutory instrument containing the proposed scheme before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day this Act receives Royal Assent.”

New clause 29—Review of public health effects

“(1) The Secretary of State must review the public health effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider—

(a) the effects of the provisions of this Act on air pollutant levels across the UK,

(b) the effects of the provisions of this Act on different socioeconomic groups and population groups with protected characteristics as defined by the 2010 Equality Act,

(c) the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK, and

(d) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.”

Before I call the shadow Minister, I should say that there will be a four-minute time limit on Back-Bench contributions.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

New clauses 12 and 24 were tabled in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) and for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon)—all members of the shadow DEFRA team—and with the support of colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West); my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott); my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), for Neath (Christina Rees), for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield); and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). That is to name but a few.

I give a massive vote of thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) for his work on the early stages of the Bill and for all his work to challenge the outdated and unambitious approach of this Government to the future of our planet.

Here we are, back in the House and back discussing the Environment Bill and, I hope, setting out a clear plan to preserve our environment and protect our planet. We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. I know that the Minister knows it, and so do the people of this country, but this climate emergency is no surprise to any of us and did not start yesterday. That is why I remain disappointed that the Tories have voted against every single Labour amendment in Committee and on day 1 on Report. I fear they will do the same today—although, of course, I am happy for the Minister to prove me wrong.

Today has been a long time coming, and I know that many stakeholders, campaigners and people up and down England will be pleased that we are finally here discussing the Environment Bill and looking to make it fit for purpose. Many stakeholders and campaigners will want to see less party politics and more environmental politics in this debate and throughout the Bill’s remaining stages before it moves into the capable hands of our colleagues in the other place.

A person does not need to be a green-fingered disciple of Alan Titchmarsh or an animal-loving admirer of Sir David Attenborough to know that wildlife in Britain is on a downward spiral. We are in a period of crisis that demands real action, not empty words.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she and her team do on these issues. Does she agree that the Minister would do well to look to Wales to see what a bold, ambitious and committed Labour Government can do to protect the environment and preserve our planet?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do agree with my hon. Friend: Wales is leading the way and I urge the Minister to seek meetings with the First Minister of Wales and his Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths as soon as possible, so that lessons can be learned and rolled over to England.

As we heard in the previous debate, we have seen 44% of species decline over the past 10 years—and that was on the Minister’s and her party’s watch. Now that we have left the European Union, it is vital that we seek to maintain the highest of environmental standards. That is the approach that the shadow Secretary of State—my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport—and my colleagues and I in the shadow DEFRA team have taken to this Bill, from Second Reading through to Committee and to today’s Report and remaining stages. We have proposed fair, balanced and necessary amendments, all of which were defeated by this Government. Not one of them was partisan, and not one of them was done to play games. All were done to make this Bill fit for purpose, and our new clauses 12 and 24 do just that. They are balanced and they are fair, and they reflect the will out there of those in communities across England who want an Environment Bill that will preserve our planet and protect our environment.

That brings me on to another opportunity the Government have missed with this Bill. This Bill, this debate today and this moment were the Government’s chance to tell the fracking companies, “Your time is up”, but given the choice between doing something bold and doing nothing at all, we know what DEFRA under this Secretary of State always goes for.

My position and that of the shadow Secretary of State and the Opposition is clear: fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. This is doubly true when we take into account just how damaging fracking is for our environment. When a third of England’s drinking supply is in the groundwater, do we really want to engage in a risky industry that could poison it for good? Even more disturbingly, fracking is causing earthquakes of up to 2.9 on the Richter scale.

In our recovery from covid, we need to focus on creating good green jobs for the future. Fracking is not green and it does not create jobs. According to the fracking company Cuadrilla’s licence application in Lancashire, for example, just 11 jobs will be created across two sites—just 11. Labour MPs up and down the country are standing up for their areas in opposing this. I want to give a special mention to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), who has done so much work in this area, and I commend her for all she does. Now is the time to join France, Germany, Ireland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Scotland and, of course, Wales, and put this destructive industry to bed once and for all.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would be grateful if the hon. Lady clarified that. Clearly, I support the principle of our leaving fossil fuels in the ground and not using them for the future, but we are going to need natural gas for the time being, albeit I hope that in time we can phase it out. The Germans are planning to bring it in by pipeline from Russia. We are currently bringing it in by tanker from the middle east. What does she think is the best source of natural gas for the coming years, while we still need it?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are in a transition phase, and we need not just to look at natural gas, but to look forward to renewables because that is where the future lies. Renewables are the future. We know already, in this country, that there are certain days when no coal is being burned and some days when just renewables are being used. That is the future for the whole of the UK, not just England, and that is where the Opposition would want to be seeing our future. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

I encourage colleagues across the House to get behind Labour’s new clause 12, which would ban fracking and show we really are serious about tackling the environmental crisis that our country and our planet faces—a crisis this Government want to tackle with a 25-year environment plan. Talking about the Government’s 25-year environment plan, it feels as though the last few months have given us less of a plan for the next 25 years and more of an impression that it will take 25 years to develop a plan to preserve our planet and protect our environment. This just is not good enough. While I do not doubt the Minister’s personal commitment, I do wonder if Government Back Benchers really understand what is at stake here and what they need to do.

I now want to move on to the issue of peat burning and to speak to Labour’s new clause 24. I fully accept that soil does not always grab the headlines—it is not particularly sexy—but the impact that peat burning has on our environment is profound, and that is why Labour has tabled this new clause. I want to thank stakeholders, such as Matt Browne at Wildlife and Countryside Link, for all the passionate campaigning on these important issues.

The Government’s peat action plan came three years late. In the meantime, our peatlands have been continuously burned and degraded, releasing approximately 10 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. The Government have committed to restoring 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, which is great, but that is only one tenth of the 355,000 hectares that need to be restored in England, and we have no clear targets for peatland restoration after 2025. What is going to happen then?

The Government have committed to ban some peat burning, but, again, it is not enough. All we get from this Government are words and hot air, and we need cool, focused and comprehensive action. Labour’s amendment would prohibit the burning of peat of any depth in upland areas. We cannot wait for action any longer. We need a foolproof strategy to restore and protect this vital carbon sink. I hope the Minister will do the right thing and get her colleagues to do what so many out in the real world want us to do, which is to provide action to stop burning peat. It is as simple as that.

Today, we have the chance to improve a weak Bill—a Bill that is lacking in ambition, in focus and in delivering a real and tangible plan to preserve our environment and protect our planet. I encourage the Minister to send a message to the Secretary of State—I wonder where he is today, because this is supposed to be his landmark Bill— and to the Government Whips and tell them that the time has come to get real, to act and to deliver by supporting Labour’s new clauses 12 and 24. There is no better way than by supporting us in the Lobby tonight to show that this Government are finally willing to act, to get real, and to deliver on their rhetoric. The future of our environment and the preservation of our planet demand no less.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

There is much to welcome in the Government’s aims. Like most MPs, I look forward to cleaner water and cleaner air. It is right that we take more care of the other species that we share our islands with, and I look forward to those greener and pleasanter lands having more protection and more support. I also welcome the idea that we should plant many more trees. However, at this point in our deliberations, we should ask the Minister to give us a bit more background and information about the costs of this transformation so that we can know that it is realistic and that it will be properly shared.

When we look at the legislation itself and at the impact assessments, we see that there is very little by way of hard information about how much cost may be entailed and who should primarily bear that. There are wide-ranging powers to introduce more waste charges, for example, but the statements in the impact materials say that an impact cannot be assessed and that it will depend, in due course, on what actual charges are brought in. When we look at the very expensive rules on producer responsibility—taking more responsibility for packaging, batteries, waste, electrical equipment and end-of-life vehicles—we are told that a partial cost of the first item is about £1 billion a year, but there is no information on the full cost and there is no information on the others. There is a bit of information on the cost on housebuilders for the habitat provisions, and there is not a lot of worked-through financial information on the deposit return scheme.

I think that there are ways forward where we can make sure both that we have a better environment and that we are earning more revenue from suitable and sustainable exploitation of nature’s abundance. I hope that the Government will work hard on finding ways that enable livelihoods to be increased and improved, just as we are also doing the right things by the environment.

Let us take the case of trees, for example. I do hope that, as we plant many more trees, there will be more sustainable forestry. I always thought it quite wrong that we import so much wood from across the Atlantic to burn in the Drax power station, when surely we should be looking for sustainable sources at home. It is also quite wrong that we import so much of the timber that we need for our big house building projects, when, again, this is a good climate for growing softwood. Surely we can go about our task of finding sustainable ways. We need to cut the wood miles and to have that sustainable forestry here, as well as having the beautiful and diverse trees in our landscape in suitable places where the Government will offer their own taxpayer-based financial support.



