All 14 Fleur Anderson contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

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
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Sixteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 16th sitting & Committee Debate: 16th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Seventeenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 17th sitting & Committee Debate: 17th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Eighteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 18th sitting & Committee Debate: 18th 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
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twentieth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 20th sitting & Committee Debate: 20th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 21st sitting & Committee Debate: 21st 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 (Ninth sitting)

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 3rd 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 3 November 2020 - (3 Nov 2020)
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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 - -

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.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What the Committee needs to understand is that the inclusion in the Bill of the application of policy as set out in subsection (1) does not apply to the armed forces. Subsection (1) states:

“A Minister of the Crown must, when making policy, have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles currently in effect.”

The Minister must, therefore, have “due regard” to policies on environmental principles except where it relates to anything to do with the “armed forces”, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said. She mentioned that it is particularly important when the land that the MOD has under its control is considered, which we indeed know from the handy “National Statistics” publication which states what land is owned by the MOD. The issue, however, is not only the land owned by the MOD but also the further 207,400 hectares over which it has rights in addition to its freehold and leasehold-owned land. A reasonable interpretation of that is to consider what is controlled by the MOD and the armed forces. Is that a total of 431,000 hectares, as mentioned by my hon. Friend? That is the size of Essex plus half of Greater London, to put it into context. That is the amount of land that is under no jurisdiction at all as far as environmental principles are concerned.

There may be good reasons for that huge amount of national land resource being exempt from these environmental protections, but none are immediately apparent to me. Not only are they not apparent to me, what is apparent to me is that an organisation that undertakes actions that prejudice the environmental quality or environmental protection of UK land is often required to mitigate those actions elsewhere in any other sector. If a new port berth is being decided upon, then one of the first things to happen is that a consideration of environmental mitigation takes place for the land that has been despoiled by the new port, even if the berth is regarded as necessary. Even that principle does not appear to apply as far as the MOD is concerned.

As my hon. Friend said, I accept that when a person drives across Salisbury plain, for example, they occasionally see great big tracks on the plain where tanks have driven around it, and that on the Lulworth ranges there is weaponry practice that has environmental impacts. Of course, that is a part of MOD defence activity, and it may be necessary for that activity to be carried out. However, it does not seem beyond our imagination to consider that the MOD and defence should be in a different position as far as environmental mitigation is concerned. It would be quite reasonable to suggest that within the necessary undertakings that the MOD has to go about doing, environmental mitigation should be part of that process, if necessary. To just give the armed forces a blanket let-off as far as any environmental principles are concerned seems, to me, a bridge too far.

Environment Bill (Tenth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Fleur Anderson

Main Page: Fleur Anderson (Labour - Putney)

Environment Bill (Tenth sitting)

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

(3 years, 3 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)
Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty (Aldershot) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his kind remarks in wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane a speedy recovery, and for the amicable tone in which he is seeking to work today. I thank him for the amendment. It highlights the unusual commitment this Government have already made to giving the OEP an indicative multi-annual budget, in response to Parliament’s scrutiny of the draft Bill. This budget will be formally ring-fenced in any given spending review period; that will provide the OEP with more longer-term financial certainty than afforded to most arm’s length bodies.

However, it would be unnecessary and unhelpful to include this commitment in the Bill. Other bodies with multi-annual funding commitments, such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, do not have it set out in legislation. In this Bill we have already included mechanisms to ensure that the OEP will remain adequately funded under this and future Governments.

The Bill imposes a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to provide the OEP with enough funding to undertake its statutory functions. There is also a duty on the OEP, in its annual statement of accounts, to provide an assessment of whether it was provided with sufficient funding by the Secretary of State during that year. The OEP’s statement of accounts will be laid before Parliament.

That brings me to the second part of the amendment. Parliament will have ample opportunity to scrutinise the funding of the OEP further, and to hold Government to account accordingly. The OEP’s funding will be made public through a separate line in DEFRA’s estimate, with further detail in the OEP’s own annual financial report. We will give the OEP the option of providing the relevant Select Committee with an additional estimates memorandum alongside the DEFRA estimate. The memorandum would provide the Select Committee with a clear statement of what is in the estimate, and why any additional funding is being sought.

The OEP will therefore be able to provide Government and Parliament with additional information relating to any changes in funding and how the funding will be applied, enabling any perceived shortcomings to be highlighted. In that spirit, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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

I echo the remarks made by the shadow Minister, my hon Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, about sending our best wishes to the Minister, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane. I wish her a speedy recovery.

I will add to the shadow Minister’s remarks about strengthening the multi-annual budget provision and putting it in the legislation. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that there will be some indication of the multi-annual budget, but I ask for it to be stronger. I draw the Committee’s attention to what the Select Cttee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said on the funding of the OEP in April 2019. The Bill has been in progress for a long time, so we may not all remember what the Committee said then—some, like me, may not even have been an MP then. It said:

“A history of sustained budget cuts to DEFRA’s arm’s length bodies does not fill us with confidence that the current funding provisions for the Office for Environmental Protection in the draft Bill are sufficient. Given the importance of the OEP’s independence from Government”—

that independence is the reason why it is important that we discuss this matter alongside amendment 156—

“it should have additional budgetary protections than is customary for Non-Departmental Public Bodies.

The Government should commit to providing a multi-annual budgetary framework for the Office for Environmental Protection in the Bill. This commitment would help to ensure the Office for Environmental Protection’s independence from Government and is consistent with best practice as seen with the Office for Budgetary Responsibility. Rather than grant-in-aid, the Office for Environmental Protection should also have its own estimate which should be negotiated directly with HM Treasury, and voted on by Parliament in the yearly Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill.”

The Select Committee argues that the requirement for multi-annual provision should be fundamentally written into the Bill, not subject to whims or dependent on good intentions in the future. That is very important for the next topic of our conversation about the independence of the OEP.

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

Thank you, Sir George. We can perhaps talk about this offline, so to speak. I am happy to stand by what I said previously, but I would welcome discussing it further with the hon. Gentleman if he would like to.

The amendment is fairly straightforward. On Tuesday, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth made a point about paragraph 17 of schedule 1, which reads:

“In exercising functions in respect of the OEP, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect its independence.”

In her intervention, she emphasised the words “protect its independence”. However, we would rather emphasise the fact that the wording

“have regard to the need to protect its independence”

would not actually protect the OEP’s independence. We suggest deleting the words

“have regard to the need to”

so that the passage would read, “In exercising functions in respect of the OEP, the Secretary of State must protect its independence.” That is simpler and more straightforward, and makes the duty of the Secretary of State clear. I hope that the Minister will respond positively.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I also want to speak about the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), promised us a new, “world-leading”, independent environmental watchdog. However, what is in the Bill is not good enough. The current wording is:

“In exercising functions in respect of the OEP, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect its independence.”

The amendment would change that so that the Secretary of State “must protect its independence”. We have had previous amendments that were short but important, and this is another one. Instead of giving a nod to something, hoping it will happen or wishing for the best, we will actually write this proposal into the Bill. That is important in relation to our earlier conversations about the appointment of the chair and the OEP’s independence.

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

No. The Secretary of State can decide by guidance how “serious” is to be interpreted regarding the OEP’s actions.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

It is a fact that environmental protection and action that breaches air pollution limits, for example, will happen slowly and incrementally. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hard to determine the point at which that becomes serious?

For example, Putney High Street in my constituency is one of the most polluted high streets in the country. That has happened slowly over many years; it would be hard to say when it became serious. When will the Office for Environmental Protection be enabled to step in and say, “This is an issue”? That goes for rivers and all the other issues we will discuss.

The nature of environmental action is that it will happen slowly. The measure of saying something is “serious” will limit the term to so few large-scale events that the Office for Environmental Protection will be rendered so weak in its action.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. This is no criticism of the hon. Lady, but her contribution could have been a speech rather than an intervention, which should be brief. I am sure the Committee appreciated it, whether it was a speech or an intervention, but I hope interventions will be kept brief in future.

Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Fleur Anderson 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

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point but it is not a question of the OEP having to take on the mantle of English Heritage, or a national monuments commission, and assiduously sweeping the leaves off ramparts and other things. Hon. Members will see that clause 41 is simply a meaning clause: it defines what we mean elsewhere in the Bill. It is important inasmuch as it provides a serious context in which other measures in the Bill can be seated. That is its only function. When we are seating those meanings within other parts of the Bill, it is important that we are clear about the extent of those meanings or indeed the limits of those meanings. That is all that the amendment seeks to do. It does not seek to do anything more, and does not give the OEP any obligation as far as these monuments and buildings are concerned, nor the changes in the landscape to which I refer. The hon. Member can rest assured that there would be no duty of care on the OEP, and it is merely a matter of including that in the definition.

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

Does my hon. Friend share with me concerns that the National Trust—one of the custodians of our British landscape—is also concerned about that very clause? They say that heritage and the natural environment “go hand in hand”. They will be looking to the clause to put them together in the correct way, as my hon. Friend said, for the very nature of our British environment. Nobody in this room would disagree with that.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which I had not fully covered. The National Trust is, indeed, responsible for sweeping the leaves and various other things from these monuments, and it is among the bodies expressing concern that the meaning of clause 41 will not adequately serve the purpose of guiding the clauses that go before it. I hope that the Minister can provide a good explanation for the meaning in parenthesis being as it is. It is not that it should not be there—it will cover a number of issues, and if it was not there then we might start considering a modern block of flats part of the natural environment. Clearly, we would not want to go that far. I hope that the Minister accepts that amendment 126 strikes the right balance, ensuring that we have a much better definition to work with and that we make a distinction between buildings and other structures that are clearly not part of our natural environment and those that have become so, certainly in the public’s view, and deserve to be included in this meaning clause.

Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Fleur Anderson 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)
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 158, in schedule 4, page 151, line 16, after “waste” insert

“, reducing the consumption of virgin materials,”.

This amendment is about taking strengthened measures on tackling waste. It refers to virgin materials, which the Minister mentioned previously. For the benefit of those outside these walls who are maybe not as knowledgeable as the Committee, these are materials like new paper or plastic.

This amendment, although specific and focused in its approach, seeks to ensure the Bill includes the strongest possible measures to tackle waste. The wider focus on the obligations and responsibilities of producers is important—not because the Bill will directly impact those parts of the world outside the UK, but because of the need to get our own house in order in the UK, and in England specifically. We need to do this because it is important to set an example to others, and the Minister alluded to this in discussions about COP26 next year.

We want a strong Bill. If colleagues support this amendment, we will help deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strengthened schedule 4. It would make clear to the producers of materials used in everyday life that they have responsibilities and we are going to hold them to account.

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

I welcome the intention behind the schedule, which is to shift the burden of disposal costs from local authorities and the taxpayer to producers; the burden on them has historically been too low. I also welcome the shift in this Bill towards tackling food waste. I have been campaigning on this in Wandsworth borough for many years, and to see that it will be in the legislation and has to be addressed by the council is very welcome. However, in some ways, the drafting is too loose; as often in this Bill, it needs some tightening up, and I hope that these Labour amendments will be useful in doing that.

In terms of virgin materials, it is not good enough to focus on the end-of-life solutions for materials. The schemes introduced under this schedule need to incentivise producers to make the right decisions at the start of the process, as well as ensuring that they fulfil environmental responsibilities at the end. As the UK Environmental Law Association recommends, the Government need to clearly signal that extended producer responsibility covers the full life cycle, not only waste disposal. Reducing virgin material use is key to this, and to the Bill being as ambitious as we want it to be. Amendment 158 adds some words to ensure this.

Virgin materials include timber, plastic resin derived from the petroleum refining process and mined materials. This amendment would ensure that the producer responsibility scheme considers upstream measures that tackle consumption and production as well as waste minimisation. Although waste minimisation is important, it is not sufficient by itself to guarantee a reduction in virgin material use. Without adding this amendment, we cannot be sure the outcome will be the reduction that we need to see.

Manufacturing products with virgin materials usually requires much more energy and depletes more natural resources than using recycled materials, so when we reduce their use, there is also an offset for other processes. Action to reduce usage of virgin materials is essential to tackle overall depletion.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for her interest in this provision and for this amendment. I reassure her and the Committee that the amendment is not needed.

Reducing the consumption of virgin materials is important; we all agree on that. In our 25-year environment plan, we stated our long-term ambition of doubling resource productivity by 2050. That is about maximising the value and benefits we get from our resources, and managing these resources more sustainably to reduce associated environmental impacts.

I can assure the hon. Member for Putney that we are tackling this issue in the Bill. We have powers in schedule 5 to require producers to pay the disposal costs of the products or materials they place on the market, and for these costs to be varied according to the design or consumption of the products. Through the costs that producers pay, they can be incentivised to design and manufacture products that use fewer materials, that include more recycled materials, and are much easier to recycle and break down, so that the parts can be reused elsewhere.

--- Later in debate ---
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 159, in schedule 4, page 151, line 32, after “be” insert “prevented, reduced,”.

As you might notice, the amendment is very similar to others put before the Committee today. It focuses on the strength of the language that Ministers have chosen to use in the Bill. In recent days, my hon. Friends the Member for Southampton, Test and for Cambridge and I have said that we will hold Ministers to their promise to deliver a once-in-a-generation Bill. “Once in a generation” means it has to be big, bold and comprehensive. That is why we are calling on the Minister to use the strongest language in the Bill. I implore the Minister to be ambitious and bold in the text that is used.

I want to be helpful. I want the Minister to be able to sing from the rooftops about the Bill. I hope she will acknowledge the Opposition’s willingness to make it an even better Bill that really delivers for people across the whole UK. Let us not limit ourselves to moving things around, or shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. Let us use this Bill to deliver real, long-term change.

The amendment would add “prevented” and “reduced” to the Bill, so that it does not just say “reused” and “redistributed”. We want the country to cut its reliance on plastics and paper, and to tackle waste in a meaningful way. Once again, the amendment will help deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strong schedule 4.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

As my hon. Friend has described so well, the amendment would widen the powers, so that producer responsibility regulations allowed targets for waste prevention and reduction, not just reusing and recycling. That is absolutely vital to achieving real carbon reduction and real waste reduction.

Waste prevention focuses on reducing the amount of waste generated from the source. It involves looking at manufacturing, processing, packaging, storage, recycling and disposal processes, to identify opportunities to manage waste and minimise the impact on the environment.

Although this looks like a minor amendment, the two words to be added would create another dimension to the powers of the Bill and the impacts it covers. activities would include mapping packaging and production waste to inform and develop good practice, and developing recommendations and strategies for prevention, recovery and reuse. The words “prevention” and “reduction” are essential for doing that. An example from real life is utensils. The measures would look not just at plastic utensils and how to deal with them when they are thrown away, but reusing utensils from the start, so there is no re-packaging to look at. I have been campaigning about nappies, which form a huge part of our landfill. Preventing the use of disposable nappies would incentivise producers. “Prevention” could be a game-changing additional word in the Bill. A home composting scheme run by my neighbouring borough of Lambeth looks at the prevention of waste right from the beginning, in the home.

This provision would enhance the Bill. I endorse the addition of the words “prevented” and “reduced” .

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to add a little bit of context to amendment 159. As my hon. Friends the Members for Putney and for Newport West have already mentioned, it increases the dimension within which these issues can be considered in terms of targets. It does so not by an accidental addition of words, but essentially by adding what is in the Government’s White Paper “Our waste, our resources: a strategy for England”, which was published in 2018.

