Holly Lynch debates with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There have been 24 exchanges between Holly Lynch and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Wed 4th March 2020 Flooding 3 interactions (575 words)
Wed 26th February 2020 Environment Bill 3 interactions (1,249 words)
Mon 24th February 2020 Flooding 3 interactions (98 words)
Mon 10th February 2020 Flood Response 3 interactions (126 words)
Thu 9th May 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (97 words)
Wed 1st May 2019 Environment and Climate Change 3 interactions (851 words)
Thu 12th July 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (122 words)
Tue 12th June 2018 Coastal Erosion (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,682 words)
Thu 7th June 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (108 words)
Mon 4th June 2018 Ivory Bill 3 interactions (1,057 words)
Wed 2nd May 2018 Reduction of Plastic Waste in the Marine Environment (Westminster Hall) 8 interactions (1,629 words)
Thu 26th April 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (59 words)
Tue 20th March 2018 Leaving the EU: Fisheries Management 3 interactions (524 words)
Thu 8th March 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (199 words)
Tue 6th March 2018 Water Supply Disruption 3 interactions (802 words)
Wed 28th February 2018 Middle Level Bill 6 interactions (454 words)
Tue 27th February 2018 UK Fisheries Policy (Westminster Hall) 9 interactions (1,660 words)
Thu 22nd February 2018 Air Quality 3 interactions (383 words)
Thu 25th January 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (84 words)
Thu 7th December 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (97 words)
Thu 7th December 2017 UK Fishing Industry 3 interactions (1,586 words)
Tue 14th November 2017 Marine Environment (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,643 words)
Thu 26th October 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (139 words)
Thu 20th July 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (122 words)


Holly Lynch Excerpts
Wednesday 4th March 2020

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin - Hansard

I am very glad the First Minister offered a contingency fund for the homes damaged by the floods and that in my constituency we will be getting money from our local authority as well. I ask the Secretary of State: will he provide adequate funding for the properties and the long-term infrastructure that is needed?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Mar 2020, 3:38 p.m.

It is a great relief to be called in a closing minutes of this debate. I will be echoing the sentiments aired by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), in the time I have.

The first thing we need from the Government is flexibility around the resilience grant. A majority of those flooded in 2020 also flooded in 2015. The resilience grants announced as a package of measures nine days after Storm Ciara state that people who claimed a resilience grant four years ago will not be eligible this time. I understand that from Whitehall that might seem logical, but I am afraid it is incredibly short-sighted, given the reality in Calderdale. In some instances, resilience measures paid for by the 2015 grants were damaged in this flood and need replacing. It is also worth bearing in mind that advances in resilience measures have been made since 2015 and so enhanced protection could be possible. Surely there should also be an option for groups of properties to pool their grants to invest in further external flood defences, as was the case in Earby in Pendle, where the local authority made a claim on behalf of residents and used the money to fund flood defences for the whole community.

Secondly, I ask that Calderdale—along with the constituency of the hon. Member for Calder Valley—is granted tier 1 status based on national risk assessment criteria, in recognition of our ongoing management of flood risk. Calderdale is having to find in the region of £3 million from its annual budget every year to commit to ongoing flood mitigation work, and I am asking the Government to recognise this and match it. That would allow us to deliver enhanced ongoing maintenance work on clearing drains and gullies, and to have a dedicated flood response team. It would allow the council to work with the Environment Agency to deal with the massive issues of orphaned assets and of culverts, which, as we have heard repeatedly, are in a state of disrepair. It would also support efforts to manage the really significant emotional and mental stresses of those living with the risk of flooding.

We also need match funding for the Community Foundation for Calderdale’s flood appeal. In 2015, the Government did match fund the money raised by the Community Foundation. We have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who is frustrated that the Government are not going further when they are match funding the moneys raised in South Yorkshire. We have not even had the commitments in Calderdale to match fund the work done by the Community Foundation. It has been incredibly proactive and innovative in coming up with the Flood Save and Watermark schemes in Calderdale, but the only way the Community Foundation will be able to help everybody, on the back of what we have faced in this crisis, is if the Government step up and match fund that fundraising.

Another part of the jigsaw is the use of reservoirs as a means of mitigating flood risk. I will be tabling amendments to the Environment Bill on this issue, and I am glad to hear that they will have cross-party support from the Back Benches. I hope that the Secretary of State will look favourably on those amendments as we seek to use reservoirs as a means of mitigating flood risk, which will be incredibly important for residents in Calderdale.

Tahir Ali Portrait Tahir Ali (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Mar 2020, 3:41 p.m.

In my own constituency, several hundred properties and businesses have been affected by flood risks and the flooding of the River Cole. Action to prevent flooding has been hit by years of Conservative cuts to flood defence spending. The Environment Agency, the emergency services and local authorities all play a significant role in managing and responding to flood risk, but insufficient funds are being spent on protecting the most vulnerable communities from flooding and the consequences of extreme weather. Ministers must urgently fund the schemes that these communities say they need, as well as putting in place longer-term flood prevention strategies with appropriate bodies to prevent flooding and to protect homes and businesses.

Many households cannot afford to meet their insurance premiums, which have skyrocketed, and a recent study showed that 20,000 homes that are not protected by the Government’s insurance scheme are also not protected by flood defences. Can the Minister confirm what discussions have been held with the insurance companies? Will the Government commit to making funding available to homeowners who find themselves unable to claim on their own insurance policies?

One of the businesses in my constituency put £50,000 of its own funding towards flood defences. Despite that, it still suffered losses of over £500,000. In some cases—in fact, in most cases—only two sandbags were provided to households, although six to eight are recommended by the Environment Agency. We need to tackle flood damage and flood risk as a matter of urgency and priority. That can be done only with appropriate levels of funding going to the Environment Agency, local authorities and the emergency services, so will the Minister commit to these funds being put in place to ensure that no homes or businesses suffer unnecessarily from floods? In my own constituency it is the River Cole that needs flood defences to be put in place.

Environment Bill

(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons)
Holly Lynch Excerpts
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mr Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 5:05 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin). I endorse much of what she said about the horror that plastic presents to the world and the nonsense of exporting it. She might be interested to know that one of my sad failures as Secretary of State was failing to persuade our coalition partners to introduce a price incentive for a genuinely biodegradable plastic bag. Our charge, which came in shortly after I left but which I legislated for, has reduced the number of bags from 8 billion to 1.1 billion, according to the House of Commons Library, but the ideal is to develop a biodegradable plastic that does not cause this horror in the seas and all the terrible issues she raised.

We have heard many very good maiden speeches and I think there are more to come, so I will speak briefly. I see all this enthusiasm in the Chamber, all this youth, all these excited people wanting to take action as Members of Parliament and benefit their constituents, yet a pillar of the Bill, which I strongly support, is the creation of a quango. When I was Secretary of State, my four key priorities were: to grow the rural economy; improve the environment, not just protect it—which is built into the Bill; and save the country from animal disease and plant disease. The Bill is the basis on which to deliver that. It is not all in there—it is partly an enabling Bill—but I strongly support its clearly stated aims.

The only aspect I would really query is that we do not need another quango. We already have Natural England and the Environment Agency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), when he took the Bill through in its early incarnation, said that the staff of the OEP would only number 60 to 120. That dwarfs what we already have in Natural England and the Environment Agency. What we want are strong Ministers. I am delighted by the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) as a Minister and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who was my junior Minister, as Secretary of State. They are knowledgeable, competent Ministers bringing forward policies that will benefit our farming and marine industries and the environment, both terrestrial and marine.

What we want is a strong mechanism by which Members can question Ministers, ensure that whatever they decide is put into practice and pull them up if it is not. What we do not need is another quango. A quango is not the answer. I have direct experience of that. We had the most terrible floods in Somerset when I was at DEFRA. Why was that? It was because of a very misguided policy. Why was it misguided? It was because the Environment Agency was led by a model quangocrat. Baroness Young of Old Scone had spent seven years as chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, she had been vice-chairman of the BBC for two years, and she was chief executive of the Environment Agency for eight years. I am sure she would score many points among all those speakers on the Opposition Benches—of course, she was also a Labour Whip.

The policy of Baroness Young in the Somerset levels was to put a limpet mine on every pumping station, and when it came to categories, she wanted policy option 6 for the levels, which was to increase flooding. The result was an environmental catastrophe, costing, according to some estimates, more than £100 million. The water died—the water went stagnant—and all aquatic life disappeared. I went down and talked to some experts on the levels who really understood the local environment, and they said that they had never seen so many wild birds disappear until that year.

What we want is local management. North Shropshire looks as it does thanks to generations of private farmers and private landlords taking huge pride in what they do. What we are doing now on public goods in the Agriculture Bill—and there are more measures in this Bill—is giving people the chance to improve their local environment. I should like the Minister to look at the benefits of nature improvement areas, built around catchments, where we could pool the resources from the landowners’ payments for public goods, from public grants and from other moneys, possibly local, for the purpose of long-term targets. We could concentrate on local species which need building up again. That would deliver real environmental outcomes.

Creating at national level a quango with 60 to 120 busy- bodies who are, for some reason, independent of this House is not the way. We have had enough: we have had 40 years of the European Union telling us what to do, and doing it badly. Following directives designed for polluted European rivers, not our own—that is not the way. The answer is to write laws in this House, and regulations in this House, and set targets in this House, and then control them in this House. That is what we were elected to do. Creating a parody of the European Commission—which is what the OEP is—is emphatically not the answer.

