All 4 Bob Seely contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 26th Jan 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

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

Report stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Wed 20th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

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

Consideration of Lords message & Consideration of Lords message

Environment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 26 January 2021 - (26 Jan 2021)
Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The world has changed immeasurably in the year since the Bill’s First Reading. In the last 12 months covid-19 has devastated lives, torn through communities and paralysed economies across the globe. The pandemic has taken so much: lives, of course, but also hugs, handshakes, kisses, birthdays, Christmas and Eid. It has given, too: mental health issues, domestic violence and poverty. However, during the height of the pandemic the lockdown also gave us much lower emissions and much better air quality. Anecdotal evidence suggests, somewhat ironically, that those who suffer from certain respiratory illnesses fared much better during the first lockdown. That gives us a brief window into a post-pandemic future if we manage to take a hold of it. We need to create long-term structural change, underpinned by robust legislation.

In my city of Leeds, a person is 20 times more likely to die from air pollution than in a car accident—20 times. According to the Royal College of Physicians, across the UK, air pollution is responsible for 40,000 early deaths, at an economic cost of £20 billion a year. For that reason, I believe it is my moral duty to support amendment 25 to ensure that the particulate matter target for air quality is at least as strict as the WHO guidelines. That is a call I made when we introduced the charging clean air zone in Leeds, a commitment the Government have abandoned. We need to pass the amendment and reintroduce the clean air zone.

The State of Nature report says that UK species diversity is in freefall, with 15% of UK species at risk of becoming extinct. Some our most-loved animals, including Scottish wild cats, red squirrels and water voles, are at risk. I am the parliamentary species champion for the white-clawed crayfish. New clause 5 would give all those species a much better chance of survival. We also have bee-harming neonicotinoids. The UK Government recently granted emergency authorisation for sugar beet seeds to be treated by neonicotinoids. That is banned under EU law and we cannot allow it to come in through the back door, so we need to pass amendment 39.

Finally, on the OEP, its progress has been followed by the Environmental Audit Committee for three years. It is supposedly independent, but its budget, board and chair are set by the Government. Only recently, the Secretary of State said: “We will be able to guide the OEP.” It is worth noting that the Government have no comparable power in relation to any existing enforcement bodies. We therefore need to pass amendment 23 to bring a semblance of independence back to this important regulatory body, and ensure that we move forward and do not have another pause in this legislation.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con) [V]
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I am speaking from the Isle of Wight, where, in addition to being a UNESCO biosphere, we hope in the next couple of years to become the UK’s first island park, if the Government intend to bring forward the new protected landscapes Bill, as I clearly I hope they do.

I support this Bill very much—I think it is a great Bill—but I wish to speak in favour of new clauses 14 and 15 to argue the case for minimising the impact of housing on the environment. It is great that the Government want to design better, and frankly we need better design in this country, but a well-designed low-density greenfield housing estate is still a low-density greenfield housing estate, and these housing estates are, by nature, unsustainable. New clause 14 would allow for a handbrake to stop environmentally damaging housing, because it would, by law, prioritise carbon-efficient housing and carbon-efficient locations.

House building, along with everything else that we do, needs to align with the UK’s binding obligations in the Paris climate accords and carbon-efficient obligations, as well as the Government’s justified world-leading commitment to net zero by 2050. To do that, we need carbon-efficient housing solutions, and that implies a focus on cities as opposed to suburban and rural development. If we do not get that carbon-efficient housing in this Bill, as mandated by this new clause, then can we look at it for the housing Bill?

For me, this also means that we need to do more to incentivise brownfield development in not only suburban but rural areas. Very often brownfield sites are too small to be used efficiently under the current financial regime, and it is much cheaper to build inefficiently on greenfield sites. Greenfield sites, as well as being the most carbon-intensive because we are building detached houses, are also dependent on car use outside existing communities, which means dependence not only on carbon-emitting cars but on people having to travel to get to amenities rather than those amenities being built near them. Research provided by the House of Commons Library shows that homes built in urban areas are significantly less carbon-emitting than those built in suburban and rural areas.

