21 Bob Seely debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thu 3rd Nov 2022
Tue 6th Sep 2022
Mon 8th Nov 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords message & Consideration of Lords message
Thu 28th Oct 2021

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that we are able to legislate. For so many years, Members of this House called for the ability to prevent live exports, but we were not able to do so. Where I agree with her is on Mr Deputy Speaker’s support for animal welfare, which is recognised across the House.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge Members who have championed this important issue over a number of years, which speaks to the hon. Lady’s point. In particular, I recognise my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), who has repeatedly lobbied on this issue and, indeed, in 2016 proposed a private Member’s Bill to amend the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to allow ports and local authorities to ban live exports.

I recognise my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), who also actively championed a ban, including, in 2017, tabling a private Member’s Bill to prohibit live exports. Although her proposals did not make it on to the statute book, they reminded the House of the public concern on this important issue and, indeed, helped to lay the groundwork for the Bill before us today.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) who has championed this issue both within the Department and within this House. Indeed, there have been numerous debates during which many Members on both sides of the Chamber have spoken passionately about ending live exports, reflecting the strong support in the country for a ban.

I also thank the tireless campaigners whose efforts have helped to raise awareness of this issue among hon. Members and the wider public, particularly the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, which have both actively campaigned on this issue over many decades, as well as World Horse Welfare, which was founded in 1927 to stop the export of horses for slaughter.

Live animal exports have been a focus of campaigning by animal welfare charities for more than 50 years. Indeed, in the 1990s, when millions of animals were exported for slaughter each year, several legal challenges sought to ban live exports. These challenges were unsuccessful, not least because, as a member of the EU, we were bound by EU rules on animal welfare during transport, which prevented the House from acting.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I thank the Secretary of State for chatting to me earlier. The export of live animals somewhat suggests travel by sea and, because we do not have an abattoir on the Isle of Wight, we have to export animals to the UK for slaughter before bringing them back. There are potentially more humane ways of dealing with animals, one of which would be to have a small-scale abattoir on the Isle of Wight. On the current small-scale abattoir programme, the Government are working only with current abattoirs and abattoir owners. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can get a small-scale abattoir on the Isle of Wight, so that we can enjoy the spirit, as well as the de jure benefits, of this excellent Bill?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government have committed £4 million of additional investment through the smaller abattoir fund, recognising the importance of reducing animals’ journey times. As we have discussed separately, I am happy to meet him to discuss what more we can do in the context of smaller abattoirs, particularly recognising the specific issues of geography in his constituency.

Isle of Wight: Island Designation Status and Landscape Protection

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 6th June 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (in the Chair)
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I will call Bob Seely to move the motion, and I will then call the Minister to respond. As is the convention for 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered Isle of Wight island designation status and landscape protection.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Latham.

Islands have a unique place in the identity of the British Isles. We are a collection of islands, and some are bigger than others. Our islands are marked out by their sense of history, their sense of community and the uniqueness of their geography, their wildlife and, in some cases, their geology. For my constituency of the Isle of Wight, I will make the case for a specific island designation. I do not propose to have a national park on the Island, but a new designation in UK landscape protection, which I believe should be introduced not just for the Isle of Wight. It would be of considerable benefit to other islands in the UK, and it certainly could be seen as a UK-wide designation, because many Scottish islands may wish to take part. So too might Anglesey and the Scilly Isles, so it would stretch across Scotland, Wales and England.

My plan for an island designation for the Isle of Wight is supported by the Isle of Wight Council and our area of outstanding natural beauty partnership. It would effectively put into law a landscape designation given to us by our UNESCO biosphere status, even if that was initially a shadow designation on the way to becoming something more legally binding in the UK—as we know, the UNESCO biosphere is not legally binding. I know the Minister has heard my argument very recently, and I am looking forward to seeing her on the 13th. I officially invite her to the Isle of Wight, so that she can see with her own eyes some of the points that I am trying to make about the physical unity of the Island. I would be most grateful if she did so, and I look forward to seeing her on the Island very soon.

In support of my argument, I will explain why the Island has an exceptionally rare diversity of animal life, marine habitat and geology, and why I feel it should have been much more valued over the years for its uniqueness and value to the UK than it has been by policy makers. Let me kick off my argument by saying that the Isle of Wight is pretty much geographically unique. In the words of our AONB, it is a microcosm of the whole of England. The east resembles Kent and Sussex, with its thick hedges, copses and woods. The stone walls and small sandy bays in the south, around the undercliff, feel rather like Cornwall. Where I live in the south-west, the windswept chalk downs that roll to the sea resemble parts of Dorset, and the creeks of Yarmouth, Newtown and Wootton in the north of the Island resemble those in Devon.

To pull all that into terms that geographers might recognise—I apologise for repeating what I said in a recent debate, but I want to get this on the record, because it shows the variety of habitats in the Island—we have a broad mix of new woodland; maritime cliff and slope, including our unique chines; soft sandstone, which has been moulded and shaped by waters and rivers as they flow to the sea; low calcareous grassland; our coastal and flood plain; our grazing marsh; lowland meadows; reedbeds; and lowland dry acidic grassland. We have fens on the island, as well as saline lagoons and mudflats. We have coastal sand dunes, coastal vegetative shingle and the lowland heathland. Beautiful chalk downs, with their rare flowers, insects, adders and lovely things like that, provide the Island’s spine, which runs from Bembridge in the east, past me in Mottistone and Brighstone, and all the way down to the Needles in the west.

All that is in one compact island, which is 30 miles from east to west, and 15 miles from north to south—from Cowes at the top to beautiful St Catherine’s down at the bottom. It is one of the most diverse areas of England and one of the three most diverse areas in the south-east of England, along with the New Forest and Surrey heaths, and I would respectfully argue that our variety of wildlife and habitat diversity is greater than in both of those two places—not that I wish to be critical of them, because they are unique and fantastic as well. Our English landscape in miniature, and our range of habitats, means that we continue to be home to species that are unique to the Island or, perhaps more importantly for the UK as a whole, are not flourishing on the mainland but are either less threatened or better off on the Island. We do not have grey squirrels, although one once got on a ferry and the ferry had to be stopped. We do not have escaped mink or escaped deer, but we do have red squirrels, dormice and water voles. I thank Helen Butler of the Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust for the important work that she does.