I am looking at the clock, but I will very briefly mention a couple of other issues. I mentioned catchment areas earlier. I should like the Minister to look at the issue of abstraction, because we have to balance the need to grow food and provide adequate water with the need to keep food production going. Food production is vital, and it is still the primary function of the countryside. I should also like the Minister to look at the balance between the precautionary principle and the innovation principle. In the European Union there is an insane hostility towards modern technologies, which has caused real environmental damage. What we should be doing is growing more food on less land, and freeing up land for recreation and planting. We have heard a lot of talk about trees, all of which I entirely endorse, especially in view of the floods. We should be growing more trees in the upper parts of the catchment areas. That is the balance: we will only do that with modern technologies.

Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of endangered species, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I am very proud to be wearing the tie of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. We now have a wonderful opportunity to legislate for the species in this country which really are endangered. We do not have a problem with crested newts—although they have caused terrible problems for our building industry—but we do have a problem with red squirrels and certain crayfish, and those are what we should be targeting.

The Bill presents us with a great opportunity, and I support it, but will the Minister please make sure that it is Members of Parliament in the driving seat?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 5:13 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow such a passionate speech from the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson).

It will probably not surprise Members to learn that I shall be focusing my comments on part 5 of the Bill, largely because extreme weather is starting to pose an almost existential crisis to us in parts of Calderdale. The water levels that we saw in 2015, and again earlier this month, presented an immediate threat to life, and a more long-term challenge to the viability of communities alongside the river and the canal.

An ongoing challenge for us in flood-affected communities throughout the north, in particular, is that the legislation and regulation that underpin the role of water companies are heavily weighted towards mitigating drought risk. The climate change adaptation work reflected in both the 25-year environment plan and the Bill, while recognising flood risk, does not provide the same level of seriousness in legislation relating to the risks of both flooding and drought, and I should like to see a rebalancing of those challenges.

In July last year I presented a ten-minute rule Bill, the Reservoirs (Flood Risk) Bill, which—in a nutshell—sought to give the Environment Agency additional powers to require water companies to manage reservoirs to mitigate flood risk. The Bill followed years of conversations between the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and Calderdale Council about the role of the six Yorkshire Water reservoirs in the upper catchment in the Calder Valley. In the winter of 2017-18, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency started a trial to manage the Hebden Water reservoirs down to 90% of their usual top storage level, with the aim of assessing the potential of utilising the reservoirs as a more long-term flood risk management option. Maintaining the reservoirs at 90% instead of the usual percentage created an extra 10% capacity to hold more water in the upper catchment during periods of heavy rainfall. Although the reservoirs were placed under nothing like the pressure during the trial period that they experienced during Boxing day 2015’s Storm Eva or more recently Storms Ciara and Dennis, the report was able to conclude:

“The lower reservoir levels did provide a significant impact on peak flows in Hebden Water for largest events observed during this period”.

The report was clear that the scheme had a positive impact on flood mitigation, and that a managed and collaborative approach would be complementary to ongoing flood protection work in the area. This approach is not just happening in Calderdale; similar conversations are happening right across the country, including at Thirlmere reservoir in Cumbria, at reservoirs in the upper Don Valley and at Watergrove reservoir in Rochdale.

The Environment Bill recognises that climate change and extreme weather will place additional pressures on water availability, and although it legislates for a requirement on water companies to work regionally to publish joint proposals to mitigate drought risk, it does not seem to place the same expectations on water companies to mitigate flood risk. Drought risk and flood risk seem to be perpetually at odds with each other throughout legislation, although both are expected to occur with increased frequency. So while I very much welcome a more regional approach, I would like to see a rebalancing of both those risks, alongside the investment in infrastructure that would give whole regions the flexibility to move water with ease and to manage the risk, making us more resilient to too much water as well as not enough.

In relation to the role of reservoirs, I will be looking to table amendments to part 5 of the Bill that would set out the transfer of powers to the Environment Agency and the framework in which such arrangements between the EA and water companies, in consultation with local authorities and communities, would work together to put localised plans in place for managing down pre-designated reservoir levels during periods of heightened risk.

As we know, this is just one piece of the enormous jigsaw that needs to come together if we are to bring the ongoing risks that we face in Calderdale under control. Given the vast scale of the moorland in the upper catchment, natural flood management schemes will be instrumental if we are to hold and slow water before it reaches homes and businesses down the valley. Last summer, I visited Dove Stone nature reserve in High Peak with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, where a comprehensive peatland restoration project is under way. We were planting sphagnum moss, which not only helps to manage flood risk by locking in water but promotes biodiversity, prevents wildfires and stores carbon.

Slow the Flow in Calderdale promotes natural flood management, and with a group of volunteers with an impressive collective skillset, it has been working with the National Trust, the Environment Agency and Calderdale Council since 2016 to use the natural environment to build leaky dams, stuff gullies and promote sustainable drainage and natural attenuation schemes. This work disrupts the flow of water as it makes its way down the valley, forcing it to spread out and slow down, and holds as much water up in the crags for as long as possible.

The really impressive thing about Slow the Flow is its determination to measure its outcomes, its desire to take an evidence-based approach to what it does and to crunch the numbers to demonstrate the real value of its work. Its work on attenuation ponds, which are designed to hold water in the event of heavy rainfall, suggests that if the 43 attenuation ponds identified as possible sites by Calderdale Council were delivered at a cost of £600,000 for 29,000 metres cubed of water storage—bear with me—this would equate to £21 per cubic metre of storage, compared with the £1,270 per cubic metre cost of the storage delivered by the hard flood defences in Mytholmroyd. The truth is that we need both, but we can see how cost-effective natural flood management is. It is 61 times more cost-effective per cubic metre of water storage.

I therefore very much welcome the local nature recovery strategy in the Bill, building on the notion of natural capital and acknowledging the very real, tangible benefits for people and communities if we can store and slow water in the upper catchment. However, I would like to see the Bill include hard and ambitious targets for recovering moorland and peatlands in particular, and not only for flood alleviation purposes; nature-based solutions will play a critical role in mitigating climate change. Peatland currently covers 12% of the UK’s total land and contains more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined. However, it is currently in poor condition. If we look after and manage our peatlands, we can continue to lock in that carbon and absorb more, but if degradation continues we risk not only missing that opportunity but releasing the carbon already stored.

I will briefly turn to the issue of Cobra meetings, because I have been at the deep end of flood crises in Calderdale twice during my time in office. While we cannot legislate for Cobra meetings as part of this process, I have just seen the Secretary of State’s comments to the “Ministers Reflect” series last year. When asked whether Cobra meetings make a difference, he replied:

“Yes, they do, because Cobra is designed to try give everybody a kind of proverbial kick up the backside and get things moving.”

Can I ask for that approach once again in relation to the damage that we have sustained in Calderdale?

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 5:20 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who told us about the situation that her constituents are facing. It has also been a pleasure to listen to the maiden speeches, and I observe that today must be “west midlands day”, because I have heard many excellent speeches from new colleagues from the region. I welcome the Bill and its protections, which will improve air and water quality, restore habitats, create the Office for Environmental Protection, and introduce measures to deal with the impact of plastic waste, on which I will focus.

As somebody who spent 30 years in the packaging industry and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the packaging manufacturing industry, I recognise public concerns about litter and where plastic waste ends up. I heard about that on the doorstep during the general election, because litter in our communities has an impact on local environments and the plastic waste finding its way into the oceans has an impact on the global environment. Both are harmful, but both represent the waste of a valuable resource. I have heard many Members today talk about the harm and damage caused by packaging ending up in the wrong place, but I want to take a moment to consider the role of packaging, because we sometimes forget what it is for.

Packaging enables the safe transfer of goods, particularly of food items, ensuring that they are received by the customer in peak condition. The second important role of packaging is not only to provide customers with convenience when picking up their daily food needs, but to give them information about what the product contains. That is of particular importance for food, given concerns about food allergies, nutritional content and sell-by dates, but instructions for use are important in respect of other items. However, that information is absent when people fill their own containers, for which there is a trend in retail.

The final role of packaging is to prevent food waste. Recent innovations, such as resealable packs for cheese and meat, are important in enabling households to get the most out of their food budgets and ensuring that purchased food is consumed. We must not forget that the disposal of food waste is a problem because it creates gases. There is a case for suggesting that the harmful gases given off by food waste cause more environmental harm than an inert plastic product bobbing about in the ocean. I am not suggesting that that is desirable, but we need to consider the relative harms.

If we accept that there is a role for packaging, we need to consider the steps to minimise its impact. The Bill encourages a reduction in the amount of packaging and refers to recycling. There has always been an incentive for manufacturers to use the least amount of material to do the job that the packaging is being asked to do, and the industry has undergone a process called lightweighting over many years. For example, starting in 2007, Coca-Cola worked with WRAP to reduce the weight of the 500 ml bottle from 26 grams to 24 grams, saving 8% of raw material and reducing the need for 1,400 tonnes of PET a year.

A large part of the Bill is about improving recycling in several ways. First, it extends producer responsibilities by increasing obligations on packaging manufacturers. The industry accepts that it needs to do more and has transformed its approach since the days when I worked in the sector, when there was little regard for what happened once the product had been used.

Consistency in local authority domestic waste collection is also important. People are confused by what goes where, and variation leads to confusion. That needs to be addressed, and I support the intention to simplify labelling on packaging so that what can and cannot be recycled, and which bin to put things in, becomes clearer to consumers. There also needs to be consistency in the use of terms. Why say that something is recyclable if the facilities do not exist to recycle it?

