All 14 Deidre Brock contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 26th Feb 2020
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Tue 10th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 12th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 13th sitting & Committee Debate: 13th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 19th sitting & Committee Debate: 19th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 26th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 22nd sitting & Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
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
Mon 8th Nov 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords message & Consideration of Lords message

Environment Bill

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

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I refer hon. Members to my speech on 28 October when we had the dress rehearsal for this Bill—at least we all know our lines now. None the less, the concerns remain the same, because they have not been addressed: the Bill still lacks in ambition; the Office of Environmental Protection still lacks teeth; the Ministry of Defence is still exempt; the armed forces can still cause environmental havoc; national security is still off limits for environmental consideration; renewable energy still does not get the big licks it should be getting; and this Bill is still, in my view, insipid and weak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Bill (First sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 March 2020 - (10 Mar 2020)
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you very much. I apologise; I should have asked that at the beginning for the record, and because there are people in this room who may not read everything that they should have read into just the bald titles.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q Returning to the OEP, what are your thoughts on the relationship between the OEP and the environmental governance bodies, including the Committee on Climate Change, the Environment Agency and Natural England? Major budget cuts have clearly been made at Natural England recently, and the organisation has expressed concerns about its ability to monitor environmental breaches. What are your thoughts on how that works, or does not work, in the Bill?

Martin Baxter: We support the creation of the OEP. Its role in ensuring that public authorities fulfil their duties under environmental law is important. That remit is quite different from the role of the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Committee on Climate Change. That committee has an advisory role; it does a lot of analysis and a lot of fantastic work, but it does not have a role in holding public authorities to account for the delivery of net zero commitments. That is an important distinction to make between the OEP and the Committee on Climate Change.

Ideally, the OEP will be a strategic body able to look at where our governance system might either need to be strengthened or become more effective, and then make recommendations. It has an important monitoring and scrutiny role that extends into progress towards achieving long-term targets and looking at environmental improvement plans, so at least we will have a transparent and independent view of that, which is important. We welcome that.

The OEP also has an ability to advise on the implementation of environmental law. That implementation role is critical, because the effectiveness of environmental law is often in the extent to which it might be properly enforced. In terms of monitoring the implementation of environmental law, the OEP has the power to comment on whether there are sufficient resources in place for those laws to be properly implemented, enforced and delivered. There are the right hooks in the Bill, in terms of the OEP’s role and remit, to allow that to go forward.

None Portrait The Chair
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Ms Norberg, do you want to come in?

Signe Norberg: Martin summarised it fairly well. There is a recognition that these bodies will have to have some level of co-operation. That will be important in terms of the practical aspects of these bodies.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q You sound a wee bit equivocal or dubious about whether the OEP has sufficient powers to enforce this properly. That is the impression I am getting; correct me if I am wrong.

Martin Baxter: No, it has the powers to be able to do it. The question is how it chooses to use its powers. In setting up the OEP, one of the first things it has to do is develop its strategy, which will be absolutely crucial in determining the direction that it sees for itself, in terms of implementing the powers and duties that it has. If it chooses to utilise those powers to help to drive systemic change where there may be weaknesses in our system of environmental governance, that would be really welcome. That is what we expect it to be able to do.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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Q Ms Norberg, in the event that, in the future after the passage of the Bill, the British Government—for whatever reason—do not perform very well and do not do the things that we believe they should, who should be the main accountable individual or group of individuals for that?

Signe Norberg: Within Government?

Environment Bill (Second sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 March 2020 - (10 Mar 2020)
None Portrait The Chair
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Q Ms Hammond, you are nodding. Before we move on, do you want to comment?

Judicaelle Hammond: Yes, thank you for that. We agree that such a clarification would be helpful. The Bill could be tightened in that regard. The one thing I would add on conservation covenants before I answer Mr Afolami’s question is that we have reservations about covenants being de facto, by default, in perpetuity, not least because of climate change and the fact that what you do with a piece of land, given the topology and given what we know is going to happen with climate change, regardless of our success in containing it, might mean that in 30 years’ time it might make sense for nature to do something slightly different with it because the habitat has moved. That is something we need to continue being flexible about.

As for your questions about—this is my way of rephrasing Mr Afolami’s question, I hope I get it right—how we knit together food production and the environment, we do not see a divergence between the two. This Bill and, indeed, the Agriculture Bill give us the opportunity to bring the two together. There are three critical elements if this is going to work. First, clear standards and long-term targets will be provided by the Bill. The second element is advice—something that perhaps we are not talking about enough in farming and the environment. That reflects the findings of the review that Dame Glenys Stacey carried out into the future of farming inspections and regulation. Advice is the first step to improvement. It might well be that advice and different technologies work together really well. For example, precision farming is a case in point where, if you are looking at how to use your inputs as effectively and efficiently as possible, it is good for food production, it is good for your costs as a business and it is good for the environment. The third element is to make sure that the incentives work right, in the way the market is going in terms of labelling and expectations, but also in terms of public policy where there is a market failure.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q In your view, is there sufficient clarity in the Bill regarding the OEP and its role, particularly its relationship with environmental governance bodies, including Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Committee on Climate Change and so on? If you do not think there is sufficient clarity, what would you suggest might be included to make that happen?

Alan Law: From our point of view, we think there is. The Environment Agency is a regulator. What the OEP brings is a body that looks at the operation of public bodies in relation to our environmental ambitions and duties. We do not see an inherent tension. I think there will be areas where we both have a legitimate interest in providing advice to Government. When the national planning policy framework is revised and revisited, we would probably both have inputs to make around that, but we would seek with the OEP to set out under a memorandum of agreement where our respective boundaries lay and avoid any duplication. That is certainly the intention.

Dr Mitchell: I want to add a quick point on the OEP because I think the Bill largely addresses some of the concerns we had about how the new regulator would work with the existing regulatory bodies. I think that is largely sorted out. We think that the OEP should be required to act proportionately. At the moment, the OEP is required to act objectively and impartially, and we think that ought to be extended to proportionately. At the moment, it only has to have regard to act proportionately. It seems to be an omission, so that is one of our asks.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q Given the experiences of Natural England and, so far, little detail around the setting up of the OEP and its funding—I know there is a commitment to multi-year funding, and so on, but little real meat to flesh it out—are there safeguards is the Bill to ensure that the funding will be protected?

Alan Law: The Bill has provisions for the OEP to advise on the adequacy of funding. I am not sure there is much more I can add to that. Clearly, there is a requirement on the Secretary of State to report regularly.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My question is for Dr Mitchell. To clarify a point you raised earlier around covenants, as I understand it, the Bill suggests that these are voluntary. That for me is the key point. You raised a concern about farmers inadvertently signing up. Do you have any further thoughts about that? I assume that they will be advised by the legal profession about what they will be taking up in that respect.

Dr Mitchell: Yes, you are right; they are voluntary agreements, and they have to be between a third party and a landowner. Our concerns are based on the fact that you could be signing up to a covenant, but it does not have to state expressly that it is one. So long as it meets certain tests or criteria, it could be considered to be a covenant, but if it does not state expressly that it is a covenant, farmers may not actually know that it will be a covenant.

I realise the Bill is not in place yet, but we had a recent example where farmers were being asked by a charity to put in ponds and to maintain them over a certain period of time. To all intents and purposes, if you looked at that letter of agreement, it could be considered to be a covenant. We are concerned that, unknowingly or unwittingly, farmers may sign up to one. Clearly, they are quite serious; they could be in perpetuity, but they certainly bind successors in title. We want to make sure that farmers are absolutely clear about what they are signing up to. A small amendment to the Bill, setting out that if something is a covenant it has to state that, would be really helpful.

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None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you. The Minister invited you to set out your concerns, and you have done so very lucidly, if I may say so. We cannot engage too long, however, in a bilateral discussion.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q I would like to direct this to Ruth Chambers. In your submission to the Committee, Greener UK points out that the requirement to have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement does not apply to decision making but is also subject to wide-ranging exemptions. I am speaking specifically of those mentioned in clause 18 regarding the Ministry of Defence and HM Treasury. It specifies

“the armed forces, defence or national security”

and

“taxation, spending or the allocation of resources within government”.

Could you elaborate a little more on your concerns regarding that? Perhaps Ms Newsom and Ms Plummer would have something to add.

Ruth Chambers: I think the environmental principles clauses are really important and, in many ways, are a slightly overlooked part of the Bill, because everyone is interested in the OEP, and many people are interested in targets. The principles have become a little bit forgotten, so I am really pleased that question has been asked today.

They should be the bedrock of the Bill going forward. We were pleased to see the Government and the Minister say that they are intended to place environmental accountability at the heart of Government. That is a shared vision for what they should do. Unfortunately, we do not think that the framework as configured in the Bill will do that, for a number of reasons. You have highlighted one very important reason, which is that there are lots of carve-outs and exclusions. For example, the duty will not apply to the Ministry of Defence and will not apply to decisions like resource allocation and spending and so on. Already, we seem to be absolving quite a large part of Government from the principles.

Secondly, the duty is quite weak. It is to have due regard not to the principles themselves, but to a policy statement. The trouble is that none of us has yet seen what the policy statement says. Ever since it was first mentioned, we have been asking to see what it is, so that we can have some comfort that it will be a helpful tool for policy makers and for stakeholders. The sooner that it can be published—ideally, that would be during the Bill’s passage—the better.