Let us hear a little more about the livelihoods and the opportunities. Let us show how we can have both a beautiful countryside and a working countryside, so that we can cut the wood miles and the food miles, ensure more buy-in from business and individuals to these great aims of having a better natural environment because of the opportunities to do more at home, and have that happy conjunction of success in business, harnessing nature’s abundance and the beauty of nature’s abundance, while respecting all the other species that share our islands with us.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now go to the SNP spokesperson, Deidre Brock.

16:15
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be brief, because as I have already laid out, this is almost entirely an English Bill, but I wanted to touch on new clause 12.

The new clause is a good addition that the Government should welcome. Scotland banned fracking some time ago and Wales has made it very difficult to get the permissions needed. Adding a fracking ban to the Bill would complete the set, and we in the SNP certainly support that, because when our neighbours keep trying to set their house on fire, we want to help them to stop.

Fracking releases gas—at a greater input cost than other types of gas well, I might add—and not all the gas is collected for commercial exploitation. Fracking is associated with a greater escape of gas to the atmosphere than other forms of gas production, which in itself contributes to the climate crisis. The seismic effects may cross borders, of course, and the large amounts of road traffic needed for frack wells gets in the way of other transport needs and themselves contribute to the climate chaos. It is in everyone’s interest to make sure that neighbouring countries do not frack the place up, but responsibilities for the licensing of oil and gas development since the Scotland Act 2016 was passed rest with the Scottish Government; the clause therefore impacts on devolved powers.

Finally, I want to correct a statement the shadow Secretary of State made earlier. He said that the UK was the first country to declare a climate emergency. It was not. The climate emergency petition started in Australia—many very good things come from Australia—and dotted around the world for a while before the Scottish Government became the first to declare a climate emergency, closely followed by Wales. England caught up a wee while later—aye ahint.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will focus my remarks on the issues I raise in new clause 19. We have talked about deforestation this afternoon and I pay tribute to the Minister in particular, because she has been a driving force in ensuring that the Bill takes significant steps on deforestation, in effect making it illegal and much more challenging to bring the fruits of illegal deforestation to the United Kingdom. That is absolutely right. The stronger the law on that front, the better.

What the Bill does not do, and what it is difficult for any Government to do, is prevent the fruits of legal deforestation arriving in the United Kingdom. Only now do we see the issues in Brazil, where the Bolsonaro Government are looking to pursue further legislative change that could lead to further deforestation in the Amazon—something none of us can afford to let happen. Through the new clause and its underlying principle, I am encouraging the Government to take a step that I believe would make a real difference to those who seek legally to deforest in other parts of the world—to put the power not in the hands of regulators, but in the hands of consumers. I passionately believe that if consumers around the world say no to the consequences of deforestation, it will be much more difficult for Governments or individuals to pursue deforestation, whether it is legal or illegal.

In this country, if I go to the supermarket and want to know whether the product I am buying contains anything that has damaged forests, it is pretty difficult to tell. If I do not want to buy a product with palm oil in it, I have to scrutinise the small print of the ingredients on the back to establish whether it contains palm oil. If there is palm oil, it is even more difficult to work out whether it comes from a sustainable source. Some aspects of our supply chains are invisible, such as whether the soy meal fed to the animals whose meat we eat came from a sustainable source or—much, much more likely—from an unsustainable source. We have to address that issue, and I think one of the ways to do that is to have a proper system of food labelling in this country that indicates whether a product comes from a sustainable source.

There is a lot of work taking place right now in the private sector, by retailers and others, and in the academic sector to look at how we would assess the sustainability of a product. It is about not just the food we buy in a shop, but the ingredients that go into that food. I think labelling should be placed on the sacks of soybean meal that go to feed pigs in our pig farms, as well as on the products that we buy in the shops, to indicate very clearly to buyers and consumers when a product comes from a carefully thought-out, sustainable source and when it does not. Work is being done by big supermarkets, academics and some really innovative smaller food companies to try to ensure that there is a good way of tracking the sustainability of a food source.

In the end, what we cannot have is the wild west of food labelling. What we need is a coherent, single approach that enables a consumer, in an easily recognisable way, to say, “I know that I can buy that in good conscience,” or “I know that that’s a product that creates problems for the environment.” The truth is that that label alone will ensure that the buyer does not buy the product and that it never appears and there is no market for it. My request and message to the Secretary of State and the Minister—I will follow this up over the coming months—is please to follow the path of introducing a single system of sustainable food labelling, sending the message to consumers, “You are empowered to make the right choices.”

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to address most of my remarks to new clause 12 and fracking, but before I turn to that specifically, I want to put on record my concerns about flooding, because we are in a climate and ecological emergency and we are seeing increased instances of flooding. I have certainly witnessed that in my Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency, and it concerns me that at the same time the Environment Agency budget has been cut by a third and the fire and rescue service by a fifth. It is simply not enough to wring our hands while making these cuts, when we cannot respond to the flooding emergency, so I urge the Minister to look again at these cuts and at investing in upland water management.

The Environment Bill is the Government’s first opportunity to bring in equivalent standards to those in the EU regulations, so, frankly, if we cannot secure strong environmental protections in this Bill, it certainly bodes ill for securing workers’ rights and workplace protections. New clause 12 would revoke current fracking licences and prevent the Oil and Gas Authority from being able to provide future licences for hydraulic fracturing, exploration or acidification. Fracking is a big deal in Lancashire. When Cuadrilla started, in just two months 57 earthquakes were detected. Cuadrilla stopped fracking five times because it triggered earthquakes bigger than the Government rules allowed. Even more disturbingly, a year later, an earthquake measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale led to a review by the Oil and Gas Authority, which, worryingly, concluded that it was not possible to predict the probability or size of the tremors caused by fracking.

My Lancashire constituents and, indeed, much of the country were relieved when the Government got around to launching a moratorium halting fracking and exploration with immediate effect, but in the past two years the Government have failed to deliver the legislation that is needed to give effect to their promise. If the Minister is not willing to support new clause 12 today, when will that come? It was a relief that the Government got as far as the moratorium almost two years ago, but we need something concrete—something solid—behind that. If the Minister is to assure my constituents that the Bill is not just empty words, will she accept Labour’s new clause and legislate to ban fracking once and for all?

We know from the Lancashire experiment on fracking that it is a risky way of extracting dirty energy. We have seen that France, Germany, Ireland, Bulgaria, New York state and the Netherlands, as well as Scotland and Wales, all agree, so this is our opportunity to bring England into line. There are so many risks surrounding fracking, and the Government know that or they would not have called the moratorium in the first place. The British Geological Survey is very clear:

“Groundwater may be potentially contaminated by extraction of shale gas”.

In England, groundwater supplies a third of our drinking water.

In addition, the assertion that fracking will lead to a jobs boom is simply not true. Cuadrilla’s application in Lancashire talked about starting just 11 jobs, and that is before we start looking at the jobs that would be put at risk by fracking happening on the Lancashire coast, because so many of our jobs on the Fylde coast are in the tourism industry, and people are not keen to holiday next to fracking wells.

Most importantly, scientists agree that if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. With every application comes huge environmental concern. There is a risk of additional carbon emissions, as well as the understandable anxiety for local people about the impact of earth tremors and water contamination. When will the Minister listen and finally take action? Now is our chance, once and for all, to tell the fracking companies that time’s up, and to put the future of our planet and our communities first.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con)
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More pearls of wisdom for the Government to listen to.

I am delighted we have reached the Report stage of this landmark Environment Bill, which examines our vital relationship with nature and how that affects wildlife generally. The Treasury-sponsored Dasgupta review on the economics of biodiversity calls for transformational change as our demands of nature outstrips its capacity to supply for us. I am delighted with our Government’s commitment to invest in new green industries to create jobs while protecting the environment, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, although we certainly need more charging points for electric vehicles in Southend. However, legislative changes need to be implemented urgently to ensure that our action towards the environment and animals is responsible and sustainable.

Ultimately, if we damage the environment, we will destroy ecosystems that animals rely on. It is estimated that because of our activities over the past 200,000 years, the total amount of living matter on the planet has actually decreased by 50%—shocking. As biomass falls, so does biodiversity. We see large depletions in insect numbers and bulky oceanic fish such as tuna and cod, and the conversion of natural habitats to agriculture. Most wildlife hotspots are now down to small percentages of their former ranges.

I want to see our country leading on this issue. Our presidency of the COP26 summit in November will, I hope, spur urgent action throughout the world. We should review our international aid budget, and direct it towards global habitat and biodiversity protection, which unfortunately has recently fallen to below 0.5%. One way we can enhance domestic biodiversity and allow nature to recover is to rewild our seas, uplands, peatlands, flood lands and coasts. We should ensure that at least 30% of our seas are no-activity marine conservation zones. I certainly welcome the reintroduction of the beaver and I hope we will be able to reintroduce many more species that were once native to England.