Part 3 addresses deposit return schemes. There are details to consider, but almost all producers in the industry accept DRS. Coca-Cola has an ambition to ensure that all its packaging is recovered so that more is recycled and none ends up as waste or litter, and in early 2017 it confirmed its support for a well-designed DRS.

A DRS must consider a number of items. It must have clear objectives, and it must increase the quality and quantity of the material collected. Quality is about making sure that there is less contamination, and I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)—biodegradable plastic is not helpful, because it is a contaminant in the waste stream.

Secondly, on increasing quantity, there is no point incurring the costs of a DRS—reverse vending machines cost up to £15,000 each—if it does not increase the amount of material recycled. There is real concern about displacement and the fact that people who currently put bottles in their domestic household waste stream will take them to the supermarket to get their deposit back, which will not increase the amount that is recycled.

We need to consider the number of return points and whether there will be one at all sales points. Will cafés and restaurants be included? Will the scheme provide an exemption for small retailers that lack the space to install a reverse vending machine? There are serious questions for the Minister about who will pay for it. Given the lower volumes from smaller retailers, how will we make certain that it is cost-neutral for them? The Minister needs to sort out what happens to unredeemed deposits. Not every bottle deposited will be redeemed, so where will those bottles go? Who will manage it?

Finally, we need to ensure consistency with Scotland. I did not hear the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) say that it would make much more sense and be better for consumers, retailers and beverage producers if we had a UK-wide system. Britvic, which produces soft drinks in my constituency, says that it will otherwise need two separate stock units, one for Scotland and one for England and Wales, which does not make sense.


Holly Lynch Excerpts
Monday 24th February 2020

(6 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
24 Feb 2020, 5:25 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, and I am of course more than willing to meet him, other residents and local authority leaders in Calder Valley. I have also undertaken to hold a summit in Yorkshire to discuss flood concerns more generally. There are a number of important projects in the Calder Valley, including at Hebden Bridge and Brighouse. Some of them have concluded, while others have not yet been completed, for reasons that I know he is aware of.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
24 Feb 2020, 5:25 p.m.

Cobra met twice on Boxing day in 2015 and again on 27 December. It was instrumental in unlocking the funding and resources we needed to recover in the Calder Valley. Whatever was stepped up this time was absolutely not comparable in providing the practical help we needed very quickly in Calderdale on this occasion. Can the Secretary of State tell me when the guidance on grants for resilience will be made available to local authorities? Will he confirm that those grants will be available for those who flooded in 2015 and claimed then, but have since flooded again?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
24 Feb 2020, 5:25 p.m.

We will, during the course of this week, be issuing local authorities with more detailed guidance on the flood resilience fund. Our view at the moment is not to give it to people who have already claimed it, since they have already invested to make their homes more resilient.

Flood Response

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Monday 10th February 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:26 p.m.

I would certainly encourage all local authorities to engage with residents affected by flooding in particular areas and with the various schemes that are available.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:27 p.m.

I cannot begin to convey the sense of absolute devastation across Calderdale that, for so many residents, we are in the same position again, having been flooded in the Boxing day floods in 2015. To update the Secretary of State, we are now looking at 400 residential properties flooded, 400 businesses, eight schools and two care homes, and two bridges have sustained damage. I have written to her today with a number of asks. Will she agree to meet me and representatives from Calderdale Council to go through those in detail so that we can start the recovery? Will she commit to making available the flood grants that came so quickly after those 2015 Boxing day floods, so that we can start that process straight away?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:27 p.m.

I want to extend my sympathies to all the hon. Member’s constituents—it has been devastating for many of them—and I would be very happy to meet her and representatives from her constituency to discuss what has happened and how we can help in the future.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove - Parliament Live - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. First, I record my thanks to Emma Howard Boyd and Sir James Bevan, the chair and chief executive of the Environment Agency, for the leadership that they have shown on this issue. Under this Government, record amounts have been spent on flood defences and record efforts have been made to combat climate change. However, in both cases, more needs to be done. The national policy statement will be forthcoming shortly.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard

9. What steps the Government is taking to reduce the risk of wildfire destroying moorland. [910785]

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley) - Parliament Live - Hansard

It is good to see the hon. Lady back in her place for the first DEFRA questions since returning from maternity leave and the safe arrival of baby James. Congratulations.

Protecting our moorland from wildfires is essential. The risk of severe damage from wildfire on wet, well functioning blanket bog is relatively low. Natural England is working with landowners and land managers through its uplands programme to develop long-term management plans. We are also currently undertaking a wildfire review to ensure that our future land management policies minimise the risks of wildfire.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for that response and for his kind words.

In West Yorkshire alone, there have been three significant wildfires in the past 18 months. The Minister will be aware that, if we manage our moorland and peat bogs responsibly, they will lock in water, which protects us from flooding; they will lock in carbon; and, kept wet, they will also protect us from wildfires. What more can we do to manage those moorlands and peat bogs responsibly?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Parliament Live - Hansard

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that healthy wet peatlands help carbon storage and minimise and reduce fire risk. That is why peatland restoration is an urgent priority. DEFRA is currently funding four large-scale peatland restoration projects across England, involving a £10 million fund, including in the north of England uplands, the Welsh borders, Dartmoor and Exmoor and, of course, the south Pennines: vital work that we need to take forward.

Environment and Climate Change

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Wednesday 1st May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 May 2019, 4:11 p.m.

May I be the second to congratulate most warmly the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) on an accomplished maiden speech? Her love of and passion for her constituency shone out in everything she said.

We have done well on climate change, because PwC reports a 42% cut in emissions since 1990, but we are all here today because we know that we must do more and that the need is urgent. Whether from younger people or from Back Benchers across the House, a challenge generally leads to better government and better results. I want to be positive and to point to five areas that are part of the solution. To be fair, the Government are involved in part in all of them, but they need to go further in some.

We have already had mention of electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, and I welcome the investment in battery technology and the Government’s efforts so far. However, we have heard today that Norway is far ahead of us, and 1.03 million new energy vehicles, as they are called, were sold in China in the first 11 months of last year, which is an increase of 68%, so we cannot rest on our laurels. I look forward to when ultra low emissions vehicles become more affordable so that more people can buy them.

There is one easy win in the area of transport—this would also deal with air pollution—and that is to take greater action on engine idling, something which New York has done recently with proper enforcement powers. Westminster City Council has its #DontBeIdle campaign, and we could and should do something across the UK about idling. Cycling and walking will also be part of the solution, and I am proud to be the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group. Roughly 2% of journeys in the UK are made by bike, but the numbers for Germany and the Netherlands are around 10% and 25% respectively. We can go further, but we must mainstream cycling funding, and new roads in particular need to be cycle-friendly. We are not quite there yet.

On aviation, unbelievably, electric planes have a future. I must admit that when I first read about them I had to check that it was not 1 April, but easyJet is looking to bring out a nine-seater prototype this year. By 2027, easyJet and Ryanair are hoping to fly some commercial routes up to distances of 500 km, so aviation can have an electric future, certainly in short-haul flights, and we should welcome that.

We have heard a lot about retrofitting, but why are not all new homes being built as zero-energy-bill homes? I was privileged to welcome the British architect Bill Dunster OBE to my constituency, and he is building such homes now. Not only do they address the climate issue, but not having to pay gas and electricity bills can be critical in helping our low-income constituents to look after their families. We need to accelerate that. The Building Research Establishment in Watford has proved that the technology is there, and we should be doing much more on that front.

We have heard about the forests we are planting, with 50 million trees to be planted in the northern forests and another 11 million trees being planted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am one of probably many MPs who were privileged to send 10 trees to their constituency from the “Commonwealth canopy” scheme organised by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), and that is something we can do, too.

The subject of this debate includes the environment, about which we have not spoken much today, particularly our wildlife. I am privileged to live in a constituency in which, when I go home in the evening, I see deer, muntjacs, foxes, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, woodpeckers, goldfinches, nuthatches and many other wonderful forms of wildlife. We need to make sure they can exist, too.

My constituency also hosts Duke of Burgundy and chalk hill butterflies, and butterflies are one of the creatures most in danger from climate change. Only a very small increase in temperature can cause them difficulties.

In summary, I want a future that is green and profitable, and for which we help our poorer constituents to adapt.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 May 2019, 4:16 p.m.

On behalf of Labour Members, I pay tribute to our new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). I have the unenviable task of following what was a truly beautiful maiden speech. I look forward to working alongside her in the months and years to come.

Like my hon. Friend, I want to speak about my constituency today. I represent one of the two constituencies that make up Calderdale, and nowhere feels extreme weather more acutely than Calderdale. The Calder Valley and Halifax constituencies experienced catastrophic flooding in the 2015 Boxing day floods, which affected 2,720 residential properties and 1,650 businesses, and we were lucky not to sustain more damage in March 2019 following a period of exceptionally heavy rainfall that pushed flood defences to the limit.

One of the most serious and immediate consequences of climate change is more frequent extreme weather events, which are a very real and terrifying prospect. One element of the response to such dangers locally that is worthy of mention has been the work of Calderdale’s “slow the flow” volunteers, whose natural flood management work across the Calder valley took the force out of the rainwater as it made its way down our steep slopes. Their work made a significant difference during the periods of greatest intensity during the March near-miss rains. Natural flood management not only contributes to a degree of protection from excess water, but does so through greater and more responsible stewardship of our natural environment.