The third reason is that this part of the Bill will apply to England only. We have questions as to what will happen to the principles in the rest of the UK and how trans-boundary decisions will be guided by the principles in the future.

Finally, on the policy statement, if you look at comparable arrangements for how policy statements on, say, national energy projects are endorsed and approved by Parliament, you see that they are subject to a motion that is voted on by Parliament. There is no such thing for this policy statement. We think that, if it really is that important, there should be some tighter parliamentary oversight of it.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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Q I want to turn the conversation back to the OEP. Can you explain why the Committee on Climate Change and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have similar independence, if not slightly weaker, to the OEP? Have those bodies not clearly shown that the independence of the OEP set out in the Bill is credible?

Ruth Chambers: It is an interesting question about the EHRC. We recently came across something that, if it would help the Committee, we could provide a short note on. I think that last year the Government undertook what is called a tailored review of the EHRC. In its evidence to that review, the Equality and Human Rights Commission itself was arguing for greater independence, more accountability to Parliament and a slightly different model, but the Government said that they did not think that that was appropriate for that body. So even a body that the Minister this morning was drawing some comparison with is saying that it feels that it is not sufficiently independent from Government.

We would not say that, for us, in the NGO sector, that is the best comparator. The two bodies that we think are more comparable in this space are the National Audit Office and the Office for Budget Responsibility—not necessarily in terms of their form and function, but in terms of how their independence is delivered via laws, both now and in the long term.

Ali Plummer: It is worth saying that what we are looking for here, ultimately, is that the OEP will hold the Government to account on meeting their environmental obligations, so building in some independent safeguards just to make sure that there is that gap between what the OEP can do, in terms of holding Government to account, and how it is set up is really important. As Ruth said, there are clear examples of that happening in other places, so what we are calling for is certainly not unique or unheard of in other places. I think that it would make sense to apply it to the OEP as well.

Environment Bill (Fourth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 12th March 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 12 March 2020 - (12 Mar 2020)
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much, gentlemen. The 25-year plan is being enacted through the Bill, and the plan does touch on the area that you mention, but thank you.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q I will ask two questions that I put to previous witnesses. The first is about clause 18, and the exemptions for the armed forces, defence or national security, and for taxation, spending or the allocation of resources within Government, and whether you think that is appropriate. I have been doing some work on munitions dumps around the UK coast. I have also called for environmental audits to be done of the Ministry of Defence’s activities—for example, on land and sea—so I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on that.

On clause 20, and the requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to report on international environmental protection legislation every two years, do you think it might be more appropriate for the OEP to do that, and to decide what international legislation is really important, rather than the Secretary of State?

Dr Benwell: On the exemptions from the principles policy statement, it is important to think about the weaknesses in that section as a whole. It is unfortunate that the legal duty attached to the principles is to have due regard to a principles policy statement, rather than some sort of direct duty on the principles themselves. I am hopeful that the principles policy statement, when it comes out, will do some beneficial things, if it reaches into all Government Departments and sets a clear process for the way the principles should be considered. I hope that the Department will be able to share its thinking on the principles policy statement as we go. Engagement has been very good, on the whole, with the Bill, but it would really help to see that principles policy statement in public.

The exemptions are very wide-ranging. It perhaps makes sense for certain activities of national security to be exempt. However, there is no reason to exempt Ministry of Defence land, for example, which includes areas of extremely important biodiversity. In fact, that is probably one area where we will see net gain credits generated on public land under the net gain clause, so it is strange that that is exempt.

Perhaps the weirdest exemption is the one that essentially takes out everything to do with the Treasury. When we are thinking about things like the principle of “the provider is paid and the polluter pays”, it is very strange that nothing to do with taxation or spending will be considered in the principles policy statement.

As for clause 20, I think you could do both. It would be perfectly possible for the Government and the OEP to consider international examples, and I think it would be very useful to benchmark both primary legislation and secondary legislation, in terms of non-regression. The Bill as a whole can make sure that we never have to rely on that if it is strong enough and brave enough.

None Portrait The Chair
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Mr Monbiot, do you have anything to add?

George Monbiot: No, that was a lovely answer.

--- Later in debate ---
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have a quickfire question. We have our resources and waste strategy, which sets our long-term targets for reducing waste and for sending zero biodegradables to landfill by 2030. Overall, do you see the measures in the waste and resources section of the Bill, which is large, as a big step forward in putting all this together?

Libby Peake: I think it is a really big step forward in sorting out the long-standing problems of the recycling system. It is not yet clear how it will deliver the Government’s commitments and aspirations on waste reduction and resource use reduction. In a way, it is slightly unfortunate—not that I would want to the delay the Bill—that this has come out before the waste prevention plan update, which was due last year and which I understand will be consulted on soon. Hopefully, that will set out some more ambitious policies for how resource use and waste will be minimised before we get to recycling.

Richard McIlwain: That is a fair point. Absolutely, from a Keep Britain Tidy perspective, we welcome the measures in the Bill. The extended producer responsibility, DRS and charging for single-use items—we hope it is not just single-use plastic items—are big steps forward. As Libby says, in terms of extended producer responsibility, it talks about promoting not just recycling but refill. You would hope that the modulated sums applied to each piece of packaging would be far less if an item can be refilled or reused rather than simply recycled.

There does not seem to be much in there in terms of how we reduce our material footprint overall and how we reduce our waste overall. That is probably an area that we need to consider.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q I want to ask about the targets timeframe. In the Bill, the targets do not have to be met until 2037. Does that date reflect the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in?

Richard McIlwain: In a word, no.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q What do you think might be a realistic but slightly more ambitious target?

Richard McIlwain: The Bill allows for five-year plans and for interim targets within that. I do not believe they are statutory targets. We should be looking at statutory targets that are within a parliamentary cycle.

It is all very well having long-term, 15-year targets—that is absolutely the right way; the Climate Change Act 2008 is a classic example of that—but having statutory targets that are agreed at the beginning of each Parliament and then enforced through that Parliament will be key, not just in terms of arriving at the 15-year target, but in terms of giving investors, business and others confidence that they can invest in things that are not ultimately going to be stranded assets.

Libby Peake: It is quite difficult to say, because we do not know what the targets are going to be. Obviously whatever the targets are, we want them to be as ambitious as possible, and we want to have interim statutory targets to make sure that we are meeting them, like you get with the Climate Change Act.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have 14 minutes left and six people who want to use up that time. It is highly unlikely that I will get all six people in, but those who do get the opportunity to ask questions, please be as rapid as possible.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Will you welcome as much alignment as possible through your version of the OEP? We have made it clear who comes under that and where people go to report. Would you like to see a similar body?

Alison McNab: What is important is that whatever is set up can work well alongside the OEP. Perhaps there is scope for strengthening provisions in the Bill for the OEP to work alongside bodies in the devolved Administrations to ensure good working relationships, consistency, the sharing of information, and so on.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Good afternoon, and thank you for coming down. The Bill leaves a number of things out of its scope, including tax and spend and allocation of resources by the Treasury, and MOD activities, among others. Do you think that is a sensible way to go about things? Perhaps I should not say sensible. What are your thoughts on those exemptions?

Lloyd Austin: From the point of view of environmental NGOs, we agree. Greener UK colleagues made this clear earlier in the week, and we support those comments. The definition of environmental law is perhaps too narrow. We are interested in policies and measures that have an impact on the environment, because we are interested in environmental outcomes and achieving good environmental objectives. That is the key thing. If any policy or piece of legislation has an effect, whether good or bad—many things are good, and many may not be so good—it should come under the remit or gamut of somebody considering the impact on the environment. Therefore, the definition should be as broad as possible.

In reality, we accept that there will be exceptions. Those exceptions should be based not on the kind of broadbrush things indicated, but on a degree of justification for why—reasons of national security or whatever—the environmental issue has to be overwritten. Nobody thinks the environment will always trump everything but, on the other hand, where the environment is trumped, there should be a good reason, and that reason should be transparent to citizens.

John Bynorth: The question of exemptions may be for the military. I understand that they currently apply the principles of environmental law, but why should they be exempt? They use a huge amount of machinery and there are air quality issues there. It seems that the Secretaries of State will have the final decision on which targets are implemented, so there are concerns about that. It is a bit arbitrary and unjustified that the military, for example, should not be subject to the same conditions as everyone else.

Alison McNab: Without touching on the specific exemptions, it strikes me that there may be scope for greater specification within the Bill about what the exemptions are to be. If memory serves me correctly, when the Bill was consulted on at draft stage in late 2018 and early 2019, there was an additional exemption around anything else that the Secretary of State considered should be exempt. We have come some way from that view. There may also be greater scope for scrutiny within the Bill on the exemptions, which the Committee may wish to consider strengthening. Essentially, there are opportunities for more specification and more scrutiny.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q While recognising that devolution can mean deviation, and that that can have some positive effects, some of those opportunities can also turn into risk because the environment is transboundary and business is transboundary too. What do you see as the risks if the Scottish body took a fundamentally different approach to that of the Office for Environmental Protection?

Alison McNab: I referred to environmental regulatory tourism earlier on—call it whatever you wish. There will always be issues around people trying to beat the system, and that is a risk if there are varying standards. However, on the flip side, there are opportunities to drive improved performance or improved outcomes. There may be commercial interests that need to be taken into account, so it may not be viable to do a different thing in one jurisdiction from another.