I welcome this Bill, but can we please look at the legal requirement for the most carbon-efficient housing in the most carbon-efficient locations, not only for our climate change commitments but for quality of life in cities, in suburbs and in rural areas?

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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Like other Members, I am disappointed that the Government have failed to make significant progress with this Bill, especially given the urgent need to act to address not only the causes of climate change but biodiversity loss. In such an important year for climate change mitigation and adaptation, I hope that the Government will make a meaningful effort to get the Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible in the next Session.

It is a pleasure to speak to several amendments, including new clause 9, which draws attention to our international commitments and the importance of action to protect our natural environment both here at home and abroad. In particular, I hope that the new clause will draw further attention to the plight of our forests—the lungs of our world and vital habitats for species great and small—in addition to the need for measures to discourage trade in products of deforestation abroad.

I hope that new clause 9 will also draw attention to an equally pertinent issue: the offshoring of our emissions and associated resource consumption. WWF believes that as much as 46% of the UK’s carbon footprint is not currently accounted for by national reporting or included in the UK’s net zero target. This simply must be addressed if we are serious about our role in tackling climate change.

The Bill also focuses minds on the constraints imposed by the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 on action to protect our natural world across the four nations of the UK. This is reflected in amendment 40 and new clause 1, both of which Plaid Cymru will be supporting.

Wales is rightfully proud of its status as a world leader in recycling and a nation where sustainable development is a constitutional duty, yet one of the many reasons why the Senedd withheld consent from the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and why the Welsh Government are now taking legal action against the UK Government is the issue of plastic pollution, as raised by the Senedd Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. Wales would be legally prohibited from taking action to restrict the use of single-use plastic under the Act’s non-discrimination clauses. These clauses not only make the Bill’s lack of ambition even more egregious, but draw attention to how the Government are hindering environmental action by working against, rather than with, the devolved nations and their record of action in this field.

We have a duty to do all we can to protect our natural world for present and future generations. We cannot afford to ignore this most profound duty, so I hope the Government will actively listen and reflect on the constructive debate we have had here today.

Environment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Report stage & 3rd reading
Wednesday 26th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 26 May 2021 - large print - (26 May 2021)
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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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
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

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.

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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.

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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.

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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Environment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Consideration of Lords amendments
Wednesday 20th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments as at 20 October 2021 - (20 Oct 2021)
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to be cracking on with the Environment Bill. It has dominated my whole life as an Environment Minister, but I hope we all agree that it has only got the stronger for it. Make no mistake that this is a landmark piece of legislation that will increase our resource efficiency and biodiversity, drive improvements in air and water quality, and put us on the sustainable trajectory for the future that I believe we all want and need.

Even though the Bill has not been before the House for some time, it has grown, developed and strengthened in that time. My officials have been working tirelessly with all others involved to bring forward a whole range of measures in the Bill. We have already launched five local nature recovery strategy pilots, we have appointed Dame Glenys Stacey as chair-designate of the office for environmental protection, and we have consulted on the extended producer responsibility, the deposit return scheme and consistent recycling collections in England.

The Bill is packed with positive measures, but I am delighted that the Government have improved it even further. [Interruption.] There is lots of agreement from the Opposition Benches—excellent. Lords amendment 4 and its consequential amendments will require the Secretary of State to set a new, historic, legally binding target to halt the decline of species by 2030. That is a bold, vital and world-leading commitment. It forms the core of the Government’s pledge to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

In the same vein, the Government acknowledge that the climate and biodiversity situation is an emergency. I am very pleased to say that that was referenced by the Prime Minister himself, who pledged to

“meet the global climate emergency”

in his foreword to the net zero strategy, which was published just yesterday. However, addressing those twin challenges requires action rather than declarations, which is why the Government are acting now. We have committed to set a new historic legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I genuinely thank the Minister for all the incredible work she has done. She talks about the importance of biodiversity. Does she understand that I found it a little frustrating that the Government did not look in a better way and more closely at my amendment, which would have closed the loophole on sites of special scientific interest? Currently, the loophole allows an SSSI to effectively be concreted over, damaging the biodiversity she wishes to protect. Even at this late stage, will the Government look again at that SSSI amendment, please?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Obviously, we take SSSIs extremely seriously under their designations. There is a set pathway for SSSIs and for looking after them, but I think he will agree, if he listens to what I have to say, that the Bill contains some very strong measures on biodiversity, which are much needed and will help us to that trajectory of restoring nature.