I am pleased to say that the Labour-run Calderdale Council is already ahead of the game on climate change, having declared a climate emergency in January in response to the warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there are just 12 years left to limit global warming.

Calderdale Council has succeeded in cutting its own CO2 emissions by 35% and the borough’s by 26%. Although Calderdale is on track to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2020, we know this is not enough. Further action will be needed if we are to deliver the reductions necessary to keep global temperature rises below 1.5° C.

There are another two particular pressures across Calderdale that bring this global challenge to our doorstep. The first, like in so many other parts of the country, is air quality. We have seven designated air quality management areas in Calderdale, where monitoring indicates the annual mean objective for nitrogen dioxide being exceeded. The most recent figures from Public Health England show that the number of deaths from respiratory conditions is significantly higher in Calderdale compared with the national average. Although there are a number of reasons for that, poor air quality is a significant factor.

I am pleased to say that Calderdale has responded with a comprehensive air action plan, with a view to declaring Sowerby Bridge, one of our worst affected areas, a low-emissions neighbourhood. The plan prioritises the promotion of ultra low emissions vehicles and public transport, alongside walking and cycling, as well as promoting the clean-up of public transport fleets. Calderdale Council is also defending at a public inquiry its decision to reject an application to build an incinerator in the area. In the interests of air quality, I have made my views on the issue very clear.

Another initiative is the launch of the “Electric Valley” petition, building on the work of the Halifax and district rail action group electric charter, which sets out the benefits of electrification of the Calder Valley line. If we are to take vehicles off the road and ask more people to use public transport, electrification is a win-win. Not only has the Calder Valley line, which connects Manchester and Leeds through Halifax, been plagued with problems in recent months, but it is a dirty route. With electrification, we can improve the journey and clean it up at the same time. That was the top recommendation of the northern electrification taskforce “Northern Sparks” report four years ago, so I hope that the Department for Transport is watching the debate and will revisit that report.

The final threat that I want to raise is wildfire. Heatwaves have resulted in an increased frequency of wildfires on Pennine moorland. The Pennine moors, covering Kirklees, Calderdale and parts of Bradford, include sites of special scientific interest and special areas of conservation. Moorland areas are instrumental in storing CO2—it is estimated that Britain’s peat bogs store the equivalent of 10 times the country’s CO2 emissions—but when peat bogs are damaged by pollution or wildfire, they start to leak CO2 instead of storing it. That has happened more and more often, with two blazes on Saddleworth moor in the last 18 months and a fire on Ilkley moor just two weeks ago.

It is far too easy to think that this is a problem for someone else, somewhere else, or for the next generation to solve. Calderdale Council has taken its responsibilities incredibly seriously, but it needs holistic Government support to deliver a carbon-neutral future. I hope that sharing those examples of how climate change is on our doorstep in Calderdale every single day will motivate us all to take action.

Sir Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
1 May 2019, 4:22 p.m.

I want to make three very brief points, which I hope will not repeat anything that has been said so far. The first relates to the tone and nature of the debate. It is enormously to be welcomed that there is once again consensus across the House of Commons in favour of taking this issue very seriously.

I recall the time I first went to see, in his then role as Environment Secretary, the brother of the former leader of the Labour party. I put it to the then Environment Secretary that the Conservative party, whose policy review I was running, was prepared to move forward on a climate change Bill, and he said to me, rather memorably, that he could not see any way to prevent consensus from breaking out. It did so, and that climate change Act has protected the whole political class from a great tendency for one party to score points off the other in relation to potentially unpopular measures. As long as we can maintain that consensus, I agree with the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—the former Leader of the Labour party and former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change—that we may disagree from time to time about the means by which we achieve things, but we can still move forward satisfactorily.

The second point I want to make relates to the comments made by the right hon. Gentleman and by the other former Energy Secretary who has spoken, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). System change in the UK is required, and only through system change can mass effects be achieved. We should not expect people to take this on themselves individually as a moral crusade. Some noble souls will, but the aggregate effect will be slight compared with that of system change.

System change must work with the grain of human nature. That means, for example, that in electrifying the car fleet, which is by far the greatest current shift that we can achieve, we need to solve range anxiety. The reason that people—even those who can afford to do so, and for whom such cars represent a net saving—do not buy electric cars is that they are worried about the duration for which they will be able to travel. If we ask ourselves the crucial question, “Are you willing to have a car that might not get you home from the constituency?” the answer will always be no.

There is a ready solution; Next Green Car is already setting out plans for recharging stations every 50 miles on our trunk roads, so that no one will ever be more than 50 miles from a recharging station. We are putting a huge amount of effort, as are the car manufacturers, into improving battery storage. We can solve the problem. Sustained governmental effort is required over the succeeding 18 months or so to put us in a position where we can rival Norway, and then we will start to create a virtuous circle.

As soon as those who can already afford to do so start buying electric cars in sufficient quantities, the price will fall naturally. People who are currently less able to afford such cars will then be able to do so, after which prices will fall yet further. We will thus create exactly the sort of extraordinary revolution that we have seen in information technology with the smartphone, of which there were almost none in the world 25 years ago but of which there are now literally billions, including in many impoverished countries.

That brings me to my last point, which is about the item that has not been discussed terribly much this afternoon but will obviously need an awful lot of discussion over the next few years. There are roughly 2.6 billion people living in India and China, and they are living in circumstances that make climate change particularly significant for them. This is about not just the air pollution issues that dominate in Chinese cities, but the extreme tensions relating to the use of water, for example, in the border lands between China and India. The regimes in both countries are very conscious of affairs. They are also conscious of the need to lift up those 2.6 billion people—in the case of China, to lift people out of middle-income status and into being rich, or what they call moderately prosperous, and in the case of India, to lift literally hundreds of millions of people who are still in abject poverty up to the condition of middle income, along with advancing the interests of those who already enjoy middle incomes. That will require a huge amount of additional activity and energy.

There is no way that anybody preaching from this House or anywhere else in the world is going to tell those countries that they do not have a right to lift their populations into that kind of prosperity. We in the west therefore have a solemn duty to spend our time trying to work out how we can make it easier and cheaper for those countries to achieve that goal, and to work with them to do it. That will require a substantial realignment of not only climate change policy, but our entire western foreign policy, which is of course too large a subject for me to dilate on now. Nevertheless, I hope that if we are to take this issue forward, we can do so with the seriousness that is required in our Foreign Office, and across the western world’s diplomatic establishments, and not just in Departments that are concerned with our domestic affairs.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 12th July 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Jul 2018, 9:49 a.m.

Ofwat, the regulator, has been stringent in the steps that it has taken in order to ensure that performance will be linked to pay in the future.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Jul 2018, 9:49 a.m.

Mr Speaker, may I first join you and others in welcoming back the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), to her rightful place at the Dispatch Box?

I am afraid that prior to the “beast from the east” Ofwat made it perfectly clear that it had no interest in taking direct action on executive pay, tax structures or dividends. May I say how delighted Labour Members are that, after months of raising this very issue, Ofwat has finally U-turned on its position? Will the Secretary of State explain why it has taken Ofwat so long to take this action and tighten up the weak regulation that has let customers down so badly?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am so glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the action that Ofwat is taking. Ofwat has superb leadership and I am four-square behind that leadership in ensuring that we get a better deal from water companies.

Coastal Erosion

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Tuesday 12th June 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman - Hansard
12 Jun 2018, 10:31 a.m.

The Scottish Government would have more money if Scotland was an independent country and we had the ability to raise our own taxes and, for example, support immigration and grow our population in the way that we would like it to grow. Immigration is important for coastal communities, particularly because of the people who have moved out of those communities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston mentioned, many of the houses in Pennan are owned by second-home owners, not people who live there. We need to grow Scotland’s population so that people are living there and standing up for and protecting those areas.

The hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) was very clear about how important it is that his constituents are protected, which I completely agree with, but I was concerned about his disregard for the flora and fauna that we also need to protect. A huge number of people have raised concerns about the effect of plastics in our oceans, for example, and I think many of our constituents would be hugely concerned about the impact on marine wildlife of any changes that are sought. That is why it is important that any decisions on protecting areas from coastal erosion are made with the best information, and why the Scottish Government have funded the national coastal change assessment. Phase 1 is completed and they are on to phase 2. Given the dramatic effects of climate change, and that coastal erosion is speeding up, it is incredibly important that any decisions are taken while looking at the current effects of climate change. It is an ever-moving feast and we need to have the best possible information before taking any decisions.

It was interesting to hear some of the issues hon. Members have with studies taking place. Angus Council’s study will not be finished until July 2019; the hon. Member for Angus is pushing for action right now, when the council has not completed its study. The other point that bugs me about what that council is doing is that it has not committed to use the full funding it has been given for the purpose of protecting against coastal erosion. It takes a special kind of hypocrisy for a council to say, “We are not spending all of the money we have been given for this purpose, but we would like some more.” I do not think that is a sensible position to take. The case made by the hon. Member for Angus would be much stronger if the local authority could evidence that it had spent all the money it had been allocated in the correct way to protect against coastal erosion.

Further on funding, the Scottish Government have committed to putting their Crown Estates money towards the betterment of coastal communities, which will be a recurring amount of money provided to councils such as Angus. It would be useful if that council would commit to using the money for preventing coastal erosion, particularly in relation to the concerns around the golf links that the hon. Lady mentioned and the erosion that is happening at some speed in that area.