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Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Given what you know about the OEP’s governance framework and the concerns you have highlighted about divergence and risks—race to the bottom and that type of thing—I am trying to gauge what importance you would place on there being a structure in the devolved Administrations equivalent to the OEP here in England.

Lloyd Austin: From my point of view, I would say it is very important that the governance gap, as we called it soon after the referendum result, applies everywhere in the UK, and it should be filled everywhere in the UK, whether that is for devolved or reserved matters. We very much welcome the recent announcement by the Scottish Government that they will be establishing some form of body. We are yet to see the detail; we understand that detail will be published later this month. We are less clear on the proposal for Wales. Of course, this Bill addresses Northern Ireland in schedule 2. Wales is the area that still has the biggest question mark, but we would want the Scottish body to be as good as or better than the OEP.

John Bynorth: I would totally back that up. The Scottish Government’s environment strategy, which has only just been published, says that there will be robust governance to implement and enforce laws for their equivalent body. We do not know the detail of that—who will be leading it, and what sort of people will be on it and how they will be appointed, but it has got to be totally independent. You cannot have a body for the rest of the UK that has a different standard; they have to have the same standard and the same quality of people involved, and the same toughness to really crack down on people and organisations that breach the law. Our job as an independent and impartial organisation is to ensure that they are held to account on that, so once it is published and we know more details, we will be able to push on that.

I certainly think that having a strong figurehead for the two organisations is important—the OEP and whatever it will be called in Scotland. Personally, I think John Gummer, Lord Deben, does a brilliant job at the Committee on Climate Change. He has vast experience as a former Environment Minister, right at the top level of the UK Government. You need figures like that, who are also independent of politicians, so they can actually make decisions. Those sort of people inspire others to come on board. You need a strong staff who will stand up to organisations that flout the law—they have got to be very strong. It is up to us to ensure that whatever the Scottish Government produce is to that sort of standard. Hopefully, organisations similar to us down here will do the same with the OEP.

Alison McNab: I agree with the comments that have been made. It is clear that there is going to be a governance gap once we reach the end of the transition period, and it is important that there are provisions put in place to mitigate that. Whether that is done by way of a single body, as in the OEP, or by different bodies taking different roles, is a matter up for grabs. The Scottish Government have announced their intention to have a single body, which we presume will be similar to the OEP. I think what will be crucial is the way that those bodies work in terms of how they set their strategy. The OEP requirement to consult on the strategy is a good thing and will enable stakeholders to contribute to devising how that body is going to operate. I hope there will be similar opportunities for the body that is created in Scotland in terms of what direction it is going to take and how it will undertake its functions.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q With a view to trying to learn from the possible mistakes of others, there is a provision in the Bill that would prevent public bodies from making complaints to the OEP. We could find ourselves with the possibility that one public body could be aware of another committing a breach of the law without having the option of raising that complaint with the OEP, or perhaps one council being aware of another council breaching the law and not being able to take action with the OEP about it. Should we be looking at amending that in the Bill?

Alison McNab: I would have to go away and give further consideration to that. On the one hand, there are laudable reasons for having that provision, but, equally, we recognise that there is a potential for something like a race to the bottom, where bodies are perhaps not subject to the same degree of scrutiny that they might be.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Sure. I like the idea of the race to the top that you mentioned, Mr Austin. I noticed in your briefing, John, the air quality issues and the more stringent standards that we have in place in Scotland, for example. Hopefully, folk will learn from that.

I want to ask you, Ms McNab, about clause 19. In your Law Society of Scotland briefing paper, you raised a couple of concerns that I am keen to hear a little more on.

Alison McNab: Absolutely. The clause you refer to relates to statements about Bills containing environmental provisions. It provides some degree of scrutiny. However, it might be somewhat limited in its scope. There is no recourse provided in the Bill if, for example, Parliament or external stakeholders felt that a matter had not been given proper consideration. Also, there is a question around how that is tested. How is the statement tested and how is it subject to scrutiny?

Lloyd Austin: On your first point, like Alison I need to think about it a bit more, but I see that there is some degree of logic in one public body not being able to complain about another. Public bodies should have existing mechanisms to raise concerns with central Government.

From the point of view of NGOs and our members, ordinary citizens, the really important thing to make sure exists—this applies to the OEP and the Scottish or Welsh bodies—is a mechanism that enables ordinary citizens to raise concerns with the OEP. That is in there to some degree. There are ways in which that could be strengthened, but it is vital that that exists in the other bodies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, with, as I said earlier, an ability for the OEP and the Scottish and Welsh bodies to pass one citizen’s complaint to another if that is necessary. If the citizen has inadvertently complained to the wrong body, it should be able to pass it on, and in some cases bodies maybe should be able to work together in a joint investigation. Some issues that citizens might be concerned about may be caused by both a reserved and a devolved matter, or may be caused by, as we discussed earlier, the Scottish and UK Governments not working together very well. The two bodies working together to encourage better co-operation might be one form of remedy that they would have available to them. We represent ordinary members of the public who are members of our organisation, and it is those citizens’ right to complain. Most public bodies can normally find a citizen if they want to.

John Bynorth: There is an increased awareness of the environment. A poll last week showed increased awareness of climate change impacts, and the poll was taken even before the recent flooding in south Wales, Shropshire and the midlands. People are increasingly taking an interest in these things. Communities in Newcastle, for example, and even in Edinburgh, have low-cost monitoring centres to check air pollution in the towns and streets where they live, so there is huge awareness of that and climate change as well. People will want an outlet where they can complain if they think something is wrong. The office will need to be aware of that and will need to respond to that. It is a changing environment: people’s attitudes are changing all the time.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Good points. Thank you.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I welcome your comments on closer collaboration. Are there any parts of the Bill that you like and think should be adopted in Scotland?

John Bynorth: Obviously, if the Office for Environmental Protection had teeth, clout and the ability to fine people in the rest of the UK, I would want to see that in Scotland, too. In other respects, certainly the Governments work together. There are differences, as I say, but if they could work together, that would be one of the best things.

Lloyd Austin: From my point of view, the varying extent of different parts of the Bill is appropriate, because it tends to reflect the arrangements that have been agreed between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. For instance, the deposit return scheme does not apply to Scotland, and that is because they have already got their provisions in place. Those other areas, such as extended producer responsibilities, are included and, as the Minister said earlier, they have opted in. I think the different extent is a consequence of developments to date; it reflects those developments.

The biggest gap is the issue of reserved areas, or the application of EU environmental principles to decisions by UK Ministers relating to reserved matters in Scotland and Wales. Those are excluded from the Bill, and it is a gap. It may be—as stakeholders, we do not know—that the Governments have agreed to legislate for that in some other way, through Scottish legislation or subsequent Welsh legislation. However, because we have not seen that, we do not know, and there has been no statement to that effect. As far as observers are aware, that gap still remains. It may be filled by an amendment to the Bill, or by Scottish legislation with the agreement of UK Ministers or whatever—we do not know—but we want to keep highlighting that it is a gap that does need to be filled.

Alison McNab: The Scottish Government have joined where they have felt that they can, or where they have felt that to be appropriate. Certainly Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, made the statement before the relevant Committee in the Scottish Parliament back in October that an agreement had been reached in relation to the extended producer responsibility. There may be other areas where harmonisation can be achieved.

As Lloyd says, there is potential for a gap in the environmental principles. There is also some uncertainty around reserved matters and the OEP, and what those matters are; there may be some matters involved that appear in schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. Product labelling and product standards spring to mind; there are certain exceptions there. There may be some issues that still need to be considered. REACH is another example where there is quite a complicated mix of reserved and devolved issues. What is important is having clarity on those things. Where collaboration can be achieved, that is good, but you need to ensure that no gaps are left.

Environment Bill (Seventh sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 19th March 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 19 March 2020 - (19 Mar 2020)
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, let me say that we appreciate the constructive way in which this has been handled. I thank the Clerks and staff. We look forward to resuming, because we have a lot of amendments to discuss, but I thank everyone for managing to smooth this out so swiftly. Thank you for your chairmanship, Mr Evans.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I echo the hon. Member’s comments. I am not aware of any discussion held between our Whips, but I am sure that one did happen. While I am extremely disappointed, as we all must be, that the Committee cannot continue at this point, I look forward to its resumption in the near future, once we have got through this terrible time.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

These are unprecedented times. They have even got me chairing the Committee!

Environment Bill (Ninth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 3 November 2020 - (3 Nov 2020)

Division 4

Ayes: 5


Labour: 5

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 114, in clause 18, page 11, line 19, leave out paragraph (a).

This amendment removes the exceptions for armed forces, defence and national security policy from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 93, in clause 18, page 11, line 19, leave out

“the armed forces, defence or”.

This amendment removes the exceptions for armed forces and defence policy from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

It is important to establish a principle that no area of Government should be exempted from its responsibilities to the environment. The amendment brings the activities of the Ministry of Defence, the armed forces, defence and national security into the scope of the Bill. I have been talking at length on this subject for some time now, and have submitted numerous parliamentary questions on it. Some of those questions actually received answers, but sadly I am still awaiting a letter from the Minister for Defence People and Veterans outlining the environmental impact assessment of the MOD’s operations at Cape Wrath, which he promised me in February of this year. Perhaps mentioning that today will jog his memory a little.