We have some of the UK’s rarest bats; I thank our wonderful Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society for listing all 17 bat species. We have some unique and highly rare ones, such as the greater horseshoe bat, Bechstein’s bat and the grey long-eared bat. Mammals aside, I asked Natural England for a list of rare species of insects and flora and fauna. It came back with 28 species, which include early gentian, field cow-wheat and wood calamint. On rare insects, the Island is the sole British location for the Glanville fritillary butterfly as well as the reddish buff moth. I thank Jim Baldwin for his excellent work in cataloguing the many moths that we have on the Island—not an easy job, but somebody has to do it.

For our birds, the Solent is a Ramsar-designated site, and we have wetlands of international importance of both sides of the Solent. I hope that the Minister will be interested to note that, on the Island specifically—in Brading, Newtown and Western Yar—marshes and estuaries are highly important for migrating birds. We have five that are rare or threatened, including terns, teals and a variety of plover. Brading marshes is a site of special scientific interest, a special area of conservation, a Ramsar-designated wetland and a RSPB nature reserve—it is not in the AONB. Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation reintroduced sea eagles in England on the Isle of Wight, and I thank Steve Egerton-Read, Forestry England’s project officer for the sea eagles, for showing me around Barding marshes, I think about a year ago, when we spotted—I think—a female sea eagle perched on a tree looking for breakfast. Buzzards, once rare, are relatively plentiful, and we have a healthy population of adders.

As regards our marine environment, the area surrounding the Isle of Wight is protected by maritime conservation zones, special protection zones and special areas of conservation. Again, I asked Natural England for a list of species that I should be aware of. It said that there are 26 species around the Island that are nationally scarce or globally vulnerable. We are a relative haven for many different types of species, whether on land or on sea. That is an important part of an island designation for me, because it would include the marine environment, human environment and landscape environment—a bit like a UNESCO biosphere but in UK law.

I shall not list all the very rare marine species, because I am respectful of people’s time, but they include native oysters, both our varieties of native seahorses—the short-snouted and the long-snouted—varieties of jellyfish, rays and other species. We also have seagrass meadows in Osborne bay, Yarmouth and Bouldnor. Indeed, those seagrass meadows are being used to transplant seagrass to the other side of the Solent—into the Beaulieu river—so the relative strength of our natural world is being used to support others. We also might be doing a project to reintroduce UK crayfish back into the Isle of Wight, because the UK population of indigenous crayfish has been decimated by the American crayfish, which, like the grey squirrel, was imported and proved to be far more aggressive and predatory.

Geologically, along the south-west of the Island, we have a near complete exposure of cretaceous coast. We have this stuff called wealden rock. It is orange and it produces dinosaur bones. In most of the UK, it flows and undulates well underneath the surface, but it sticks up in the south-west of the Island over an area of about 11 miles, and there is a little patch in Sandown in the east as well. The sea and tides gently wash away that coastline, and that is why we have the richest dinosaur finds in Europe. I mentioned a family dinosaur last time—I will not go there again, because we do not have time. The undercliff, a breathtakingly beautiful part of the Island on the south side, is the most geologically unstable part of Europe.

What does all that mean? I am not just listing this because I want island designation for my constituency—everyone could say something similar about their constituencies, although clearly the Island is unique and special. I am making the point that our variety, diversity and depth of habitats and our different types of wildlife, flora, fauna, insects, and marine and animal life are pretty much unique in the UK.

The Island should have had a special and unique role in this country’s protected landscapes, but it has not. Our landscape and natural world has been celebrated by many different types of artist over the years. J.B. Priestley, one of the great 20th century authors, who lived on the Island, said the Island should be Britain’s first national park. Sadly, we missed that boat. I am not arguing for that; I am arguing for an island designation. Even before Priestley—he wrote “An Inspector Calls” when he was living in the village next to me—our Island’s uniqueness was celebrated by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and by Keats, who wrote in Endymion:

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”,

allegedly about Shanklin chine—one of our wonderful geological chines. Britain’s greatest artist J.M.W. Turner sketched and painted on the Island. Algernon Swinburne, another great Victorian poet, lived in Bonchurch. Indeed, the Freshwater and Bonchurch sets of the 19th century were heavily influential in the UK. Julia Margaret Cameron pioneered early portrait photography on the Island in Freshwater. In 1850, the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray said:

“Is there no one who is commonplace here? Is everybody either a poet, or a genius, or a painter”?

I am tempted to say, “Yes.”

The Island has one of the most painted coastlines in Britain, along with north Yorkshire and Cornwall. We have not done enough with our artistic and cultural heritage. Sadly, we have forgotten far too much of it since world war two—that is another story.

We have a single Island-wide designation: the UNESCO biosphere, which was awarded to us in 2019, and I thank everyone involved in that, including Joel Bateman, Richard Grogan and many others, but it comes with no legal standing in the UK. The problem is that instead of being treated as a single whole, we had some guy from the Ministry turn up in the mid-1960s and parcel the Island out into five blotches of AONB. I found that incredibly frustrating because people can go to considerably larger AONBs on the mainland, for example, driving through bits of the Cotswolds, and some of it is pretty flat and quite ordinary and boring, but it is part of a greater whole. It is included because it is part of a greater whole and there is a greater beauty around it.

I find it bizarre because if anywhere should be treated as a single whole in the UK, it is a relatively small island, even if it has lots of different types of habitat. It is a single whole with many habitats within it, all of which feed and function off one another. The Isle of Wight has been parcelled as 52% AONB, which is almost entirely focused on lowland heathland. The extraordinary Brading Marshes and the dryland around them were not included in the AONB, and many other parts of the west and the south were not included and are now under development pressure.

We are a relative refuge for wildlife, but we are also more vulnerable than parts of the mainland because we are finite and not that large. As Natural England notes, finite landscape is being damaged at pace. Its report says:

“Urban development is spreading, with waste disposal sites, extensive holiday and industrial developments and caravan parks blurring the edge of settlements.”

In the past 50 years, we have lost some species. The extent to which rural landscapes have been disturbed on the Island by urban development has increased by nearly 30%. That figure was applicable until 2007, and it is worse now. Some of our rivers have been badly modified and damaged.

Even when we are protected by the AONB, we have seen that sometimes that is not enough. There is something I am working on that I will mention because I want the Minister to be aware of it and I have written to the Secretary of State about it. Under section 191 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, there are time limits on the enforcement of planning conditions that prevent planning authorities from taking action on historical breaches of planning. Even if that breach is minor, immunity can then be granted from planning conditions as a whole, which then permits development that should not take place.