I represent Aberdeen, with its beautiful beach that was immortalised in the mid-20th century railway posters as “the Silver City with the Golden Sands”. In 2006, action was taken in Aberdeen to protect our coastline from erosion and we now have what are called T-groins—large defences that ensure our beach is not washed away. It was good that that action was taken, but it did not receive universal buy-in when it was first put forward. People, not least the surfing community, raised a number of concerns. It has taken time for that to bed in and for us to be able to prove that it has not had the negative effects suggested.

One of the important things going forward with action on coastal erosion is to ensure that communities buy into it and that we are doing whatever we can to protect housing, properties and tourism, but also marine life. In Scotland, the marine litter strategy was introduced a number of years ago—it is not a new thing. It is about tackling the issues that damage the most vulnerable marine wildlife.

It is very important that we come together. We absolutely must look at making sure that studies are done so that the best possible, futureproofed, action can be taken, but we must get the communities on board, including those in the wider community—perhaps those who do not live near the coast but are particularly concerned about the impact on wildlife. As I have said in Westminster Hall a number of times, we need to work together and we can all learn from each other. Action taken in some places in Scotland could be replicated in some places in England, and vice versa. We need to make sure that with any action we take to protect any of our coastlines, we are learning from the experiences of others and ensuring that those coastlines are protected for future generations.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
12 Jun 2018, 10:38 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I join colleagues in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) on securing this debate and I thank her for a detailed and engaging speech, in which she outlined that 17% of our coastline is at risk of erosion, along with the infrastructure that is inseparable from those seaside communities. She told us that the second, third and sixth holes have already been relocated on the iconic golf course in her Angus constituency and she has done her constituents proud in making sure that their voices are heard in this debate today.

As the shadow Minister with responsibility for coastal communities, I agree that this debate is incredibly important. With rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather, our coastlines are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Hon. Members will be aware that my own constituency, while entirely land-locked, experienced devastating flooding in 2015, and so I am all too aware of how increasingly extreme weather can impact on all of our lives.

We have heard some compelling speeches. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) made a very important point about Flood Re and the Government’s failure to really get to grips with an insurance offer for flood-affected businesses. While Flood Re is working very well for domestic properties, we really do not have an offer together for flood-affected businesses. I hope the Minister will be able to offer some help to businesses and that this is not a problem put on the “too difficult to solve” pile.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) told us of the risks to Walney island in his area and talked of the risk of the unique biodiversity on the island being lost to the elements forever without intervention to protect it. The hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) made a similar point about the nature reserves in her constituency. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) spoke with passion about the coastline in his area, which has been showcased by the BBC drama “Poldark”—I confess, I am not sure everybody watches “Poldark” to admire the scenery in the background. We have heard about the challenges in Scotland, and we have heard from hon. Members representing coastlines all over the country.

It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in his place, but I join the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) in wishing the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), a speedy recovery. She has a great deal of experience in this area, and will no doubt be watching this debate with great interest.

For a country of our size, the UK has an exceptional length of coastline, totalling more than 17,000 km. In contrast, the Netherlands has about 500 km. Although historically it has created opportunities for fishing, tourism and a variety of other economic interests, a significant proportion of our coastal landscapes are at risk of coastal erosion. About one third of the English coastline, and more than half of the coastline in my home region of Yorkshire and the Humber, is subject to erosion. Across the country, incredibly tough decisions are being taken about whether to hold the line or surrender it.

There is nothing new about coastal erosion; it has been taking place for millions of years. Waves and winds erode some areas, but can deposit matter elsewhere. The haunting story of what happened at Hallsands in Devon in 1917—the entire village of 29 homes was lost to the sea within 48 hours—is a reminder of the power of the sea, and coastal erosion can be accelerated by storms.

Although coastal erosion is not a new problem, changing weather patterns and rising sea levels are creating new challenges. It is increasingly clear that what was once termed “exceptional weather” is occurring with worrying regularity. Although it is difficult to link any particular extreme weather event directly to climate change, the trend is clear. Last month’s unusually warm weather was officially classified as the hottest May since records began, and December 2015—just over two years ago—was the wettest month on record, and there was extensive flooding. Speaking after those floods, Professor Myles Allen, of the University of Oxford, summed up the new reality well:

“Normal weather, unchanged over generations, is a thing of the past. You are not meant to beat records by those margins and if you do so, just like in athletics, it is a sign something has changed.”

Current UK annual damages from coastal flooding are estimated to be £540 million per year, which will almost certainly increases with future sea level rises. According to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the global mean sea level has already risen 20 cm since the 1900s. POST also notes that the rate of the rise was 1.5 mm per year between 1901 and 1990. However, from 1993 to 2014, it rose an average of 3.2 mm per year.

It often feels as if we are only reluctantly facing up to the devastation that could result from sea level rises. The Committee on Climate Change warned that

“for levels of sea level rise beyond one metre, which could occur this century, 200 km of coastal defences in England are projected to become vulnerable to failure in storm conditions”.

It is clear that we are facing a challenge of the most serious kind, which requires big thinking and effective action. We know that there is a very human cost for those in affected areas. It is hard to imagine how difficult it must be for a person to give up their family home because it has simply become too dangerous to live there.

We also know about the threat to our sporting heritage. As we have heard, the Montrose Golf Links faces many problems. It is estimated that one sixth of Scotland’s golf courses are vulnerable, due to their coastal location. Ironically, Donald Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf course is also at risk of severe flooding, according to Ordnance Survey research, which predicts that the coastline next to the Trump International Golf Links resort will recede by tens of metres over the next 20 to 30 years. We look forward to seeing him still refuse to take action on climate change when his own golf course is underwater.

I hope the Minister can address a number of concerns shared by those living in coastal areas. I will be interested to hear his response to the Committee on Climate Change’s adaptation sub-committee report, published last June, which said:

“Sea level rise of more than one metre by the end of this century cannot be ruled out, and this would mean some communities in the UK would no longer be viable…Shoreline Management Plans identify areas where existing defences will become unsustainable or not cost-effective to maintain by the 2030s and beyond. This will have significant implications for some stretches of coastline, but the affected communities have not yet been seriously engaged in adaptation planning and need to, long before coastal defences become unsustainable.”

Given that the committee’s advice is so clear, what steps are the Government taking to ensure people living in those areas are aware of the risks and are planning for the future? Such conversations will always be difficult, but given the severity of the predictions and the actions set out in the management plans, people need to be clear about what is likely to happen.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), according to the national planning policy framework, it is not appropriate to allocate permanent new residential development within an area susceptible to coastal change. Local plans identify that coastal change management areas as likely to be affected by erosion. The Minister may be aware that a National Trust survey found that in 2015, only 29 of England’s 94 coastal planning authorities had defined coastal change management areas. One third of the coastal planning authorities did not have such policies. Can the Minister update the House about the situation? Has he been assured that all planning authorities in coastal areas are incorporating long-terms coastal erosion projections into their planning policies?

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Angus, I am keen to see the next national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. Although flooding is the most common consequence of coastal erosion, the Minister will appreciate the very different challenges in addressing coastal erosion and inland flooding. I hope that is reflected in the funding and resources dedicated to those different but not unconnected challenges.

More broadly, we cannot ignore the relationship between extreme weather, climate change and coastal erosion, so I must probe the Government further on what they are doing to tackle carbon emissions. In recent years, the Government have sold off the Green Investment Bank and scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and new low-carbon investment is now lower than it was when they took office. It is therefore not surprising that the UK is now on course to miss its carbon reduction targets and its legally binding 15% renewable target by 2020.

I appreciate that energy policy is not directly within the Minister’s remit, but I am afraid to say that, since the demise of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, it look like climate change has not been mainstreamed across Government, but has fallen through the cracks. I hope the Minister will urge others in Government to treat this issue with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.

Coastal erosion is a huge concern along significant lengths of our coastline. With rising sea levels, significant parts of our coastline face being literally swept off the map. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Angus that now is the time for long-term, joined-up thinking. I hope the Minister will respond to the points raised in this debate and assure us that the Government are serious about tackling climate change, defending our coastlines and, crucially, taking communities with them in facing up to these challenges.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) - Hansard
12 Jun 2018, 10:48 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Like a number of other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) on securing the debate. She articulated the problems facing her constituents in Montrose with passion, and was characteristically robust in the points she made. I am conscious that this issue affects many parts of the country, including my own, as my hon. Friends from various Cornish constituencies pointed out. It is good that so many Members turned up at 9.30 am to raise this important issue in the first debate of the morning when we might face a lateish night in this place.

As the shadow Minister pointed out, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), would normally lead on this part of the portfolio. I am covering this debate because, as a number of hon. Members know, she is recuperating from a recent illness. However, she will be following the debate closely, as coastal erosion is an ongoing challenge for her constituency of Suffolk Coastal. I very much look forward to receiving a text from her later this morning, as often happens after such debates, giving me an update on how I did.

As everybody is aware, responsibility for the management of coastal erosion is devolved to the Governments of the four nations of the UK. I will return later to some of what they are doing.

Coastal erosion is a natural process that always has and always will change the shape of our coastline, but change can be distressing for those living nearby. In March this year, we all saw the dramatic pictures from Hemsby when the “beast from the east” struck the coast of Norfolk. That county has a dynamic coastline, which has been retreating progressively over past centuries, but on that occasion the concentrated power of wind and sea eroded nearly 5 metres of shore along a 700-metre frontage, leaving 13 homes balanced precariously above the sea. Proactive management by the Environment Agency and the local council led to residents being evacuated by Great Yarmouth Borough Council. After the storm, 11 properties were demolished and, of the remainder, one property was saved by the owner rolling it back, and another needed only part of it to be demolished as it too was rolled back.