We have swathes of munitions dumps up and down the UK coast, still imperilling our fishers and others on our waters. There are also large chunks of land in the UK currently outside the scope of the Bill. Yes, hundreds of nuclear safety incidents on the Clyde were acknowledged by the MOD, but only because of written questions I had submitted. We have no idea what impact military fuels are having. Scientists for Global Responsibility estimates that 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from military-related activities.

I understand that the percentage share of the UK’s emissions total is lower for defence here, but our omissions from the military are still higher than those of some entire countries. By taking this action, the UK really could act as a world leader and role model. We have no idea what impact weapons testing or training efforts have. I know because of my parliamentary questions that assessments are made, but they are not published. It must be possible to make such assessments transparent without compromising the safety of our forces and their interests.

A number of witnesses to the Committee, when I asked them about the issue, seemed to agree that it was something of an anomaly. Lloyd Austin of Scottish Environment LINK, while accepting that exceptions will exist, said that they

“should be based…on a degree of justification for why…the environmental issue has to be overwritten. Nobody thinks the environment will always trump everything but, on the other hand, where the environment is trumped, there should be a good reason, and that reason should be transparent to citizens.”

John Bynorth of Environmental Protection Scotland said:

“It is a bit arbitrary and unjustified that the military…should not be subject to the same conditions as everyone else.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2020; c. 143, Q202.]

Ruth Chambers, from Greener UK, speaking about the fact that this duty will not apply to the Ministry of Defence, said:

“Already, we seem to be absolving quite a large part of Government from the principles.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 10 March 2020; c. 71, Q112.]

The environmental principles, that is.

I am not going to speak for long—we have many amendments to get through—but I have been raising this issue for a long time. I was delighted to see Labour come on board too, although disappointed to see that they still want to keep the exemption for national security. We have to ask what kind of national security will be left to us if the environment goes belly up.

From answers received from the House of Commons Library, I know that there are so many pieces of primary legislation containing exemptions relating to the armed forces that it is not possible to list them all. If we are going to start stopping these exemptions for the military, the place to start should be in the Environment Bill. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response, but I am going to press the amendment to a vote.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 18 makes the armed forces, defence or national security exempt from due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles. It is detrimental to leave this whole section of Government out of the Bill’s provisions. If we want this Bill to be a legal framework for environmental governance and to have all the correct people in one room, why leave out one of the biggest polluters, the biggest spenders and the biggest landowners? It just does not make sense in terms of achieving ambitious net zero targets.

Were the exemption to be confined and constricted to decisions relating to urgent military matters and those of national security, it is of course entirely reasonable. I fully accept that there will be occasions when national security has to take precedence over environmental concerns. We do not want to impede the work of our armed forces or compromise our safety and security in any way. However, the clause is not drafted as tightly, cleverly and smartly as that. Rather, it is a blanket exclusion for the Ministry of Defence, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the armed forces from complying with the environmental principles set out in the Bill.

The carbon footprint of UK military spending was approximately 11 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018—very significant. Some £38 billion was spent on defence last year alone—more than 2% of our GDP. Bringing how that is spent in line with our environmental aims is essential to achieving our overall national environmental targets. If it is not in the Bill, it is just going to be left to goodwill and to hoping that it will work.

I hope that the Minister will shortly argue that the principle is important and, if it is, the armed forces and defence must not be exempt—that is how we show it is important. The Ministry of Defence is one of the largest landowners in the country, with an estate that is nearly equal to 2% of the UK landmass. Last week I was on Salisbury plain, which is the size of the Isle of Wight. It is where significant military work is carried out, but it is also where a significant environmental advantage could be held.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation manages 431,400 hectares of land within the UK. The sites are used for training, accommodation and large bases and the organisation has a remit to ensure the safety, sustainability and rationalisation of the estate. It states that:

“MOD has a major role to play in the conservation of the UK’s natural resources. Stewardship of the estate means that the MOD has responsibility for some of the most unspoilt and remote areas in Britain; with statutory obligations to protect the protected habitats and species that they support.”

I am not arguing that the Ministry of Defence does not care about the environment. I am saying that, if we all care about the environment, the MOD should come within the legal framework of guidance. We can have an amendment specifically tailored for the armed forces. Much of the land used by the MOD for training and operations is in highly sensitive environments and many parts are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty, including Dartmoor, Lulworth, Warcop and the Kent downs. They are subject to a number of associated policy processes, such as bylaw reviews, planning applications and so on, which means that they are subject to environmental protection. They should be joined up and come within the remit of the Bill as well.

A reason for adding this matter to the Bill is that the Ministry of Defence is already deeply committed to environmental protection and to tackling climate change, but a major rethink of defence policy is needed to achieve our ambitious environmental aims. New approaches to procurement are needed in particular. The Air Force, for example, is looking at different types of aircraft fuel. That should come within the Environment Bill, not without.

It prompts the question of why there is a blanket exemption, as it does not give credit to the armed forces and to the newly formed strategic command for all the work they are doing to achieve our environmental goals. The clause should be tightened up considerably. Rather than separating them, here is an opportunity to link the Bill’s environmental principles to the armed forces’ environmental objectives. We are in a climate emergency. There is no time to wait around for the goodwill of enormous Departments to get in line—certainly not one with such significant spending, carbon emissions and land ownership. I urge the Minister to support the amendment, or to come back with a smarter amendment that enshrines our national security at the same time as enforcing the speed of environmental action that we need and expect the armed forces to be able to deliver.

--- Later in debate ---
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a significant amount. Actually, I think the shadow Minister is right and it is nearer 2%. More than a third—38%—of that area is designated as sites of special scientific interest. SSSIs have a statutory duty that they will be managed and protected and that duty is not removed—it is not exempted. As such, that work carries on. The MOD’s record on getting those sites into favourable condition is good, with 48% of the sites in that condition. The MOD works very hard with Natural England on those plans and projects; it has a dedicated environmental team, working on the environment through the MOD.

When I was a news reporter, I had a wonderful day with the MOD up on Salisbury Plain, looking at its tremendous stone curlew project. Even though the tanks rattle across, the stone curlews can still thrive. The Whip is looking at his phone, but I am sure that he lives near there; I would like someone to report back to me on how the stone curlews are doing now, because that is a fantastic project.

To go back to my point, because of the particular sensitivities of this policy area as well as existing environmental commitments, I hope that I am giving some clarity as to why the MOD is exempted. It might be helpful for the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith to note that there are exemptions in the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, and they are in categories that are quite similar to those in this Bill, if not a little bit wider. They are listed in clause 10(3) of that Bill as

“(a) national defence or civil emergency,

(b) finance or budgets.”

I thought that it might be interesting to put that on the record.

I hope that I have provided some clarity on this issue. I think we are covering a lot of the same ground here, so I ask the hon. Member to withdraw her amendment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

The Minister talks about the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, but unfortunately defence is still reserved to Westminster, so I am afraid that the Scottish Government would not have any control over that issue anyway.

The issue for me here is transparency for our citizens, so that they know exactly what impact the armed forces are having on our environment. The Minister talks about the highly sensitive nature of the armed forces’ activities, but not all their activities are sensitive. For example, what are their recycling rates and what are their targets towards the reduction of emissions? Regarding the environmental impact of the armed forces, just today we heard on the radio from the actor Joanna Lumley about the impact of underwater explosions on marine mammals, and the hearing loss that results when munitions that have been on the seabed for many years are detonated. Such issues will become more and more important. I have pursued the question of munitions dumps for a while, as I mentioned; it is not going away. There is an increasing clamour about it from around the world, and it is important for the Minister to remember that because it will return as an issue in the near future.

It is simply no longer acceptable for the armed forces to be exempt from reporting their progress towards climate change targets, or their compliance with environmental targets or any of the other targets that other parts of Government are required to report on. I am disappointed that the Government cannot support this amendment. As I have said, the number of exemptions for the armed forces in primary legislation across Government is extraordinary; in fact, there are so many that the Commons Library felt that it could not list them in their entirety in its briefing.

It is important to hold to the principle that we all have a part to play in trying to save the planet. There should be no exemptions for any Government Department. I accept that there are sensitivities around national security, but I think there are ways of addressing them and taking them into account. I am delighted that Labour Members are with me on this issue, and I will press the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 94, in clause 18, page 11, line 20, leave out paragraph (b).

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

Bearing in mind that we have had something of a debate on this subsection overall, I need not detain the Committee long on this amendment, other than to say that it is a mystery to me that taxation, spending or the allocation of resources should be exempted in the same way that the armed forces should be exempted. The Minister defined why the armed forces should be exempted: they are doing things in the national interest and pursuing our defence. But taxation, spending and the allocation of resources are not doing that. They are doing things that are important to the country but do not come under that definition at all. I cannot understand the justification for exempting them from the provisions on the policy statements on environmental principles or what the exemption’s effect will be. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what her justification for this particular exemption is. I presume that it does not relate to national security or defence manoeuvres or activities that we should be pleased happen but do not need to know too much about. It would seem that this falls outside all those categories. There must therefore be some other reason and I am sure that we are about to hear about it.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

The amendment would bring tax and spend into the scope of the Bill. I am glad that Labour is also addressing this because when I mentioned this on Second Reading, few Members seemed to have grasped it. It is a really important point. If we are not considering the big issues of politics and the spending on them, we are not putting the environment high on the list of priorities. Likewise, if environmental considerations do not play a part in taxation decisions, we are missing a great chance to influence people’s behaviour and help save our planet.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank hon. Members for tabling the amendment. While we recognise the intention behind it, it is important to maintain the exemption to ensure sound economic and fiscal decision making. It is important to be clear that this exemption only refers to central spending decisions, because at fiscal events and spending reviews such decisions must be taken with consideration to a wide range of public priorities. These include public spending on individual areas such as health, defence, education and the environment, as well as sustainable economic growth and development, financial stability and sustainable levels of debt.