In that White Paper, the Government fully embrace the notion of the waste hierarchy, and the document contains lots of good charts to illustrate it. At the bottom of the waste hierarchy are things such as landfill. Moving up the hierarchy, we find energy from waste, which is still pretty low in the hierarchy; after that, it is necessary to start recycling. From a policy point of view, measures should always drive waste as far up the hierarchy as possible. If it is possible to recycle waste, rather than putting it into an incinerator as an alternative to burying it in the land, that is what should be done. If, however, there is residual waste that cannot be incinerated or recycled—there is some of that in the waste stream—it should be put into landfill, but only on a residual basis. We would hope that over time, the amount of waste going into landfill will be virtually nil, because we have moved up the waste hierarchy in terms of how the system works.

In the waste hierarchy, there are two other categories above recycling: reducing and preventing. The best way to handle a waste stream is to make sure that there is less waste in it in the first place, and that it contains only things that cannot be reused or prevented from arising. At that point, we would be dealing, pretty much, with a residual waste stream when it came to volume and climate change energy considerations. In the whole waste stream, the only waste to be addressed would be residual waste from a largely circular economy, in which products are designed to come apart so that the parts can be put to other uses, and, through industrial symbiosis, products that one company views as waste are presented to other organisations as raw material.

That process is possible only if product design or articulation allows it to happen. For example, the expectation would be that a vehicle could be taken apart and all the components—even if they are made of different elements, and they are not all metal or plastic—would be sufficiently pure and reusable to be used as the raw material for something else straight away. As we will discuss later, that is particularly important with the coming upon us of electric vehicles. If electric vehicles cannot be taken apart—in particular, if their batteries cannot be taken apart to recover the rare earth elements, lithium and other materials for use in other batteries, so that they are not put into the waste stream in the first place—we are not very far down the line of recycling.

--- Later in debate ---
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 161, in schedule 5, page 157, line 13, leave out from first “the” to end of sub-paragraph (2) and insert

“social costs incurred throughout the lifecycle of the products or materials.”

As the Committee will know, schedule 5 allows the relevant authority to make regulations that require

“those involved in manufacturing, processing, distributing or supplying products or materials”

to

“meet, or contribute to, the disposal costs”

of those products. This is all about the journey, from start to finish, of the materials that we all rely on every day, even when we do not think about it. We have already had ample examples of the kinds of recyclable things we need to consider. I have to say to the Minister and her colleagues that the issues covered by this amendment will be mentioned both now and in coming days, because the Bill lacks foresight in a number of areas, but particularly when it comes to assessing the whole life cycle. That is particularly important, and it should be part of this Bill.

Thinking through this amendment and the background to it reminded me of recent events in Sri Lanka. That reminder was further reinforced when I received the answer to a written parliamentary question that I tabled to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—for those who may be interested, it was question 109651. I asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“what discussions he has had with his Sri Lankan counterpart on the 21 containers of waste returned to the UK from that country in September 2020.”

The answer I received from the hon. Member for Taunton Deane was as follows:

“The Environment Agency (EA), as the competent authority for waste shipments for England, is proactively engaging with the authorities in Sri Lanka on these containers and is leading the response on this matter.

The 21 containers arrived back in England on Wednesday 28 October. The containers, which were shipped to Sri Lanka in 2017, were found by Sri Lankan authorities to contain illegal materials described as mattresses and carpets which had been exported for recycling. With the shipment now back on English soil, EA”—

that is, the Environment Agency—

“enforcement officers will seek to confirm the types of waste shipped, who exported it and the producer of the waste. Those responsible could face a custodial sentence of up to two years, an unlimited fine, and the recovery of money and assets gained through the course of their criminal activity.”

That was the answer I received from the Minister, and the issues it covers show why this amendment is so necessary. There are some parts that I will be following up on outside this Committee, but its arrival in my inbox was timely for today’s debate.

The Minister’s answer to the question demonstrates that waste and the issues that go with it simply do not disappear. Containers that left the United Kingdom in 2017 and travelled across the world are now coming back to cause trouble. This Bill can design out some of those issues if Ministers want it to, and this amendment would help to ensure that it does. We need to ensure that the life journey of the materials used is followed through by their producers from start to finish, focusing not just on the waste element but on the production and useful lifetime element of these issues. I urge the Minister to think about the social costs of the issues we are discussing, not just the environmental costs. Many of these issues require a cohesive and coherent approach that deals with a number of different factors, and I hope the Minister will give proper consideration to this.

As the Committee will know from the papers, this amendment is relatively self-explanatory, but it is important, and I hope the Minister will give it serious consideration. Once again, our amendment will help to deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strengthened and more comprehensive schedule 5.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

We moved this amendment to urge the Government to go that bit further in their ambition for this Bill. We have gone this far—we have set up the office, and have put in place all of these schedules and provisions—and by going just a little bit further, we could achieve so much more. Including

“social costs incurred throughout the lifecycle of the products or materials”

in schedule 5 would make a great difference.

The Local Government Association also believes that this schedule does not go quite far enough. It is concerned that litter and fly-tipping of discarded packaging is not included in the schedule, and that greater clarity on what producer responsibility will cover is needed. It also questions why the Bill does not currently include the term “full net cost”. There is a commitment to pay local authorities, but it should set out clearly that producers will be required to pay the full net cost to councils. To achieve that, the schemes should seek to reduce consumption of materials in the first instance, reducing the full life cycle impacts arising from sectors and product groups.

That is why I urge the Minister and her Government colleagues to consider supporting amendment 161, which would address this omission by factoring social costs into the fees, alongside environmental effects. It would also ensure that fees are implemented across the full life cycle of products and packaging, rather than just, as we have said in previous amendments, the end of life impact. Such a change would incentivise responsible and sustainable design to minimise these costs in the first place and enhance the environment for us all.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to add to my colleagues’ excellent expositions, I draw the Committee’s attention to the wording of the schedule. It is headed “Producer responsibility for disposal costs”—fair enough. Paragraph 1(2) talks about

“the disposal costs of the products or materials”.

It is then as if the framers of the schedule thought, “Hang on a minute, is that what we really want to do?”, because paragraph 2(2) says:

“In this Schedule the ‘disposal’ of products or materials includes their re-use, redistribution, recovery or recycling.”

In order to continue with the way that the schedule is set out, the framers have had to mangle the English language to such an extent as to make it unrecognisable. A reasonable dictionary definition of “disposal” is “the action or process of getting rid of something”. The whole point about the circular economy and the waste hierarchy is to avoid doing that as much as possible in processing waste. Rather, one should try to recycle it, reuse it and keep it in life. It should go round the circular economy for as long as possible.

This schedule therefore looks like it is facing the wrong way in its whole outlook. The amendment goes some way to putting that right by emphasising that it is about the whole life of the product: what happens after it has been used the first time and how it can best fit into the circular economy definition of continuing with its use in the economy, so that new materials do not have to be brought in because the previous materials have been disposed of.

I suggest that the amendment is tremendously helpful, because it puts right the mangling that has gone on to get the schedule into existence in the first place. While paragraph 2(2) goes some way to un-mangle the phrase, the amendment completely un-mangles it. It emphasises what we should all emphasise—indeed, it is policy to emphasise—namely the whole life; the circular life of products that go round and round in the economy.

I hope the Minister will accept the amendment in the positive spirit in which it is intended. Among other things, it will restore to the Bill what most members of the public would consider to be the meaning of the word “disposal”. It is quite important that we ensure that legislation is not just intelligible to the general public, but can be received by them in the spirit in which it was put forward—that is, that they understand a particular phrase to mean what they think it means, not what someone somewhere in a building far away has invented it to mean because they could not get it right in the first place.

Environment Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 16th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th 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 17 November 2020 - (17 Nov 2020)
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 75, page 66, line 11, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

We start this morning with an amendment relating to clause 75. It will not be a surprise to any member of the Committee. The suggestion is to replace the word “may” in the line under the heading “Plans and joint proposals: regulations about procedure”. Proposed new section 39F of the Water Industry Act 1991 states:

“The Minister may by regulations make provision about the procedure for preparing and publishing—

(a) a water resources management plan,

(b) a drought plan, and

(c) a joint proposal”.

It seems to the Opposition that it is very important that these things—a management plan, drought plan and joint proposal—are actually published and that provision is made about the procedure for publishing them. That is a central part of this clause.

As we have said in this Committee previously, no aspersions are cast in any direction concerning the present intentions of Ministers, but I remind the Committee that we are making legislation for a very long time and that there might conceivably be circumstances in which Ministers less well inclined towards the process light upon this clause and decide that it is not really so important that regulations are made, hence we think that the word “must” should be inserted in the Bill.

We have pointed on a number of occasions to the lack of “musts” in the Bill. I think that this is one of the more important ones and I hope that the Minister, even if she is not prepared to consider a number of the other “musts”, will have laid by a little store of sympathy for this “must” proposal, because it relates, as I think she would agree, to a very important feature of this clause.

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

I would like to add to the argument about the fact that this legislation will stand for a long time. Even the fact that clause 75 amends the Water Industry Act 1991 is a reminder to us of how long we expect this legislation to be in force and people to be acting on it accordingly. The Water Industry Act became law 29 years ago and we are still discussing it, and how we will amend it, now. Many years from now, we will still be discussing this legislation, and therefore it is so important to get it right. That is why a “must” instead of a “may” is very important, especially in this clause.

This amendment seeks especially to talk about regional plans. Currently, planning on a regional rather than a company-by-company basis is non-statutory, and so to put this on a statutory basis would be a gear change in terms of water resource management. I would welcome any moves to put regional plans on a statutory footing, but the Government have to be clearer on the circumstances in which the Secretary of State would use the powers and how adherence to the regional plans would be encouraged if it were not clearly set out here. The current drafting is too weak and does not give this clause the teeth that it needs.

By changing “may” to “must”, amendment 9 would tighten up the clause considerably and make it far more effective. It would require the Secretary of State to make provision setting out the procedure for preparing and publishing water resources management plans, drought plans and joint proposals. I would like the Minister, before rejecting the amendment and dismissing it as unnecessary, to answer the following questions. Under what circumstances would the Secretary of State expect to use the powers created by clause 75 to direct water companies to prepare and publish joint proposals—the regional plans? There is a concern that that will not become standard practice if it is not expected. If the powers are not used and regional water resources planning remains on a non-statutory footing—if it is just a “may”—how will the Secretary of State ensure that companies produce water resources management plans that are aligned with the regional plans?

In the absence of a commitment to using the powers created under clause 75 to direct regional planning, can the Minister assure us that the Secretary of State will direct the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set out the need for company plans to align fully with regional plans in its strategic policy statement to Ofwat? Otherwise, many who are listening to and reading this debate will remain concerned that companies’ individual plans could deviate from regional plans, affecting our ability to provide sustainable water resources for society in the light of the worrying projections set out in the Environment Agency’s national framework for water resources.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to make a general philosophical point about “mays” and “musts”. We have been talking about this matter a lot over the past couple of weeks. Obviously, our end objectives are the same: we all want a Bill that strengthens environmental protection, and a strong and independent Office for Environmental Protection.

I realise that this clause is slightly different from earlier clauses, but I will make the generic point that when we say that something should be a “must” rather than a “may”, we are often prescribing what the OEP can do. I realise that this amendment is about Ministers, but if we accepted all the amendments on this point, the OEP would end up with a whole list of things that it must do, as prescribed by the Committee, and it would spend all its time ticking those boxes. We would take agency away from the OEP.

As a parent, if I go around telling my children, “You must do this, and you must do that,” they do not feel very independent. If I tell them that they have to be grown up and make their own decisions, they feel more empowered. Throughout this whole process—we have another couple of weeks to consider amendments—it is worth thinking about what being so directive towards the OEP would do to its agency and independence.

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

I beg to move amendment 130, in clause 75, page 66, line 22, at end insert

“including persons or bodies representing the interests of those likely to be affected.”

I will give the game away straight away by saying that this is a probing amendment, as I am sure the Minister will be pleased to learn, and we seek her comments on it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said, the 1991 Act has been with us for a while. Does the Minister think that bodies that represent those who are likely to be affected by a water resources proposal or a drought plan should be included in the process of preparing and publishing regulations? There is a distinction to be made between the Government deciding to make a plan, and those who would be particularly affected by that plan—for example, the hon. Members who would be affected by a drought plan in Cambridgeshire—having input into the process. There is a relationship between a high-level plan and the reality of any changes on the ground, and it is important to have both perspectives.

That is the reason for this amendment, and the Minister may wish to comment on whether she agrees with the principle behind it, even if the wording is not quite right. I would particularly like to hear whether she is signed up to the idea that I have set out and, if so, whether there are other ways of ensuring that the drawing up of these plans and proposals is a two-way process.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I would like to unpack the amendment slightly more and highlight some areas that may be affected by the Government’s proposals. We would be very interested to hear from the Minister how this Bill will be enacted on the ground after it has progressed through both Houses.

Consultation is key during any planned preparation. The plans to clean up our water across the country are essential and, unless they are done correctly and with the full engagement of all the representative bodies, they will not work. If that happens, the current plateauing of environmental protection, which many people find very concerning, will continue.

The removal of section 37A(8) from the Water Industry Act 1991will remove a list of other bodies. The Act states:

“Before preparing its water resources management plan…the water undertaker shall consult”—

the use of the word “shall” is interesting. Following on from the comments of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, I think that our job in this Bill is to say what is within the OEP’s remit, what must happen and what the OEP, with its flexibility, can decide should happen. We need to set that framework, and an essential part of that is engagement with all the right agencies. The proposed deletion will remove the Environment Agency; Natural Resources Wales; the Water Services Regulation Authority, or Ofwat; the Secretary of State; and any licensed water supplier, as listed in the 1991 Act. These bodies will not be included in this Bill unless we add the text of the amendment, which is, I think, very reasonable,

“including persons or bodies representing the interests of those likely to be affected”.

I do not think that that is overly restrictive, because it would give the OEP the ability to decide who those persons or bodies are. It does, though, say that they must be consulted. Has the Minister considered how to ensure that the new provisions on the preparation of plans by water undertakers will retain stakeholder engagement requirements? Does the Minister believe that the proposals are sufficient to ensure that the Environment Agency, in particular, is fully engaged in plan development? Its involvement is crucial to ensure a high level of environmental scrutiny of water resources options. That is essential for both the working of the Environment Agency and the effectiveness of any plans.

The Minister may suggest that this is dealt with through other requirements such as the customer challenge groups. However, those arrangements are typically extremely narrow and do not enable the wide engagement of the stakeholder that is necessary for the best plans—world-leading plans. Amendment 30 would ensure that consultation rights for stakeholders—

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

It is amendment 130.

--- Later in debate ---
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Gray. Amendment 130 would ensure that consultation rights for stakeholders could be created under such regulations and allow these provisions to include a requirement for

“persons or bodies representing the interests of those likely to be affected”

by a plan to be consulted during the plan preparation. This requirement should be included in the Bill to make it as clear as possible and to ensure that full consultation with stakeholders takes place, so that we have the best possible water resources management plans and the best likelihood of increasing water quality across the country.