The key difference between fluvial flooding and coastal erosion is that, while still distressing, the impact of fluvial—river—and surface flooding tends to be temporary, while the impact of coastal flooding is terminal and carries much greater risk to human life. Of the £2.5 billion to be invested in flood defences between 2015 and 2021, nearly £1 billion is dedicated to coastal areas, reflecting how seriously we take that challenge.

Given my constituency, I understand people’s concerns. Cornwall has the longest coastline in England, at more than 1,000 kilometres, and the occurrence of coastal flooding is likely to increase threefold over the next 100 years. My constituency has both a north-facing and a south-facing coastline, and some of the exposed cliffs along the north coast have historical rates of coastal erosion of up to 40 metres in the past 100 years. They are likely to experience at least a further 40 metres of erosion in the next 100 years.

Sustainable coastal management needs to embrace change. I recognise that this debate was called on the back of a particular Scottish concern, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, but this is a UK-wide matter and I feel that I should consider how we approach things in each nation, starting of course with England, where the Government set the overall policy and local councils lead on management of coastal erosion risk in their areas.

Earlier this decade, a significant decision was taken by the Government to recognise formally that we would not defend every part of our coastline from erosion. We devolved decision making to a local level, confirming what had already been happening in practice. That made the process for councils designing a shoreline management plan more meaningful. Such plans set out at a high level the policy framework to manage the risk of change.

Covering three time horizons—20, 50 and 100 years—the plans recommend four approaches to management: first, advancing the line, or moving defences out beyond the coast, which is used in some circumstances; secondly, holding the line, which means using either soft or hard defences to reduce or eliminate erosion; thirdly, managed realignment, where we accept the inevitable but manage the process, taking account of local geology and wildlife; and, finally, an approach of no active intervention, which allows nature to take its course.

Much of the debate has focused on whether the devolved Administrations are doing enough to support their councils. I shall say a little about what we do in England. To support our councils, the Environment Agency provides a national picture of what is happening on the coast. It has established national coastal erosion risk maps that provide a consistent assessment of coastal erosion risk around the country and set out a best-practice method for calculating that risk. The agency is also supporting a national refresh of shoreline management plans to ensure that they remain based on accurate information. There is also investment, which, inevitably, was a big feature of this debate.

We put significant investment into coastal erosion prevention. In England, between 2015 and 2021, our plans will see £885 million invested in projects to manage coastal erosion and better to protect communities against flooding from the sea. At the same time as the Government made the decision specifically not to defend the entire coastline, they also made the important decision that any scheme with a positive benefit-cost ratio could still receive some Government funding to support partnership funding locally. We also established corporation tax relief for businesses to contribute to such projects.

Our partnership approach means that schemes that would not have progressed in the past can go ahead if local funding can be found through the partnership model. Our £2.6 billion capital investment programme is expected to attract more than £600 million in partnership funding contributions on top of that.

In Norfolk, an innovative public-private project will provide protection for nationally important gas infra- structure and enhance protection for local communities.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 7th June 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
7 Jun 2018, 9:45 a.m.

My right hon. Friend is of course right, and our thoughts are with the families who have been affected by the floods, particularly the family of Peter Harnwell, who sadly died despite the best efforts of the emergency services when his vehicle was submerged. Thanks to the Government’s efforts, the vast majority of households at high flood risk now have access to home insurance through Flood Re, which has active plans in place to engage with all communities after flood events once the immediate emergency has subsided.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Jun 2018, 9:45 a.m.

I join the Minister in sending our sincere condolences to the family of the gentleman who sadly died in Walsall following the extreme flash flooding earlier this month. I also pay tribute to the emergency services and others who worked so hard to protect our communities during that period of extreme weather.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith), in the 2017 autumn Budget, the Government allocated £40 million to boost regeneration in communities at high risk of flooding but, six months on, not a penny has been allocated. Will the Minister tell the House what is causing that delay?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Jun 2018, 9:46 a.m.

The allocation of flood defence funding is important, as the hon. Lady will appreciate, and it is being properly scrutinised. Conversations are being had and, as I said to the hon. Member for Bury North (James Frith), a decision will be made this summer.

Ivory Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
Holly Lynch Excerpts
Monday 4th June 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2018, 9:35 p.m.

It is a pleasure to be the last Back Bencher to speak. I shall be looking to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), whose yawning ratio has increased, to see when I should sit back in my place.

I absolutely support this Bill, for all the reasons as everybody else. Therefore, I will not rehearse those arguments and will instead focus on two matters, the first being the definition of ivory. I note the points that have been made about how that can be extended. The explanatory notes say that under clause 35 the definition can indeed be extended to cover beyond elephants. However, that would happen only if the Government took the view that there had been a shift towards trade in other ivory—they would then perhaps then extend this. It would be a bit more up front to put that extension in place immediately and I cannot understand why this is limited just to the elephant tusk.

The second point I want to make is about the exemptions. In the event that we are to have exemptions, and we see the Bill contains some limited ones, surely it makes sense for the Bill Committee to get those absolutely right. Notwithstanding the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), my concern is that I do not find those exemptions particularly tight. There is a series of exemptions. For example, clause 2 refers to pre-1918 rare items and those with artistic, cultural or historical significance. We all have a view on what such things could be and it will be incredibly difficult to differentiate objectively. The Bill also mentions other time limits; there are references to 1975.

I find the exemptions somewhat random, so my idea to throw into the pot is that we have just one pre-defined list—a “now or never” registration, using pre-1947 as the date. People would not be able to add to the list and anything that has not been registered would just get destroyed. That should include museums. Thereafter, we would have the pre-defined set of items in place, we would have certainty and this could not be gamed. We would therefore just have one criterion. That registration process would be paid for, and any excess amounts banked by the Government should be spent on prohibition work in the field in the countries where this exists. If anything in the list is transferred, there should be a 20% tax, which would also go to those causes.

Those are my ideas to throw into the pot. A lot more could be done in Committee to get these exemptions narrowed and standardised, and to give better legal certainty that this will work.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2018, 9:38 p.m.

We have had an excellent debate this evening, and I thank Members from across the House for their contributions. To reiterate what my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said in her opening speech, the Labour party welcomes this Bill and we will be supporting it this evening. Of course we will, however, be seeking to play a role in testing and tightening it in Committee, particularly on its exemptions.

We have heard some well researched and articulated speeches and interventions, and I shall mention just a few. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), among others, made an important point about online sales. There must not be an online market for such items, and I would be keen to explore every opportunity to close loopholes for the sale and trade of ivory as this Bill progresses. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, and others made an important point about the funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. It is an important part of resourcing the enforcement efforts required to really enact this legislation in the way that we envisage, and I look to the Government to reassure us further on that point and commit to funding the unit beyond 2020.

The right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) made a passionate speech based on his experience in this policy area and rightly paid tribute to the bold action taken by the Chinese Government. He also reflected on the difficult and insatiable relationship between supply and demand that will persist unless we step in and sever it.

The hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) made a characteristically interesting speech that I thoroughly enjoyed. He made a serious point about the economic impact on certain countries of banning the ivory trade and what we might need to consider by way of support as we move through the transition.

It is worth reflecting on the public’s role in the progress that has led to the Bill before us and thanking them for their contributions. I am mindful that the last time the House debated this issue was in a Westminster Hall debate on an e-petition calling on the Government to shut down the domestic ivory trade, which secured more than 100,000 signatures. Further to that, as the Secretary of State mentioned, after the Government opened their consultation on the proposals at the end of last year, a staggering 70,000 people and organisations responded. More than 80% of responses were in favour of measures to ban ivory sales in the UK; that has no doubt assisted in the shaping of the Bill.

I think, based on the contributions we have heard, that we all share a great sadness that the illegal wildlife trade has grown rapidly in recent years. It is absolutely right that we take robust domestic action to tackle it head on, while demonstrating leadership on this issue to the rest of the world. Despite the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, to which 183 states are party, and the introduction of an international ivory ban in 1989, we have still witnessed a worrying upward trend in illegal killings since the mid-2000s. As we have heard, recent estimates of African savanna elephant populations indicated a 30% decline in numbers between 2007 and 2014. That is 144,000 fewer elephants.

The examples of decisive action taken by the US and China have already had a positive impact, so we welcome this domestic action, which we hope will help to turn around the situation. One issue that we wish to explore further in Committee is the possibility of displacement and unintended consequences, for which we will have to be ready. There have been suggestions that the Chinese Government’s interventions on ivory may have brought about an increase in trade in neighbouring states in which controls are more relaxed. I was interested to hear the point made by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) about mammoth tusks, which proves that workarounds will be found by unscrupulous poachers if there is scope for them to find them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), the hon. Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and for Mid Derbyshire, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire and several others made the point that clause 35 sets out the meaning of ivory as being

“ivory from the tusk or tooth of an elephant.”

Both the Bill and the explanatory notes reflect on the possibility of a clampdown on elephant ivory resulting in an increased threat to other animals—such as hippopotamuses or a variety of marine animals—but neither offers a comprehensive framework for responding to that threat. Sadly, we can envisage that unintended consequence becoming a reality if we are not prepared for it.