The Bill, I believe, will be critical in setting out how farmers protect nature and the environment. Intensive farming and industrial fishing practices are two of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. I am sorry if that upsets colleagues who have many farms in their constituencies, but factory farming is unsustainable as a system. It is polluting our air and water, killing our wildlife, degrading our soil, and altering our climate. We are out of balance with nature and our environment. That must change. The natural world and the man-made world are closely linked, and therefore planning reforms should be legally implemented to enable nature’s recovery, strengthening protections for sites designated for nature, and increasing developer contributions to nature’s recovery. Our population continues to grow at a fast pace, which puts pressure on our greenbelts and countryside. I hope the Government will not allow more of our green and open land to be covered by large-scale developments.

In conclusion, it is so important that we approach the challenge of building back better by creating a brighter future with respect for our environment and other living beings with which we share our planet. We must think sustainably about our health, the billions of sentient animals and the protection of our precious planet, as I am sure David Attenborough would agree.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab) [V]
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I will speak to new clause 29, in my name and that of my colleagues, which would compel the Environment Secretary to assess the impacts of the Bill on air quality, how different population groups will be exposed to air pollutants and, subsequently, how that differential exposure will impact on their health.

It is our exposure to health risks and hazards that determines our health status—how long we are going to live, and how long we are going to live in good health. The money, resources and power we have will determine where and how we live. It will determine whether our family’s home is on a busy road or motorway, or in a leafy suburb. It will determine not only our risk of being involved in a road traffic accident but our exposure to toxic emissions from traffic. The poorer someone is, the greater the likelihood that they will be exposed to pollutants at levels that are hazardous to their health. We also know that, if someone is disabled, black, of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage or a single parent, they are more likely to be poor.

16:30
Let us be clear: air pollution is bad for everyone. The 2016 Royal College of Physicians report “Every breath we take” estimated that, every year, 40,000 people die prematurely as a result of the poor outdoor air quality they are exposed to and that people on low incomes are disproportionately affected. The health problems resulting from our exposure to air pollution have a high cost to health for those who suffer from illness and premature death but also to our health services and to the economy. In the UK, those costs are estimated to be more than £20 billion every year.
For me, it is the human tragedies resulting from this air pollution that strike home. Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was nine years old when she died from an asthma attack. At her inquest, the coroner said that levels of nitrogen dioxide near Ella’s home exceeded World Health Organisation and European Union guidelines. He added:
“there was a recognised failure to reduce the level of nitrogen dioxide…which possibly contributed to her death.”
The coroner concluded that Ella died of an asthma attack contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution. He said that “legally binding targets” based on WHO guidelines are needed to reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK.
The public health response to air pollution is to protect people and the environment in ways that are socially inclusive and equitable globally and across multiple generations. The Government must ensure that that happens through the Bill. Implementing my new clause’s review would demonstrate whether the Bill will reduce exposure to hazardous air pollutants for people on low incomes as much as it will for those on more affluent incomes. It would signal the Government’s real commitment to protecting all our health and, importantly, it would signal to Ella’s family that the Government are listening.
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While I welcome the measures in the Bill to standardise the collection of plastic waste across all local authorities, I remain very concerned at the continued increase in the production of single-use plastic. Too much of this plastic ends up as litter around our country and around the world, harming human, animal and marine health. We must start to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we make, as some of the projections for its continued production are truly alarming.

We also need to massively improve our performance on littering and fly-tipping. Part of the area in my constituency that a group of us cleared up litter from on Saturday as part of the Great British Spring Clean was already covered in litter again by Sunday. As Lord Kirkham said in the Queen’s Speech debate,

“research suggests that we have few, if any, rivals for the unwanted title of ‘most littered country in the developed world’…It is soul-destroying and dangerous to humans and animals; it pollutes the very air we breathe; it depresses and saps a nation’s morale.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 May 2021; Vol. 812, c. 409.]

We need more covert cameras to catch the culprits and more prosecutions, with greater fines, to act as a significant deterrent. Parents and schools need to do their bit to deter the next generation from littering, which is not only antisocial but criminal.

I am told by South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth that we have, at times, continuous sewage discharge into the River Ouzel, which is a valuable wildlife corridor through Leighton Buzzard. There are very low numbers of freshwater shrimps in the river, and a chemical quality that was good in 2015 and 2016 was reported as a fail in 2019, according to the Environment Agency. We will therefore need to continue to strengthen legislation on continuous sewage discharges.

While I warmly welcome the world-leading parts of this Bill to mandate larger businesses not to source commodities from illegally deforested land, I am concerned about commodities sourced from legally deforested land, and rainforests in particular. I would like to see a certification scheme, similar to the Fairtrade one, so that we can all be reassured that the food we are eating has not come to us at the expense of virgin rainforests.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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No. 10 on the speakers’ list is not here, so we will go to Barry Gardiner.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab) [V]
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I am delighted to support new clauses 12 and 24, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). It is vital to preserve our most effective carbon sinks. The UK’s peatlands cover only 10% of our land, yet they store about 3 billion tonnes of carbon. Sadly, we have degraded our peatlands to such an extent that only 20% are now in their natural state. Heather and grass burning regulations currently only cover upland peat in areas designated as SSSIs and special areas of conservation, so new clause 24 extends the ban on rotational burning across all upland peat habitats.

Burning vegetation on our most important natural sinks not only hinders our ability to meet our emissions targets, but impedes our biodiversity and water quality ambitions. Currently, only 40% of our peat is covered by the existing regulation. I support new clause 24 to protect the full 355,000 hectares of upland peat in England.

I also support new clause 19, tabled by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Land conversion to agriculture for our high-meat, high-dairy diets is a key driver of biodiversity loss. It is responsible for 14% of global emissions and for 35 million tonnes of CO2 in the UK alone. Tackling deforestation in UK company supply chains is therefore essential, and the new clause would introduce a labelling scheme so that consumers can be assured that the food they are eating is not a driver either of biodiversity decline or the climate emergency.

The right hon. Member also spoke about new clause 12, arguing that we should permit fracking in the UK as an interim fuel as we transition to a fully renewable energy system. The problem is that the interim is too short and the return on investment demanded by the companies takes too long. That would mean that fracking companies left us with stranded assets. Some would say that is their problem, but when the Government have offered the fracking industry the most generous tax reliefs anywhere in the world and 75% capital allowances, it is not their problem, but that of taxpayers. So fracking in the UK should be prohibited and new clause 12 would do that.

The Government have now accepted the need for a statutory target to halt the decline of nature by 2030, and I welcome that, but the Minister must set out further details of the measures she proposes to deliver on the targets and how implementation will be reported to Parliament. The Minister will be aware of the work of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on biodiversity indicators. Indicators can be used to aid policy decisions, but the difficulty of setting appropriate baselines for reference and the ambiguity of biodiversity targets are compounded by the differing sensitivity of indicators to change over time. Indicators may be about biomass, endangered species or trends of common species. The ability to obfuscate about whether targets have been reached is too great, unless the Minister is specific about the indicators that will be adopted, what the baselines are, how they will be measured and what their implications are for policy development.

POST sets out how it is possible to pursue biodiversity targets that would have a positive outcome in the UK, but would offshore far greater negative biodiversity impacts to other countries. I ask the Minister to respond to the POST note on biodiversity indicators by setting out which DEFRA will use to achieve which ends and which targets it will use. Will she adopt a coherent global perspective to ensure that we achieve a reversal of the loss of biodiversity not just in the UK, but in the overseas territories, for whose biodiversity we are responsible under the convention, and with a globally net positive outcome?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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As there have been some withdrawals and some people have not turned up, I am unusually going to put the time limit up to five minutes.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
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That is incredibly kind, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am extremely grateful.

In case Members of the House have forgotten, I should declare my interest: my family are farmers in my home constituency of West Dorset. I have had the privilege of speaking in every Reading of this Bill in the House so far, and I am extremely grateful again to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), for the work that she has done and for how she continues to engage with Members from across the House on this very important Bill.

To start with, there are a couple of things that I would like to remind the Minister about, in terms of particular issues in West Dorset that are incredibly important. The A35 between Bridport and Lyme Regis, specifically at Chideock, has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is incredibly important to my constituents that we can take this Bill forward, and that the Minister can do all she can to make sure that we take those powers and act on dealing with that very difficult issue.

Single-use plastics have been a continual frustration of mine. I have spoken to constituents on many occasions, and I feel that, when we walk into a supermarket, we see shelves of plastic with food inside, rather than buying food alone. This Bill makes important provisions to deal with some of that. When we see that supermarkets such as Tesco had a 2.2% increase in single-use plastics between 2017 and 2019, it proves that this issue is incredibly difficult and that we need to ensure that we take the powers in this Bill and the subsequent Act to deal with it.