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

I beg to move amendment 199, in clause 76, page 70, line 4, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

When a minister chooses to make a drainage and sewerage management plan, this amendment obliges them to consult on it.

Yes, this is another amendment. By the way, I thought that last bit was really exciting. I am sorry that hon. Members did not vote our way on amendment 200 this morning, but I appreciate the effort that everyone put it to make it almost get there.

Amendment 199 relates to the amendments to the Water Industry Act 1991. This is about how regulations “may” make provision about consultation, which is a particularly weak “may”. I would have thought that consultation is an essential element of the process. In particular, we are talking about consultation to be carried out by sewerage undertakers—that is, water companies—who are required by regulation to make provision about the person to be consulted, the frequency and timing of the consultation and the publication of statements.

There is a pretty tight requirement on water companies to be clear about what their provision is, except they do not have to do it. That seems to me to be a suggestion that holds the entire subsection. There is quite a fierce thing in this subsection about consultation. This is a good thing. It covers not just consultation, but who it should be carried out by—the sewerage undertakers—as well as instructions on who should be consulted and so on. It is all spoiled by the “may” at the beginning of the sentence. I think this is another important “must”, which ought to go into the Bill. Again, I will not push the amendment to a Division, but I hope the Minister will take careful note of our strong feelings on the issue and will put it in the box of reconsiderations for when she gets around to deciding whether there should be drafting amendments to the Bill in the future.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I welcome the Minister’s earlier comments about taking action on sewage pollution, of which this is an additional part. I welcome the aims of the clause, and I believe it is vital that a strategic approach is taken to waste water management. However, I have a couple of issues with it that I would like to point out.

Sewage pollution is a very important issue for constituents across the country, including in my constituency of Putney, next to the beautiful River Thames, where we are extremely concerned about it. Some 39 million tonnes of sewage is dumped into the River Thames every year, with an estimated 50 epic dumps of pollution. The Tideway project is making great headway—it is making amazing progress, and I commend it. It will result in a real difference being made. However, there are still extreme concerns. One is about the use of the term “sewerage” in the clause, whereas the industry would prefer to use the term “wastewater”. Wastewater is a much larger section of domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural production, of which sewerage is only a small subsection.

I slightly digress from the amendment—

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Which you should not do.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

Which I should not do. I acknowledge that, but I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that.

Clause 76 amends the Water Industry Act 1991 by adding new section 94C. There are a whole rash of “mays”, and we have chosen modestly, and I think correctly, to identify one that should be a “must”. It is in new section 94C(3), which, again, talks about consultation on plans. We have talked about that previously, and it is absolutely vital for ensuring that those plans work and that they tackle the 39 million tonnes of sewage going into the River Thames and the similar incidences across the country. The Bill places obligations on water companies only for something they are already doing; it does not reflect the scale of the challenge from climate change or the fact that drainage is universally recognised to be a shared responsibility with other organisations that are also responsible for managing service water.

Water UK is concerned that, as written, clause 76 will exclude significant bodies that are involved in drainage and will eliminate much of the potential benefits that customers, society and the environment could otherwise gain. It is a fundamental feature of drainage and wastewater planning that water companies cannot do this in isolation, because drainage is shared with other risk management authorities, as defined in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. For example, large numbers of drainage assets are not under the ownership of water companies, the management of which needs to be integrated into the drainage and wastewater management plans. That has been recognised by the National Infrastructure Commission in its recommendation that water companies and local authorities should work together to publish joint plans to manage surface water flood risk by 2020. Ensuring that such consultation is done as a “must” rather than a “may”, which is the aim behind the amendment, is absolutely essential.

As a minimum, all flood risk management authorities should have a duty to co-operate in the production of drainage and wastewater management plans. There should be the ability to require other flood risk management authorities to provide the information needed for the production of such plans. Clause 76 would ensure that that would happen as a directive to the OEP, which is needed to ensure that we have the best sewerage management plans and wastewater management plans that we can.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for the amendment. It is amazing that we have managed to get him excited—for me, that is a massive milestone in the Bill’s passage. I hope he does not mind my saying that.

I understand that the intention behind the amendment is to give certainty that Ministers will pass secondary legislation about the consultations to be carried out by sewerage undertakers on their drainage and sewerage management plans. Under proposed new section 94A of the Water Industry Act 1991, sewerage undertakers will have a duty to prepare drainage and sewerage management plans. Ministers understand that sewerage undertakers need to know the procedural requirements for fulfilling their duties in good time. Ministers require flexibility on when and how the provision is given effect so that procedural requirements for plans remain proportionate and current.

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

These amendments all make the same point about there being no compensation for certain licence modifications in water abstraction. Should licences be modified as a result of environmental considerations, especially with the uprating of environmental legislation, water companies and other organisations will have to undertake additional actions to ensure that their licences are adhered to, but they will not receive compensation for those modifications. That is all well and good, except when those licences come to be revoked or varied, in pursuit of a direction under a section of the Water Act.

The no compensation clause comes in on 1 January 2028, so it could be argued that that gives the water undertakings a reasonable period to adjust to the changes, but it may have the reverse effect of what is intended. If companies were to make changes that might need to be undertaken before 2028, they would get compensation. I am not sure whether the clause requires a period of notice for changes caused by increased environmental protection—it is reasonable to give water companies time to adapt—or is it a device that allows water companies to get some money for environmental changes that they should be doing anyway, if they do them before 2028? It is a pretty long run-in for changes. I ask the Minister—and this goes for all these amendments, because they all seek to change the date from 2028 to 2021—whether she thinks that the 2028 date is satisfactory in terms of a run-in for the water companies to make their changes.

If they make the necessary changes before 2028, would they be protected from a legal requirement to enter into and discuss compensation? I would suggest that that is less than satisfactory. The Minister faces a choice this morning on which way she jumps; or perhaps, with great dexterity, she could jump in both directions.

Not only is there potential confusion about the precise intention of this clause, but the 2028 date itself seems to be excessively generous by any measure. If the Minister is not able to at least give us an indication that that date might be considered for foreshortening, we may wish to divide the Committee.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I would like to speak in support of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the shadow Minister about the long deadlines of this Bill, which would be rectified by amendments 132, 133 and 134.

Clause 80 amends the Water Resources Act 1991 to improve the way in which the abstraction is managed. This additional Environment Agency power, to act on licensing that causes environmental harm, is welcome. However, the timescale proposed in the Bill is too long, as the changes will apply to licenses revoked or varied on or after January 2028. With compensation remaining payable on any license changes opposed by the agency before that time, budgetary constraints will significantly limit its scope to act, which cannot be the aim of this Bill.

The current timescale does not appear to fully grasp the severity and immediacy of the problems facing UK waterways and the poor performance of water companies to date. Four out of nine companies assessed by the Environment Agency require improvement. We cannot wait until 2028 to start revoking licenses and take action, when there is clearly systemic underperformance in the water industry.

Moreover, water companies in England were responsible for their worst ever levels of environmental pollution in the five years up to 2019, leading to condemnation from Ministers and the Environment Agency. In the agency’s annual assessment of the nine privatised water and sewage companies, its chair, Emma Howard Boyd, said that their performance continued to be unacceptable.

Unsustainable abstraction can do serious environmental damage, particularly by changing the natural flow regime. This results in lower flows and reduced water levels which, in turn, may limit ecological health and result in changes and reductions of river flows and groundwater levels. This is about far more than just hosepipe bans.

The Government’s own analysis has shown that 5% of surface water bodies and 15% of groundwater bodies are at risk from increasing water use by current license holders, which could damage the environment. With the Environment Agency recently warning that in 25 years, England’s water supply may no longer meet demand, we will have to clamp down on over-abstraction now. Before becoming an MP, I worked for the aid agency WaterAid, where I saw the result of over-abstraction and how damaging that was for communities around the world. We do not want to face that here.

Abstracters are unlikely to give up these abstraction rights voluntarily and forfeit potential compensation payments. This means that over-abstracted rivers and groundwater-dependent habitats will continue to suffer for at least another eight years under the clauses of this Bill, putting threatened habitats and public water supplies at risk. Further clarification could then ensure that the new date would not impose unrealistic time pressures on water abstractors. 

Variations to licences could then be made, setting out a reasonable compliance period for changes to be put in place before the abstractor would be in breach of the new conditions. That would give fair notice to abstractors, which I understand is a concern for the Minister and is the original purpose of the 2028 date, while also enabling swift action on the mounting environmental harm caused by damaging abstraction. It would put environmental risks in the driving seat, not the concerns of water companies, which is what the Bill does at the moment.

Does the Minister agree that without bringing forward the date from which environmentally damaging abstraction licences could be amended without compensation, we are unlikely to achieve the existing Government targets for the health of the water environment, which require us to bring our waters into good status by 2027 at the latest? Bringing the date forward to 2021 will allow action to be taken within the final cycle of the river basin management plans for 2021 to 2027, and allow us to reduce abstraction damage in line with Government targets set under the water environmental regulations of 2017. The dates need to add up.

In its report, “Water supply and demand management”, published in July, the Public Accounts Committee advised:

“The Environment Agency should write…within three months setting out clear objectives, and its planned mitigation actions and associated timescales for eliminating environmental damage from over-abstraction”.

The Committee wants immediate action and we should, too. Has the Environment Agency yet been able to outline how it will eliminate the environmental damage in line with statutory deadlines, given that this power will not come into effect until after those deadlines have passed?

I support these amendments, in order to put the Government’s own targets in line with each other and make sure that we take action against over-abstraction as urgently as necessary.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Putney has highlighted why we need to control water abstraction, which is why these clauses are so important. The Government would strongly prefer that solutions are found at a local level between abstractors and the Environment Agency, before these new powers are utilised. A lot of work is already going on to look at abstraction licences, to find different ways of working and to reduce quantities of water abstraction. Indeed, the Government’s 2017 abstraction plan sets out the Government’s commitment and actions to protect our water environment, and it is already beginning to have some effect. Since 2014, a total of 31 billion litres of water has been returned to the environment, and a further 456 billion litres has been recovered from unused or underused licences.

The implementation date of 2028 will afford the Environment Agency the time to engage directly with abstractors to resolve situations without the need to use these powers. That is one of the main pieces of work in progress, as I have outlined. It will also allow time for a catchment-based approach to water resources, to produce solutions. There is a lot of catchment-based work going on. Opportunities will come through the new environment and land management scheme and its systems of new environmental management, where farmers and catchments work together, which is crucial in a holistic approach to the water landscape.

Finally, the date allows time for the transfer of abstraction licensing into the new environmental permitting regime. The powers are more of a big stick, but we are hoping that these other things will swing into place before they have to be used.

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

I beg to move amendment 135, in clause 81, page 80, line 28, leave out subsection (9) and insert—

“(9) Regulations under this section are subject to the super- affirmative resolution procedure.

(10) In this subsection, ‘super-affirmative resolution procedure’ has the same meaning as it does in Section 18 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006.”

I will not detain the Committee for long. Our amendment suggests that instead of regulations under this section being subject to the negative procedure, they should be subject to the super-affirmative procedure. There is a real difference between the two because, as hon. Members will know, the negative procedure for secondary legislation requires merely that the legislation be laid before the House, and if no one objects to it within 21 days, it automatically becomes law. The affirmative procedure, on the other hand, means that under normal circumstances, the House is entitled to a debate on the legislation, in which the Minister is required to take part, at least to air the reasons behind the introduction of the regulations.

The affirmative procedure is potentially an important protection for Parliament to hear properly what is happening with secondary legislation. The super-affirmative procedure guarantees a 90-minute maximum debate on a piece of secondary legislation, and that is the procedure that we would prefer for this clause. We will not press the amendment to a vote, but we would be grateful if the Minister reflected briefly on why she thinks the negative procedure is the right way to go.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

Although there is some justification for a power to make technical updates to regulations, as my hon. Friend the shadow Minister has set out, the clause could provide a licence for the Secretary of State to weaken, via secondary legislation, the standards of our waters, and their chemical status in particular. Secondary legislation has caused a huge amount of division between the Opposition and the Government, as we have asked that much more of it be put into primary legislation. If there is more secondary legislation, and “may” does not become “must”, it is really important that it is debated under the super-affirmative procedure.

That is particularly worrying in the light of Sir James Bevan’s speech, which suggested possible reform of the way in which the status of our water is considered. What is behind that suggestion? The last thing we need now is a regression of water quality standards. According to data released by the Environment Agency last month, not a single lake or river in England that has been recently tested has achieved a good chemical status. We are experiencing a five-year high for environmental pollution by the water industry.

Stakeholder concerns about the unmitigated power in the clause would be unlikely to evaporate if there were a commitment to non-regression of environmental standards. Given the public support for environmental protection, which I am sure the Committee will acknowledge, why are the Government reluctant to provide assurances and to agree to the amendment? That goes to the heart of many of the issues at the centre of the Bill. Time and again, we have heard assurances of non-regression, but the Government have so far avoided every single opportunity to put those promises into statute. That persistent refusal makes us all highly suspicious.

At the heart of the water framework directive is the principle that the water environment is a system and that all its parts need to be in good working order for it to operate effectively. That principle remains true. The clarity of the one in, one out rule should not be abandoned, and any weakening of chemical standards would be a backward step in the light of growing public concern about water pollution and the new data showing the extent of water quality failures across England.

I urge the Committee to support the amendment, which goes some way towards addressing that significant risk, and would ensure that any changes to water quality regulations would be subject not to the negative procedure, as the Bill currently states, but to the super-affirmative procedure—as a new MP, I had to go and look it up and have learned a lot about it—as defined in section 18 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. That would give stakeholders the right to input into any water quality regulation changes, including UKTAG, the UK technical advisory group that currently advises on standards—

Environment Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 17th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th 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 17 November 2020 - (17 Nov 2020)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

Before our lunch break, we were discussing clause 81, on water quality and the powers of the Secretary of State. The clause gives the Secretary of State a wide-ranging power to amend the regulations that implement the EU water framework directive, particularly as they relate to the chemical pollutants that should be considered under the regulations and the standards applied to them.

I have some concluding comments to my earlier statement. The amendment would ensure that any changes to water quality regulations would be subject not to the negative procedure, as the Bill sets out, but to the super- affirmative procedure. This would give stakeholders—including UKTAG, the UK technical advisory group, which currently advises on standards and which should retain a lead role in this process—the right to input into any water quality regulations changes. It would also legally require the Secretary of State to have regard to that input, ensuring that standards and targets are altered only in line with scientific advice and following appropriate stakeholder consultation.

A robust, binding legal assurance of non-regression on environmental standards would give further assurance on that point. The Government still have the opportunity to give such assurance through the Bill, and that would be warmly welcomed by the environmental sector and many other stakeholders.

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

I thank the hon. Member for Putney for tabling the amendment. I understand entirely the desire to ensure an appropriate level of scrutiny when this delegated power is exercised. The clause creates a narrow power for the Secretary of State to maintain a list of the most harmful chemical substances that could enter watercourses and sets out measures to monitor and tackle them, keeping pace with the latest scientific knowledge. This is a key aspect of our wider regulations that protect and enhance our water environment. The exercise of the power in the clause is subject to consultation with experts in the Environment Agency who provide scientific opinion and have a statutory duty to monitor water.

