Debates between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 26th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 22nd sitting & Committee Debate: 22nd 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 19th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 19th sitting & Committee Debate: 19th 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
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Seventeenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 17th sitting & Committee Debate: 17th 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 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 13th sitting & Committee Debate: 13th sitting: House of Commons

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Thursday 23rd February 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am always very keen to talk about these issues. Frankly, I believe this Government are doing a really great job in setting the direction of travel for reducing our use of plastics and, indeed, pressing on with all of our schemes—not just the individual bans that I have outlined—as well as the extended producer responsibility scheme, the data reporting section of which has already started; the deposit return scheme; and our consistent collections. I am sorry to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about the Scottish deposit return scheme, but certainly, we in this place are pressing on with all our commitments and targets to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste.

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

14. What recent steps she is taking to help tackle plastic pollution.

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. On a similar note to my answer to the previous question, the resources and waste strategy sets out our plans to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. To do that, we have introduced a range of bans on certain plastic items, as she will know, and the extended producer responsibility scheme, for which data gathering has already started. The deposit return scheme and consistent recycling will also come on board.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - -

There is huge support for banning plastic in wet wipes from hon. Members on both sides of the House, retailers, producers and water companies. The Government’s consultation on the issue ended more than a year ago, but it was not included in the recent plastic announcements—the Government’s action on the issue is so slow. Will the Minister support the campaign of Water UK and the water companies to bin the wipe? Will she meet me to talk about when the Government will finally bring in that ban on plastic in wet wipes?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know how passionately the hon. Lady feels about the issue—I do too—but we have to get it right. We are still analysing the responses to that call for evidence. Great care has to be taken when considering something flushable, even if it does not have plastic in it—where does it go, where does it end up and what happens to it?—so we have asked for extra information about that. It is critical for wipes to be flushable, but I urge people not to flush things down the loo, because that is how we get blockages and fatbergs. I recently went to a nursery where they were making homemade wet wipes out of kitchen roll, none of which went down the loo. If hon. Members want to see my video on that, they should go on to my Instagram.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear that it was a lively debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign. We are actively encouraging more applicants for bathing water status, and I look forward to receiving the application for the River Nidd and discussing it with him. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said in that debate, it is time to get your Speedos out.

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

There have been many warm words from successive Secretaries of State on saving nature. Many species may soon be extinct, including the red squirrel, the water vole and even the hedgehog. Two years ago, I was on the Environment Bill Committee, and much was made of new targets. The 31 October date for those new targets was missed. Can the Secretary of State be clear today: what is the date for publishing those targets and taking action on saving nature?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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

Like the hon. Member, I am determined to tackle the issue. We have already run a call for evidence to explore policy options for tackling wet wipes, including a possible ban on those that contain plastic. We have also sought views on mandatory flushability standards, mandatory labelling and an extended producer responsibility scheme.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I welcome the Minister’s response. Billions of wet wipes containing plastic are still being used across the country, causing environmental damage and blocking our sewers. The consultation finished in February and there is still no ban in sight. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the next steps towards achieving a ban?

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

There was a huge response to the call for evidence, and we are working our way through the details. We have to make sure that if a ban is brought in, it does not have knock-on effects that will cause similar problems. Even though other wet wipes might be deemed suitable to flush, they still get stuck in sewers, so we have to be mindful of that. I say to everybody, “If you don’t need to use a wet wipe, don’t—and don’t chuck them down the loo.”

Environment Test From Patch Testing (First sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Monday 16th August 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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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 ---
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 transboundary 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 (Twenty Second sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
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 View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 26 November 2020 - (26 Nov 2020)
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 ---
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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing Wales into the discussion, but of course air quality is a devolved matter—she serves on the Environment Bill Committee, in which we have said so many times that it is a devolved matter. I hope that she and the Welsh Ministers have read our clean air strategy, because it is considered a global leader, but I am always open to ideas. If we can pick up tips from other places, I am all for it.

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

What assessment his Department has made of the extent to which poor air quality may disproportionately affect BAME communities.

Environment Bill (Twenty First sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 21st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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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.

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Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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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 (Nineteeth sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 19th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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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.

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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.

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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 (Eighteenth sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 18th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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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 (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 17th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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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.

Environment Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 16th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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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
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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 ---
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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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
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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.

Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Debate between Fleur Anderson and Rebecca Pow
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 View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 November 2020 - (10 Nov 2020)
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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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
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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.