I also rise to speak in support of my new clause 28, which is on food labelling, and specifically with a focus on food miles. I am tabling this amendment today because I think it is incredibly important that there is complete transparency about the food that we buy. I know that a lot of my friends from Camden and Islington are great fans of avocados, but being of a farmer’s son, I prefer West Dorset sausage to avocados, and I would rather get that meat from just round the corner, rather than have avocados that have been flown thousands and thousands of miles across the world to be brought here. I am not here to speak in support of, or in opposition to, a particular meat agenda or a particular vegetarian or vegan agenda, but it is important that we see complete transparency about what we buy, so that we as individuals and the consumers of the nation can make an informed decision that prioritises the environmental needs that we all have.

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), at the conclusion of the Third Reading of the Agriculture Bill, very kindly offered that the Government would undertake a consultation into food labelling, and she said that that would commence this year. I would be very grateful indeed if her colleague, the Minister here today, was able to share some more details on that, because I am conscious that a substantial amount of time has passed since then. Once we have that labelling in place, I believe that we should then build on that. That labelling will indeed allow consumers to make the choice, along the same lines that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) outlined earlier, but going forward I want that labelling to be expanded. I also want it to clearly identify, for meat products, whether or not that meat has been humanely slaughtered, because that is increasingly important in this country. In concluding my remarks, I should be extremely grateful to hear from the Minister on these points, and to see exactly what the Government will do in respect of my proposed new clause.

16:45
Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
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I was elected on the back of the greenest manifesto Labour had ever proposed. We understood the scale of the climate crisis and set forward proposals to rapidly decarbonise our economy by protecting precious natural resources.

Representing the constituency of Cynon Valley, which lies in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons in south Wales, I, along with my constituents, take great pride in our natural environment, which we are determined to protect. As Members of Parliament we are in an extremely privileged position, and it is our duty to act on climate change for the sake of future generations. That is why I am disappointed with this Bill. Now that we have left the EU, it is essential that we set out in law certain environmental protections, but the measures in the Bill are not ambitious enough. Thankfully, others in the Chamber have proposed a more meaningful course of action. Many of my friends and colleagues have tabled amendments and new clauses that I support.

New clause 12 would end the deeply damaging practice of fracking, which can cause seismic activity, water contamination and ill health to local residents. The Welsh Government have blocked the process for more than five years, and I call on the UK Government to follow suit.

New clause 24 would extend the Government’s peat burning ban to cover all upland peat in England. Peat plays a crucial role in naturally trapping and storing carbon, and is among the most valuable ecosystems on earth. We need to be encouraging these habitats rather than allowing their destruction. The Welsh Government have again gone further, and last year laid out a five-year plan for peatland restoration. In the south Wales valleys, including in my constituency of Cynon Valley, 540 hectares of peatland have been reintroduced, which will not only create a vibrant habitat and trap carbon dioxide but reduce the growing risk of forest fires.

New clause 29 would go a long way towards addressing the impact of the Bill on public health and, in particular, air pollution, which is responsible for an estimated 64,000 premature deaths annually in the UK. People are starting to challenge this. I was proud to be involved with the brilliant local campaign in my constituency against waste incineration led by the Valleys For Tourism Not Trash campaign. I am absolutely delighted that that campaign was successful. I am also extremely pleased that the Welsh Government have now placed a moratorium on the building of such incinerators, and again call on the UK Government to follow suit.

Wales has recognised that we have a climate emergency that is an existential threat. The new Senedd now has a Minister for Climate Change. I am especially proud that we already have an ambitious national forest plan to enhance and create woodland habitat in a connected way across Wales. That will have a key role in replacing fossil fuels, storing carbon, and helping us to cope with the effects of a changing climate. I applaud the Welsh Government for committing to ban the use of single-use plastic. The UK Government must also give this topic the priority it needs if we are to save the planet. This requires a radical change of economic emphasis supporting the creation of at least 1 million new green jobs.

While there are many aspects of this Bill that I welcome, it does not go far enough or fast enough to ensure that future generations can enjoy the world and not suffer the consequences of our abuse and misuse of our resources.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Jacob Young has withdrawn, so we go to Geraint Davies.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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The world faces a catastrophic climate change crisis, yet this Bill falls very short, particularly at a time when we are the host of COP26 and should basically be taking on the leadership of the entire world. After all, global emissions are up by 60% since the Kyoto conference in 1990, while global temperatures are up by 1.2° C on the 1850 base rate and will hit the 1.5° level by 2030 on the current forecast, which will mean loss of land and major problems of migration, food loss and so on. Meanwhile, some 7 million people are dying every year from air pollution caused by fossil fuel extraction and use. I am therefore very pleased that new clause 29 attempts to link human health with environmental health. After all, on the latest figures, 64,000 people a year die from air pollution at a cost of £20 billion to our economy.

Of course, we know that air pollution was registered as the cause of death in the tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah. In the prevention of death report that followed, the coroner recommended that we should enforce in law the World Health Organisation air pollution limits. Following a meeting I had with the Environment Secretary and Ella’s mother, Rosamund, the Environment Secretary said that he would look again at that, and I hope he will when the Bill comes back from the Lords.

We know that air pollution is worse in poorer and more diverse communities, and according to the Max Planck Society, it increases the risk and level of death from coronavirus by around 12%. Other studies have been done by, for example, Harvard, showing that link. Dominic Cummings has just reminded us that coronavirus is airborne and that more emphasis needs to be put on that, but we also need to place more emphasis on air pollution. We know that the infection rate, as well as the death rate, is higher with air pollution. We therefore need legally binding WHO limits.

Let me turn to fracking. Methane emissions are 80 times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming. Given that and the fact that we know from satellite photography that fracking is responsible for 5% fugitive emissions—in other words, 5% of the methane is leaked—fracking is worse than coal for climate change and should simply be banned.

We need more trees, not just to absorb but to store carbon by including them in infrastructure and construction instead of concrete. If concrete were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. I am glad that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) said, Wales is taking a lead on this. In Wales, we have appointed a Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, who also represents Swansea West. She will push forward plans for a national forest and using wood in building. In contrast, in the UK, most of the hardwood is burned, causing not just climate change but harmful pollution. Hardwood should be pulped and put into insulation in construction instead.

Brexit means that we have more food miles. We need an initiative in COP26 to put carbon pricing into trade. China, for example, now generates 28% of global carbon emissions, with more emissions per head than Britain. We therefore need a joined-up approach, led by the Bill, that includes trade, transport, health, local government, planning and housing, not just a DEFRA-led effort, which will make little difference to the massive problems we face.

In summary, we need much more, much sooner from all our Departments. We need to improve the Bill dramatically to make a real difference and take global leadership.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con) [V]
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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a serving local councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association, which I will reference during my contribution.

There are many things to be welcomed in the Bill. The first, which is particularly important to my constituents, is that we will see some improvement in air quality as a result of the measures in it. It is clear that, in many respects, legislation is the start, not the finish of a process. Different Departments will issue a great deal of guidance to local authorities and other bodies to set out the mechanics of how the powers will be used and improvements brought about.

On air quality, I particularly highlight the need to ensure that local authorities and any others who are charged with responsibility for implementing the measures, achieving the targets and delivering the plans have meaningful powers that enable them to tackle sources of air pollution. In the context of London, where my constituency is—the capital, which has busy and congested roads—we need to ensure that local authorities have effective powers at their disposal to tackle issues such as vehicle idling, which contributes so much to air pollution, especially near schools, hospitals and other places where vulnerable people are placed at risk.

Let me move on to plastics. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), who has been very active in bringing issues around plastics to the Government’s attention throughout the debates on the Bill. It is particularly important that local authorities ensure that in the provisions for producer responsibility, sufficient funding finds its way to those who will then be processing the plastic for recycling. Producers in the UK pay very little by comparison with those in most other developed countries in Europe towards the cost of recycling their products, and therefore that cost is heavily subsidised, if not entirely met in many places, by council tax payers. So we should ask those who are making these products that are then polluting our environment to ensure that they are providing the facilities and resources required to make that recycling happen in reality.

On the wider impact on recycling systems, a number of Members welcomed consistency around local authority recycling practices. We need to recognise that the sale of the recyclable elements of household waste already makes a significant contribution to the cost of household waste collections; it affects all our constituents, although there are different systems in use around the country. We need to ensure that programmes such as deposit return schemes do not hit council tax payers by removing so much of the recyclable material from household waste collections that a significant increase in council tax is needed to subsidise that difference. We need to make sure that when that guidance is issued to local authorities it reflects the discharge of their responsibilities on the ground.

I very much support the point made by a number of Members that we need to look at the whole picture for all kinds of goods and services so that we recognise the wider environmental impact, including the impact that might happen elsewhere. We are simply kidding ourselves and our constituents if we are offshoring pollution rather than dealing with it directly by ensuring that what we do in our behaviour and the way we deliver services is reducing the environmental impact.

I finally want to touch on a couple of issues that impact in particular on the natural environment and biodiversity. I very much welcome the work my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) has done in strengthening and making more robust the policy on sewage discharge. The River Colne, a beauty spot that abuts my constituency and is very popular with my constituents, is significantly affected by sewage discharge. Again, we need to ensure that there are effective measures that make a substantial difference.