On the Isle of Wight, we have one pretty awful development that exemplifies this problem: Chine Farm. A minor breach of condition years ago involving camping in a field not specified by planning conditions has now been leveraged to permit the siting of static caravans all year round. That is in a site of special scientific interest on a heritage coastline in an AONB. I have written to the Secretary of State on numerous occasions about closing this damaging loophole, which affects me and others.

The purpose of the Island park designation would be to cover the entirety of the Island. It would treat the Island as a single whole. It would unite maritime and landscape protection in one designation, and common sense suggests that on an island this is the sort of unified approach that we should be taking not only to landscape management but to supporting farmers. If all my farmers on the Island could, for example, have Farming in Protected Landscapes funding, they would be able to do things like planting more hedgerows and planting copses, to join up our natural realm into a single whole. We would have these natural corridors, whether hedgerows or copses. In fact, I saw some of those being planted last weekend, at the Isle of Wight sheepdog trials. It was great to see that, and I thank Ian Wheeler very much for his work.

An island park would assume a basic standard, when it came to planning and housing, akin to that of an AONB. If the Minister is asking what an island designation should consist of, the basic building block is AONB throughout—unless there is an exception for development. That is the first point. The second point is better, more traditional standards in planning and beautifying, which is an important part of our planning and housing ideas anyway, of our towns and villages, to respect the traditional building methods, whether they involve traditional Isle of Wight stone, which is pretty much unique to the Island—we see it a little bit in west Dorset—or patterned red brick, as seen in Newport.

That means that large-scale housing development, completely inappropriate for islands, would be banned in favour of small-scale development in existing communities. Pleading an exceptional circumstance, which I hope we have negotiated with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, would allow the Island to focus overwhelmingly on finding homes for our local population and not have to fit into arbitrary targets, which take absolutely no account of the fact that the Isle of Wight is separated by sea and is an island.

An island park designation would also serve as branding. There are 56 food producers on the Island. It would help them to brand their products better, and it would help with tourism if people saw that they were going somewhere that valued nature and had an extraordinarily rich natural world.

How would this come about? The Glover review recommended

“a wider range of…systems of landscape protection”.

I hoped that that was going to mean primary legislation. Might it mean primary legislation? If not, a second option would be to amend the Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971—if I came high up in the private Member’s Bill ballot, would that be an option? A third option would be to extend the AONB, but that is incredibly time-consuming; it takes, seemingly, years—up to five to 10 years. Therefore I am wondering whether there is another way of looking at this by getting some kind of shadow designation, so that if the Government introduced further environmental Bills and Acts in future, island parks, akin to an AONB and meaning higher standards—with opt-outs for job creation, because that is really important on islands—would be something that could appeal, not only to the Isle of Wight but, potentially, to the Isles of Scilly, to the Western Isles of Scotland and to Anglesey. This is potentially a really attractive idea.

To sum up, the Isle of Wight is unique. I do not think it has been valued enough in the last 50 to 60 years. We should have been a national park—we are not—but our natural habitat is unique. The variety of our habitat is unique. The wildlife that we help to protect and that finds a refuge from the mainland of the UK is relatively unique. Our tourism could really do with the sense of the Island being an island park—that is not a national park; it is a different designation. I think that if we could work towards that, it would be of huge benefit. I do not want to see the Island becoming overdeveloped in the coming decades, because that will ruin what is unique and special about it, certainly for as long as we are separated by sea from the mainland.

I will leave the Minister with a final thought. The Government are committing to designating 30% of land as protected. I know that we have our patchwork of protections, but a single, encompassing whole would, I think, enable the Government to meet their targets. In the Island’s case, it is absolutely deserved, because of our contribution to the natural world through our different habitats and our geology. Therefore I look forward to the Minister coming down to the Island very soon to talk with me further about this and I look forward to discussing it with her when we meet on 13 June.

Water Quality: Sewage Discharge

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 25th April 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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My hon. Friend is wise in her years, and she is absolutely right. It is a case of trying to ensure that we have the necessary information. I repeat that the process of getting the information out there began a decade ago, and the Environment Act allows us to ensure that near-real-time information is available as well.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I listened closely to the speech from the shadow Secretary of State, which I have to say was pretty poor—and given that I have listened to quite a few Labour speeches in my time, that takes some beating. Can the Secretary of State shed any light on why a Labour party that hates privatised utilities would allow the self-monitoring of water quality unless it was intended to hide a problem?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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What can I say? When the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) ran for the leadership of the Labour party, he suggested that there should be common ownership, which I would describe as nationalisation. We are seeing yet another flip-flop from the Labour party when its members realise that it is one thing to get into power and another thing actually being in it.

We need to continue with what we are trying to do to cut sewage discharges. We have heard about the target of 90% by 2030, and it is a headline-catching figure, but there has been no credible, costed plan in any previous media scrutiny or, indeed, today. That is why I suggest that the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton is detached from reality and trying to pull a fast one with the public.

Our storm overflows discharge reduction plan outlines the largest infrastructure programme in water company history, and will deliver the toughest ever crackdown on sewage spills, transforming our Victorian sewerage infrastructure. The plan sets targets that will be underpinned by legally binding changes to company permits, designed to front-load action in particularly important areas such as bathing waters. To ensure that these ambitious targets are realised, I have also asked the water industry to produce a detailed action plan for every single storm overflow in England by June.

A critical element in the development of these targets and our plan was an assessment of technical deliverability and cost, which is why the Government published a full impact assessment and an additional report on the costs of eliminating discharges from storm overflows. If the shadow Secretary of State wants to deliver a 90% reduction by 2030, it would have been helpful for him to inform the House how he plans to practically deliver £56 billion worth of capital projects in the next seven years, let alone separate enough combined pipes to go almost two and a half times around the earth in those seven years, or indeed build the equivalent of 40,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of additional storage capacity. What will the Labour party’s proposals really mean for customers’ bills? Even the hon. Gentleman is not naive enough to think that there is a magic money tree to pay for this.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Has the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) finished? Is he done? Does he want to intervene? In spite of the relentless nastiness from the nasty party on the Opposition Benches, we found out some interesting facts today. Perhaps the Opposition can explain some of them in the wind-up.