I was saying that we have a legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance. The UK was also the first economy to set a target of net zero emissions by 2050. Our target for the sixth carbon budget is world-leading. The “Net Zero Strategy” published yesterday builds on the 10-point plan, the energy White Paper, the transport decarbonisation plan, the hydrogen strategy, and the heat and building strategy, setting out our ambitious plans across all key sectors of the economy to reach net zero. This is an all-in approach.

Of course, it is not just our domestic approach that counts. Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is our No. 1 international priority, which is why we are driving forward our COP26 presidency and playing a leading role in developing an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework due to be adopted at the convention on biological diversity COP15. Therefore, putting the declaration in Lords amendment 1 in law, although well-intentioned, is not necessary.

Lords amendment 2 would require the Government to set a legally binding target on soil health. I would like to be clear with the House and the other place that we are currently considering how to develop the appropriate means of measuring soil health, which could be used to inform a future soils target. However, we do not yet have the reliable metrics needed to set a robust target by October next year and to measure its progress. If we accepted the amendment, we could be committing to doing something that we cannot deliver or might not even know if we have delivered. I am sure hon. Members and hon. Friends would agree that that is not a sensible approach.

Environment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Consideration of Lords message
Monday 8th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments as at 8 November 2021 - (8 Nov 2021)
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, but I will not take too long. I want to ask the Minister a quick question. I am pleased to see what is coming forward in relation to single-use items and the conservation covenants, and I am pleased that those measures have all been passed. However, I still have a concern about the Office for Environmental Protection’s enforcement policy. Lords amendment 31 states:

“The OEP has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions, including in—

(a) preparing its enforcement policy,

(b) exercising its enforcement functions, and

(c) preparing and publishing its budget.”

That has merit in my eyes, and I would be interested to hear the Government’s rationale as to why they believe it is unnecessary, as I believe that similar amendments were made in relation to Northern Ireland.

I am also gratified to learn that there is now a Government amendment in place for a duty to be enshrined in law to ensure that water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows. That has been lacking for many years, and I have seen the devastating effects of discharge from storm overflows on homes that merit at least this form of protection. For too many years, the water companies have been doing the bare minimum. I seek the Minister’s confirmation that more will be done to ensure that the rivers and waterways around this great United Kingdom are protected, that more will be done than just the bare minimum, and that this will be the beginning of progress. We must all take our obligation to future generations more seriously. I often say, as others do, that we leave our environment for the generations that come after us, and for the sake of my grandchildren—and my great-grandchildren, when that time comes—we must ensure that the water companies step up to their agenda.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I will be as brief as possible, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Ministers for listening and for moving on this issue, and above all I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), who was sitting next to me, for his leadership on this issue. I do not think that this could have happened without him. To be blunt, if this amendment is good enough for him, it is good enough for me. He would not support it if it were not strong.

On the Isle of Wight we have some wonderfully clean beaches, but any sewage discharge is unacceptable. In a place that is environmentally sensitive—we are a UNESCO biosphere—and that has so many amenity sites because of so many visitors swimming, having human poo on our beaches is not acceptable. The same applies in the Solent, for sailors, whether they are in the Solent accidentally or deliberately. We need to clean this up.

I also note that I know the Government are somewhat victims of their own success. It is great being lectured by the Opposition, but this groundbreaking Bill is being brought in by the Government side, and we should all be supporting it.

I have two questions for the Minister, who was kind enough to say that she would take them. First, the Government have power to push the water firms to go further, faster. Will she be willing, and will the Secretary of State next to her be willing, to use that power to ensure that the water firms understand the urgency of this situation for our waterways and our beaches?

Secondly, and if I understand it rightly, can the Minister confirm that ecologically sensitive sites and amenity sites, as which the Isle of Wight’s beaches both qualify, will be given priority? I am writing to the water firms about that this evening, but anything the Minister could do to clear that up and to ensure that those amenity and ecologically sensitive sites are prioritised would be very welcome.