Labour has long been the party of animal welfare, from banning foxhunting and fur farms in the UK to the introduction of the landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) for acknowledging that. In an insightful speech, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), said that nobody could get legislation through quickly like the Secretary of State. That having been said, we welcome the opportunity to congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on finally bringing some legislation to the Chamber. For all his bold announcements, we are reassured that he is finally translating the words and consultations into action and law change, as this is the first piece of primary legislation that we have seen from him since his appointment to the role.

Earlier, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) made the point that if the Government can implement a comprehensive ban on ivory, they could also look into a comprehensive ban on fur, as debated in Westminster Hall today. Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East, they could also look into banning the use of animals in circuses. We look forward to seeing legislation on both those issues in the not-too-distant future. Again, we welcome the legislation before us and look forward to revisiting the detail in Committee.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2018, 9:44 p.m.

I wish to thank Members from all parties for their contributions to this really important debate. I am encouraged by the strong consensus in the Chamber that the Bill is essential in the fight against the poaching of elephants for their ivory. I am grateful to Members on both sides of the House for that clear cross-party support. There were some excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Workington (Sue Hayman), for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who showed such important cross-party consensus on the fact that action must be taken.

Restrictions on commercial activities in ivory and other products from endangered species were first introduced when the United Kingdom became party to the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, CITES, in 1975. The EU wildlife trade regulations introduced in 1997 implement CITES in a stricter manner than is required by the convention. The Bill now builds on those existing regulations to underline the fact the United Kingdom does not accept that ivory should be seen ever as a desirable commodity or, even worse, as a status symbol.

The Government have introduced this Bill quickly—only six weeks after we published our consultation response. We recognise the need to act quickly, which has been highlighted by many Members throughout the House—I am very grateful for that. I am hopeful that Members from across the House will work together to ensure the swift passage of the Bill through Parliament in the weeks ahead.

Before I respond to individual points raised by Members, I should like to pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). Indeed, this Bill bears the hallmarks of her committed campaigning and energy, which make her such a popular figure in the House. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you and Members from across the House will join me in wishing her a speedy recovery. I will do everything that I can, to the best of my endeavours, to provide cover for her from the substitutes’ bench until she returns safe and well to join us in this place.

We should also recognise, as many Members have, the incredible efforts of the 70,000 individuals and organisations that took the time to respond to the consultation that was launched last October. It is particularly encouraging that some 88% of respondents supported the ban on the sale of ivory. I thank the environmental bodies represented in those responses, and those from the antiques trade, the music sector and others, for their constructive engagement and support. I have been particularly heartened to see the endorsement of our approach from conservation organisations such as the WWF, the Tusk Trust, the Zoological Society of London, the Born Free Foundation and Stop Ivory, among others. It is most welcome and sincerely appreciated.

That engagement and the level of support for our proposals has convinced us that it is right that the Bill sets out a strong ban to protect elephants in the wild from poaching, with only a very limited number of exemptions for ivory items that would not contribute either directly or indirectly to poaching. We believe that approach is both proportionate and, of course, robust, as it should be.

When I saw elephants in the wild during a very memorable visit to Tanzania in 1988, the African elephant population was estimated to be 600,000.

Reduction of Plastic Waste in the Marine Environment

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd May 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP) - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:29 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this debate. He made some good points about plastic waste, which is now a fashionable topic. The Government are now at a privileged moment in time in which to take further action on the pollution of our environment, and I hope they take that opportunity.

Members have demonstrated the will to work across the devolved Parliaments. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) made superb points about market failure. He reiterated that there is confusion regarding the disposal of a vast amount of products in our shops. Reducing VAT on such products would be a superb nudge to everyone involved in making and disposing of them.

I thank all previous speakers for their views on this highly important issue. I am delighted to take part in a debate on a topic about which I feel strongly, namely the scourge of plastic pollution on the environment. The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned Barr’s Irn-Bru deposit scheme. How far-sighted of that company, which started in the Falkirk area—[Interruption.] I thought you would like that, Stephen.

While watching the magnificent “Blue Planet”, I was struck by how much we have to thank David Attenborough for ending his TV series with the theme of protecting our marine life. It is a subject close to my heart, and I know the public feel strongly about it, too. Many of my constituents have contacted me about it, and in my work with the Environmental Audit Committee the fight to halt the pollution of our seas by plastic waste goes on.

Scotland has been praised for leading the way in this battle. Nurdle hunt events on beaches in my constituency and East Lothian have allowed people to see how many tiny pieces of plastic litter our rock pools and sand. Because of that, and other awareness-raising events around the country, people have increasingly added their support to combating that creeping threat to waterways. We welcomed the successful UK ban on microbeads, which is a positive move in the ongoing war against pollution. However, the ban covers only products that are designed to go down the drain, which does not even include cosmetics, never mind consumer products. More must be done.

As you know, Sir Edward, many individuals and companies are undertaking good initiatives. For example, on Sunday 29 April I was invited to attend the 100th anniversary of the Falkirk and District Boys Brigade service at Larbert Old church. The Very Rev. Dr John Chalmers, who was a former moderator, spoke and his message was very clear. His speech was captivating. It was about where our planet came from, how it began, and he spoke about “great radiance”, and how we must look after this planet. Those words were not lost on anyone attending the service, especially the young people present. They get the message, and so should decision makers in this place.

Scotland’s decision to charge 5p for a plastic bag was taken up across the UK—I might have a disagreement here with my friend from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—and that was another good move for the environment. Sadly, after Brexit we have no guarantees from the UK Government that Scotland will still be in charge of its own laws for protecting our clean water and land. We must keep pressing for answers, and we will.

On my visits to local supermarket giants Asda and Tesco, it was encouraging to see their work to reduce plastic in their products and packaging. Ordinary items such as cotton buds cause real problems for marine life. Through time, they are gradually broken down into small plastic fragments that are scattered through our waterways. That is a massive problem, and we must all do our bit to help reduce it. The Co-op ceased using microbeads in its products in the ’90s, as did Falkirk’s Scottish Fine Soaps Company.

There is more good news, and creative thinking, in a scheme that involves authors and illustrators, including Quentin Blake and Robert Macfarlane, from the publisher Penguin Random House. That new campaign centres on reducing the use of plastics in the book industry. Authors4Oceans asks publishers, book shops and readers to reduce the amount of plastic they use by finding eco alternatives to the bags, straws, bottles and single-use cutlery that ends up at the bottom of the sea. Even its jiffy bags are going to be plastic free.

The alliance between big business and the public is what gets things done and brings about change. The rising tide of plastic waste in the ocean has been described by the UN oceans chief as a “planetary crisis”. How can we disagree with that? There is increasing public appetite for urgent action. It is a horrific fact that in some parts of the sea there is now more plastic by weight than plankton, and that impacts on the environment, wildlife and people. The quantity of plastic in our oceans grows by about 8 million tonnes per year, and plastic production is set to double.

DEFRA’s marine litter monitoring, which measures the number of items found on the sea floor, found an increase of 150% last year. Meanwhile, the UK approach to this crisis remains rather inward-looking. Let us get away from this silo-thinking. Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK seems to lack a clear plan. Although the UK marine strategy acknowledges plastic as a problem in the context of marine litter and as a danger to wildlife, the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into plastic bottles criticised it for its weak analysis. The EAC identified the need for more research, and outlined a basic environmental monitoring programme. Actual measures were sparse—surely the precautionary principle would suggest that we act as well as research the problem. The only monitoring of floating plastics under the marine strategy is a DEFRA initiative to measure the prevalence of plastic items in the stomachs of dead seabirds, especially fulmars, that members of the public have found washed up on the beach. A fulmar is roughly the size of a small chicken, and it only eats plastic that looks like fish eggs—I have here some nurdles; these are what kill the birds—so that plan will not detect items such as floating water bottles.

Marine issues are transnational, and the EU’s integrated maritime policy provides the framework through which the UK and its neighbours strategise and legislate for the future of their seas. What will happen to that co-operation post-Brexit? Amid the uncertainty, we have an onslaught of words and announcements, including consultations on charges for single-use plastics and a deposit return scheme for England. As hon. Members know, the Scottish Government have already committed to such a scheme. Local authorities in England and Wales can issue on-the-spot fines for litter louts, but what about fly-tippers who refuse to pay up?

The Government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme has signed up major retailers and manufacturers to its plastics pact and promises a “resource revolution”. That is good, but it does not go far enough, because there is no enforcement mechanism. The UK Government are taking a soft approach by refusing to implement practical solutions recommended by the EAC such as the 25p latte levy, and instead they seek voluntary agreements with coffee chains.

The UK Government have sought only voluntary agreements for manufacturers and retailers to reduce plastic packaging. Like the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), I would like to use the nudge principle and colour code all plastic bottles and coffee cups in green, amber and red, to make it simple, so that when people have the thing in front of them, they can put it into the appropriate coloured bin. For example, action on microbeads was limited to a narrow class of products, against the advice of the EAC. There is too much reliance on citizen participation, though it is great to clean up litter and collect research data. Austerity is forcing local authorities to cut essential services that are needed to help them meet litter-related targets.

Over the years, I have felt that my concerns with environmental issues have often fallen on deaf ears. I do not feel that any more. I think the public are behind us and we are finally realising that there is no such thing as throwing something away on our poor, choked planet. I will conclude by saying that if you want to change the world, you get busy in your own little corner. The EAC has already done that and it has served this Parliament well.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:41 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this important debate. Like other hon. Members, on both sides, he articulated incredibly well how taking action on plastic waste will require a variety of approaches, not simply legislation.