On biodiversity net gain, I simply make a request to Ministers that when the guidance is issued about how that will be managed through the planning process, we ensure as far as possible that biodiversity gain through planning is maintained locally, so that the local communities that see the impact of the developments in their area also see the benefit of the biodiversity gain envisaged through the planning system.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley (North East Derbyshire) (Con)
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I rise to speak on fracking, an issue close to my constituents’ hearts and mine, and to reject clearly the unnecessary and transparently political new clause 12. Since I was elected to this place in 2017, I have spoken out against fracking, held debates, proposed Bills, submitted questions, chaired an all-party group, spoken at planning committees and hearings and appeals against QCs, and generally made a nuisance of myself to the Government Front Bench about fracking, because I wanted it stopped at Marsh Lane and in North East Derbyshire, and I make no apologies for that. I was delighted when the Government put a moratorium on fracking, and I am glad to have played a very small role in getting us to that place.

Yet suddenly, a year and a half after the moratorium was imposed, we have a burning issue—a problem so acute that a series of straw men have been wheeled out from the Opposition Benches over the course of this debate, creating the need to ban something that is effectively dead already. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), who is not in her place at present, said we only have empty words. Well, empty words have a funny way of stopping any fracking happening since that moratorium in late 2017, and of ensuring that licences in her own county were partially handed back by the operator of the fracking area.

Why is it that 49 Labour MPs have suddenly decided that there is new urgency to legislate on this matter? There is not. We know there is no urgency, precisely because those 49 Labour MPs have shown almost zero interest in that issue in recent times. Forty-three of those 49 were in Parliament between 2017 and 2019. Where were those hon. Members when the all-party parliamentary group on fracking, which I chaired, talked about all these issues in extraordinary detail?

17:00
Where were any of those hon. Members in the last debate held in this place on fracking, on 28 September 2020, called by a Conservative, when the Minister said that
“fracking will not be taken forward in England”
and that we should
“accept victory”?—[Official Report, 28 September 2020; Vol. 681, c. 133-34.]
How have they been using this place since the moratorium announcement in late 2017, if they think it is so deficient, and is now so clearly burnt in the depths of their souls? I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that any of those 49 people have spoken about fracking in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall since that point.
Let us be clear about what the amendment is. It is not a thoughtful, careful proposal that seeks to resolve an urgent issue. It does not solve a burning problem that burns up and down the land. The placards are not waving high for Government intervention. Nor does it necessarily, technically, fix the problem before us. The definition put forward by the Opposition would not have stopped any of the three fracks that have occurred since 2011.
Those of us who were involved in the campaign in the previous Parliament do not need the Labour Front Bench trying to hijack and politicise the issue once again, when it has been solved. We do not need the pretence that those who signed the amendment actually care about the issue, when they were nowhere to be seen when it mattered, when we were actually trying to stop this industry. It is almost as though, when the Opposition run out of amendments to table, they just pull out an old favourite and see which Bill they can attach it to.
Fracking is over. The battle is won. The industry has packed up. It is done. And I will not support an amendment that pretends otherwise, to a Bill that has nothing to do with energy, which will cause unnecessary worry to constituents who have been worried about it for many years, and which is clearly a shoddy attempt to play political games.
The shadow Minister opened her remarks by saying that she hoped to make this issue less party political. Great. Stop playing political games. Reject the amendment.
Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind) [V]
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With the highest-ever temperatures recorded in the Arctic circle, and with just 3% of the world’s ecosystems remaining intact, we cannot delay taking radical action to save our planet and future generations, yet this Environment Bill does not go nearly far enough to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must raise our ambition to forge a new social settlement, a green new deal, to rebuild the country with a more just and sustainable economy. We must fight for a society in which public health always, always comes before private profit, and it must be the big polluters and corporate giants who bear the costs, not ordinary people. It is vital that those responsible for climate chaos—the fossil-fuel companies and big polluters—are held responsible for their actions.

Fracking is bad for people and the environment; therefore we must ban it. It is vital that the protection of all workers and communities is guaranteed during the transition to a carbon-free, renewable-energies future. As we rebuild our economy from the ruins of a pandemic, it is possible for the Government to create 1 million green jobs with a programme of investment in renewable energy, flood defences and a resilient health and care service.

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the need for communities like Leicester to have access to clean air, green spaces, streets for people and interconnectivity. That is why we must also introduce full-fibre broadband free at the point of use, a mass house insulation programme, and a green, integrated public transport system.

Air pollution has reached dangerous levels under this Government, with 60% of people in England now breathing illegally poor air. Many of my constituents have contacted me regarding the need for a stronger environmental Bill for clean air in Leicester. The Government must enshrine the World Health Organisation’s guideline for damaging particulates known as PM2.5 in law via the Environment Bill. Currently the Bill falls short and merely commits to setting a new, unspecified target by 2022. Our current legal limit for PM2.5 is twice as high as the World Health Organisation recommends. I urge the Government to adopt a clear legal commitment to reduce these particulates, which, as we know, contributed to more than 4 million deaths in 2016.

Without much more ambitious Government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. This will cause unmanageable ecological disruption and could cost millions of lives—most sharply in countries of the global south, which have contributed the least to climate change. To ensure a global green new deal, our Government must strongly consider the cancellation of global south debt to enable investment in public health. The UK must also end international fossil fuel finance and rapidly step up financial support for a just global energy transition.

The upcoming COP26 in Glasgow provides a crucial opportunity to reset our relationship to climate justice, yet the conference risks excluding representatives from countries that are most at risk from climate breakdown. Every possible step must be taken to ensure that COP26 is accessible for all and that it is a turning point for more radical climate action. While we recover from the pandemic, a green ambition must be hard-wired into everything we do as we rebuild our economy. To achieve this, the Government must raise their ambitions, seriously rewrite the Environment Bill, work with the Opposition and begin to act on the scale that the climate crisis demands.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 17, 19, 20 and 21 on the list have withdrawn, so we go straight to the final speaker from the Back Benches: Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is not often that four speakers ahead of me drop out; does that mean that I have 20 minutes to speak? I know the answer to that—you don’t have to tell me.

I am really pleased to speak on a matter of such importance. We have to get this right from the outset. I welcome the commitment of the Minister and the Government to the Bill. I was extremely pleased to see enhanced measures in the Queen’s Speech, as anything that we can do to enhance the impact of the Bill is welcome.

We have a responsibility to the generations that follow to be the gatekeepers—to instil in them a passion for our environment and a duty to be the best we can, even if it means that life is a little bit tougher. Whether our rubbish sorting takes longer, whether we spend longer at the recycling centre or whether we must leave goods to a local charity shop, we must all play our role. I remember very well when my council went into recycling and many people objected to it—probably just for the sake of objecting—but today every one of us energetically and physically recycles all the products in our house: everything that should be, in the blue bin; glass in the glass bin; the grey bin for the ordinary stuff that we had before; and the brown bin for the stuff that goes elsewhere.

I want to ask two questions. The Government’s role is to provide a Bill that enforces statutory obligations and bodies, and I support them in that aim. I was contacted by the Law Society, which has raised some concerns in reference to clause 22 that I wish to outline. It says that the appointments process for the chair and non-executive members should be strengthened so that the Secretary of State does not have sole authority over appointments. The Law Society welcomes the proposed OEP, which must play a central role in ensuring that institutions and organisations, including Government Departments, meet their environmental responsibilities. In order for the OEP to be effective in fulfilling this role, it is essential that it is fully independent from the Government.

The Government have stated that they intend the OEP to be an independent authority that is capable of holding the Government to account. If that is the case, it is exactly what the Law Society wishes to see; however, the Law Society is concerned that certain provisions for the OEP in the Bill could impinge on its independence and potentially undermine its ability to carry out its functions effectively. Will the Minister say whether issue has been addressed to the Law Society’s satisfaction?

Next I wish to speak about an issue that has not come up yet—well, it has come up in respect of the introduction, but my suggestion has not. I do not expect the Minister to endorse my request right away. It is an unusual request but one in respect of which my local council back home has brought in a pilot scheme, and I feel it is important. The carrier bag scheme run by the Government here and all the regional Governments was exceptional and it has done great stuff. It brought in a revenue fund that could then be used for different projects across the whole area.

I have a genuine request to make, on behalf of constituents who have spoken to me, for a scheme for the use of single-use nappies. I bring this request forward because of the figures, which show that around 3 billion single-use nappies are thrown away annually in the UK, costing local authorities some £60 million per year. I have three grandchildren under the age of two, so perhaps my two daughters-in-law are in that category. As we know, the vast amounts of raw materials used for production and disposal means that the life-cycle of a nappy can generate as much CO2 as 15,000 plastic bags and around half a tree in fluff pulp per child.