There was literally no water monitoring under Labour. Why? There must have been mass dumping, but we do not know about it. Why? Because they hid the problem by not monitoring. What gets me most of all is that the utility firms that those class warriors profess to hate had a sweetheart deal with them to allow them to self-monitor. What a corrupting relationship between new Labour and the big utility firms. Why were they allowed to self-monitor? [Interruption.] Grinning at me inanely does not answer the question. They were actually taken to court by their lovely buddies in the European Union. I could not make it up. I thank the Secretary of State for her calm and measured sentiments—I am trying to be measured but I am probably not doing a good job, I must admit—as opposed to the nonsense that we have heard from the Opposition.

Thanks to this Government, on the Isle of Wight, Southern Water is investing tens of millions. I persuaded Southern Water to make the Isle of Wight an example of best practice, through Sandown water works, £2.5 million for Knighton, £5 million for Carisbrooke and £7 million for works in Newport, Cowes and Brading. The full list is extensive. I encourage all Islanders who get the offer of a free water butt from Southern Water to take up that option. As well as improving the pumping stations and replumbing parts of the drainage system, we are providing slow-release water butts and redesigning road surfaces. The improvements that we are making as a pilot scheme and an example of best practice today on the Island will be rolled out everywhere else as part of the integrated water plan, the integrated sewage plan and all the good things that are happening under the Environment Act.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart
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My hon. Friend raises the work that Southern Water is doing on the Isle of Wight. We have a Fairlight Pathfinder project on my patch, which will be rolling out smart water butts that slow down surface water run-off. I am looking forward to seeing how that works.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Community schemes are a small part of this. People write to me and ask, what can a community scheme do? Hon. Members are right that major investment has to happen, but the first pilot scheme in Britain took place in a beautiful little village called Havenstreet in my patch. On average, Havenstreet pumping station spills 30 times a year—sewage or storm discharge goes into the river 30 times a year. After two thirds of eligible residents took up Southern Water’s offer of a free water butt and free installation—no money is exchanged, and Southern Water will never ask for money—the result has been a 70% reduction in water spills. I am putting out letters to every community that can get those butts from Southern Water. I have written to almost all the relevant residents in Gurnard. Letters will go out to Fishbourne and Wootton next, then Freshwater. I encourage them, because the more people who take up the offer of a free water butt, the more successful the scheme.

By improving pumping stations, replumbing parts of the drainage system, providing slow-release butts and redesigning surfaces to make them more porous, we are changing the system for the better. Overall, thanks to the Secretary of State, the Environment Act the sewage plans and the national water plan, we have a positive plan for Britain. Labour is playing catch-up; it offers nothing but second-rate, class-war rhetoric and the politics of abuse and hate. I strongly support the Government’s amendment.

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Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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I will start on a positive note by thanking those who have actively engaged in this public health, environmental and economic issue, which has been an absolute catastrophe for our country. I thank my friend Feargal Sharkey, the singer turned formidable environmental campaigner, for his tireless work in bringing to life the impact that sewage dumping is having on every part of our country. It is also important to recognise the work of the campaign group Top of the Poops, alongside Surfers Against Sewage, in collating constituency data to allow the public to see the extent of the Tory sewage scandal in the areas where they live, work and holiday.

Opposition Members have made some extremely powerful speeches illustrating the impact of the sewage scandal in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) made a good point about excessive corporate pay. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) spoke about the effect on the biodiversity of our birds and fish. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) pointed out that bills have gone up by 40%.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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Unfortunately we have limited time, so I will make some progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) rightly highlighted the importance of the unique habitats that chalk streams provide. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) pointed out that we need increased regulation that is good for people. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and other north-west Members rightly pointed out that United Utilities has the highest number of discharges. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) pointed out that constituents have suffered heavily because of overflows in her constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who is a keen wild swimmer, has been an excellent campaigner for Plymouth sound to get clean bathing water status. I hope his campaign comes to fruition. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) pointed out that the Government have a 27-year plan. Who can wait that long for our rivers to be clean? My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) represents Whitstable beach, where I have swum. She pointed out that swimmers can no longer use it because of the sewage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) pointed out that United Utilities uses the courts to protect itself from private prosecution, which is exactly why our Bill is needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) pointed out the danger that sewage poses to the ambitious plans of our metro Mayors. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) told the House about the horrendous 17-hour spill just outside Reading. Our Bill would end such incidents. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) rightly mentioned sustainable drainage systems and grey-water storage as part of the solution. There have been so many excellent speeches today.

We have to ask ourselves some questions. Is the water industry operating in the public interest? No. Is it right for the Tories to allow water companies to dump raw sewage into our waters? No. Is it time for change? Yes. Of course, we cannot and will not just let water companies off the hook. We should not allow them to wash their hands of the issue and walk off the pitch with £72 billion in dividends, leaving behind a broken system.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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rose—

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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I give way to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Earlier today, the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) made a truly dire attempt at public speaking in which he avoided most of the questions put to him. One of the critical questions was why the last Labour Government allowed the utility firms to self-monitor. Does that not exemplify an uncomfortable, corrupting relationship between the last Labour Government and the public utilities?

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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When Labour left office in 2010, the Environment Agency said that our rivers were the cleanest at any time since before the industrial revolution. That is Labour’s record.

It should not be left to us or to the public to clean up the mess and pay the price of Tory failure, but we will have to do it. Conservative Members have made the argument that that will involve households picking up the tab. It will not. Our plan, unlike the Government’s, does not require increasing taxpayers’ bills.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), in the absence of a credible plan, Labour has done the Secretary of State’s job for her in presenting its own oven-ready plan: to deliver the mandatory monitoring of all sewage outlets and a standing-charge penalty for all water companies that do not have properly functioning monitors in place; to deliver automatic fines on polluters, which is not happening under this Government; to give regulators the necessary power and require them to enforce the rules properly; to set legally binding sewage-dumping reduction targets that will end the Tory sewage scandal by 2030 and not 2050; and crucially, to ensure that any failure to improve is paid for by water companies, which will not be able to pass the charge on to customers’ bills or slash investment.

What we have set out in my hon. Friend’s Bill is just the first phase of Labour’s plan to clear up the mess, but we are under no illusions: the system is fundamentally broken. That is why we need a phase 2 plan—which we will set out in due course—to reform the sector, placing delivery for the public good at the heart of the water industry. There needs to be a greater degree of public oversight in the running of the water industry to protect the public interest, because under the Tories, households are paying the price of a failing water industry, through first having to pay for sewage treatment in their water bills while the Tories allow corner-cutting and the dumping of raw sewage in our waters rather than its being treated properly. I recently discovered that only 37% of our sewage treatment plants even have storage tanks, while the others discharge straight into the local rivers, and even the simplest precautions are not being taken in the majority of our sewage plants—

World Biosphere Day

Bob Seely Excerpts
Thursday 3rd November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for letting me take part briefly in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) is in competition with me and a relatively select few to deliver more than anyone else for her wonderful patch. I hear nothing but amazing reports of the work that she is doing. Similarly, I try to deliver as much as I can for my folks on the Isle of Wight. We both care so much for our wonderful parts of the UK. I thank her and the Minister for letting me contribute to the debate.