There is no exemption for individual policy interventions simply because they require spending. Ministers should still have due regard to the policy statement when developing and implementing all policies to which the statement is applicable. This means that while the policy statement will not need to be used when the Treasury is allocating budgets to Departments, it will be used when Departments develop policies that draw upon that budget. This is the best place for the use of the policy statement to effectively deliver environmental protection.

With regard to the exemption for taxation, let me reassure hon. Members that the Government are committed to encouraging positive environmental outcomes through the tax system, as demonstrated already by our commitment to introducing a new tax on plastic packaging, to encourage greater use of recycled plastic. We also have examples such as the woodland carbon guarantee and commitments to biodiversity net gain, with the Treasury commissioning the Dasgupta report. A raft of measures demonstrate this. However, we need to ensure the Treasury Minister’s ability to alter the UK’s fiscal position is not undermined, since taxation raises the revenue that allows us to deliver essential public services, such as the NHS, police and schools.

Although I recognise the purpose of the amendment, it is beneficial for the country that the Treasury can make economic and financial decisions with regard to a wide range of considerations, which will, of course, include the environment and climate. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw this amendment.

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 188, in schedule 1, page 124, line 26, at end insert—

“10A Where the function is being exercised in relation to Scotland or in Scotland the OEP must—

(a) delegate the function to an environmental governance body designated by the Scottish Ministers, and

(b) provide the resources for that function to be exercised.”

This amendment aims to introduce the geographical imperative to ensure clear lines of reporting and response in Scotland and to clarify that the body acting in Scotland will be acting with consent of Scottish Ministers, thus respecting the devolution settlement.

Clearly, the Bill before us is applicable largely to this place because, as I have already referenced, environmental policy is, in the main, devolved. There are, however, still areas here and there within the Bill that require a little tidying to ensure that there is no danger of devolved regulatory powers being affected or even overridden inadvertently.

The amendment ensures that on the rare occasions when the OEP acts in Scotland, it will do so only with the consent of Scottish Ministers. In fact, amendments 190 and 191 also seek to respect the devolved Administration in Scotland.

Amendment 188 is about respecting the devolved Administration in Scotland, ensuring that the regulatory functions remain with the Scottish regulator, as is currently the case. It is about the Scottish Parliament and Government forging a different kind of future that will keep driving forward improvements in environmental policy. It means, too, that the Scottish regulator—currently the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—would maintain a holistic view of environmental policy in Scotland. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. The amendment gives me a good opportunity to demonstrate that the Government’s new environmental governance framework respects the devolved settlements. She will be aware that the environment is largely a devolved matter and, as such, it is for each Administration to develop and deliver their own environmental governance proposal in relation to the devolved functions.

The Bill therefore makes a clear distinction between devolved and non-devolved functions, and we have ensured that the OEP can cover England and any matters across the wider UK that have not been devolved. That is necessary, as non-devolved matters cannot be addressed by the devolved Administration’s own governance arrangements once these ones are in place.

We expect that all the remaining devolved matters that fall outside the remit of the OEP will be addressed by the devolved Administration’s governance proposals in due course. Indeed, we welcome the steps that Scotland has taken to establish its own environmental body. The Bill is drafted in such a way as to ensure that the OEP can exercise its functions only on matters that are not devolved in respect of Scotland, so it would be inappropriate to delegate such functions to Environmental Standards Scotland, the intended equivalent Scottish body, to deliver those functions.

We do, none the less—and I did want to be at pains to say this—expect that the OEP will work harmoniously and productively with equivalent bodies in the devolved Administrations. That is obviously really important, since we cannot control the air, water or lots of things like that: in many cases, we will be working in tandem. That is why in clause 40(2)(f) we have made provision for the OEP to share information with its devolved equivalents and why in clause 24(4) we have placed a duty on it to consult them on any relevant matters.

Beyond the provisions already in the Bill, the OEP and its equivalent bodies will also have discretion to jointly decide how best to co-ordinate these activities. The OEP has been carefully designed to respect the devolution settlements by limiting its scope to environmental law, the definition of which specifically excludes matters falling within the devolved competence in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Government consider it inappropriate and contrary to the delineation of legislative responsibilities under the devolution settlements to delegate the OEP’s functions in this context. I thank the hon. Member for raising this issue, because I want to be at pains to be clear about how we are working with the devolved Administrations, but I believe the amendment is unnecessary. I ask her to kindly withdraw it.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I have great respect for the Minister and for her sincerity—I genuinely do. I think she absolutely means what she says and she absolutely thinks that the way things are at the moment under her ministerial leadership will remain the same forever.

I am afraid that, ultimately, her suggestions do not cut the mustard with me, because environmental policy is devolved to Scotland. The amendment simply requires that, rather than Scottish Ministers just being consulted, they are actually required to give some sort of consent. As the amendment says in sub-paragraph (a), whatever the environmental issue is, the function should be put to a

“body designated by the Scottish Ministers”.

Without that agreement from the Government, I am afraid that I will have to ask that the amendment be put to a vote. Things are either devolved or they are not. I do not think that whether the Government at the time feel that they have a greater locus in an area than the devolved Government in place at the time should be part of the consideration. It is important that the responsibility for environmental policy that rests with devolved Governments is fully respected and that the agreement of the Scottish Government is sought in all instances to do with environmental policy.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Environment Bill (Tenth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Environment Bill (Tenth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 5th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 5 November 2020 - (5 Nov 2020)
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friends have made powerful contributions on the overall independence of the OEP and the circumstances under which that independence can be enhanced or undermined. In terms of our general discussions this morning, hon. Members will see that the importance of the OEP—its crucial role in holding other bodies to account and possibly taking them to court—puts the OEP into a reasonably unique category as far as such bodies are concerned. Comparisons with some of those other bodies fall rather short in terms of making a distinction between the importance of the OEP and, indeed, the importance originally attached to it by previous Secretaries of State in introducing the Bill in the first place.

That, essentially, is a theme that we will be pursuing today, and amendment 156 is part of that. While I hear what the Minister says about the Department’s ability to guide and control part of the OEP’s actions, it is not good enough, in the context of the formulation before us, to say that the independence of the OEP can be compromised for the purposes set out. We do not intend to pursue the point to a Division this morning, but in terms of the corpus of our contributions on this clause, I want to place on record that the same goes for the debate later today, and we hope that those comments will be heard.I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 22

Principal objectives of the OEP and exercise of its functions

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 189, in clause 22, page 13, line 16, leave out subsection (5).

This amendment removes the restriction on the OEP overlapping with the Committee on Climate Change.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 30 and 66.

Government new clause 4—Memorandum of understanding.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

May I send my best wishes to the Minister, and wish her a speedy recovery? I look forward to seeing her back in her place next week.

I say from the outset that amendment 189 is really a probing amendment. I am trying to gain a better understanding of what the Government were seeing to achieve in the clause by excluding areas of climate change committee activity from OEP oversight. However, I note the Government’s in new clause 4, and I look forward to hearing what the hon. Member for Aldershot has to say in that regard.

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for her warm wishes, which I will convey to the Minister, and for tabling amendment 189, which gives me the opportunity to explain how the Bill will ensure that there will be clarity over the respective remits of the OEP and the Committee on Climate Change. Government amendments 30 and 66 and new clause 4 will ensure that the OEP does not duplicate the work of the Committee on Climate Change, as well as requiring the two bodies to prepare a memorandum of understanding. I will come on to those in more detail in a moment.

Amendment 189 would remove clause 22(5), which would weaken the overall provision of the Bill to clarify the respective roles of the two bodies. That provision requires the OEP to set out in its strategy how it intends to avoid any overlap with the Committee on Climate Change when exercising its functions. That ensures that the avoidance of such an overlap would run through the OEP’s entire operation. That would be difficult to achieve simply through a memorandum of understanding. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw amendment 189 to ensure that the Office for Environmental Protection and the Committee on Climate Change can work together seamlessly.

Government amendments 30 and 66 and new clause 4 are part of a package of measures, including statutory requirements already set out in the Bill, that help to clarify the distinct roles of the two bodies to ensure that they develop an effective working relationship. Government amendment 30 will ensure that the OEP does not duplicate the work of the Committee on Climate Change by providing that the OEP will not monitor or report on specific matters already within the statutory remit of the Committee on Climate Change. Government amendment 66 ensures the same effect in Northern Ireland should the Northern Ireland Assembly choose to extend the OEP to Northern Ireland.