I bring this request forward because reusable nappies use 98% fewer raw materials and generate 99% less waste. They deliver savings of more than £1,000 for parents. My local council back home, Ards and North Down Borough Council, brought in a pilot scheme. Is it possible that by providing starter packs to parents, we may be able to encourage those who are able to do so to take up this way of helping the environment? We could use this legislation to encourage the Government, the regional Governments and others to provide the funding packages to encourage the use of reusable nappies for those who want to do it but do not know how and when to start that journey. It might not be something that the Minister can do today, but perhaps she can give us some encouragement that it might happen.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I again thank all Members who tabled amendments and who contributed to this afternoon’s debate, demonstrating yet again the strength of feeling and the desire to improve and enhance the environment through this landmark Environment Bill. I can only say that I was slightly disappointed that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), did not quite seem to grasp the Bill’s intricacies, which together will provide such a framework to protect the environment, but I know, because she was a great Committee member, that in her heart of hearts she really does support the Bill.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who raised many issues that which will be tackled in the Bill, not least through the electronic tracking of waste. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) welcomes the nature target that we have just announced and the measures on biodiversity net gain, all of which will help to achieve the things he is so proud of and pushing for. I thank the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) for her comments. I assure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that we are indeed exploring reusable nappies. I certainly used them for one of my children and we are looking at their use, so I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion.

Let me turn to new clause 12, on shale gas extraction. The Government set out their position in full via a written statement to the House on 4 December 2019. The Government will take a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consent. That sends a clear message to the sector and to local communities that, on current evidence, fracking will not be taken forward in England. The moratorium will be maintained unless compelling new evidence is provided that addresses the concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity. Such evidence has yet to be presented and the moratorium remains. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) who, with all his knowledge, spoke with such authority on the subject. I could not have put the case better myself. He stressed what a game the Opposition were playing in tabling the new clause.

On new clause 19, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and new clause 28, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), although we are sympathetic to the principles of the sustainability of labelling, existing voluntary schemes already provide consistent and recognised tools that consumers can use to reduce their environmental impact when purchasing food.

However, I would like to give assurances that we are working with industry and the Competition and Markets Authority on plans to produce guidance to businesses on how best to improve their transparency in relation to claims about environmental impact. We will also investigate opportunities to review other aspects of food labelling when we have the outcomes of Henry Dimbleby’s independent review of the food system in the early summer and then the food strategy White Paper from the Government within six months.

17:15
New clause 24 deals with the burning of peat. We have committed to exploring the environmental and economic case for extending peat protections further in the England peat action plan, which was published just last week. In that plan, we committed to immediately fund 35,000 hectares of peatland restoration by 2025 and to consult on the banning of horticultural peat. We are making great progress on that and working with industry. On new clause 29, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the Government remain committed to transparency and this Bill introduces a robust framework of monitoring, planning and reporting on the impact of the Bill’s measures. In Committee, I talked over and over again about the procedures we have in place in the Bill for all that statutory cycle of monitoring, planning and reporting, and the requirement to set out interim environmental targets up to five-yearly. The Government will be required to report extensively on environmental progress.
To conclude, I wish to thank all Members who have tabled amendments and contributed to this debate. They have raised so many points and we have heard about so many passions, be it brown long-eared bats, hedgehogs, kestrels, soil, trees or peat. The vociferous and broad support across the House for the environmental agenda is wonderful to see. Harnessing this energy will drive forward our actions on the environment, enabled by the measures in this landmark Bill. I was particularly thrilled by the recent announcement setting out our actions for nature recovery, including new legally binding targets to halt nature’s decline and this forthcoming Green Paper. I believe that this legislation will be pivotal in giving us the paradigm shift we need to bring back species and habitats from the brink, to restore our depleted natural environment, to see sparkling clean waters and bathing waters we can all use and enjoy, and to ensure that UK companies play no part in illegally deforesting the lungs of the world. We will also deliver the clean air that we all deserve. I am so proud to be part of this Bill, to be part of the DEFRA team and the amazing Bill team, and to have worked with everyone across the House, including the environment Committee, to bring forward this Bill. I absolutely commend it to the House.
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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This has been an important debate, and I am grateful to all colleagues who have shared their thoughts on how we can make this Bill the strong and comprehensive piece of legislation that our environment is crying out for. As I indicated in my opening remarks, at every stage of this Bill Labour has proposed fair amendments. Disappointingly, all of them were defeated by this Minister and her Back-Bench colleagues. Not one of the amendments was partisan and not one was done to play games, but all were tabled to make this Bill fit for purpose. Today, new clauses 12 and 24 would do just that. I am also grateful to the many colleagues who put their names to our new clauses, and I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for her passionate speech and for her new clause 29, which has the support of those on these Benches. I support her call on the Government to put the WHO guidelines into the Bill. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and give a big, non-partisan thank you to the indefatigable hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). At this point, I wish gently to respond to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who claimed that the UK was not first to declare a climate emergency. I respectfully remind her that this Parliament was the first to declare a climate emergency, in May 2019. I should remember that, as I made my maiden speech during that debate, and let us not forget that that debate was led by Labour Members.

In moving new clauses 24 and 12, Labour has attempted to give effect to the promises made by Conservative Ministers, who are pretty good at talk, which is great, but we on the Labour Benches prefer to see action rather than words. I have heard what the Minister said—I listened to her very carefully—and I thank her for her comments, but, once again, I am disappointed. Sadly, normal service has been maintained. We have a Secretary of State who did not want to reach out and work with us to make this Bill fit for purpose.

New clause 12 is actually helpful to the Government. I know that fracking was a glaring omission, but we are trying to make sure that their forgetfulness does not result in bad policy. I especially wish to mention the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) for his passionate audition for ministerial office, but I remind him that the definition of “moratorium” is a temporary ban. If he wants to ban fracking for ever more, he should vote with us on our amendment.

I hope that the Minister will take new clause 12 in the spirit in which it was intended and accept it as an easy way of making this Bill better. I will be pushing both new clause 12 and new clause 24 to a vote. They are important issues and will fill glaring holes in this Bill.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

17:21

Division 17

Ayes: 216


Labour: 195
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1
Conservative: 1

Noes: 357


Conservative: 349
Democratic Unionist Party: 8

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published below.
New Clause 24
Prohibition on burning of peat in upland areas
(1) A person must not burn specified vegetation on land in England which is
within an upland area on peat.
(2) In this section—
“specified vegetation” means heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse or vaccinium, and
“upland area” means all the land shown coloured pink on the map marked as “Map of Upland Area in England” held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but does not include the land coloured pink in the Isles of Scilly(a).” —(Ruth Jones.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, that the clause be read a Second time.
17:31

Division 18

Ayes: 208


Labour: 193
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 360


Conservative: 352
Democratic Unionist Party: 8

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Third Reading.
Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
17:38
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 the Third time.

Of course, for this Bill, it is the third time in more ways than one. Hon. Members will recall that a similar Bill was introduced in the last Parliament, and this Bill itself started in the last Session. I thank right hon. and hon. Members across the House, particularly the members of the Public Bill Committee for their scrutiny and all those involved in the previous iteration of the Bill during the last Parliament. I pay special tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), for her tireless work on the Bill, and to all the DEFRA officials for all the work they put in to get such a significant piece of legislation to this point. It is a large and complex piece of legislation, and a huge amount of work has gone into getting its provisions right.

Members in all parts of the House agree that the decline of our natural environment has persisted for too long. As we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic, we must turn our attention to recovery. We must build back greener. The pandemic has reminded us all of the difference that nature makes to our lives. 

After G7 nations gather in Cornwall next month, the wider international community will attend the convention on biological diversity in Kunming in October, before the UK, as co-president, hosts the world at COP26 on climate change in November. This is a very important year for the environment internationally, and this landmark Environment Bill will deliver on our manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.

As I announced last week, the Government intend to amend the Bill in the other place to include a new, historic, legally binding target on species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. This is a pioneering measure that will be the net zero equivalent for nature, spurring action on the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis. Our forthcoming Green Paper will also explore how we might deliver our world-leading domestic ambitions for nature, including how we improve the status of native species, such as the water vole and the red squirrel, and protect 30% of our land by 2030.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) has ensured that the plight of the hedgehog has been greatly debated during the passage of the Bill, and the Green Paper that we plan later this year will also explore how we might better protect other species currently not protected under the habitats regulations, including the hedgehog. In a similar vein, I have asked my noble Friend Lord Benyon to chair a small working group, together with Tony Juniper, Christopher Katkowski, QC, and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane. The group will explore how our approach to conservation and habitat assessment might be improved so that we can deliver nature’s recovery and hit the ambitious targets that we are setting.

Our world-leading targets will be supported by provisions in the Bill and our new England trees and peat action plans to protect existing trees and expand woodland coverage. Our aim is to treble woodland creation rates by the end of this Parliament and to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025. Although we treasure our many species and ecosystems for their own sake and their intrinsic value, we must remember that they also provide vital services from which people benefit, such as carbon storage and pollination. As shown in the Dasgupta review, protecting and enhancing our natural assets and the biodiversity that underpins them is crucial to achieving a sustainable, resilient economy.