I agree with much of what my hon. Friend has said and I will stress two points. Before I do, our Island biosphere designation came quite late—we got it a few years ago after a campaign led by our area of outstanding natural beauty organisation—but I thank Joel Bateman, Councillor Jonathan Bacon and, more recently, Holly Jones and Natasha Dix for their impressive work in delivering that successful bid to UNESCO and since. There are 17 UNESCO sustainable development goals that we are trying to work into the Isle of Wight Council’s planning. We have lots of exciting projects, such as regenerative farming, carbon sequestration in soil and local agricultural, net zero homes, active travel and smart renewable grids that we are trying to do off the back of getting biosphere status.

The first valuable point that my hon. Friend made that I want to stress is that there is no similar designation in British law that achieves the same effect. I am keen for the Government to take it on board that we have this valuable designation that combines the human world, the natural world and the maritime world. That is actually quite unique; there is nothing like it in UK law, but should there be? For example, 75% of the Isle of Wight comes under some form of UK designation: there are eight separate designations and 13 distinct areas. For an island of our size—it is only 15 miles by 30 miles —that is highly fragmented and somewhat over-complex, and creates a needless bureaucracy when it comes to nature protection and planning. I would love to know how the Government could incorporate and recognise biospheres within UK law. At the moment, we have a tapestry on the Island, but we need a blanket, which is the idea that the biosphere gives.

My second pitch, in the brief time that I have, is that if the Government are going to bring in a Bill about protected landscapes, such as national parks and AONBs, which I hope they do, and if they are going to slightly fudge the difference between them and perhaps bring in new designations, one of the new designations could be a biosphere designation, which would give biospheres a status within UK law, or an island designation. If we are going to have city parks, why can we not have island parks? It is not a national park on an island but an island park that looks at human habitation, maritime protection and landscape protection as a single whole.

I would argue that an island park designation for the Isle of Wight would have AONB status throughout. We have only a finite amount of land and we cannot keep giving it up endlessly to low-density, car-dependent, un-environmentally friendly greenfield developments; we need to use land better. We could have maritime and landscape protection, as highlighted by my hon. Friend, and we could use the island park designation to attract tourism and help with our identity, as the biosphere potentially does. We could perhaps get some targeted support for agriculture, because we do not have an abattoir on the Island, so all the livestock goes to the mainland for slaughter, which adds cost and inhibits the circular economy that we need. Those are some of the ideas that an island designation or a biosphere designation could provide.

The biosphere is about human habitation, so we could also do a great deal with culture. The Isle of Wight was one of the most celebrated places in Victorian England with Tennyson, Keats and many others coming down to enjoy it and paint it. People fell in love with the place and sometimes used it as an escape from mainland Britain. Other people based themselves there, such as the Bonchurch school of artists and the Freshwater set with Julia Margaret Cameron. We also had—who wrote “Alice in Wonderland”?—Lewis Carroll, who used to hang around there back in the day hoping to catch a glimpse of Tennyson. We have had a phenomenal cultural input. Given the Island’s culture, together with its unique species and unique dinosaurs—we have more dinosaur finds than anywhere else in Europe, and in fact it is one of the leading dinosaur places in the world—and our landscape, there has to be a better way of recognising and protecting that. We could do so either by making biospheres part of UK law or, for the Island as a separate issue, having an island designation, which other islands—the Isles of Scilly, Arran in Scotland—could eventually share. It could be a very good idea to have some kind of island designation in UK law. I thank my hon. Friend so much for bringing forward this debate, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

Trudy Harrison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Trudy Harrison)
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Mr Deputy Speaker, I know, because we had a little chat earlier, that you share my enthusiasm for this debate, and I cannot imagine a better way to spend the end of the parliamentary day than celebrating the very first World Biosphere Day. Let me begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for securing this timely debate—because today is indeed the day—and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for playing his part today.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon recognised, I have personal experience of North Devon thanks to her very generous invitation, when I was the cycling Minister last summer, to join her on a bike on the Tarka trail. So I have seen for myself the beauty of North Devon, and I absolutely appreciate why her area has secured UNESCO world biosphere status. The UNESCO biosphere programme began in 1971 and there are, as we have heard, seven accredited biosphere reserves in the UK. I would like to spend a little time highlighting the programme and its success, and also the importance of nature.

It is incredibly important that we recognise that much global GDP—more than half, in fact—depends on biodiversity. Over $44 trillion is estimated to be moderately or highly dependent on biodiversity. The loss of tropical rainforests, the collapse of global pollinators and the reduction in marine fisheries would lead to a contraction of global GDP by 2.4% by 2030. That is exactly why we are acting locally and thinking globally. Central banks are directly exposed to nature risk. The Dutch and French central banks have found that 36% and 42% of their portfolios, respectively, are highly dependent on nature.

What has occurred at the North Devon biosphere reserve in is only possible because of collaboration. There is very little that one person can achieve on their own, but I do want to join my hon. Friend with a special mention for Andy Bell, who has co-ordinated the North Devon biosphere reserve partnership. Since its designation 46 years ago—it is as old as me—the biosphere reserve has enabled the fantastic creation of four extra marine conservation zones. It has improved the water quality with habitat and on-farm actions in 34 catchments, planted over 60 hectares of woodland in partnership with landowners, created 20 hectares of saltmarsh, restored 1,500 hectares of culm grassland with the Devon Wildlife Trust and improved over 120 km of riverbank habitat.

This absolutely demonstrates the value of the biosphere programme in bringing together a broad range of stakeholders with a shared endeavour to connect people with nature, and as a mechanism to leverage funding to deliver sustainable development at the catchment scale. It is all very much in line with the principles set out by the biosphere sustainable development aims. This is through nature conservation, with the protection of biodiversity and cultural diversity, and through scientific research, underpinning development through research, monitoring, education and training. We need sustainable development that is socially, culturally, economically and environmentally aligned, symbiotically supporting each other.