The OEP has an important role to play alongside and in collaboration with the Committee on Climate Change in ensuring that the UK continues to drive forward ambitious action on climate change. That role is not being called into question by the amendments. Indeed, Greener UK has welcomed the amendments and their addition to the existing provisions, which

“ensure that there is no duplication and overlap”.––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 10 March 2020; c. 74, Q116.]

The Committee on Climate Change is also supportive of both the existing measures and the Government amendments. I therefore commend Government amendments 30 and 66 and new clause 4 to the Committee, and graciously urge the hon. Member to withdraw amendment 189.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for that brief but adequate explanation.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think we can claim a little collective win on this. We have been concerned about the possible clash between the remit of the Committee on Climate Change and that of the OEP, almost since the publication of the Bill. I think the matter was raised in proceedings before they were suspended earlier in the year. To avoid duplication and a possible treading on each other’s toes, it is really important that there is not a mix-up between what the OEP does on elements of the climate change and environmental remit, and what the Committee on Climate Change is doing.

The amendments that the Government tabled to clarify and codify that distinction, which also refer to Northern Ireland, seem a positive step forward in how we decide what we are going to do. In a moment, we will come to an amendment that tries to clarify that for another Government body. I welcome these amendments.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Government amendments 30 and 66 and Government new clause 4 will be determined later in the proceedings.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 November 2020 - (10 Nov 2020)
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go down a detailed path of discussing subterranean water outlets. I assume, because water is within our land mass, that those would be covered by the elision of land mass and water, which is suggested by the clause. Without going into a lengthy disposition about how far under the ground water might be counted as being covered under this arrangement, we can rest assured that those matters are not a serious issue of dispute.

That is why I do not want to go into enormous detail. The amendment is straightforward and short. It proposes several words that would put the matter to rest. It just states in a modest way that the definition should include the marine environment, so that if anyone is in any doubt, there it is in the Bill. That is all we are suggesting. There is no side to that. There are no additional consequences. It merely says we should be clear that that is what it includes. I think we all agree that it should include that.

This morning, we were treated to a quote from the explanatory notes, which indicated that the marine environment should be included, but it is not. We are just doing a modest labour in the vineyard by attempting to ensure that when people say something, they mean what they say. The best way to ensure that people mean what they say is to say it. That is what we propose to do on the face of the Bill.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Amendments 125 and 193 have similar intentions. My amendment was meant as a probing amendment. I will not revisit the areas that the shadow Minister has eloquently gone through. My assumption was that the marine environment was considered for inclusion here and the decision was taken to exclude it. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the rationale was for that.

Obviously, marine life is just as vital to the global ecosystem as terrestrial life, and the health of marine environments also needs to be protected. There may be some other agencies responsible, which the Government reckon should do the job, but surely there is a good case to be made for an agency with an overarching view of these tasks and challenges for the whole environment. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a short clause, but it is very important. I am fortunate to represent Cambridge, a city with some fantastic environmental organisations. The David Attenborough Building is renowned. It houses the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, which includes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Fauna & Flora International and BirdLife International. I was fortunate to visit them a while ago, when I was preparing for a Westminster Hall debate. I was briefed by a range of dazzling experts. I was struck from their presentations by how many talked about the marine environment. I had not realised how significant it was. That was very much the term they used throughout their recommendations and advice to me.

I know the Minister cares passionately about the marine environment. I remember a Prime Minister’s Question Time when she questioned the showering habits of the Speaker. It is amazing the things that people remember. I should be clear that she was referring to the microbeads in Mr Bercow’s shower gel. I do not doubt the passion that she feels for the marine environment.

That leads me to question, given that we all agree on this point, why it cannot be put in the Bill. I believe the Government intend to include it. If there is such resistance to putting it in the Bill, it is either because each side wants to defend its position and does not want to give way, or there is something a bit more sinister.

--- Later in debate ---
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her response—she had a good go at it. We will not withdraw our concern, but as the Minister has given some reassurance about how the term “mainly” might be interpreted and has indicated that some thought was given to that prior to the Bill’s drafting, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 115, in clause 43, page 26, line 10, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment removes the exceptions for legislative provisions relating to armed forces and national security matters from the definition of ‘environmental law’ for the purposes of the scope of the OEP’s functions.

I thank the Minister for her kind words and would like to correct myself slightly because I did not welcome her back to her place earlier. I am very pleased to see her and am glad that she has recovered.

The armed forces are potentially among the biggest polluters. The evidence from Scotland demonstrates that there has to be some oversight of the potential for environmental damage. I mentioned that previously in respect of the issues that have arisen. The nuclear bases on the Clyde do some work with SEPA—the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—and local authorities to alert them to some instances, but not all. Even those scant measures are the subject of voluntary agreements rather than obligations or regulatory oversight. No information is forthcoming, however, on the rest of the defence estate across Scotland. I imagine there is nothing about the estates across England either.

We know that the MOD does environmental assessments because it told me so in answer to written questions, but that information is kept secret. That is not good enough. We all have to play our part. As I have said, no individual Department should be completely excused from shouldering that responsibility. The phrase “so far as is reasonably practical” is used in a lot of legislation from which defence and our armed forces are exempt, and it could be too easily used as a get-out when that suited. It is time for that loophole to be removed, and for oversight to be in a place whereby such activities could receive independent and robust scrutiny that—while allowing for sensitivities around national security and similar matters—ensured that activities could be monitored satisfactorily. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. We heard something about the issue with respect to previous clauses as well, and we recognise the intention behind those. Protecting our country is fundamental, which is why exemptions for the armed forces and national security are maintained. Any legislation that could be covered by those exemptions would concern highly sensitive matters that were vital to the protection of our realm, so it is appropriate to restrict the OEP’s oversight of and access to information in such areas.

We want to make it clear, so that there is absolutely no doubt, that legislative provisions relating to these matters cannot be environmental law, and so cannot fall within the OEP’s remit. Legislative provisions concerning national security would cover matters such as the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent and other policy areas vital to the protection and defence of the UK, which are of the utmost importance.

The single most important thing that we do is protect our people. It would not be appropriate for the OEP to have jurisdiction here, where its intervention could hinder vital work. We expect that such specialist matters would also be outside the OEP’s areas of expertise. As such, the OEP would not be appropriately qualified to enforce such issues. Legislative provisions concerning the armed forces would cover matters related to personnel and staffing that link to defence capability and matters such as the Armed Forces Act. It would not be appropriate for the OEP to have a role overseeing the legislation.

To be clear: the exemption does not mean that public authorities such as the MOD or any of the armed forces will be exempt from scrutiny by the OEP in respect of their implementation of environmental law—for example, a lot of MOD land has site of special scientific interest designation; it simply means that legislation concerning the armed forces or national security will be excluded from the OEP’s remit. Much of the defence land is protected land with SSSI designation. The OEP will still be able to hold public authorities accountable on that land for their statutory duties concerning the protection of the site, as the relevant legislative provisions will not be covered as regards national security or the armed forces.

The Scottish Government have, I note, taken a similar approach on the issue in section 10(3)(a) of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill 2018. They also have a number of exemptions that are not unrelated to this. It is worth noting that the Ministry of Defence has its own environmental policies, and it went into that in some detail last week. It does a great deal of good environmental work. I should mention the stone curlew project I visited, but there are many others where it is doing excellent work for protected species and habitats. It prides itself on that, and has a strong record of delivering on those commitments. On the whole, its SSSIs are in pretty good condition, so all credit to the MOD.

I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith has done a lot of work in this area, and it is something she has talked about from the beginning. I thank her for raising this, because it gives us a chance to make the argument. Given the sensitivities and existing environmental commitments, and given my clarification that the provision does not exempt from scrutiny public authorities that are concerned with national security, I hope she will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I remind the Minister again that the Scottish Government have no control over defence issues, so it is perhaps no surprise that they have had to exempt that in the continuity Bill. I hear what she says about some scrutiny being applied, but I still feel that there is too much of a blackout around the information relating to these areas. That is what I, environmental groups and members of the public have issues with.

I appreciate that there are sensitive areas that will have to be dealt with differently, but I am afraid I remain to be convinced that the exemptions are appropriate in this day and age, and that transparency across Government is not required by the public and various environmental groups that we have all dealt with. This is certainly a principle that is very important to me. With that in mind, I will push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 20

Ayes: 6


Labour: 4
Scottish National Party: 2

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 116, in clause 43, page 26, line 11, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment removes the exceptions for legislative provisions relating to tax, spending and the allocation of resources within government from the definition of ‘environmental law’ for the purposes of the scope of the OEP’s functions.

You will be relieved to hear, Mr Gray, that I will not be pushing the amendment to a vote, although that is something I am keeping in my back pocket for the future. It seems to me that by fully exempting the main thrusts of Government policy, which are the biggest tools in the Government’s cupboard, the Government are not driving their policy towards the best possible environmental goals. By wholly exempting tax and spend from their thinking on such matters, the Government are missing a chance to engage their biggest public policy lever.

I would have thought that at least some consideration of these issues would have been useful for the Government. That would have shown real commitment to change, improvement, making a future unlike the past and putting the environment at the middle of decision making. As I have said in the past, I appreciate the Minister’s sincerity and her belief in these issues, but surely she does not want it to look as though the Government are merely ticking a box to say that the gap left by Brexit is being filled. Instead, she can show that there is an environmental heart to this legislation and this Government, not simply warm words. Here is an opportunity to prove that.