The Bill takes important strides in tackling air, water and waste pollution. Cleaner air from new, legally binding targets will drive action to tackle harmful air pollution across the country. Better management of our water for new drainage and sewage management plans will improve water quality in our rivers and lakes. The Bill will also give us powers to tackle storm overflows, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for his efforts on that particular area of policy. We therefore intend to table an amendment in the other place requiring Government to publish plans to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022, and for water companies and the Environment Agency to publish storm overflow operations data on an annual basis.

We are already consulting on measures to prevent waste and tackle the scourge of plastic ending up in our oceans. The extended producer responsibility scheme, which will make producers of packaging responsible for the cost of disposal, will incentivise better product design from the outset. New powers will allow us to place charges on single-use plastics, reducing their persistence in our natural environment. All of this, of course, will be underpinned by our new system of environmental governance. The Bill creates the new, independent Office for Environmental Protection to hold all public authorities to account on reaching these important goals. Work to establish the OEP is already well under way under the chairmanship of Dame Glenys Stacey and I commend the work that she has done to date.



In conclusion, I am pleased to see this Bill reach its Third Reading after a couple of attempts in previous Sessions and during the last Parliament. I am grateful for the many contributions from Members of all parties today. I believe that these provisions will ensure that this generation leaves our environment in a better state than we found it, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

16:09
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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Well, here we are: the Environment Bill has finally reached Third Reading, and we all know that it has taken some time. Talking about timings, I want to wish the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), a very happy 65th birthday, although he is not in his place, because he is a tenacious campaigner, and I have enjoyed working with him on this Bill in recent months.

The last year and a half or thereabouts since this Bill received its Second Reading in this House has been one like no other. With that in mind, I want to start by acknowledging the brilliant hard work of the staff of this House, notably the Clerks, Sarah and Joanna, and of course the staff in the parliamentary offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard)—thank you, Kieran and Rob; of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner)—thank you, Rafi; of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake)—thank you, Minesh and Sam; and of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead)—thanks to Holly and Bryn. Obviously, I also thank those of my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), and of course I must not forget my own team in Newport West—thank you very much, Adam. It has not been easy taking a major piece of legislation through the House while working from home, and our staff have been brilliant. It is important to say thank you to them because, let us be honest, where would we be without them?

This Bill creates the Office for Environmental Protection, but fails to give it the powers it needs. It creates an improvement plan, but does not go far enough. It fails, among other things, to tackle fracking, deliver a proper tree strategy and deliver proper structured chemical regulation. Labour’s amendments in Committee and on Report sought to build on the limited foundation set by the Conservative party and make this Bill properly fit for purpose. It is all very well and good to set out the problem, but if we do not match that with strong and comprehensive plans, what is the point?

I remain saddened that Conservative Members voted against Labour’s amendments at every opportunity they had in Committee and on Report, but all is not yet lost—we should not worry. I feel sure, as the Bill moves to the other place, that my noble Friends Baroness Jones of Whitchurch and Baroness Hayman of Ullock will take it by the horns and make it the strong and purposeful Bill the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), could have made it here in this House.

This is not about politics. I should say to the House that the Government’s approach to this Bill sits at the door of the Secretary of State. I used to say that the Environment Bill was missing in action, but the Secretary of State was missing in action, so I am very glad he has turned up safe and sound, and I am very grateful to him for turning up. However, I thank the Minister for her personal commitment and hard work. She takes these issues very seriously, and I have enjoyed working with her. I just feel sorry that her colleagues will not let her work with us in the way I suspect she would like to.

I am grateful to the many stakeholders such as Ruth Chambers from the Green Alliance, Matt Browne from the Wildlife and Countryside Link, Jo Blackman from Global Witness, Chloe Alexander from the CHEM Trust and Andrea Lee from ClientEarth, to name just a few, for their hard work and tenacity over the last year and a bit.

The pandemic, our departure from the European Union and a general election were just some of the hurdles we have had to get over in recent months, and we have done our bit. Many in this House have raised important arguments in recent weeks and months, and will continue to do so as this Bill works its way through the other place before coming back to us. I urge the Secretary of State to do whatever he can to make sure we get the Bill back sooner rather than later. We do not have time to waste. The climate crisis worsens each day, and real action is necessary now. I urge the Secretary of State to work with us and all the Members in this House when the Bill comes back and to do whatever is required to tackle the climate and ecological emergency once and for all.

17:49
John Redwood Portrait John Redwood [V]
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I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome cleaner air and cleaner water, and I wish the Bill well as it completes its passage. I hope that we will be nicer to nature and better to the other species we share our islands with.

I would like briefly to make a few points to the Secretary of State and the ministerial team, who have worked hard to get this far. The first point is on water. I urge them to work with the water industry and the regulators to put in more reservoir capacity. We have had many homes and new families coming into my area of Wokingham and West Berkshire, but there has been no increase in potential water supply. Nationwide, we still have a rising population, and they will need good provision of clean water.

There are two great natural advantages of having more reservoir capacity. First, when we have long periods of excessive rainfall—we seem to be having one at the moment—and there is the danger of the rivers overtopping and causing flood damage, we need more good places to park the water, and we could then recharge the extra reservoir capacity. Secondly, were we once again to have one of those long, hot summers with long dry spells, as we have had from time to time in the past, we would be able to draw down in more comfort, knowing that we had adequate reservoir capacity, without having to run the streams and rivers too low or draw excessively on the natural aquifers.

On Report, I talked about the excellent news that there will be many more trees and urged Ministers to ensure that they help to build a much bigger forestry and timber industry. We import far too much and need to replace it with home production and fewer wood miles. I also urge the Secretary of State to bring forward those great schemes to promote more food production here at home. We lost too much market share, particularly in areas such as vegetables and fruit, in our CAP days. I do not think it is morally right to be drawing so much of that food from a country such as Spain, which is parched and in great difficulties eking out its inadequate water supplies, when we have plenty of water at home and could do so much more to promote a good domestic industry, cutting the food miles and giving confidence in the environmental benefits of having the home product.

I would also like to draw Ministers’ attention to the unresolved business that they have promised to work on as we complete this piece of legislation: the possible conflict between the Office for Environmental Protection and the Climate Change Committee. I urge Ministers to recognise that they need to supervise both bodies and give them clear public guidance on their remits. The Government will need to bring forward that piece of work to explain what the relative roles of the two are and how the different sets of targets—the natural UK targets on the one hand and the climate change targets on the other—will knit together and be compatible, rather than cause tensions.

For example, we need to know what the thinking is about the pace of carbon dioxide reduction and transition and how that impacts on our natural landscape, because if we are going to accelerate the move from electric vehicles or gas boilers or both, there will need to be massive investment. That investment includes the production of a lot of steel, glass and batteries. Mining activity somewhere is required to produce those raw materials and fashion them into something that can then be part of an electric product. We need to know whether we will be doing any of that in the UK, or whether the idea is that we should import much of it because we do not wish to husband our own natural resources for this purpose. If we are going to import, we should properly account for it, because it is not helping the planet if we say, “Well, we’re not putting the mine here or burning the coal to smart the steel here,” but it is happening somewhere else—indeed, it may be happening somewhere else where environmental concerns are taken much less seriously and the environmental damage of producing that product is far greater than if we had done it at home.

I hope that more work will be published on the pace and cost of transition. Again, the Bill seems to point us more in the direction of repair, maintenance, recycling and reuse, and not wanting a throwaway society but reckoning that, if we make good things, they could last for rather longer. How is that reconciled with the idea that we want a rapid transition to get rid of our existing fleet of petrol and diesel vehicles and to rip out all our gas boilers and solid fuel heating systems? Has there been proper carbon accounting on all that, and how is that reconciled with the very good aim in this Bill that we must consider the impact on our earth and the amount that we take out of our earth in order to fashion the things we may need?

There is a lot of work ahead for Ministers, who have already been very busy. As others have said, the Bill is only the first step, and it will then need to be fashioned into popular products and feasible programmes: things that business will want to collaborate with and things that people will want to do. There is an educational process involved. We also need to ensure that we know what the costs are and that they are realistic, that they are phased and that they fall fairly. I would still like to hear more from the Government on the total cost of all this work, because we need to ensure that it is realistic, that it does not get in the way of levelling up and greater prosperity, and that it reinforces our prime agenda, which is the health and welfare of the British people.

17:55
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very briefly, I would like to thank DEFRA officials and particularly the Clerks on the Committee for their help during the progress of the Bill. It has threatened to rival “The Mousetrap” for longevity, and their staying power was quite something in the face of that. The ministerial team who managed to take so long over the thing do not get quite so much gratitude, though. I would also like to thank my researchers, Calum and Josh, whose assistance has been invaluable, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson), who participated alongside me in the Environment Bill Committee.