The International Day for Biosphere Reserves is UNESCO’s invitation to take inspiration from the solutions already implemented in those areas, and to build genuinely sustainable development everywhere, with full respect for nature and the living world. I absolutely recognise the role that the Man and the Biosphere programme has played in achieving sustainable development goals, by sharing experiences and testing policies. That includes the sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources, and mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

I also wish to recognise our newer biosphere reserves. Those include the Brighton and Lewes Downs, known as the living coast biosphere reserve, which covers more than 390 square kilometres of land and sea, and—my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight is in his place—the Isle of Wight, which was awarded UNESCO biosphere status in 2019, and covers 914 square kilometres of land and sea. Both those areas are undertaking similar local engagement through their respective biosphere reserve partnerships, reflecting their distinct local terrestrial and marine ecosystems. My hon. Friend called on me to recognise further protections, and we are looking at that as part of what was set out in the Environment Act 2021 for how we protect land. I know that he has already had conversations with DEFRA and Natural England about national park status, and I look forward to engaging in conversations to support that.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - -

It is kind of the Minister to say that. I am talking about island park designation, not a national park—some of my farmers would be very concerned if they thought I am planning a national park behind their back. It is some kind of designation under the new planning system. I would love a national park, but I think that ship has sailed.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification—island park designation, indeed—and I look forward to meeting him to discuss that in more detail.

This is an intergovernmental science programme, and the key point is that we use our biosphere reserves to test our approaches for sustainable development in the real world. That is critical to inform initiatives such as local nature recovery strategies, which are a key tool to meet many of our environmental targets under the Environment Act 2021. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said, a foundation of our new approach to sustainable development will be working with farmers and environmental land management.

Those schemes will pay for more sustainable farming practices, and improve animal health and welfare. They will also bring environmental benefits, including landscape-scale environmental changes, which will be a crucial step towards achieving our 25-year environment plan and subsequent environmental commitments, and our net zero goals. That is why we are working extremely closely with farmers and other agricultural and environmental stakeholders to help shape the new schemes through our tests and trials, including the North Devon landscape pioneer, which took place in the North Devon biosphere reserve.

One of the three main functions of biosphere reserves is the conservation of biodiversity. Under the Environment Act, we have committed to halting the decline in species abundance in England by 2030, and to setting at least one other long-term target for biodiversity. Those targets will drive wide-ranging actions to deliver nature recovery. Our three-pillar approach to restoring and improving biodiversity includes: restoring and creating habitat that is greater, bigger, better, and more joined-up; tackling pressures on species and their habitats, for example by addressing pollution—something I know my hon. Friend cares deeply about—and improving water quality; and taking further targeted action for specific, threatened species.

We are already taking action through, for example, our nature for climate fund, which provides £750 million for the creation, restoration and management of woodland and peatland habitats, and our green recovery challenge fund, which is estimated to deliver 600,000 hectares of habitat creation and restoration within and outside protected sites.

On the international front, the UK is committed to securing an ambitious outcome at COP15 to halt and reverse biodiversity loss globally by 2030. We will continue to champion the protection of at least 30% of land and sea globally and recognise that significantly increasing finance from all sources is absolutely needed to halt nature loss.

At least £3 billion of the UK’s international climate finance will go towards solutions that protect and restore nature and biodiversity. We have launched a £500 million blue planet fund to support developing countries to protect the marine environment and develop sustainable marine economies.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon once again for securing the debate, and for raising the profile of our biosphere reserves in facilitating sustainable development at the local, national and international scale, and thus their contribution to a wide range of Government objectives.

Question put and agreed to.

Sewage Pollution

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 6th September 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) has met South West Water to discuss some of these issues. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that in 2016 only about 800 combined sewers were properly monitored and we have increased that to 12,000. Over the next year, we will increase it to 100% coverage. It is because of the action that this Government have taken to increase monitoring, something that no previous Government had done, that we have determined that there is a problem and we are bringing prosecutions against these companies.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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On the island, we have persuaded Southern Water to undertake its most ambitious pathfinder project, which should, in time, see dramatic improvements. We need them, because in the past 24 hours we have had overflows at Bembridge, Cowes, Ryde, Seaview, Freshwater and Gurnard, which is unacceptable. I pay tribute to the work done by the Secretary of State and former Ministers in bringing in these new laws that have exposed the problem. We have seen the complacency and the failure in the water industry. Because of that failure and complacency, should we not now be bringing forward the legal timescales by which we demand action? We have exposed the problem, so can we not do more to demand that those water companies take the action that we all want to see?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important to distinguish between the failure of water companies to abide by their permit conditions, which is an issue and is the reason for the Environment Agency bringing multiple prosecutions on this matter—we must bring that to a speedy conclusion, seek immediate rectification and bring them back into compliance with their permit conditions—and the separate issue of the permitted use of storm overflows. That issue is about long-term investment in infrastructure, which is what our discharge plan addressed.

Bottom Trawling: Marine Protected Areas

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I do agree. Fishing communities need to be a part of the discussion, and local fishing communities in the United Kingdom are pretty good at looking after their coastal waters. The problem is the big guys who come in and hoover the ocean floor. It is necessary to get the right balance, but we have to do a much better job on protection.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I am grateful that my right hon. Friend is championing this matter, because it is so important, and I think there would be strong support on the Isle of Wight for a ban on bottom trawling in all MPAs. In a place such as the Island, a ban on bottom trawling in MPAs combined with, for example, a Reserve Seafood brand, as in Lyme Bay, would be very good news. In Lyme Bay, we see increased catches, increased job satisfaction and increased prices for the fish when fishing is done environmentally and sensitively. I am very supportive of that, and I look forward to helping my right hon. Friend in future.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes some very good points. This is about proper, careful stewardship of the ocean and the ocean floor. As he rightly says, if these things are done well, it can benefit everyone.

Of course, there is another issue, because this is not just about scalping the seabed; it is also about our ability to tackle climate change and absorb carbon. It is not just the fish and other creatures that suffer because of bottom trawling. Kelp and seagrass are enormously important as well, and are a crucial part of improving our absorption of carbon emissions. We know that bottom trawling can destroy them as well, so there is a variety of reasons why we need to deal with this issue.