I highlight the fact that the Secretary of State will take into account the latest scientific evidence when updating lists. In addition to the EA, a lot of that evidence comes through the UK technical advisory group, a working group of experts drawn from the environment and conservation agencies for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who already derive threshold values for UK-specified pollutants, which are monitored for the purposes of contributing to the ecological status of our surface waters. A statutory consultation requirement could not be placed on the UK technical advisory group as it is not a statutory body, but it offers valued expert advice. The Secretary of State must also consult any person or bodies appearing to represent the interests of those likely to be affected by these provisions.

I understand that the amendment seeks to increase the level of parliamentary scrutiny of the exercise of the power by upgrading to the super-affirmative resolution procedure, as the hon. Member for Putney mentioned. As we have mentioned, this procedure is used extremely rarely for statutory instruments that are considered to need a particularly high level of scrutiny—for example, legislative reform orders under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which could be used to abolish, confer or transfer statutory functions or create or abolish a statutory body or office—so we do not feel that that would be appropriate.

The hon. Member was concerned about a lowering of standards, which is absolutely not the case. I know that she has a particular interest in this, and I was so interested to hear earlier that she worked for WaterAid. Lots of Back Benchers engage with WaterAid—I did—when it holds events in Parliament. It does really good work. The wider regulations require the EA to have an extensive and robust monitoring regime for chemicals in the water environment and refer to the priority substances as those that must be used to assess chemical status in surface waters. The EA will monitor for new and emerging harmful substances through an early warning system and, in consultation with the EA, the updates to the list will be based on the latest science and monitoring data, which currently suggest a potential increase in the number of substances of concern, rather than a reduction. An eye will certainly be kept on that, because it is so important.

Although I fully acknowledge the importance of parliamentary scrutiny, a super-affirmative, or indeed a standard affirmative, resolution procedure is wholly disproportionate in this instance. This power can be used only to make relatively narrow changes to existing transposing legislation for the purpose of updating certain water quality standards. The power does not extend to changing the wider regime for assessing and monitoring water quality, which is enshrined in the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) Regulations 2017. An update to the list of priority substances involves highly technical discussions, as I have mentioned, around emerging pollutants and their threshold values, measured in micrograms per litre, and sophisticated monitoring techniques, including biota testing.

I hope that clarifies the position, and I therefore ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 137, in clause 93, page 95, line 1, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

“(5) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) the authority must act in accordance with any relevant local nature recovery strategy in the exercise of relevant public functions, including strategic and local land-use planning and decision making and in spending decisions, and in particular in complying with subsections (1) and (1A).””

This amendment would ensure that Local Nature Recovery Strategies are considered in day-to-day planning and spending decisions by public authorities.

Amendment 137 addresses a key issue in the Bill’s current drafting regarding local nature recovery strategies, which we welcome. If they are implemented properly, the strategies can enable a wide range of organisations to contribute to measures needed to address the biodiversity crisis and deliver the Government’s ambitions in the 25-year environment plan, in particular by supporting the creation of a nature recovery network.

By identifying local biodiversity priorities, including restoration opportunities, we think—I am sure that the Government agree—that policy integration and better value for money could be achieved at the same time as saving nature. I suspect that we all have good examples from our areas, but I am sure that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire will join me in praising Natural Cambridgeshire, chaired by Richard Astle, and the excellent work that it is already doing through its nature recovery toolkit. I believe that the hon. Member addressed Natural Cambridgeshire recently. I hope to do so again soon, and I will be keen to bring news of a strengthened Bill.

At the moment, despite local enthusiasm, the duty to use local nature recovery strategies is very weak. It is included in the duty to conserve and enhance biodiversity under clause 93(5), which requires local authorities to “have regard” to the strategies when making plans to conserve or enhance biodiversity, but that risks creating obligations for local authorities to develop local nature recovery strategies, thereby expending precious local resources, only to see that that effort might be wasted through a failure to give the strategies any influence on real decision making. That is a problem.

The duty should be a much stronger requirement to take the strategies into account in the exercise of public functions, including in the statutory planning system and in spending decisions. This mirrors arguments that I have previously made. Unless such a change is made, there is a real risk that local nature recovery strategies will overburden local authorities and once again risk sitting on the proverbial dusty policy shelf.

This is not a criticism of local authorities, but a reflection of the fact that many are already hard pressed and will not have the capacity to do what is asked of them. When I raised this previously, the Minister reassured me that all necessary funding will be made available under the Bill. I liked her reassurance, but she was not able to point me to where that was specified. I invite her to do so again, but I do not think she will be able to do so, because it is not specified—it is just an aspiration. This is not a party political point, but anyone who has been in local government well knows the problem that while central Government frequently make promises, the outcomes rarely transmit. They often end up in general funding, and we are told that it is in there somewhere, without clarity that it is enough. It is important to note that the success of the measures in general will be dependent on the Government making those funds available. I recognise that at this stage it seems difficult to predict the costs—there was some discussion in the impact assessment about how it was not entirely clear how much would be needed—but I ask the Minister how the Government intend to carry out an assessment of how the new duties operate and how they can ensure that resources are available to make the duties work.

The strategies are potentially a very useful tool. If they work well, they could effectively co-ordinate the actions of multiple stakeholders and direct local use of biodiversity gains from the planning system, environmental land management systems and other sources, helping to build and maintain ecologically coherent networks and nature recovery sites. That leads me back to the 25-year environment plan, particularly page 58, which is littered with “we will”, “we shall” and “it will happen”, including the statement that we

“will coordinate our action in England with that of external nature conservation…as well as farmers and land managers.”

That is great, but I have to ask when that will happen.

I had the pleasure of being an Opposition spokesman on the Agriculture Bill, and we were begging constantly, and tabling amendments, for an integrated approach between this Bill and the Agriculture Bill. I am afraid that we were constantly knocked back. Here we are, just a few weeks from the beginning of the phasing out of basic payments, and we do not have ELM schemes in place. The Secretary of State will have to deliver a fix in 10 days’ time. I am happy to be corrected by hon. Members on the other side if that is not correct, but that is what I hear. While the sustainable farming initiative sounds fine, it is a missed opportunity to link to the local nature recovery strategies that we are discussing today. Because of this weak duty to apply the strategies in decision making, I am afraid the potential that these have may well fall short.

Amendment 137 aims to strengthen the duty to use local nature recovery strategies by requiring all public authorities to “act in accordance with” any relevant local nature recovery strategy in exercising their duties, including the statutory requirements, planning and spending decisions. That would make a big difference and deliver real change, and that is why I worry that it is not in the legislation as it stands at the moment. It is essential to ensure that the local nature recovery strategies actively influence important day-to-day decisions that affect nature.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I, too, would like to support amendment 137. I can picture the scene in the drafting committee. One group wanted to have “act in accordance with”, to make the duty very strong so “we would definitely put this into action”, and on the other side was the “must have regard to” group. I would like to speak on behalf of the “act in accordance with” group, and it was a mistake that the “have regard to” group won the day.

The provision for planning to work for nature is very welcome, but there is a risk that it will be stalled indefinitely if we do not have the amendment in the Bill. The duty to use local nature recovery strategies is very weak. The environmental coalition, Greener UK, has similar concerns. The amendment would embed biodiversity in public authority decision making, because here the rubber hits the road—or the hedgerow or the greener area of a siding. The amendment includes complying with spending decisions, and that is what will ultimately decide whether this is put into action.

There is great potential for these strategies to be a highly effective tool, and I welcome the five pilot schemes, as I know the Minister does. However, as it stands, the potential will not be realised because the duty is so weak. The amendment would ensure that local nature recovery strategies actually influence day-to-day decisions that affect nature. There are two examples of how that would work out in my constituency. We have many wonderful green spaces which have “friends of” groups, and they are knocking on the door and trying to get the attention of the local authority all the time. It is not a given that that will happen. Those groups really care about biodiversity, but the day-to-day work of the local authority is not reflecting that.

I have a very active save our hedgehogs group, and I am surprised that they have not been mentioned this afternoon up to now, so I want to put that straight. Those vulnerable mammals have been in decline by 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas since 2000. That is dreadful. If the local authority will have regard to the local nature recovery strategies, rather than acting in accordance with those strategies, there is a danger that the work to reverse the decline of hedgehogs will not happen. There is a mention of hedgehogs in the environment plan, but this amendment would cement action to save hedgehogs and all other biodiversity in our planning system.

Environment Bill (Eighteenth sitting)

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 18th 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)
There is a range of difficulties in terms of the different levels of protection in different pieces of legislation, and we want those to be resolved, if possible. I apologise for speaking at some length on the matter. They are important amendments that have been introduced late in the process, and we seek reassurances from the Minister that these questions can be answered.
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

I rise in support of the objections and concerns raised by the shadow Minister about clause 93 and, specifically, new clauses 25 and 26 on species conservation strategies. The strategic approaches to species conservation are essential to preserving biodiversity and enabling nature’s recovery. They should include protecting, restoring and creating habitat over a wider area to meet the needs of individual species. The additional clauses, along with shining a light on species conservation, are welcome. It is clear that current rules are not working and—as already mentioned—46% of conservation priority species in England declined between 2013 and 2018.

I was concerned, however, to read the reports from Greener UK, which is a coalition of 13 major conservation and environmental organisations. It says that the various strategies may be undermined by the way they are written and the way they are enforced, actually resulting in faster development with lower standards. That cannot be the aim of the clauses at all. Were the strategic powers to be managed badly or applied to inappropriate species, they could become the loopholes that developers would use straightaway to put costs before species protection, and to get away with undermining species protection. That would be as a result of these clauses, which cannot be right.

I am concerned that it has been raised by Greener UK that experienced operators of existing licensing systems are not currently providing protection for animals such as great crested newts, so the district licensing does not work at the moment. Has the Minister met those organisations? Has she talked about these issues and the outcomes on the ground?

I ask the Minister to look again at this clause, which must be amended to explicitly state that site surveys should take place when existing data is inadequate. If the barrier is too high to progress with the site survey, it will not be done, except in abnormal situations or when it is too high a bar. It will not be done in all the places where conservation is failing, which is why we are having this decline. Such an amendment would be vital to this clause so it will be enacted in a way that means we can conserve species.

There is no room for error on this. We cannot wait for 10 years then review this, and find out that lots of habitats have been decimated, and that species have not been conserved and have gone because of this. We need to be on it right from the start. What will be the monitoring of the impact of these clauses? Will the monitoring be fast and rigorous, to ensure that the outcome is conservation and protection of special sites, rather than seeing developers riding roughshod over the regulations and using the rules as a loophole for continuing decimation of our important sites?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank hon. Members for their comments. As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, he has raised a large number of points in one go. He has given me a large task, and I will write to him if there are points that I miss out, because it was an awful lot to take in at speed.

The hon. Gentleman is right to be asking these questions because we need to make sure that we have got this right. I give him the assurance straight away that new clauses 25 to 27 will not diminish the Bill, but will add to it. That is what we have in mind and there has been a lot of discussion in order to come to that conclusion. We have listened to a lot of comments. That is why clause 93 strengthens the biodiversity duty, to better effect the ambition set out in the 25-year environment plan and to give public authorities a much better approach to building biodiversity into their core activities, so that that is part and parcel of everything rather than being done on an itsy-bitsy, one-off basis.

Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)

Fleur Anderson 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)
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. If someone chanced upon the Bill, flicked through it, looked at the contents at the front and said, “There is a section on tree felling and planting; that’s good, because we want to know about tree planting,” and then found that there was no tree planting, that would be rather an odd outcome, yet that is what we have in front of us. I would like to know, at the very least, what the Minister thinks can be done to rectify that omission and whether she intends, when the tree strategy is mature, to amend the Bill or, if this Bill has already gone through the whole of the House, introduce a subsequent Bill that will match up with what will be in the Environment Act, to give whole-life regulation and protection to tree planting, which is absolutely necessary for our ambitions for the future. Although we do not want to amend these clauses, because we accept that they are within the limitations written into the Bill, we give notice that we intend to proceed to rectify at least part of the issue concerning the heading of the clauses as we move on to the new clauses.

There is an indication, certainly in schedule 15, that the problem of maintenance and stewardship for the future is not anticipated, even on the question of felling and restocking trees. Schedule 15, which is an amendment to the Forestry Act 1967, requires restoration orders to be put in place—a good thing in itself—where people have felled trees when they should not have done or without the proper provisions being applied for.

Schedule 15 provides a welcome advance, in that there is clear regulatory guidance on restocking, but that guidance then starts to fall down, inasmuch as the restocking orders last for only 10 years. The precise problem that we have outlined with replanting could arise for the restocking orders. The person who has knocked the trees down might grudgingly replant more under the restocking order, but 10 years later, he or she can pull them all up again.

That is certainly not in line with the sort of stewardship that we think has to take place for trees, both in general and in particular with regard to the restocking orders. I would appreciate it if the Minister could comment this afternoon on whether she thinks the provisions in schedule 15 for the duration of restocking orders are sufficient in the light of our discussion, or whether she might review that for future reference.

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

I know that I represent millions of people across the country in wanting to speak more about trees and seek more about trees in the Bill. There are some things in these clauses that we can agree on. I know that the Minister is a lover of ancient woodland and that the clauses are close to her heart as a chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ancient woodland and veteran trees.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am no longer allowed to be the chair.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

As a former chair, she has said of ancient woodland:

“It is an absolute travesty that only 2% remains and we must ensure that no more is lost.”

We agree on proposed new section 96A(1) of the Highways Act 1980, as inserted by clause 101, in which it becomes statutory for local authorities to

“consult members of the public before felling a tree on an urban road”.

Constituents in Putney will welcome that measure, because in many cases, they do not know why a tree has been felled and they would like to have had a say. It gives our fantastic volunteer tree wardens more power to look at the trees in our urban areas.

We also agree that the Bill is landmark legislation that legislates for urgent action on the biggest environmental challenges of our time. Therefore, it is disappointing that clause 100 is sadly lacking. We will talk about a tree strategy later when we debate new clause 19, but that is where this clause could have come in. Putting an English tree strategy on a statutory footing is key to delivering the commitments in the 25-year environment plan, alongside which the Bill sits.

The 25-year environment plan has targets for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and for planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK. We need interim and overall targets in the Bill to ensure that we deliver on those targets. Why is that? Trees sequester carbon, support biodiversity, protect against floods, stabilise the soil, improve our physical and mental wellbeing, filter air pollutants and help to regulate temperatures. The Environment Bill seeks to do all of these, and more on trees would enable us to do it better and make it that landmark legislation. However, 53% of UK woodland wildlife is in decline. Woodland expansion is well below the rate necessary for the future. DEFRA has a woeful track record of missing tree planting targets. It cannot be left out of this Bill and just left to happen. History shows that it does not just happen. We really need a statutory England tree strategy.

There is currently no formal mechanism to set targets for protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland in England. Here is the opportunity to legislate and address the importance of trees in tackling the climate and nature crisis we face. This Bill aims to restore and enhance green spaces, yet it falls short in not containing a necessary clause about a tree strategy. There should be a strategy with the following objectives: increasing the percentage of tree cover in England, increasing the hectares of new, native woodland creation by planting and natural regeneration, and increasing the hectarage of plantation of ancient woodland undergoing restoration.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to the work of the Woodland Trust, which has helped schools in the hon. Lady’s constituency, I am sure, as well as those of all members of the Committee. Does she agree that the sort of projects it leads will help the Government to achieve their goals of planting masses more trees across the country and involving school children?