I am particularly keen to hear the Minister’s reasoning behind the exemption, because it seems that the Government are missing a trick by not showing their commitment to environmental issues on this particular point.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for tabling her amendment and for saying she will not push it to a vote. Although I recognise the intention behind the amendment, it is important that the exemption is maintained to ensure sound economic and fiscal decision making. It would be inappropriate for the OEP to have oversight of the implementation of legislative provisions that specifically concerned taxation, spending or the allocation of resources, as the OEP needs to keep its focus on the protection of the natural environment.

Legislation regarding taxation is developed by Treasury Ministers, as the hon. Lady knows, and it is important that they are able to set taxes to raise the revenue that allows us to deliver essential services, such as the NHS, policing, education and schools—all those things that we all need and want. It would not be appropriate for the OEP to have jurisdiction over this area or over the administration of taxation regimes by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

I want to give a bit of clarity on this, as I think there may be some confusion: the term “taxation” does not extend to legislation relating to regulatory schemes such as the plastic bag charge, which was particularly successful, or the imposition of fees to cover the cost of a regulatory regime. Therefore, legislation relating to these matters could be considered within environmental law, and the OEP could take enforcement action if the public authority failed to comply.

The words

“spending and the allocation of resources within government”

refer to decisions about how money and resources are designated within and between Departments. When specifically considering the exclusion or allocation of resources, it is important to note that it is only the legislative provisions on this subject that are excluded. It is just a matter of being very clear about that, as there are many other areas, such as the plastic bag charge, where the OEP will be able to engage.

If a public authority were to argue that it did not have adequate resources to implement an environmental law, that would not stop the legislative provisions in question being environmental law, although the authority’s comments on its resources could, of course, be considered during the OEP’s investigation. On those grounds, I ask the hon. Member whether she might withdraw her amendment, now that I have given her more clarity.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for her comments, which have provided me with some clarity. As I said, I will not be pressing this matter to a vote, although I think I will pursue it in the future. We are all well aware of the Treasury’s track record in resisting attempts to constrain its activities in any way—I suspect there has been some arm twisting done behind the scenes on this one—and this is an issue I will revisit. I thank her again for her words and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 32, in clause 43, page 26, line 16, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Amendment 33, in clause 43, page 26, line 21, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Amendment 34, in clause 43, page 26, line 22, leave out “Assembly” and insert “Senedd”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Clause 43, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 44

Interpretation of Part 1: General

Amendments made: 35, in clause 44, page 27, line 7, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Amendment 36, in clause 44, page 27, line 17, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We come to amendment 78. It was not moved previously by any member of the Committee, but if any member of the Committee wished to move it now, they would be welcome to do so.

Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 13th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 November 2020 - (10 Nov 2020)
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend. He touches on the crux of the matter. This is all-encompassing. We are driving towards what we call a circular economy. That is the purpose of the measures on waste and resources. They will ensure consistent collections, though we have not got on to that yet, and require products to be more recyclable, but we will need them to be collected and recycled. That will drive the demand for those plants to be established in the right place. Things will join up much better than they do today. That is what the measures in the Bill are all about. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. This should make the whole procedure a more complete circle.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Do the Government intend to invest in some of those recycling centres, or is the intention to leave it to the private sector to fill that need? That is a topic I have been pursuing lately and I am interested to hear the Minister’s views.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That topic is not referenced in the Bill. Those are issues relating to how the regulations will work when it comes to producer responsibility and deposit return. Local authorities will still play a huge role, but the great point is that they will not be responsible for all the costs any more. What is brilliant is that the costs will be shifted on to the businesses. They will then be forced to design products that are much easier to recycle. That brings us again to the circular economy. I thank the hon. Lady for raising another good point.

The measures will help us to tackle waste from the beginning of the life cycle, and complement measures elsewhere in the Bill that support the later stages of that cycle. There are also powers in schedule 7 that will allow resource efficiency requirements to be placed on specified products. Those requirements will relate to factors such as the materials from which the product is manufactured, and the resources consumed during its production. For instance, thinking off the top of my head, one could say that clothing or textiles must contain a certain amount of recycled fibre. There could be a requirement to use fewer virgin materials or more recycled materials in the manufacture of the product.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Putney welcomes the schedule. It is great to have that positivity, and I applaud her work on food waste. It is very exciting that it will become law for food waste to be collected. That will be an important part of the Bill, because while some local authorities, such as mine in Taunton Deane, do collect it, loads do not. Much of it ends up in landfill, giving off emissions. We could make so much better use of it, and could focus attention on how much food waste is produced, which is frankly shocking.

Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 19th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 19 November 2020 - (19 Nov 2020)
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It will not surprise those hon. Members who have spoken that I share their passion for trees and ancient woodland particularly. Indeed, I also praise the work the Woodland Trust does and has done, particularly with young people, schoolchildren and all those who want to get involved with this future environment, as was intimated by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I wonder whether the Minister will also pay tribute to the work of the Scottish Government, as over 80% of new plantings in 2018-19 were in Scotland. Are there lessons to be learned there?

Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 26 November 2020 - (26 Nov 2020)
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me yet again. We are such regular correspondents that I am half expecting a Christmas card any time soon. She wrote on the debate we had on new clauses 25 and 27. It is a very detailed reply and it does give some reassurance, but I have to say that it shows why we should have had a discussion about those clauses in an evidence session, rather than have them inserted late in the day. I suspect there will be other lawyers who will take a different view on some of these matters, but I am sure that can be pursued as we go through the later stages of the Bill.

On new clause 29, I very much echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. We believe that new clauses 29 and 28 together would strengthen the Bill. New clause 29 would give additional bite; it can stand on its own, so there is still time for the Minister to redeem herself. Exactly as my hon. Friend said, we take issue with the lack of overall clarity in the Bill. It needs a clearer thread running through.

The new clause, which would require the Secretary of State within six months of the Bill becoming law to report on the adequacy of current environmental law and policy in meeting the climate and ecological challenges the UK faces, would be tremendously helpful, not least because—as we saw yesterday—it seems the Government do one thing one day, and completely different things another day. They fail to face the challenges when they make big policy announcements. The new clause would make it much tougher for the Government to crawl out of their obligations.

We think the report should specifically be required to address issues of water, biodiversity, the capacity of natural and agroecosystems to mitigate global warming, resource efficiency, waste reduction and the promotion of the circular economy. That should be helpful to Government. As my hon. Friend said, we support the Prime Minister’s signing up to the UN leaders’ pledge for nature, and this includes the circular economy in our thinking.

We have taken a number of these ideas from the climate and ecological emergency Bill, which we believe is right to place emphasis on the importance of expanding and enhancing natural ecosystems and agroecosystems to safeguard their capacity as carbon sinks, as well as on the need to restore biodiverse habits and their soils. Out there in the world, which is sadly not following proceedings on the Bill as closely as some of us would hope, there is an appetite for this more ambitious approach.

After the Secretary of State has made the report, we would then very much hope that he or she would act on it and ensure that the environmental targets and environmental improvement plans were appropriately ambitious and would set out not just one long-term target in each area as required in clause 1, but set and outline the adequacy of those targets and lay out adequate plans to address each of those major issues within six months.

If it is an emergency, it needs addressing urgently. We do not believe the Bill does that at the moment. New clause 29 would help.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Much of the Bill is concerned with English-only environmental issues, as I have mentioned in the past, because environment is a devolved area under the Scotland Act 1998 and legislative consent motions have been agreed.

In connection to new clauses 29 and 29, I point out for those who are keen to hear what is happening in Scotland that the Scottish Government are developing their own environmental strategy. “The Environmental Strategy for Scotland: vision and outcomes” was published earlier this year. As the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform indicated just yesterday at her appearance in front of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, she will soon be publishing a monitoring framework for the strategy, which will bring together existing statutory targets, elements of the national performance framework and indicators from other strategies. That is after considerable consultation with stakeholders.

The strategy has attracted a broad range of cross-party support. The Cabinet Secretary just yesterday suggested working with Opposition Members to design amendments that will set out an obligation on Ministers to continue the work on an environmental strategy. It is an example of cross-party working that I think this place would do rather well to emulate. The Scottish Government and Parliament are leading the way in many environmental areas. I encourage Members from this place to lift their eyes from here and look to some of the great progress in this area that is being made in the devolved nations of the UK. I think it really would be worth their while.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge for moving this new clause. He is always very passionate about what he says. I am pleased that my letter was able to give a bit of clarity on the subjects he raised in the Committee.

I reassure the Committee that the new clause is not needed. It will not surprise anyone to hear me say that. There are already measures in the Bill to help assess the adequacy of environmental legislation. Under clause 26, the OEP will proactively assess how our environmental laws work in practice and advise the Government on the most effective and efficient way of implementing those laws.

The OEP’s reports must be published and laid before Parliament and the Government are required to respond to the OEP and publish that response, which must also be laid before Parliament. Given that climate and ecology challenges are key environmental issues affecting us, we would expect that the OEP would want to address such matters in its clause 26 reports. That is basically its raison d’être and the raison d’être of the Bill. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is seeing what is in there, which covers what he is asking for. We also report annually on our progress in improving the environment through the 25-year environment plan.