One irony is that, from time to time, I get messages from constituents who did not back Brexit asking me what benefits it has brought the country. I remember many people saying that Brexit would mean the destruction of all our environmental protections and that Britain would become a pariah nation, but the opposite is true. We can now do something that we could not do before. Bottom trawling was just a reality of the common fisheries policy, and the Minister would have struggled to take the steps that I have been pushing for. We would have had real difficulty overcoming either the vested interests in fishing fleets elsewhere or those countries that have no coast and that were not terribly interested in the issue in the first place. We are now free to act, and I thank the Minister for what she has done so far—the issue today is not a Minister who is saying no. I know she is sympathetic, for which I am grateful. I also know that she continues to face international pressures, and I encourage her to keep resisting those.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is absolutely right that we have to be mindful of the livelihoods of those who work on smaller fishing boats and in the ports around the UK. My Bill was not about getting rid of all of that. History shows that many ports are home to people who are good at managing their fisheries. It is the large boats that we need to deal with, and the Minister has made a good start with the initiation of a ban in four of the protected areas, including Dogger Bank. Well done to her for that step in the right direction.

I asked for this debate so that I could ask the Minister and her officials to move faster on their plans and so that I could share concerns about the approach taken so far. We really need to get on with this as rapidly as possible. There will be more and more pressure in this place to cover not just the first handful of MPAs but a whole raft of them. Although there has been a good start, I sense that progress so far is still much slower than most of us would wish. Of course, officials will want to take a careful and methodical approach, but there is not a lot of time to spare. The more time we take, the more damage is done, and the more damage is done, the longer the ecosystems will take to recover.

Environment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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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.

UK-French Trading Dispute

Bob Seely Excerpts
Thursday 28th October 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I think what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, in a nutshell, is, “Shouldn’t we just roll over and accept these vessels even though they don’t qualify?” The position of the Government is that there were very clearly agreed terms in the trade and co-operation agreement. Any vessel that qualified has been granted access, and that includes many vessels—close to 1,700—in our exclusive economic zone. I do not agree that we should take an approach that says, “We should just let in these people for an easy life.” The reality is that these vessels did not have a track record in our waters. This is not just about data. We have been open to considering data. We have looked at the VALPENA chart data that has come from the European Commission. Because the French were struggling at one point to provide the data, the UK Government went into the commercial market and bought AIS—automatic identification system—data for some of the French vessels so that we could understand their applications better. The data is available, in many cases. We have sought to be as helpful as we can to assist the EU in providing that data, but if it is unable to do so, there comes a point when we must assume that it probably did not have access during the reference period.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his actions. I urge him to hold fast and ensure that we and the French obey the rule of law. If the French Government—they are clearly doing this under Monsieur Macron’s need to get re-elected and to attack us as part of that—keep threatening us and, frankly, abusing their power, I do not understand why we cannot be gently encouraging our exporters to use non-French ports and to move our supply lines potentially to people who will not play politics with the economies of the European Union and the United Kingdom.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously if the French did carry through that threat, individual businesses would make decisions about how best to get their goods to market. The important thing is that we very much hope they will not. We do not think it is consistent with the trade and co-operation agreement. It probably is not consistent with the official control regime under EU law. The official control regime exists to manage risks—it is a risk-based regime—and it is not there to be used for retaliation, as it is being described.

Oral Answers to Questions

Bob Seely Excerpts
Thursday 28th October 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The position of the UK Government was set out very clearly and comprehensively in the Command Paper we published earlier this summer. We also have specialised committees working with EU and UK officials to resolve some of the technical and veterinary issues. We are clear, however, that we want goods to be able to travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without unnecessary barriers in the way.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
- Hansard - -

T3. May I confirm that the Secretary of State and his team are aware of the Isle of Wight’s achievement of UNESCO biosphere reserve status and of our desire to work with the Government on new landscape designations that recognise the Island’s unique sea life, landscape, rare flora, fauna, birds, butterflies and animal species?

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

My hon. Friend is such a great champion for the Isle of Wight. He never ceases to collar me in the corridor to talk about it. He is right that it is an amazing biosphere. He will know that Natural England has started to develop an England-wide assessment to identify further landscape conservation enhancement needs, looking at potential areas of outstanding natural beauty and so on. I urge him to keep that dialogue open.

COP26: Limiting Global Temperature Rises

Bob Seely Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I think I am going to be slightly off-message for most parties in the House, and perhaps even for the Government. I fully support the Government, I wish them well for COP26, and I support all the aims—who wouldn’t? It is perfectly sensible to be looking after the planet better. But rather than apocalyptic doom-mongering and hair-shirted flagellation, we need proper policy making from this. While we all support those aims, we are responsible for 1% of the world’s emissions, and even if we got it completely right, we would go down from 100% to 99%. Yes, we need to set an example—and I voted against the cut from 0.7% because I wanted us to be exporting green energy to the developing world—and let us be a first mover, but we need to keep a sense of perspective.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that point about a sense of perspective, is it not the case that the emissions from the UK amount to less than 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and while it is incredibly important that we do our bit, we do not have a magic wand and we cannot solve the problem on our own?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has summed up much of my speech, and I thank him for that.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry, but I just want to set the record straight. It is not the case that the UK is responsible for only 1% of our global emissions. If we look for the emissions that are linked to the products we consume that we import from countries such as China, we will not find them on our balance sheet, because they are on China’s balance sheet. That is not fair. We are responsible for far more than 1%, because of that and because of our historic cumulative emissions. Please let us have a debate based on fact.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - -

I completely agree. In fact, one of the points that I am coming to is that virtue-signalling about exporting our emissions is incredibly counter-productive. Half our emissions have come about purely because we have exported our guilt to other people. So I agree with the hon. Lady, and, by the way, I thank her for this debate.

Here are some specifics for the Minister. Shutting down our own gasfields while continuing to import gas from other countries is not sensible policy making. I had the privilege of talking to Chris Stark, one of the Government’s senior climate advisers, who said that our renewables would be able to supply us in 15 or 20 years. We were discussing the issue in the context of security, especially in relation to Russian gas. Chris was absolutely right, but for the moment, whether we like it or not, we will be continuing to use that natural gas. It make no sense, therefore, for the relevant committees to deny an extension of the Jackdaw gasfield when we are simply importing gas from elsewhere. We should consider the mileage and pollution costs of bringing gas here by ship, and the fact that we are getting it either from the middle east or, sadly, indirectly from Russia.

Let me come to the point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Half our emission gains in the last 20 years have been because we have been exporting our guilt, effectively to China. Again, it makes no sense. Every time we offshore jobs and wealth creation, we are offshoring them to a country that will take longer to cut its emissions, and has 300 coal-fired power stations. We should be onshoring jobs, because we will do a better job, however imperfectly, than others in trying to reduce the carbon emissions and making that more successful or, at least, less polluting.