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention noting the work of the Woodland Trust, which is in agreement with the points I have just made. In fact, this is exactly what it is calling for. Indeed, given that he has talked about the excellent work of the Woodland Trust, I hope he will be supporting new clause 19 when we come back to it. The Woodland Trust would like an English tree strategy to be put on a statutory footing and gave evidence to that effect to this Committee previously, and many constituents from across the country have written in to support this also.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point I was trying to make was to highlight the good work that the Woodland Trust is doing alongside the Government, rather than to necessarily support the Opposition’s suggested amendments to the Bill.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I understand the clarification. I would say that the Woodland Trust is doing fantastic work, but it is also calling for this statutory framework. I put Members on notice that we will return to this issue when we come to new clause 19. Therefore, I ask all Committee members to hastily look that up and, I hope, support it when it comes. Alternatively, as the shadow Minister has mentioned, let us see an actual, whole tree Bill come to Parliament with all urgency. That would be excellent as well.

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.

--- Later in debate ---
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

The Bill gives the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the power to amend UK REACH and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008—REACH being the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, for the benefit of those reading in Hansard. However, specified elements of REACH are excluded, as we said earlier, from the Secretary of State’s amending power. We are referred to the table that the Minister mentioned earlier and told, “It is all there and included.” It is not all there and included.

We would like to highlight some articles that have not been included in the protected provisions—specifically, article 13 in amendment 108, articles 26, 27 and 30 in amendment 109 and—an interesting set of articles—articles 32, 33 and 34 in amendment 176, which are highly important to the REACH regulations actually working for consumers and those within the supply chain of chemicals. The provisions refer to everyday products that we and our constituents would all use, including paints, cleaning products, clothes, furniture, electrical appliances and, as already mentioned, hairdryers.

In article 32, which I would argue should be a protected principle, there is the duty to communicate information down the supply chain free of charge and without delay. In article 33, the duty is to communicate information on substances in articles for the consumer free of charge within 45 days. In article 34, the duty is to communicate information on substances and preparations up the supply chain.

There are duties up the supply chain, down the supply chain and to the consumer. That is all protected, and it absolutely should happen to ensure that, as the Minister has said, when more information, science and data come to light as we go along with new products and chemicals, the consumer and all of those in the supply chain have a right to know what that new information is, and what is up and down the supply chain. The consumer should know what is in the products that we consume.

Under article 33, suppliers of articles that contain a substance of very high concern are required to provide sufficient information in response to consumer requests about those products to allow their safe use, including disclosing the name of the substance that is used. However, that will be taken out of a protected requirement. There are substances that, for example, meet the criteria for classification as carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction and persistent bioaccumulative toxic. This is an essential public policy safeguard, and it is unclear why the Government wish to exclude it from the list of protected provisions. Other things are included in that list. It is seen as beneficial to have a list of protected provisions. Why are those provisions not protected?

That is the question we are asking by tabling these amendments. We are saying that it is important to the whole of the REACH regulation that these things are included and cannot be subject to change by the Secretary of State.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank hon. Members for amendments 108, 109, 176, 110 and 111. I understand the desire to protect further provisions of UK REACH in the Environment Bill. However, I do not believe that these amendments are necessary or, in many cases, desirable—shock, horror!

The protected provisions of REACH are intended to ensure that the fundamental principles of REACH cannot be changed, while allowing a flexibility to ensure UK REACH remains fit for purpose. The intention is not to freeze detailed processes. Any proposed amendments by the Secretary of State are subject to consultation, to the consent of the devolved Administrations in respect of devolved matters and to the affirmative procedure, ensuring a full debate in Parliament, which I know Opposition Members will welcome.

Amendment 108 applies to article 13 of REACH, which sets out detailed provisions about alternatives to animal testing, including when animal tests can be waived—I think the hon. Member for Putney was referring to that. She wants us to avoid unnecessary animal testing and to promote alternative approaches. We agree with that aim, but adding this article to the list of protected provisions could make that more difficult. For example, it could prevent us from extending the range of tests for animal testing that may be omitted where there is appropriate justification.

The same objections apply to the articles that would be affected by amendment 109, that is, articles 26, 27 and 30, and by amendment 176, that is, articles 32, 33 and 34. These articles are not just about the principles of information sharing. They also include prescriptive details about how information should be shared with the REACH supply chain and how the agency should deal with inquiries. We should not bind ourselves to these detailed procedures going forward but instead remain free to adopt new ways of working that draw on our experience of applying REACH in the UK. The whole idea is that we will improve and benefit.

Amendment 110 would protect REACH article 40(2). Again, the point is that we do not want to freeze the detail of how REACH operates. Instead, we need the flexibility to amend REACH, to ensure that it works for the UK. In this case, article 40(2) includes specific details, such as timescales for publishing information.

I do not believe that amendment 111 is necessary or desirable. I agree that we may consider it appropriate to amend the REACH annexes to drive the use of non-animal alternatives, but the power to amend the REACH annexes is already within REACH itself, which makes it unnecessary to add an overlapping power to the Bill.

I therefore ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to consider withdrawing his amendments.

Environment Bill (Twentieth sitting)

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 20th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th 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 24 November 2020 - (24 Nov 2020)
My point is that, when one looks at the fine detail, not all was as it seemed. Sadly, our protections are not as strong as they were. That is the theme of most of my contributions. We will be less well protected next month than we are today. That is why the non-regression principle is so very important. I commend it to the Minister and ask her to take the advantage that we are yet again offering her and which would strengthen her Bill.
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

The clock is ticking: we are only five weeks away from the end of the famous implementation period. This amendment seeks to freeze that in time and say that in five weeks’ time there will be no regression or diminution in any protection afforded by any environmental standard effective in UK domestic law. Surely that is the most important part of the Bill. At least we could say that the Environment Bill is being brought forward to replace, renew and look beyond all the environmental protections that we will not have when we are not an EU member: that we will do better than that—or at least, not regress. If the amendment is not agreed to, we are worried that we will not have that safeguard.

The Government have frequently stated their desire to improve the quality of our environment and protect our existing environmental standards. Why, then, do they stop short of enacting an unambiguous and binding requirement not to regress on existing rules, as would be enacted through the amendment? This is not about staying tied to EU rules. As the shadow Minister says, we are not re-enacting Brexit at all; rather, we are ensuring that the UK rules get better and better over time and are protected from deregulatory pressure.

Non-regression is an exciting and emerging norm of environmental law, and we need to harness its potential. That requires a positive trajectory for environmental standards, with the ultimate goal of progressively improving the health of people and the planet. There is a precedent, as was mentioned, in other international laws and instruments. Non-regression can be found explicitly in international instruments, such as the 2015 International Union for Conservation of Nature draft international covenant on environment and development, the 2017 draft global pact for the environment and the 2018 Escazú agreement, which mirrors the Aarhus convention for the Americas. It is important to mention those because there is precedent. We cannot say that such a provision is unnecessary and does not need to be done. It should be added to the Bill.

To underscore why we, as the Opposition, feel so strongly about the issue, one need only look at how much the UK’s environment has benefited from the EU framework that the Bill is replacing. In the 1970s, we pumped untreated sewage straight into the sea, but EU laws and the threat of fines, as well as good enforcement, forced us to clean up our act. Now, more than 90% of our beaches are considered clean enough to bathe off. I have yet to hear a meaningful reason why the Government would not at least commit to the new clause. To say that it is not necessary is just bluster and evades the issue, and it is just not good enough.

If we are to put our money with our mouth is, the new clause should be added to the Bill, especially because it would match our ambition as we host COP26 next year. It would be a meaningful legal commitment to non-regression, and in turn a powerful endorsement of the Government’s stated ambitions to be world leaders on environmental matters. It would create an authoritative platform from which the UK could seek to improve global green governance. There is nothing to lose by adopting the new clause and everything to gain.

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

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

This new clause concerns well consents for hydraulic fracking: cessation of issue and termination. Hon. Members may ask themselves, “What has fracking got to do with this Bill? Why is there a new clause about fracking when we are talking about other issues entirely?” I would contend that fracking, or potential fracking, is central to many of the issues that we have discussed. The current fracking regime and whether or not wells are being fracked cut across, potentially considerably so, the Bill’s protections and provisions relating to the natural environment, biodiversity and various other issues. There are a number of worrying issues relating to how fracking is carried out, how its consequences are dealt with, and how its by-products come about and are or are not disposed of.

I am sure that hon. Members will have access to a fair amount of information about the fracking process and that they will be aware that, as far as this country is concerned, it has not got very far. The Cuadrilla well in Preston was paused on the grounds that it caused earthquakes when the fracking process began. Although the then BEIS Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), used a provision to direct that that particular drilling company should not proceeded, that provision also allowed for corners to be cut on standards, so that it could get going with the fracking process. The standard relating to seismic disturbance was only a small part of the substantial environmental consequences to which the widespread introduction of fracking would give rise.

Mercifully, fracking is not used substantially in this country, but it is in other countries. When I visited Texas some time ago, I went to Austin, which is right in the middle of the fracking industry, in the large, relatively easy-to-access basin that covers a lot of Texas and in which a lot of fracking wells have been drilled. As we came into the airport, we could see ahead of us what looked like a moonscape. There was a large number of circular pads with extraction equipment covering the landscape as far as the eye could see. It also glinted in the sun, inasmuch as attached to those fracking pads were a number of what looked like ponds or small lakes. It looked like a landscape of lakes, but it was not. It was a landscape of tailing ponds associated with the fracking pads, and in which were placed the results of the fracking process—the fracking fluid that had been used to blast the rocks apart, which contained substantial chemicals to assist in that process. If they were to be produced in this country in the quantities suggested—at least 10,000 or so cubic metres of fluid per fracking pad—they would be classed as hazardous waste and would need to be disposed of very carefully. There are actually very few hazardous waste sites in this country that can take that kind of waste. The solution in the United States was that, on some occasions, they injected the waste back down into deep basins, which is not ideal. Alternatively, they just kept it on the surface in tailing ponds on the landscape. That could be the future for us, if we were to develop fracking to any great extent.

As I say, we have had only two goes at fracking in this country so far. They happened to be in two areas of the UK that contain the seams from which gas can be extracted through the fracking process. One is the Bowland shale in the north-west of the country, which happens to encompass the Lake District national park. The other is across the Weald and into South Downs national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty that goes across Sussex and into Hampshire. If we had a substantial fracking industry in the UK, wells would be drilled in those two concentrated areas. There would be a concentration of wells in that precious landscape, possibly like the concentration that I saw in Austin, Texas.

The Infrastructure Act 2015 placed restrictions on where fracking can take place, but it did not have a great deal of traction in this country. Modern fracking can proceed by diagonal drilling; it does not have to involve drilling down. An interesting discussion emerged about the extent to which parts of the country could be declared to be surfaces on which fracking should not take place. The Government of the day identified some areas of outstanding beauty and national parks as areas where fracking should not take place, but all people need to do is set up a fracking plant right on the boundaries of a national park and drill diagonally.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the new clause is not agreed to and fracking is not stopped, that will undermine a lot of the biodiversity and ecosystem protection elsewhere in the Bill? It is bad for the climate, the environment and pollution, and local people do not want it either.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend about a regime of substantial fracking. All that has happened at the moment is that fracking has been paused. All the infrastructure requirements and legislation allowing fracking on a reasonably unrestrained basis are still in place, so it is more than possible that a future Government, or indeed this Government, might decide that they no longer wish to pause fracking. Everything is ready to go. As she said, this raises the question not only of what happens to the fracking fluid but of the escape of fugitive emissions between the well being produced and the gas being conveyed. Indeed, it is the practice, when fracking has been completed, to have a so-called flare-off to clean the well’s tubes, as it were. Enormous amounts of gas mixed with elements of the fracking fluid are released into the atmosphere and simply flared.

We understand that fracking sites will have multiple wells drilled with a very large amount of transport involved, with traffic coming to remote countryside areas, the levelling of an area several football pitches wide to make the pad, and a host of other things that result in environmental despoliation in pursuit of fracking. There are also the long-term consequences when the well is depleted: will it be re-fracked? If it is depleted, will it be properly capped off? One of the problems in Texas now is that the fracking wells have not proved to be as bountiful as had been thought––what a surprise––and several have simply been abandoned with little done to cap them off. There can be a regime for doing that properly, but in the countryside where the fracking has taken place, there is continuing danger and concern in respect of surface water and water in seams underground.

Environment Bill (Twenty First sitting)

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 21st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th 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 24 November 2020 - (24 Nov 2020)
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

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

I am honoured to be called to speak about this important new clause. Indeed, it is so reasonable that at this stage of this iteration of the Environment Bill Committee, the seventh day, this might be the new clause that is agreed by all its members. We are not setting specific targets; we only ask that targets be set. We are not saying how they should be measured; we are just saying that measurements should be done. It is a new clause, surely, that must be agreed by all.

The issue is not only of concern to constituents across the country and to members of the Committee, it is a huge concern to my constituents. More than 200 people have taken the additional time and effort to write to their MP about animal welfare issues, from testing to warfare experiments and sentencing. I have long believed that the UK should lead the world with high animal welfare standards. I am proud that the UK banned cosmetic testing on animals back in 1997 and extended that to cosmetic ingredients in 1998. I was one of those who had been campaigning since the 1980s for that. We have made some good progress and agreeing on the new clause and putting it into the legislation would entrench those gains and make sure we go further.

It is welcome that animal testing practices have improved and advanced greatly over recent years, and non-animal methods for research have also developed and improved over time. However, I remain concerned at the lack of transparency around animal testing project licence applications, as well as the continued permissibility of severe suffering as defined in UK law. Again, the new clause does not aim to be entirely prescriptive about the conclusions of that—it leaves that for secondary legislation—but it asks for it to be included and considered.

Animal testing is not the answer to protecting people and the planet from potentially harmful chemicals. Tests on animals are unreliable and their value is increasingly being questioned in scientific literature. It is a matter of corporate pride for many businesses to say that they have animal cruelty-free products, because that is increasingly what the public wants.

There are better ways to ensure chemical safety and better assess risks to environmental and human health while also reducing and eliminating the cruel suffering of animals in laboratories. Cruelty Free International estimates that since 2006 more than 2.6 million animals have been used in chemical tests across the EU, including the UK, with many more tests planned. The UK reports conducting more animal tests than any other country in Europe. EU chemical legislation—the REACH legislation—already discussed in Committee, has resulted in a huge increase in the use of animals in European and UK laboratories. Now is our chance to be better and to provide that world-leading legislation. We need a proactive plan to reduce and replace chemical tests on animals. If the UK is serious about its commitment to animal protection, the Government must adopt a forward-looking Environment Bill that moves away from cruel and ineffective animal testing and write into law a target-based, science-led strategy for reduction and replacement.