The Bill as drafted already introduces a number of reporting requirements in the areas specified. Clause 94, for example, requires designated public authorities, including local planning authorities, to produce five-yearly biodiversity reports. The reports will provide transparency and accountability, and help local authorities to share best practice. Over time, they will become a very valuable source of data to support nature’s recovery. Clause 75 concerns improving water companies’ water resources management plans. This planning occurs every five years, taking into account the next 25-year period. Companies must review their plans annually.

The reporting requirements introduced by the Bill will complement the Government’s existing and proposed reporting and monitoring of the natural environment. There is only so much reporting people can cope with. I honestly think more reporting would cause people to groan under the weight of it all. What we want is action, and that is what this Bill is going to set in motion, which is why we need to get through it.

Last month, the Government published their response to the 2020 recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change. The response sets out the Government’s intention to publish a comprehensive net zero strategy in the lead up to COP26. The strategy will set out the Government’s vision for transitioning to net zero and reducing emissions across the economy. We have already set out our plans for a nationwide natural capital and ecosystem assessment. That is a big data-gathering census and a new large-scale surveying initiative, which will provide us with the all-important data to drive better decision making. That is something I have absolutely wished for as the Minister, as has the whole Department. It will be crucial in our future—we have talked about data before, and it is absolutely essential to know what we have now, what we will have tomorrow and what we would potentially like in the future.

I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for her comments. We obviously work closely with the devolved Administrations, and we will be sharing a lot of the measures in the Bill. We always like to learn best practice from others—I mentioned that in the main Chamber only this morning, when the hon. Member for Putney and I spoke about air quality.

Although I welcome the intent behind the proposed new clause, I do not believe it is necessary, for the reasons I have outlined. Wide-ranging reporting assessment measures are already in place in the Bill and will be able to drive the sort of action that I think the hon. Member for Cambridge is after. I honestly do not believe we need the new clause, so I ask him to withdraw it.

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Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to that point of order, Mr Gray. At the risk of straining the point of order, I would like to add my thanks at the conclusion of our Bill Committee proceedings. They have been immensely long, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney has enumerated, with 230 amendments and 35 new clauses. I thank you, Mr Gray, for your purposeful, elegant and impartial chairing of our proceedings, and I hope you will pass on our thanks to Sir George for his part in proceedings. I thank the Minister for her immense optimism and terrific jackets, and for the courteous and good-hearted way she has conducted proceedings throughout. I appreciate that undertaking a Bill of this length is a tremendous burden, and I appreciate her fortitude and perseverance in carrying through that job.

I want to single out the Committee Clerks for thanks. They have been a wonderful source of assistance, help and wise guidance, and they have enabled us to do our part as well as we have been able to. Finally, I thank other Opposition Members. I think it will be agreed that they are not a team of journeymen and women; they are a team of Galácticos in their own right, and I thank them for their contributions to scrutinising this Bill so well.

We are, naturally, very disappointed that we have not been able to strengthen the Bill as we had hoped to do, but we will continue with that task on Report and in the other place. We hope that our doing so will help to make it a Bill that we can all be proud of, when it comes to strengthening our country’s natural environment resources and providing the protections that must flow from that; we all agree that we want the Bill to do those things. I welcome the end of this Committee, for obvious reasons, but we can all be proud of our contribution to getting the Bill to this point, and I thank everybody on the Committee for their part in proceedings.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Further to that point of order, Mr Gray. On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon and myself, and with a slightly nervous eye on the clock, I thank all Members of the Committee for their good-humoured and thorough approach to the Bill. I have certainly appreciated that. I thank you, Mr Gray, and Sir George for your chairship. I thank the Clerks for their assistance, which has been much appreciated, and I thank the various representatives from Hansard who have sat through lengthy hours of this Committee. Although much of what we have debated has not covered Scotland, it has been instructive to hear from Members from all parts of the Committee about the approaches that are being taken. I wish England very well in all its efforts to create a much healthier and more vibrant, biodiverse and attractive environment for all its citizens.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Those are all entirely bogus points of order, but we are grateful for them none the less.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Environment Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now go to a video link, and it is a Front-Bench contribution from Deirdre Brock; happy Australia Day, Deirdre.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
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Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I shall speak to Scottish National party amendments 43 and 44. This Bill concerns England in the main; most of these policy areas are devolved and Scotland has its own environmental legislation, which, frankly, is light years ahead. This Bill has made its way rather painfully through the process, and it has seemed for far too much of that time that it was more about the UK Government trying to hide the fact that they have no real environmental ambition to speak of.

Only a few months after stepping in to overturn a council’s planning permission for an opencast mine, the Government have chosen to stay out of the planning process for a deep coalmine near Whitehaven in Cumbria. Less trusting folk than me have suggested that that might have something to do with what happened in that constituency in December 2019, but such cynicism is surely unfounded.

The UK has made little or no progress in tackling the really big-ticket items—carbon emissions, air and water pollution, tree planting, and so on. In fact, one of the area’s explicitly excluded from this Bill, the military, is one of the worst offenders. I have talked at great length about the environmental impacts that we know of, particularly the historical dumping of unwanted explosives, ammunition, ordnance, radioactive waste and so on into the sea, and we know that the area around Beaufort’s Dyke between Scotland and Ireland has millions of tonnes of unsavoury stuff littering the sea floor, but we do not know what is down there, because the dump records have been mislaid and the Ministry of Defence appears to have no intention of seeking to clean it up.

Similarly, I have been told that the MOD has done environmental impact studies on its land estates, but they have not been shared. There was a report in May, however, by Scientists for Global Responsibility, which found that the carbon footprint of British military spending was around 11 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, some of it relating to arms exports but most of it from MOD operations.

That is not all: not one single nuclear submarine has been dismantled since the first one was decommissioned more than 40 years ago; four decades on and the UK has more redundant nuclear subs in storage than it has in use. I should add, too, the hundreds of nuclear safety breaches at the naval bases on the Clyde that I discovered through written questions, which are interestingly not matched by similar figures elsewhere.

It is clear that the environmental impact of military operations is more than substantial, even if it is not officially acknowledged. I would have thought that any Government who wanted to—in the Prime Minister’s words—

“do extraordinary things on the environment”

would want to do something about that, so I assume that it was an error that led someone in Government to exempt defence, national security and the armed forces from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental provisions, and from any consideration of environmental issues on tax, spending and allocation of resources.

I raised this issue in Committee, so Ministers have had plenty of time to consider it, and they should consider reversing their position. The procedural oddities of this place will not allow for everything to be considered, so this issue has taken a back seat for the moment to allow Labour’s amendment on neonicotinoids to be voted on. That is a devolved issue and treated differently in Scotland, but it is of course important for England.

We have 10 months until COP26 takes place in Glasgow —pandemics permitting—and the UK Government really have to step up to the plate and start showing some real leadership. Talking about it is not enough. Painting the fence green is not enough. The Government actually have to become green, become environmentally friendly, and work for the future of the planet and of the human race. In the past year, we have seen how a virus can disrupt our world, but that would be nothing compared to the devastation that the climate crisis threatens. We all have a role to play in addressing that challenge, but there is little point in individual households doing what they can while the Government fail to do what they are capable of.

I think that this Bill will go down as a missed opportunity, but that does not mean that the Government are powerless to act. I look forward to a change in priorities and a move to action. This is not a time to delay, defer and dissemble; it is a time to move forward purposefully. The question for the Government is not whether they win or lose their battles today, but whether they really decide to lead over the next year and the coming years.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The four-minute limit is now imposed again for all further Back-Bench contributions.

Environment Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

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

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

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

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

Environment Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will not speak for very long. I am aware—as always—that the Bill is largely concerned with English environmental matters, as environment is for the most part devolved to Scotland, and I have to say, thank goodness for that! The Lords amendments serve to highlight some of the progress that Scotland has made in environmental protection.

In respect of the amendments on the OEP, I should point out that we have already established an independent governance body in Environmental Standards Scotland, which is fully independent of the Scottish Government and answerable to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government were happy to support it, because they know that true independence of regulators is a vital part of their role.

It seems to me that the UK Government’s reluctance to accept independent oversight is one of the main causes of delay to the implementation of the Bill. It strikes me as incredible that one of the cornerstones of environmental protection in England, post Brexit, is an issue still being argued about by this Government. It exposes the fact that our departure from the EU leaves us all very vulnerable to this Government, any future decisions that they might make to slash regulations, and subsequent environmental backsliding. It is also disappointing to note that the Government have resisted calls to take really strong action through the Bill, such as implementing the World Health Organisation’s standards for air quality, which we have done in Scotland. Let me also record again my utter dismay that the Government inserted an amendment via the House of Lords, the intent and outcome of which I still deplore. UK Ministers ignored the express wishes of the Scottish Parliament as detailed in the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021 on a devolved issue, and cut those wishes down.

Let me turn to the amendments on sewage. Water is an area very clearly devolved to Scotland. Scottish Water is a statutory organisation, accountable to the Scottish Parliament. It is owned, if you like, by the people for the people, and that is the way the Scottish people like it. Although we have our own problems with outdated Victorian sewer systems struggling to cope with the “once in a hundred years” events that now seem to be occurring every two to three years, the fact remains that any profits made by Scottish Water are invested in the services and infrastructure of Scotland’s waterways rather than the pockets of shareholders, and that Scottish Water does not carry the stratospheric levels of debt carried by English water companies—and that is the way the people of Scotland like it too.