We need to take people with us. Most of us here are talking to an important but relatively small part of the electorate who care passionately. Perhaps more people will in time; indeed, I am sure that they will. At the same time, however, we must talk to the people who are worried about bills—who are worried about keeping their families, their children or mum and dad warm this winter. If we do not take people with us, we will lose this debate. Hearing the Californian Windsors lecture hoi polloi from their private jets is hugely counterproductive. Again, we need a sense of realism.

There is a series of practical questions that I would like the Minister to answer. Does she agree that having a housing policy involving low density and greenfield development is no longer sustainable? We all know that the most carbon polluting form of housing is the kind of detached houses that we see in greenfield development. We need land use to be much more effective in this country, not only for quality of life and for plenty of reasons that people involved in planning care about, but also because of the environment.

Wind power is a great success story, and the sceptics have been proved absolutely wrong. Many of the wind turbines that we see out in the North sea are actually made on the Isle of Wight by Vestas. I am delighted that Vestas is there, and I hope that the Government will help me to ensure that it stays there, because it wants to increase the size of the massive blades that it is building. But what news on wave power? What news on tidal power? We have been waiting for years. We have very strong tides in this country, and while tidal power will never provide 100% of our energy supply, it could provide up to 10% or 15%.

Finally, and most important, there is nuclear power. We have avoided this for 10 or 15 years, much to our cost now. I congratulate the Government on the money that they are putting in, but we need to invest considerably in a series of small-scale Rolls-Royce nuclear reactors which will create jobs in this country, and to do it on an industrial basis.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I will.

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I am pleased to note that most Members here are well aware of the real threat and heightened risk that the climate emergency poses to the planet. We also know that with immediate concerted international action, it is still possible to limit the global temperature to 1.5°C in the long term. But the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee itself has warned that the UK’s national resilience to climate change is not keeping pace with the reality. We are not prepared here. Nearly 60% of the risks identified were given its highest threat rating, including loss of land, poor soil health due to flooding, risks to food supply and lack of drinking water. COP26 is not only our best chance; it might be one of our last. The UK’s devolved nations can frankly no longer wait for the UK Government to show real leadership; they must be given a broader role. It is too important an event to be left entirely to a Prime Minister with so little self-awareness that he took a jet to the G7 talks in Cornwall.

My Scottish National party colleagues and I have been overwhelmed by the volume of constituents getting in touch to protest against the Cambo oil field, which the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister about, asking him to reconsider the plans in the light of the severity of the climate emergency we are facing. This is a UK Government who are seriously considering opening the first deep coalmine in 30 years. This is a Government who, just this week, again failed to back the development of Scotland’s carbon capture and storage facility.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I cannot take any interventions, I am sorry.

One in 10 Aberdeen jobs are dependent on oil and gas. This is a community that feels every ebb and flow of the oil industry, and we are losing highly skilled people living in a naturally advantageous location with much of the necessary pipeline and subsea infrastructure already in place. That is absolutely senseless. Why are the Government not putting serious money into solutions that could solve the needs of heavy industry, such as hydrogen development as featured in the St Fergus proposal?

In the very short time I have left, I want to focus on loss and damage. Throughout the Brexit process, we heard time and again that this Government want the UK to stand on its own feet and be internationally admired by all. Well, here is their chance. The COP established the climate change impacts loss and damage mechanism in November 2013 in order to address the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to its effects. This mechanism’s role was recognised at the Paris climate conference, but the countries that have historically been primary contributors to climate change have not formally established their financial obligations. It is essential that this is properly addressed during COP26. Developing nations are already bearing the brunt of climate change, and how we consider those countries in our decision making is to say who we are and how we wish to be judged by future generations.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I will not give way, because I do not have much time, sadly.

Some 75 financial institutions representing €12 trillion have committed to protecting and restoring biodiversity investment in relation to climate change, and the Green Climate Fund is providing $9 billion to restore ecosystems. I very much hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) said about climate finance transparency. I think this is all so important.

We have seen significant progress at the UN General Assembly. The UN has committed to doubling funding to $11.4 billion, which was followed by announcements from the European Commission, Denmark, Sweden, Monaco, Canada, Japan, Germany, the UK, France and the EU. So there is a great deal going on on this agenda, which is not to say that more is not also needed. The COP President-designate has been liaising with countries around the world to get them on board, and to get them to share their commitments because, as everyone has said today, this is not just about the UK.

We are seeing extreme weather conditions all around us, with extreme flooding, wildfires and, even here, flash floods, as well as the terrible climate-induced famine in Madagascar that was referred to eloquently. This has really focused the mind—has it not?—on the fact that this is real, and we have to deal with it. That brings me to how our net zero strategy demonstrates that this Government understand that. This is moving us to clean power, with hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs on this agenda, and leveraging in £90 billion of private investment.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will the Minister give way?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I will not give way.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said, there is a skills and training agenda to back this up. People from the oil industry are already transitioning to the offshore wind, and indeed to geothermal power in Cornwall. I went to have a look at that myself, and what an exciting project that is and could be.

The Prime Minister did such good work at the G7. Just this week, he announced at the global investment summit 18 new trade and investment deals, which will support green growth and create at least another 30,000 new jobs across the UK, thanks to £9.7 billion of foreign investment. It has been quite a week.

That brings me to nature. We must not forget that, because the other side of the climate change coin is biodiversity loss. That is where I come in as the nature recovery Minister, and it is why this Government have made that such a priority. We have committed in law to halt the decline of species abundance by 2030. No other country has done this. It is an amazing commitment, and we should not forget it.

We worked further on the Environment Bill in this House last night, and I think that that shows what a priority nature recovery is. The convention on biological diversity from COP15, and the Kunming declaration, also committed to bending the curve on biodiversity loss. So much is going on, and our nature-based solution work in this country is committed to demonstrating, at home, that we can use nature to tackle climate change. That then brings so many other benefits and spinoffs in holding water, restoring flooding, and so much else.

At COP26 we have a nature day, which we are making an absolute priority. We will also focus on deforestation around the world, as that is an important part of what we will be doing. The forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue will be under way at COP26, as will the US lowering emissions by accelerating the forest finance initiative. We are taking action on climate change. We are leading by example and we are bringing others with us. Yes, it is an emergency and we have to do something about it, but we cannot be continuously negative. We have to be positive, lead by example, and take advantage of the opportunity in Glasgow.