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

I agree with what the hon. Member for Putney wants to achieve in new clause 9. Just like her, I am an animal lover. As a former chair of the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare, I think I speak for everyone on the Committee in terms of being animal lovers. The UK was consistently one of the strongest voices in the EU, applying downward pressure on animal testing—I am sure the hon. Lady is well aware of that—including changes to REACH to enforce the use of alternatives. The UK’s presidency of the European Council in the late 1990s was one of the driving forces behind the reform of the chemicals regulations and we referred to that in a previous session. We are continuing with that clear aim now that we have left the EU, and we are already enshrining the last resort principle as one of the protective provisions in the Bill. Under article 138(9) of REACH, the Secretary of State will also be under a duty to review the testing requirements on reproductive toxicity within 18 months of the end of the transition period. That review must be carried out in the light of the objective of reducing the use of animal testing.

In addition, the powers in schedule 19 of the Bill to amend REACH would enable us to build such targets into REACH, if that were felt to be appropriate. Any amendment would have to be consulted on and to be consistent with the aims and the principles of REACH as set out in article 1, including that we must maintain a high level of protection for human health and the environment, seek alternatives to animal testing, and that REACH is underpinned by the precautionary principle. I believe that would be the better route, if we conclude that targets are desirable. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw new clause 9.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for looking into the issue and for some assurances that targets could be included in future, and that we will be seeking alternatives. I note the concerns and considerations that we all want the same thing, which is stronger animal welfare. I am disappointed that we will not agree on this matter this afternoon, but I will not press it to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 10

OEP: Penalty notices

‘(1) If the OEP is satisfied that a public authority has failed to comply with a decision notice, the OEP may, by written notice (a “penalty notice”) require the public authority to pay to the OEP an amount in sterling specified in the notice.

(2) When deciding whether to give a penalty notice to a public authority and determining the amount of the penalty, the OEP must have regard to the matters listed in subsection (3).

(3) Those matters are—

(a) the nature, gravity and duration of the failure;

(b) the intentional or negligent character of the failure;

(c) any relevant previous failures by the public authority;

(d) the degree of co-operation with the Commissioner, in order to remedy the failure and mitigate the possible adverse effects of the failure;

(e) the manner in which the infringement became known to the OEP, including whether, and if so to what extent, the public authority notified the OEP of the failure;

(f) the extent to which the public authority has complied with previous enforcement notices or penalty notices;

(g) whether the penalty would be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.

(4) Once collected, penalties must be distributed to the NHS and local authorities to be used for pollution reduction measures.

(5) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, set the minimum and maximum amount of penalty.

(6) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”—(Dr Whitehead.)

This new clause would allow the OEP to impose fines.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. This proposed new clause was originally put forward in the names of my hon. Friends the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), who no longer sit on the Committee. With our names added, we certainly support the sentiment.

The proposed new clause contains a simple proposition relating to the Office for Environmental Protection and its functions. Hon. Members will recall that we have had substantial discussions about the extent to which the OEP has powers to make its functions work well. It is a question of giving it not just general authority but enforcement powers, notices and so on, which we have debated. As the Bill stands, although the OEP would have a number of powers concerning notices and the ability to bring court proceedings, it would not have the power to levy fines.

That argument is sometimes raised where a no-fine outcome is concerned, when the question arises regarding the bodies on which the OEP would levy fines. That would, by and large, be public authorities. The argument then runs about what it would mean to levy a fine on public authorities. I remind hon. Members that that was not the case before we took powers over from the EU, in running our own environmental importance. Nor is it something that other agencies do not have as shots in their locker.

The clean air regime, for example, allowed the EU Commission the power to levy fines on infracting countries. In the case of clean air regulations, there was a suggestion that the fines that the EU authorities had the power to levy could be applied to infracting local authorities that were not adhering to clean air regulations. Indeed, there was quite a to-ing and fro-ing between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and local authorities, because it was suggested that authorities that had been identified as infracting, and therefore needed to draw up clean air plans, would bear the brunt of the fines, rather than the UK Government. The UK Government were the public authority that was infracting, but they had passed on their infraction responsibilities to other public authorities, so those public authorities would be fined. That was a real issue with regards to clean air just a little while ago, but it has not been passed on to the Office for Environmental Protection, which would be the agency in that instance with UK powers.

Similarly, Ofgem has considerable powers to fine companies that do not undertake proper management of their customer bills or their responsibilities for energy supply. Indeed, a considerable number of fines have been levied, running to millions of pounds, on energy companies. Ofgem has that clear and workable power to levy fines, but the OEP does not.

We are saying that the OEP should have the power to fine. Indeed, the new clause would give it that power. The other part of the problem is what the agency would do with the fines once they have been collected—is it not just a circular process? The new clause states that, once collected, penalties must be distributed to the NHS and local authorities to be used for pollution reduction measures. The fines would be recycled, but in a positive way for environmental management and improvement.

Having that power to fine, and being able to publicly state that authorities had been fined, are potentially strong weapons in the OEP’s locker, not necessarily because the fines would be punitive in their own right, but because they would be a mark against that public authority and because, through the transfer of the fine payments, the sins of that public authority would be effectively transferred into positive action on environmental improvement in other areas.

We think the new clause is a sensible, straightforward measure that would generally improve the efficacy of the OEP. The fact that nothing like it was thought about emphasises the general theme that we have been talking about in Committee of the power, independence and force of the OEP being downgraded through a number of Government amendments that have been made as we have gone through the Bill. This would be one back for the OEP, so I hope the Committee will view it in a favourable light.

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

Since I have only just heard that, I am not sure I can completely agree with it. The Minister is suggesting that there is a mesh of things there already, which could lead towards moves unpinning the targets. I hope the Minister is right about that process. I am not absolutely sure that they are as strong as we might like them to be in terms of what the new clause suggests, but I am sure that the Minister would be able to review that position, if it turns out that, once those targets are set, the mesh is not strong enough to impel those regulators in the direction that should be taken.

On that basis, and with confidence in the Minister’s powers of persuasion for future arrangements, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 15

Reservoirs: flood risk

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to grant the Environment Agency additional powers to require water companies and other connected agencies to manage reservoirs to mitigate flood risk.

(2) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”—(Fleur Anderson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

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

I speak as a representative of a constituency that is no stranger to flooding. In Putney, we regularly have very high tides along the river. There is even a “high tide club” of car drivers who had not realised that the water was going to come, and found themselves water logged and stranded. People love to go and take photos of them, but it is not very good for the drivers.

I rise to speak in favour of the new clause, which has an unusual range of support—perhaps it will be the first that attracts the support of the whole Committee. I hope that all Committee members have noticed that it has the support of the Conservative hon. Members for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) and the SNP hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally), alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Leeds North West and for Halifax (Holly Lynch). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax for all the work she has done championing the use of reservoirs and reservoirs management in mitigating flood risk for communities.

This Environment Bill will mean more collaboration between water companies to deliver the infrastructure we need and ensure that we have clean and plentiful water, now and for decades to come. That is in the bag. This new clause takes the Bill further in strengthening the powers of the Environment Agency to manage reservoirs to mitigate flood risks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax introduced a private Member’s Bill on this issue last year, as a result of many years of conversations and learning between agencies, including the Environment Agency, water companies and local authorities for the area of Calderdale, about what will really help to stop communities being at risk from flooding.

Currently, the legislation that underpins water companies and their regulation has a focus on mitigating drought risk rather than flood risk.

The new clause seeks to redress the balance, as is only appropriate. Reservoir management is vital to mitigation of the damage and havoc that floods can wreak on communities such as those in Calderdale, and trials of flood management are already under way in such areas as Thirlmere in Cumbria and the reservoirs in the upper Don valley. We know that it will affect reservoirs across Wales and Scotland, as well as Wessex in England.

--- Later in debate ---
However, there is currently no legislation that stops water companies using their assets for flood risk management. In fact, water companies are risk management authorities under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and they have a duty to co-operate with all other risk management authorities, including the Environment Agency, local authorities, internal drainage boards and others, as is being put into practice by the Severn Partnership. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Putney to withdraw the new clause.
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for all those points and for her impassioned argument in favour of the new clause. The change in water use under covid has been recognised. It has been seen in London, where fewer people are working in the city and more are working at home. Better powers granted under the Bill, and local management plans, would make it possible to respond to those changes.

The Gorpley reservoir partnership is a great model of how to work together, as is the one in Calderdale that led to a private Member’s Bill last year and to this new clause. The new clause seeks only to put into legislation what is seen to be good practice. This is a top priority of the Government, so it should be in the Bill. Why would it not be? I absolutely agree that the security of water is very important, but we are asking for balance with flood mitigation.

The new clause would give specific powers to the Environment Agency and would provide joined-up legislation across the Government. The Minister has talked about the top priority of flood mitigation; the new clause balances that with the top priority of a world-leading Environment Bill. This is the right place for the new clause, so I seek to divide the Committee on the motion.

--- Later in debate ---
All those considerations have to go into a proper tree strategy and what I hope to hear from the Minister—so that we do not have to divide the Committee—is that that is the Government’s thinking. I hope they have a tree strategy on its way that will do all those things to get us to 1.5 million hectares of additional forest cover by 2050 and so that England and Wales will rejoice in about 13% or so forest cover, and the UK as a whole will rejoice in about 19% forest cover, with the active collaboration of all the Governments and nations in the UK. That is what I would regard as a real tree strategy, putting in place something that plants trees as well as felling them, and that is why we have tabled the new clause. I hope the Minister will find it very much to her liking. I know she is a very strong tree person, and I hope her strong tree inclinations will shine out this afternoon through her commitment to making the tree strategy work as well as we think it should.
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I feel as though this is the tree strategy support group part two. As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister said, we talked about it in our discussion of clause 100, which was very disappointing. For anyone reading this debate in Hansard, I recommend that they go back and discover the length and breadth of clause 100, which is headed “Tree felling and planting”, but talks only about tree felling.

New clause 19 is specifically about a tree strategy, tree planting and tree conservation. As I said last week, putting an English tree strategy on a statutory footing is key to delivering the commitments in the 25-year environment plan alongside which the Bill sits. My hon. Friend has been through the many reasons why we need this strategy. It is therefore hugely disappointing to those who have a stake in our woodlands—and knowing how much the Minister is a tree person—that the Bill fails to deliver one. There have been no new clauses from the Government to set right this gap in the Bill. In the previous sitting, I heard several Conservative Members rightly praising and waxing lyrical about the Woodland Trust’s work, about which they were very appreciative. Despite their admiration, however, they have seemingly ignored exactly what the Woodland Trust has called for, which is contained in new clause 19; the new clause has the Woodland Trust’s full support.

I note and appreciate what the Minister said last week, namely that the long-awaited and much talked-about tree strategy is under production and will be launched in the spring of 2021. Given how long this Bill Committee seems to be going on, that feels very close. The tree strategy contains what the Government believe are ambitious commitments, and we all look forward to it. I welcome that, and I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the submissions made to their consultation. However, by refusing to give an England tree strategy a statutory footing, the Government risk seriously undermining their progress.

We know that there is a long way to go. Without a provision such as new clause 19, there is no formal way in England to set targets for a tree strategy. The new clause offers the opportunity to correct this, and it will ensure that the England tree strategy has the status it needs to protect, restore and expand trees and woodland in England. It is amazing; there were almost 3,000 submissions to the Government’s consultation from Woodland Trust supporters, and many wanted an England tree strategy to be put on a statutory footing. Supporting the new clause would ensure that their voices were heard and make the strategy’s targets meaningful, binding and much more likely to achieve their effect. The Woodland Trust has said:

“The amendment is strongly consistent with the Environment Bill’s aims of restoring and enhancing green spaces. It also complements the existing tree clauses, and reflects recent legislation in Scotland, important given the UK wide focus on increasing tree cover as part of the UK’s global climate and biodiversity commitments.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has outlined, this really is a no-brainer.

We can learn from other countries that have put tree strategies into legislation and reaped the rewards. I have been careful, in looking at the Bill, to find out which other countries have brought in similar Bills. Have they introduced environmental legislation, and what have they learned from it? What good practice do we want to take from countries that have gone before us, with similar legislative and regulatory bodies, and what has not worked out very well for the environment? We do not have time for second chances when it comes to the environment.

I will take one example from Norway. We might think of Norway as a massively tree-covered country that does not need any help, but its 2005 Forestry Act was brought up to date to promote sustainable forest management, taking into consideration important environmental values, wildlife habitat, the storage of carbon and other essential functions of forests. Norway’s 2009 Nature Diversity Act ensured that forestry regulation complied with the legislation contained in that Act. Norway put forestry regulation on a statutory footing. It was probably littered with “musts”, and had hardly any “mays”—I can picture it now.

The success of Norway’s model and accompanying legislation speaks for itself. In 1920, Norwegian forests consisted of approximately 300 million cubic metres of standing timber. Today, the volume of standing timber is soon expected to exceed 1 billion cubic metres. It was on a downward trajectory, but it has tripled since the second world war, enhanced by the legislation that Norway has put in on a statutory footing.

New clause 19 is a “no regrets” commitment. I urge colleagues to reconsider their opposition to it, to stand up for trees and to stand up for the ambitious scale of tree planting and conservation that we need to meet our carbon targets, that we need for biodiversity and our own mental health, and that the public overwhelmingly want.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to think that the shadow Minister was going to branch out and not press this new clause to a Division.

I share everybody’s desire to deliver on a tree-planting commitment. The Government are mindful of that and are not wasting time. We are working to increase planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025—the figure which has been quoted and which is in line with the CCC recommendations. We are taking those recommendations extremely seriously. Forestry is devolved, so we are working closely with the devolved Administrations to meet that commitment. To increase planting in England, we have announced a £640 million nature for climate fund. In our England tree strategy, which will be published in early 2021, we will set out further plans for how a lot of the money will be used to fuel all the tree planting we need.

New clause 17 would set a UK-wide target, but as I just said, forestry is devolved, so the Bill is not the place to establish targets for the UK overall. The shadow Minister quoted some statistics—from a blog, I think—about 2,300 hectares of planting. That was an England-only figure for 2019; it was part of UK-wide planting of 13,400 hectares. Our manifesto commitment is to a UK goal, but the Bill is not the place to establish UK targets.

The new clause also proposes a specific England-only target, but significant woodland cover targets in legislation would have a major impact on land. Ours is a small island and therefore we have a limited resource for planting. It is not helpful to make comparisons with a country such as France, which is five times the size of the UK and has a much smaller population. I applaud what the Norwegians have done, but they have terrain that is much more suited to growing trees and, to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, they have fewer choices to make about prime agricultural land. We must and will strike a careful balance on where we put the trees.

Extending our 2025 commitment to 2050 would result in 17% tree cover, which is an enormous increase, but the new clause proposes 19%, which would require us to think seriously about the possible extent of woodland cover and how it would affect our prime agricultural land and land for housing and so on. I am sure the shadow Minister is completely aware of that. In a policy paper this summer, we set out our intention to explore whether legislative tree-planting targets would be appropriate under the target-setting procedure in the Bill. Before that process is complete, we should not set specific targets in legislation. Setting potentially unachievable targets, as proposed in the new clause, could lead to trees being planted in the wrong places for the wrong reasons, which could harm food production and sensitive habitats, or even increase carbon emissions. There are lots of things to consider.

New clause 19 proposes a duty to prepare a tree strategy for England and sub-sectoral targets. We know that a major increase in planting is needed—nobody denies that, and it is a manifesto commitment. That is why we have launched the consultation on a new England tree strategy. The strategy will be published in 2021; it will set out a clear vision, objectives and policies for trees in England, covering trees, woodlands and forests. There was great involvement in the consultation and some interesting ideas and proposals were advanced.

Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)

Fleur Anderson 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)
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Welcome to this penultimate, or possibly ultimate—we hope—sitting of the Committee. I think that everybody is observing social distancing today, but the Speaker has made it perfectly clear that we must be very strict about this. For this last—or second last—event, please try to remember that.

New Clause 23

Reduction of lead poisoning from shot

(1) The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).

(2) After section 5(c)(viii) insert—

“(ix) any form of lead ammunition used in a shotgun.”

(3) After section 11 (1)(d) insert—

“(e) uses lead ammunition in a shotgun for the purposes of killing or taking any wild animal”.

(4) The provisions in this section come into force on 1 January 2023.

This new clause intends to provide an effective regulation to protect wildlife, the environment and human health by replacing widely-used toxic lead gunshot with alternatives. It intends to ensure a supply of healthy game for the market, whilst meeting societal requirements and those of shooting, food retail and conservation stakeholders.(Fleur Anderson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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

It is an honour to stand in this last sitting of our Environment Bill Committee consideration, which began 261 days ago. I have been disappointed, so far, by the lack of agreement over the amendments proposed by Opposition Members.

I hope today will see a sea change; that this new clause is the one that we can all accept, agreeing that lead shot is highly toxic, should not be in our system, is bad for the environment, bad for wildlife, bad for children, bad for adults—bad for everyone. Its days can now be hastily numbered, and we can support the shooting community in their efforts to get rid of lead shot from our environment, our ecosystem and our agriculture.

Lead shot is highly toxic and is easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Birds eat it as they mistake it for grit—which they eat for digestion—and it then gets absorbed into their bodies. It is also highly toxic for children; there is no minimum amount of lead, in any system, that is safe for children.

I am no urban MP, standing up for a city constituency, with no idea of what goes on in the country, because I was raised in Wiltshire, where my father was a rural vicar. Every Christmas, some of our presents would not be wrapped up, but would be hung up outside our door, as they would be a brace of pheasants. I do understand what happens in the shooting community.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the vicar’s daughter give way?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the hon. Lady outline the differential impacts of steel and lead shot, as that is something that many in the shooting community are interested in and will carefully consider?

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and for his interest in this subject, which I have become much more interested in since researching it and talking to relevant bodies.

Steel is considered to be safe, as are tungsten alloys and tin, so there are alternatives out there. There is obviously an issue with single-use plastics, which would currently have to be used with alternatives to lead. However, I believe that with the inspiration and impetus from this amendment, the whole shooting community—including manufacturers of alternatives to lead shot—would be encouraged to use and produce ammunition that was far, far safer than lead shot.

Lead does not need to be used; non-toxic ammunition is widely available, effective, and comparably priced. The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden may be interested to know that Denmark and the Netherlands banned the use of all lead shot in the 1990s; they have proved that changing to safer ammunition is entirely possible.

Why do we need to do this new clause? We know that 8.7% of ducks and geese across Europe die every year from eating lead shot; this includes 23% of pochard, which is a species threatened with global extinction, and 31% of pintail ducks. Lead poisoning from ammunition kills an estimated 75,000 water birds each year, as well as other birds and mammals.

Through ingestion by cattle—which then results in food-safety issues as it enters their system—lead can end up in restaurants and retail outlets; in our food. It also seeps into land, including wetlands, and creates toxic grounds; wetlands have been found to be peppered with lead shot.

Lead is dangerous for people’s health, as lead shot often fragments and is ingested in game meat.  Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk due to the negative impact of lead on the developing brain, which has led to Waitrose labelling its game meat products as not safe for pregnant women and children.

Lead is not something we should allow into our food system. Somewhere in the order of 10,000 children from the UK hunting community are estimated to be at risk of negative impacts on IQ due to household consumption of game meat. If the effects were immediate and something happened to us that caused an immediate breakdown of our health, we would have stopped this years ago, but because lead has a subtle effect on our health—on our brain development and IQ—it has been allowed to carry on for too long.

The new clause has not just been dreamed up in the past few months; it is the result of the Government engaging with this issue since 1991. There have been stakeholder groups, compliance studies, risk assessments and reviews, but the stars are now aligned. We cannot any longer say that the new clause is not needed. I know that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation is moving towards a ban on lead shot, which I welcome. It wants to take action within the next five years to see a change. There is clearly appetite in the shooting world to accomplish what is set out in the new clause by banning lead shot. However, things are not moving fast enough. We cannot entirely rely on that compliance, but the new clause would take us where the shooting community seems to want us to go.

The stars are aligned, and it is time for the new clause. There is a limited ban at the moment, focused on wetland birds, but it is widely flouted and there has been only one prosecution, which is another reason why we need to have the new clause in the legislation. The partial regulation focused on protecting wetland birds, and similar regulations in other home nations, have been ineffective in reducing lead poisoning in water birds because there has been a high level of non-compliance. Birds feeding in terrestrial habitats, where most of the lead shot is legally deposited, are also affected. Moreover, enforcement of the limited regulation has been negligible so far, and human and livestock health have not been protected. Two large-scale restriction proposals are currently being progressed in the EU under REACH, which will bring about a total ban and additional benefits to law enforcement. Let us pre-empt that and go one step further in the UK.

This is the right time for policy change. The coinciding of the new Environment Bill and proposed policy change on lead shot is opportune. The nine main UK shooting organisations recognise the risk from lead ammunition. There is no debate about that. The imminent impacts of regulation on lead ammunition in the EU, and the likely impacts on UK markets for game meat, all need to be considered. Hence, on 22 February, the move to a voluntary phase-out of lead shot within five years was announced. That has already prepared the UK’s shooting community for change, and I have seen that the media narratives around shooting have changed to reflect that.

To date, however, voluntary bans on lead shot have always failed, so to say that the new clause is unnecessary is just not good enough. Denmark, which has gone ahead of us on this issue—we can learn from them—banned all lead shot in 1996. Hunters accept that it was because a progressive Government took such a step that they now lead the world in the control of lead poisoning from shot.

Although there is a desire for change within hunting organisations, there also remains a tradition of resisting regulation, which might just roll on and on over the next five years.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to pick up on that point. It is not only BASC but the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the Country Land and Business Association that are behind the transition. They are actually going further than what the hon. Lady is asking for, by asking for a ban on single-use plastics in the cartridges, but what they are clearly asking for is a period of smooth transition over five years. Does the hon. Member not agree that that is more appropriate?

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I agree, and I thank the hon. Member for pointing out the wide support for a move in this direction, but if we can ensure it is in legislation, the move will go further, it will be deeper and it will be guaranteed to happen. Given the high toxicity of lead, we cannot just leave this issue to voluntary moves by all those organisations. Let us go with the flow and accept their willingness to change, but let us underpin that with legislative change, which moves it on faster. These issues have already been under negotiation. The smooth transition is happening. I am not asking for this to happen on 1 January—the proposal is to give another year. There is time to move forward; the new clause is very reasonable. If we want to go further and talk more about single-use plastics, that will happen in time, and this proposal will enable manufacturers to do that.

Only regulation will provide a guaranteed market for ammunition manufacturers. Moving all users of ammunition through these changes, all at once, will enable ammunition manufacturers to make the change that we all surely want to see, and will ensure the provision of game free from lead ammunition for the retail market. It will enable cost-effective enforcement and protect wildlife and human health much earlier than in five years. Why would we want lead shot in our food for another five years? Why would we want to kill all those birds for another five years?

Action on this issue was recommended in 1983 in the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on lead in the environment. It has been long enough. It is long overdue. Now, at last, is the time to act.

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

I thank the hon. Member for Putney for the new clause and for highlighting her eating of pheasant as a child. I, too, have had many a pheasant hanging in my garage. Indeed, we had roast pheasant for lunch this Sunday. It was absolutely delicious, covered in bacon. It was really nice.

I reassure the hon. Lady that this Government support the principle of addressing the impacts of lead shot. Evidence published by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust suggests that, as she pointed out, tens of thousands of wildfowl die from lead poisoning each year and many more birds, including scavengers and predators such as raptors, suffer and die through secondary poisoning.

There is a lot of movement already going on in this space. In England, the use of lead shot is already prohibited over all foreshore, on sites of special scientific interest and for shooting certain waterfowl. I certainly know people in Somerset who give anyone all of the chat before they go out to shoot anywhere near wildfowl and local ponds about not using lead shot.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley has pointed out that the new clause falls short of what shooting organisations are calling for. Organisations such as BASC, the Moorland Association and various other countryside organisations—I engaged with a lot of them as a Back Bencher—are calling for an end within five years to both lead and single-use plastics. They are talking about it seriously. As the hon. Member for Putney will know, there is a lot of research going on as well.

An EU REACH regulation on the use of lead shot in or near wetlands is close to being adopted and a wider measure affecting all terrestrial areas is under consideration. The fact that the industry itself is calling for a ban within five years demonstrates the work going on in this space.

The wetlands measure will apply in Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol and will apply in the rest of the UK and be retained EU law after the transition period if the legislation providing for that comes into force before the end of this period.

The amendment seeks to prohibit use of lead shot in shotguns for the purposes of killing or taking any wild bird or wild animal. That approach may not be the most effective means of restricting the use of lead shot. It is also slightly unclear because it does not cover clay pigeon shooting, for example. If one were really going to address this issue, all aspects of the sport, as it might be termed, would need to be considered. The new clause does not address them all.

The police would enforce under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but as with other wildlife crimes, there are considerable difficulties in detection and taking enforcement action in remote locations. All those things would need ironing out; it is not just a straightforward, “Let’s have a ban tomorrow.”

--- Later in debate ---
I regard the restriction of lead shot as very important, and I assure the hon. Lady that I will ask my officials to continue exploring options for the most effective way forward that would tackle this whole issue in the round. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister, but it will not surprise her to hear that I will not be withdrawing the new clause. Assurances do not cut it on this issue; it is too important. I would also absolutely refute any feeling that this is not underpinned by evidence. As I have outlined, so much work by so many different groups has gone into this that it does need to go ahead.

If we need it to, the Office for Environmental Protection has all the powers to go further than my proposal to talk about clay pigeon use and single-use plastics. Let us take this further, absolutely, but accepting the new clause would be a much better assurance and indication of our intentions for what should happen in terms of getting rid of lead ammunition. Assurances and good words will be far less effective than putting this new clause in the Bill. The new clause goes further than voluntary regulations because it puts this firm date, 1 January 2023, in legislation. Those five-year assurances might go on and on; when is the actual end of that five years? The new clause ensures that action will happen, so we will be dividing the Committee.

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

--- Later in debate ---
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do welcome it, but I am a bit lukewarm. I would sooner it was down to the original rate in the 1960s of 85 litres per person, which would be far more helpful in moving forward on the climate change emergency. I am disappointed that the Minister has not taken the new clause on board, but I will not seek to divide the Committee on it, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 35

Clean Air Duty

‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual policy statement setting out how the Government is working to improve air quality, and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(2) The annual policy statement in subsection (1) must include—

(a) how public authorities are improving air quality, including indoor air quality; and

(b) how Government departments are working together to improve air quality, including indoor air quality.

(3) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than three months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.’—(Fleur Anderson.)

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on air quality which includes indoor air quality and the work of public authorities and Government departments working together to improve it.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

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

This is the final new clause. It is only right and proper that, as we come towards the end of the Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill, after considering more than 230 amendments and 35 new clauses, we end with something that we can all agree on.

This new clause is all about working together. It has been tabled by the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution. It asks Government Departments to work together and for reports on how the Government are working with local authorities to achieve something very ambitious—tackling our air quality. It has cross-party support from hon. Members including the chair of the APPG, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), and 23 other MPs.

The new clause is intended to help the Minister to get to that holy grail of action—cross-departmental working—and to achieve cross-government support for action to tackle air pollution, specifically indoor air pollution. Given that the public health crisis results in 40,000 deaths a year and costs £20 billion, urgent action is needed by the Department for Transport and many others across Government. The new clause would help with that.

The new clause is an important addition to the parts of the Bill on air quality, in particular schedule 11. The Minister may say that that is sufficient, but I would argue that it is not. Schedule 11 amends the Environment Act 1995 and gives the Secretary of State the duty to report on the

“assessment of the progress made in meeting air quality objectives, and air quality standards, in relation to England, and…the steps the Secretary of State has taken in that year in support of the meeting of those objectives and standards.”

Those reports and that action are very welcome, but the new clause takes them further. It would be in the Bill itself, rather than an amendment to another Act, and has additional reporting requirements that would do more to ensure that there was more focus on achieving our air quality targets and more joined-up working in Government.

Hon. Members will have read an email sent to us all in which Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians’ adviser on air quality and the UK Research and Innovation clean air champion, supports the new clause. I know that it is important to the Minister to be science-led. He said:

“I strongly support the need for placing greater transparent responsibility on public bodies, both central and local, to say what steps they are taking to improve air quality, both outside and inside buildings including houses, workplaces and schools. Since most people spend over 80% of their time indoors, the indoor air is a particular concern especially since all the emphasis is on conserving energy by “sealing” buildings with little regard to ensuring that ventilation is adequate. …unless attention is focused on the ever-increasing chemical contaminants that will accumulate, without adequate ventilation, the public will suffer adverse health effects. This is especially so in periods of “lock-down” during the coronavirus pandemic and the attention needed to be given to this is in the building of new homes. Special attention must be given to vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, older people and those with chronic disease.”

Many other scientists back up those findings.

We all know that air pollution is a public health crisis, as acknowledged by the joint report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee, the Health and Social Care Committee and the Transport Committee last year. There was joint working there, which we can encourage with the joint working on the reports that the new clause would make a legislative commitment.

A report by King’s College Hospital last year showed that cutting air pollution by a fifth would reduce the number of lung cancer cases by 7.6% in London, 6.4% in Birmingham, 5.9% in Bristol, 5.3% in Liverpool, 5.6% in Manchester, 6.7% in Nottingham, 6% in Oxford and 5.9% in Southampton. I read those figures out to show the local impact that air pollution is having on a considerable number of people’s lives; we know that it needs local action. The new clause would ensure that we find out what that local action is and whether it is good enough.

Living near a busy road can trigger bronchitic symptoms among children with asthma. If pollution were to be reduced by one fifth, there would be 3,865 fewer cases of children with bronchitic symptoms every year in London. In my own constituency, I would see the difference that that would make. The Government have made considerable funding available to local authorities, so local authorities should report back on what the funding has achieved.

We now know that there is a more urgent reason for the new clause, which would strengthen the Bill. There is a direct link between coronavirus deaths and air pollution. Harvard says there is an 8% risk, whereas the Max Planck Institute says it is 14%, for each additional microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5, the smaller particulates. There is a direct link between air quality and coronavirus deaths, and the new clause would make taking urgent action compulsory. It is no surprise that there is a link, because air pollution weakens lungs, hearts and brains, which covid also affects. We need a joined-up approach, with cleaner transport and ventilated schools. It is about education, health, better building regulations from MHCLG, better planning and knowing the effects of more home working with digital infrastructure.

The new clause would encourage a fiscal strategy that helps to drive a holistic vision of a cleaner, healthier and more productive future for all. Put simply, we need to have a joined-up approach to have the best effect, and the new clause would help to ensure that is done by asking for joined-up reporting. No matter what is already in the Bill, it just does not go far enough. The new clause is needed.