It is worth stating again that this legislation is a missed opportunity, and it will have to be revisited again and again in the near future to add in the bits that are so clearly missing. Despite the Minister’s brave efforts over the many months to defend it, the Bill is not much at all. Although it will pass today, only crumbs are being proffered. I look forward in my capacity as environment and COP26 spokesperson for the SNP to continuing to challenge the Government to ensure that they match their warm words with firm actions that will make a real difference, particularly in the year that the UK hosts COP26. Our world’s future deserves nothing less.

17:57
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Almost two years ago to the day, Parliament declared a climate emergency. Two years ago! The last four years were the hottest on record, one in seven native British species are now at risk of extinction and tree planting targets are missed by 50%. Some 60% of people in England are now breathing illegally poor air, and 44% of species have been in decline over the last 10 years. We could all go on; we all know what the situation is. Is this Bill up to it? I do not think it is, and I am disappointed by that.

People in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton are very interested in the environment and in making a difference. They have joined an environment commission that I have set up, and they are taking action in local communities and also globally. I also think of the other communities around the world that are affected by the decisions we are making today, including the community in Bangladesh that I visited when I worked for WaterAid. We had to get there by plane—there were no roads to get there—and I sat around with a group of women whose whole area had been completely decimated and become saline. They could not grow any crops and they had to walk miles and miles to get fresh water. They were stuck there, having been really decimated by climate change, and we face that here. We have a responsibility to that community as well as to all our communities across the country.

So here we are, 482 days after the Bill was first introduced to Parliament, with a Bill that still fails adequately to address this climate emergency. It fails to guarantee no regression from the environmental measures that were in place when we were members of the European Union. I was so disappointed that the Government could not agree to that when we were in Committee. We could have drawn a line and said, “That’s our baseline; we’re going to get better from there.” Instead, the Government did not agree even to measure that.

The Government have failed to put World Health Organisation air quality targets into the Bill. The Bill fails to reduce disposable nappy use, and I am glad I share an interest in that with other Members of the House. It fails to make enough meaningful change. It fails on marine conservation and ocean preservation. It fails on green homes. Only a few weeks ago, the Government scrapped the green homes grant, yet they are bringing in an Environment Bill.

The Bill fails on trees and bees—we all love bees; I know the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), loves the bees, as do many of my constituents. There is no detailed plan to meet net zero carbon emissions targets. The starting point should have been how we work to get up to there.

Above all, the Bill fails on strong enforcement. I think that is its weakest point. It delivers an Office for Environmental Protection with no teeth: it is not independent, it is resistant to concrete protections and it has a reduced remit. During the Bill’s passage, the Government reduced the remit of the watchdog, guardian and enforcer of the Bill. The Bill leaves our environment exposed to be used as a bargaining chip in trade agreements. It delivers legally binding targets that will not bite for two decades and that the Secretary of State has near complete discretion to change at any time. Marking our own homework will not lead to the change we need.

The Government, I am afraid, are ducking their responsibilities with the Bill. They have refused to listen to me, very learned and expert colleagues or the many civil society organisations that have fed in and pointed out time and again where the Bill needs to improve. Yet again, the Government have failed to agree to amendments today.

We are living in an imminent and real climate and environmental crisis. We will only solve it by working together, by listening to all voices and by all agreeing that we need the prize of climate change. We can only do that together, but my experience on the Environment Bill Committee confirmed to me that the Government have no interest in that. Amendment after amendment was put forward, all of which would have hugely strengthened the Bill, and the Government did not want to know. Any headlines today about changes of mind the Government may have had on amendments would have been immediately forgotten, because another event was going on this morning that has taken all the headlines, but it could have been done. We now have to hope that the other place will take up the mantle and agree to many of the excellent amendments and changes that we have proposed to the Bill.

The Government’s intransigence will cost future generations dear, but what are the next steps? It must be a global Bill. We must have joined-up Government. It cannot just be this small pot of legislation. For example, the G7 negotiations over vaccines must work to ensure that developing countries come to COP26 and that the whole process works. It has to join up through the year. We have to stop the cuts to international climate aid to countries around the world which undermine efforts we might take here to reduce our carbon emissions, and this must not be undermined by the upcoming planning legislation.

To summarise, this Bill will go down as a historic missed opportunity. I welcome the concessions that have been made, but they have taken too long and are piecemeal measures compared with the enormity of what is required to tackle the climate emergency. My constituents and I hope to be proved wrong. I hope that the Office for Environmental Protection gets some teeth from somewhere and does make a change, and that we see targets that are really achieved, but at the moment I am feeling, along with my constituents, very disappointed.

00:05
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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I put on record my thanks and pay tribute to the officials and Clerks who have been involved throughout this whole lengthy process. I will not be churlish; I will say thanks to the Ministers as well. Whether we agree with everything in the Bill or not, it is a tough job to pilot a Bill, particularly over the period of time we have been discussing it in this place.

I suspect, as the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) said, that this is not the last we will hear of this, because I think our friends in the other place may have a thing or two to say about the Bill and seek to strengthen what, in principle at least, is not a bad Bill. There are plenty of things in it where there is great consensus and where we can agree. I shall focus on three areas where I do not agree so much. In particular, I will focus on my concerns about where the Bill is good in theory, but may be very weak in practice. Those concerns relate to regulation, the delivery of environmental goods through land management, and our ability to control and protect local environments.

First, on regulation, I am greatly concerned that the Office for Environmental Protection looks to be a relatively weak watchdog with few teeth and whose key figures are to be directly appointed by the Government. It will be funded by and not sufficiently independent from Government. It will therefore always be considered to be speaking with some level of restriction. The power, independence and penalties available to it do not look anything like as strong as what we had before we left the European Union. We could have easily been able to match that level of independence and robustness. The protections and firewalls have not been put in, so I fear very much that we will have perhaps great policies, poorly regulated.

Nothing highlights that more than the current discussion we are having about the potential Australian trade deal. If we are deeply committed to protecting almost uniquely high-level British animal welfare and environmental standards, how can we go ahead and do a deal with a country with significantly lower environmental and animal welfare standards? That surely undermines our ability to enact those standards throughout the whole United Kingdom and undermines British farming. British farming is the best in the world. We say that a lot, don’t we? It is important to understand why it is the best in the world. It is the best because of the regulation, but it is the best mostly because of our culture of the family farm and the unit of the family farm, which means we have close husbandry—almost hefted human beings, never mind hefted Herdwicks.

That is of massive importance to my second area of concern. Poor protections that would allow a trade deal with Australia could be a precedent for trade deals with other countries that undercut the quality of British produce and undermine British farmers. The concern is about not just weak regulation and a lack of independence, rigour and sanctions in that regulation, but the delivery of environmental goods through land management. The amendment in my name that I spoke to earlier is about ensuring that environmental land management schemes include significant and adequate rewards for maintaining the aesthetics and the beauty, as well as the biodiversity, of our landscape. That is crucial, but so far it is missing. Mr Deputy Speaker, I worry about your constituency, mine and many like them. They are absolutely natural environments, but they are managed, crafted landscapes that have been worked by our farmers over centuries. They are as beautiful as they are because they are managed. If we have a situation where they are not rewarded through the new scheme directly for the preservation of those landscapes, the risk to the world heritage site status of the Lake District is there, the risk to our tourism economy is there and the risk to biodiversity is there.

I would add that the Government’s movement towards ELM, which in theory we are all in favour of, is potentially risky because they are insisting on phasing out the basic payment scheme much more quickly than they are going to bring in ELM. That will leave upland farmers, for example, losing half their income in the next few years. Many of them will leave the industry. Indeed, the Government wish to facilitate them leaving the industry through the retirement package they announced last week, but they have no plans to bring anybody new and young into the industry to replace them. As they preside over the closure of Newton Rigg College in Penrith, for example, where are we getting our young farmers from to deliver these environmental goods? All the best environmental policies in the world are meaningless if we do not have the hands to enact them. It is like the England manager Gareth Southgate drawing a fantastic strategy in the dressing room and then having no players on the pitch. The danger is that the Environment Bill may be a great strategy, but with no players on the pitch we will not score any goals.

My third and final concern is that, when we look at the Government’s plan for local nature resource strategies, it is a good plan and it is a weak plan. There is no mechanism to ensure that those strategies have any impact on decision making locally. That is of particular relevance, given the Government’s plans to undermine planning, democracy and local communities, and to surrender the local environment to developers without proper accountability. In a community such as mine that depends so much on the beauty of our environment, that is a danger. The average number of homes built in a new development is usually fewer than 50 and the Government are looking to give developers the opportunity to do pretty much what they like up to a development of that size.

Put together, all those things draw a picture of a Bill that is broadly well-intentioned and does a lot of good, but, when it comes down to it, it does not provide itself with the mechanisms to actually deliver what it says in the first place. Good in principle—weak in practice.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.