The new clause does not have specific targets and action plans that can be rejected by the Conservative party. In fact, they are for the Office for Environmental Protection, which was mentioned in many earlier debates, to decide. However, this would be a wonderful model for the UK to showcase at COP26 next year, and for other Governments to adopt. There is no doubt that there might be a silo mentality in DEFRA that says, “We can’t ask other Departments to do things,” but air pollution is an NHS public health issue of massive proportions, and it cannot be left to DEFRA or to the Secretary of State for one Department.

No one Department has the tools to combat air pollution. The Minister will say that she will work with the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and Social Care and many other Departments, but the new clause would ensure that others could learn from best practice—we would be able to see when things were not going well and put them right as quickly as possible. We need such a collective, joined-up approach. The Minister should raise her ambition to embrace other Departments that, in their hearts, want to work together for the common good.

As we have seen again and again with previous debates, the Government have a big majority and can vote against the new clause, but this is the opportunity—this last new clause—for us to come together and agree. The biggest test for the Government is not how many votes there are, but whether they are big enough to accept in good grace an idea from an all-party parliamentary group that they know is in the best interest and is supported in principle by all parties, and to take it forward for the common good. I think we would have cheers from people outside this place, who would hear that we are working together to tackle a concern that is so important to so many people.

This is an important opportunity to work together across government and public bodies to improve public health by improving air quality outside and inside, which would save lives. All our constituents would want us to do all that we can to protect them and their children, and the new clause would help us deliver on our duty to do so. I ask the Minister and members of the Committee to put their constituents and country first by supporting the new clause.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

After 230 amendments, why break the habit of a lifetime? Honestly, the hon. Lady will know that I have great sentiment about much of what she is saying. I also support the work of the APPG, who I have done a lot of close working with and spoken to many times. They have done some really useful work.

We recognise the importance of national leadership on this cross-cutting issue of air quality, including indoor air. It is right to draw attention to the issue. I want to give reassurances that we do not work in a silo. We work very closely with other Departments. We have a ground-breaking clean air strategy that goes across government. Air cannot be dealt with in one place and one silo, it travels everywhere, even to Gloucester. Only yesterday I had a joint meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) on an air quality issue. Only last week I had a Zoom call with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill). I hope that demonstrates how closely we are working on these issues.

On indoor air quality specifically, we are working across government. I have regular meetings with, in particular, the chief scientific adviser on this, and we work closely with the chief medical officer. We also work with the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England on indoor air quality in particular. They are all part of this big landscape, which she has pointed out. Building on the evidence base is a key step to ensure that interventions are appropriately targeted and introduced in the right way and in the right place. I hope that that gives some assurances on cross-government working.

I want to reassure the hon. Member for Putney that we have a range of reporting requirements relating to air quality, and we are introducing additional requirements through the Bill. We are introducing a requirement for the Secretary of State to make an annual statement to Parliament on progress toward securing local pollution objectives through paragraph 3 of schedule 11 to the Bill. Perhaps she has not noticed that. It will include steps taken in that year to support local authorities to meet objectives. In addition, the Secretary of State will be required to publish a national air quality strategy and review it every five years. That is under paragraph 2 of schedule 11 to the Bill, in case she wants to have a look at it.

Alongside this, through a statutory cycle of monitoring and reporting, which I have talked about constantly, the Bill ensures that the Government will take steps to achieve the targets set under the Bill. This includes the air quality targets. We have a legal duty to set an air quality target, and we are going to set another one in addition. We are going over and above for air quality. We can be held to account by the OEP if Parliament fails to monitor and report the progress toward the targets.

We also already have several annual reporting obligations on ambient air quality. The UK’s national atmospheric emissions inventory is compiled annually to report total emissions by pollutant. That is a very detailed inventory and has won an award, I think, for its detail. All of that information is already there. I think, perhaps, the Opposition are not aware of that. Do take a look. There is an annual requirement to report total emissions by pollutant and source sector in a similar way. We also remain signatory to the UN convention on long-range trans- boundary air pollution, because this is, of course, also a global issue, and we will continue to abide by that international agreement in full, including its reporting requirements.

The global work is really important. Back when we did the early assessment from the air quality expert group of what was happening during lockdown, we found that some of the pollutants did not reduce as we thought they might have done in the south of England. That was because we got some unexpected wind from Europe, and it brought all kinds of pollutants that were not even ours! It is very important that we remain part of that agreement.

Compliance with air pollution concentration limits and targets is reported in our annual air pollution in the UK report, which summarises measurements from the national air quality monitoring networks. I reassure the hon. Lady that we already work very closely with other Government Departments, and that we have robust mechanisms in place to report on progress. I hope that has provided more detail and clarity as to what is going on in air quality, and hope that the hon. Member might keep up with the trend—or maybe break it—and withdraw her new clause.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for the information about all the action being taken, and for the heartfelt—and I agree, sincere—desire to take action on this, and going over and above on air quality. We all welcome that. However, I have also read schedule 11 very thoroughly, as have the members of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution. They have taken advice from scientific experts and feel that there is something missing in the reporting that would actually make a difference and ensure that we take the action we want to see on our air, and put that into practice. The missing parts are how public authorities are improving our air and how Government Departments are working together. I welcome the fact that the Minister is meeting with other Departments. She should welcome the opportunity to demonstrate what those meetings are resulting in with the annual report, and to demonstrate the appropriate targeting, achievements and progress we have discussed. As has been customary, we will be dividing on this, but we also want to work together to see a dramatic improvement in our air quality.

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

Environment Bill

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Environmental Audit Committee labelled this Bill a “missed opportunity”. I rise to support amendments in the name of the Opposition and others that could make it fit for our country, in a year in which the eyes of the world are watching us as hosts of the UN COP26 conference on climate change. I only have time to address two issues: the regulation of chemicals now that we have departed from the EU, and air pollution.

I support amendment 24 in the name of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), to ensure we do not regress from existing standards and protections. That amendment would prevent a damaging race to the bottom that could undermine standards on chemicals, which is of great concern, given the comments the Prime Minister has made about chemicals and his indication that he may want us to depart downwards from those standards. My constituents, Tracey Logan and Richard Szwagrzak, were poisoned by formaldehyde fumes when cupboards were being built and installed in their house. We found there was no regulation covering formaldehyde levels in MDF sheets, hence the need to at least protect our existing standards and then ensure that the Government have powers to strengthen them, as amendment 24 does.

The issue of air quality is particularly important in my constituency, lying as it does along the two core routes between Heathrow and central London, and with many living in a highly polluted environment. Toxic air kills 40,000 people a year in the UK and contributes to the health inequalities that plague our society. We need to see action. Community-led efforts such as Chiswick Oasis can cut air pollution, as can city-wide programmes: an Imperial College study found that policies put in place by the Mayor of London have already led to improvements in air quality, with the measures that have been introduced increasing the average life expectancy of a child born in London in 2013. However, we need to do much more and, at a Government level, to tackle toxic air pollution. We need to see Government Ministers leading on this.

If new clause 6—which would require the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament on air quality and the solutions that the Government are going to be implementing—is moved, I will be supporting it. Crucially, that amendment calls for cross-departmental work to tackle this serious threat to our public health. This Bill has huge gaps in it, and gives Ministers sweeping powers to row back on our much-needed protections. I hope the Government will listen to concerns raised by Members across this House and use any delay to this Bill as a chance to fix it.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

I am very glad to speak today in favour of the Opposition amendments, and on behalf of the deafening voice of civil society and so many organisations and individuals across the country, including the many local members of the Putney Environment Commission in my constituency, who feel that this Bill does not go far enough.

I served on the Bill Committee last November and was disappointed that the Government did not accept any Opposition amendments, which would have improved the Bill. Today, the Minister said that

“the desperate decline of our natural environment and biodiversity has gone on for far too long.”

That is right—so why is this Bill being so delayed, and with more delays to come? How can the EU (Future Relationship) Bill be rushed through in one day, while here we are in a climate emergency—as declared by Parliament in May 2019—yet this Bill has taken a year to get to this stage and now it has been announced that the next stage will be in May? Will we even have it passed by autumn?

This leaves us without the regulation of the EU that was in place before and with no new regulator in place. Will the Minister give a final deadline date for passing this Bill, and use the time between stages to improve it? The amendments before us today would give us much-needed higher ambition through targets, and much more strength to take action on the important areas of air quality, water, waste and chemicals.

Let me turn to new clause 8. It is vital to hold producers to account to ensure that waste is prevented throughout the whole supply chain, not just at the end—for example, by reducing plastics, changing materials and rethinking product use, such as nappies.

On air pollution, Putney High Street is one of the most polluted streets in the UK, and has the poor distinction of taking places two and three in a recent table of the top 10 pollution hotspots in London. We should set our sights high and include WHO targets in the Bill, not put them up for negotiation later. The cost will be that 550,000 Londoners will develop diseases attributable to air pollution over the next 30 years if we do not take strong action.

On amendment 24 on chemical regulation and setting up a whole new regulation in the UK when we already have one, this, among many things, will mean unnecessary animal testing. Many constituents have written to me about this issue. If more constituents knew about it, they would not be happy. I hope that this can be changed and rectified before the next stage of reporting in May.

In summary, the Bill has a long way to go before it is fit for purpose. I hope that today Conservative Members finally listen, give this Bill the force and ambition that our environment desperately needs, and vote for the Opposition amendments.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Like the previous Members of my party who have spoken, I shall be supporting the Opposition amendments. However, I would like to use my time to focus entirely on air pollution—a subject that is close not just to my heart, but to so many people I meet every day. It is also vital to our future and to our health, both individually and as communities.

In my constituency of Edinburgh West, we have two of the most polluted roads in Scotland, and one in every 29 deaths in our city of Edinburgh has been attributed to air pollution. Surely that is beyond unacceptable. I also have personal family reasons for knowing what a silent and merciless killer air pollution can be. Lives are blighted or even lost, and our NHS is put under yet more strain. Clean air is one of the most precious commodities that we have, and it is becoming even more precious.

For me, there is nothing that we could do that would be too much, but tinkering around the edges, as this Bill will do, is not good enough. We need to be brave and, yes, we need to start spending money. Our children are now making it abundantly clear that they do not believe that previous generations have done enough to ensure that the planet is safe for them, and they are the ones who tend to be exposed to higher levels of pollution than adults. We need to listen and act now. The Liberal Democrats’ zero carbon target is 2045; we believe that 2050 is simply too late. We need to strengthen our interim targets and undertake a 10-year emergency emission reduction programme to cut emissions as much as possible by 2030.

This legislation is a good start, but it does not have the teeth necessary to provide the robust protection for the environment that we need. If it is not to become little more than a series of meaningless platitudes, the Office for Environmental Protection and local authorities must have sufficient funding and empowerment to be effective. We need an Act modelled on the Climate Change Act 2008, with regular interim targets to cut not just air pollution but plastic pollution, and to restore nature. For me, the clean air provisions are simply not good enough. We need new legal limits that meet World Health Organisation limits, a new duty on public bodies to do their part in tackling pollution, and a new right to clean air in domestic law. All that is meaningless, however, if the reports are correct and the Bill is delayed until the next Session. More time will be lost, more people will breathe in dangerously polluted air, more damage will be done to our lives, our environment and the planet, and the chances of turning this ecological disaster around will be lost. I hope that the House will support the Opposition amendment.

Environment Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

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

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

--- Later in debate ---
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Bill

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will now put on a time limit of three minutes so that we can get as many people in as possible. If people could speak for less than three minutes, that would be absolutely great.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I want to thank everyone in my constituency who has written to me about the Environment Bill during its long progress. It has been a long time coming, but I will be brief. I would also like to thank those in the other place who have put up a good fight and improved the Bill. I am disappointed that, despite all the wrangling, the debates and the evidence, there is still an enormous gap between the Government’s rhetoric on the environment and this Bill, which simply does not go far enough. While all the eyes and hopes of the world are on Glasgow and COP26, the Government are doing all they can to resist introducing concrete protections, leaving our environment as a bargaining chip for new trade agreements that would undercut Britain’s environmental standards. They cannot have it both ways.

I am disappointed that the Government have refused to include World Health Organisation air quality targets in the Bill. There is much unfinished business here, on trees and on single-use plastics, and I must include wet wipes in that. The Office for Environmental Protection was meant to hold Ministers to account on their green policies, but the simple truth is that the Government’s preferred OEP will lack independence and will not be able to hold Tory Ministers to account in the way that they have promised. That is why we had such tortuous explanations of how it will work in the opening statement: the Bill is simply not clear enough and does not go far enough. I therefore urge colleagues to support Lords amendments 31C and 75C.

I am proud to have the River Thames in my constituency, but we have a dirty water emergency. While the Government’s proposal is a big improvement on what went before, it still does not place a duty on the Secretary of State, as set out in Lords amendment 45B proposed by the Duke of Wellington, to tackle sewage, to tackle that plastic getting out and to tackle the killing of fish, which happens on a regular basis worldwide. This progressive reduction does not cut it with those of us on the Opposition Benches. In short, the Bill is still not fit for purpose. It has certainly improved since its First Reading nearly two years ago. I was proud to be on the Bill Committee, in which nearly 200 amendments that would have improved the Bill were tabled, but not one of them was agreed to.

We have had to drag the Government kicking and screaming just to get the Bill to this stage, and that is embarrassing when the UK is supposed to be showing global leadership on the climate emergency. There have been a lot of bold words from the Government, and I really hope to see them put into practice, but I fear that the Office for Environmental Protection will not be able to enforce everything, just as the Environment Agency has not been able to enforce everything, and that is why we have our dirty rivers. We will be cheering this on, and we will hope for more, but we are disappointed by the progress so far.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would very much like to thank the Minister for her clarity today. I represent a constituency that has a great river running through it. It is a river that I have sailed on all my life and also swum in all my life, albeit sometimes unintentionally. This whole debate around the sewage amendment is very personal to me because I am the daughter of a boatbuilder who often used to work on boats on his creek right next to raw sewage and water scum. Nobody on the Government Benches could deny that that kind of environment is totally disgusting.

Also, this year we saw an unprecedented period in which our beautiful Kent beaches were shut because of an absolute disaster involving the dispersal of sewage from the overflows. There is no doubt that water companies pumping sewage into our waterways in 2021 is disgusting. Two weeks ago, I supported the Duke of Wellington’s amendment because I wanted the Government to go as far as they could practically go in stopping this practice. I am very thankful for the work of the Minister and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and for the discussions that have gone on in these two weeks to ensure that we have been able to bring forward this amendment today. I will support the Government tonight, because I totally believe that this new duty, combined with other measures in the Bill, will be a major step towards ending the use of storm overflows.

I was disappointed by some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for whom I have great respect. We need to recognise that this Government and these Ministers are the first to tackle the issue of sewage and storm overflows. No Government have done that previously, and I am proud that the Minister, who is so passionate about this issue, has worked incredibly hard to accommodate our worries and fears. The Environment Bill is a major piece of work for the protection and improvement of our environment. Make no mistake, these measures will cost the water companies and the bill payers, but I believe that they will bring the water companies into line so that we can stop this disgusting practice. I will be very happy to support the Minister and her team tonight.