Like the constituencies of the hon. Members for Witney (Robert Courts) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), Halifax could not be any more landlocked, but this is still an issue that many of my constituents feel strongly about. This debate is timely. Although the Government have made some bold announcements about their policies on plastic waste, like other hon. Members I am keen to ensure that the talk is backed up with decisive and urgent action.

Like the hon. Members for North Wiltshire (James Gray) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), the shadow DEFRA team has also sought to engage with the House authorities on the prevalence of single-use plastics across the parliamentary estate. We, too, have found that engagement challenging. We are keen to pursue it and make some progress. I join my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) in saying that so often it is children and young people who, on occasion, get a bad reputation for engaging in litter and plastic waste, but often they are among the most concerned about the issue, and are involved in some of the most positive examples we have seen in clean-ups and taking action, which is delivering a benefit to coastal communities.

I am pleased to see the Minister in her place and I am hopeful that she will provide a positive response to many of the issues raised in the contributions, which I thought were outstanding. We heard in shocking detail about the true scale of the plastic waste crisis. Greenpeace estimates that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year—equivalent to a truck-load of rubbish every minute. The waste includes everything we might expect from our throw-away society, from plastic bottles and bags to fruit stickers and disposable razors. We are becoming increasingly aware of the impact this can have on our sea life, with large plastic pieces poisoning whales or entangling turtles and smaller pieces entering the ocean food chain as they are eaten by smaller fish.

Like the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Members for Richmond Park and for Falkirk (John Mc Nally), I pay tribute to the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” series, which inspired both wonder at the beauty of the world’s oceans, and horror at the way they are being desecrated. The BBC’s natural history unit and David Attenborough deserve huge credit for highlighting exactly why our marine environment must be protected. Since the series was broadcast, it has been heartening to see the war on plastics go from something of a fringe issue to dominating the mainstream political agenda. People across the country are switching to reusable bags, bottles and coffee cups, and retailers are being challenged on social media for examples of excessive and wasteful packaging in their stores. It is good to hear that many events such as this year’s tennis championships at Wimbledon are going straw-free, after handing out 400,000 last year.

The Government have taken steps in the right direction. We are happy to support those initiatives, which play a role in reducing the plastic waste entering our oceans. We have supported the microbeads ban and have continually called for action on straws and a plastic bottle deposit return scheme. We welcome the approach of addressing plastic waste not simply as a national problem, but as an international problem that requires international co-operation—a point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight). However, we are keen, where appropriate, to push the Government to go faster and be bolder wherever possible across this policy area.

Labour has a keen record of protecting our marine environment. I must mention that one of the proudest achievements of the previous Labour Government was the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This created a system for improving the management and protection of coastal ecosystems. It is in this tradition that the shadow DEFRA team has been working on a number of campaigns to tackle plastic waste and protect our sea life.

The Minister and I share a passion to see plastic straws become a thing of the past. Last year, I wrote to the top 20 bar and restaurant chains in the country, urging them to adopt a “straws on request only” policy and asking them to stock biodegradable straws only for those who do require them. The response was positive and several major chains responded with a commitment to remove straws from their businesses. Upon realising that plastics have crept into tea bags, Labour’s DEFRA team sent letters to the top tea bag producers, urging them to consider plastic-free alternatives. Responses are coming back from these firms and it has been reassuring to see the appetite for action on this specific product, which is just one of so many products that we will need to consider redesigning.

We recognise that the priority for marine pollution at present is stopping plastics getting into the oceans. This will of course require changing consumer behaviour and business practice, as well as improved product design. It will also require Government leadership to encourage recycling and incentivise making single-use plastics unavailable. Yet our concerns about this Government stem from the fact that they have failed to bring forward a single piece of primary legislation on any of their announcements on the environment since the last election. The deposit return scheme for plastic bottles really highlights how the Government’s environmental policy is quick to get the headlines, but much slower to take action in reality. The Secretary of State has now confirmed that a consultation on the specifics of a deposit return scheme will have to wait until the conclusion of the ongoing single-use plastic tax consultation by the Treasury.

The Minister will already be aware that, as a country, we use 13 billion plastic drinks bottles every year, but more than 3 billion are still not recycled. Why is it taking Government so long to introduce a deposit return scheme, when 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every day? We are told to expect a date of 2020, but with so much uncertainty at present and timelines sliding across a range of DEFRA policy areas, when will we see a commitment that a deposit return scheme will be introduced?

It is a similar story with coffee cups. Some 99.75% of disposable coffee cups used in Britain are not recycled. In 2011, it was estimated that we threw away 2.5 billion coffee cups a year in the UK, and the figure will have inevitably increased since then. A poll for The Independent found that 54% of the public support a latte levy of 25% on all drinks sold in disposable cups. Businesses are taking the lead, as we have heard, with Starbucks trialling a 5p surcharge at 35 locations across London, and Pret a Manger, Costa Coffee and Greggs all offering discounts for bringing a reusable cup. The Secretary of State seemed to be taking serious action on the issue. As hon. Members may remember, in January he highlighted the issue by handing out reusable coffee cups to all members of the Cabinet. Yet once again, after a few good headlines, the action failed to materialise when the Government rejected the latte levy in March. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined what steps, if any, the Government are planning to take to tackle the problem of disposable coffee cups.

To add to this inaction in preventing plastic waste, we are also concerned about the Government’s approach to recycling the waste that is already produced. Progress on recycling must be driven through a comprehensive framework. Hon. Members will be aware that the EU has brought forward a target of 2030 for phasing out single-use plastics. Compare those ambitious targets with the Government’s 25-year environment plan. While the EU is outlining exactly where targets need to be met, the Government’s plan states that they will be developing ambitious new future targets and milestones, but that it will take 25 years to tackle single-use plastics. I am glad that the Government have now agreed to support the EU targets. However, it is concerning that, as we leave the EU, we stand to lag behind our neighbours on this issue.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that cuts to local authorities have impacted on their ability to collect waste in a timely and efficient manner, as we have heard. An increasing number of councils are opting for collections every three weeks, with many introducing increased charges for bulky waste or garden waste collections. Although some of the Government’s work in this area is certainly welcomed, we would all like to see efforts go much further.

There is undoubtedly an international element to this work, as we have heard. I hope that the Minister can explain why, despite the profile given to the issue of marine pollution and plastics at the recent Commonwealth summit, only four Commonwealth countries joined the Government’s clean oceans alliance.

To conclude, we look to the Minister to allay our fears and show that the Government are about actions as well as headlines. I hope that she will commit to taking the boldest steps to combat the consumption and littering of single-use plastics, which do so much harm to our cherished marine environments.

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey) - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:50 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing the debate. I am pleased to inform the House of our progress in addressing the global issue of plastic pollution in the maritime environment. The hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) talked passionately about wanting to introduce biodegradable straws, and I am pleased that we will be able to do that in due course. We must be able to prevent and tackle waste wherever it appears, which is why it is important to work on a domestic and a global scale. We work with multilateral organisations, such as the G7, which is developing a plastics charter, and the UN on the clean seas initiative. Through the International Maritime Organisation, we collectively oversee the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, which is of similar importance.

At the Commonwealth summit two weeks ago, the Prime Minister outlined her key priorities for oceans. The 53 nations set out a Commonwealth blue charter, which highlighted the key things for tackling issues affecting the blue sea. It was important that we could work together to find an interest in how to develop the responses to some of those challenges, particularly those that focus on improvements to oceans and plastics.

During the Commonwealth meeting, we announced with Vanuatu that we had set up an agreement in which Commonwealth member states will join forces in the fight against plastic pollution by pledging action and enterprising approaches, such as the global ghost gear initiative, which seeks to encourage the greater removal of one of the most dangerous forms of marine litter. Seven countries have come forward so far in support of the alliance: New Zealand, Australia, Kenya, Ghana, St Lucia, Fiji and Sri Lanka. Engaging companies and non-governmental organisations will be essential to meet the challenge of plastic pollution.

The Commonwealth clean oceans alliance will work in partnership with the World Economic Forum, Sky, Waitrose, Coca-Cola, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature to share expertise and experience and push for global change. The Prime Minister also announced £61.4 million in funding to boost global research and to help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste entering the oceans.

Our deposit return scheme has been highlighted. It is key that we want to boost recycling rates and reduce littering of those bottles. As has been said, it will be subject to consultation later this year. One of the challenges of the DRS is that in this country we use more plastic material in the on-the-go environment than any other country around the world. It will take some time for us to come up with the context to put forward because we have to recognise that the process that individuals use, and the way the scheme is processed, is quite different in Norway, Sweden and Germany, which I went to see. We need to consider how we can bring the scheme in line with transport activities. On-the-go activity needs to be considered to ensure that, instead of people throwing plastics away to be disbanded or having always to take them back to their homes or to a particular supermarket, there are potentially ways open to submit them at a rail station or something similar nearby.

We have already committed to reforming our producer responsibility schemes to better incentivise producers to be more resource efficient. We are already talking to industry and other groups about how we might reform the packaging waste regulations to encourage businesses to design their packaging products in a more sustainable way, to encourage the greater use of recycled material in those products, and to stimulate the increase of collection, reprocessing and recycling of packaging waste. As part of the upcoming resources and waste strategy, we will set out options for the kind of packaging waste producer responsibility system that we think will work best to deliver our ambitions.

Earlier this year we announced our world-leading ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, which will finally come into force before the end of next month. Furthermore, we have announced that, subject to a consultation later this year, we will remove the sale of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England. We will consider, however, that straws may be required by some consumers who suffer from disabilities and other medical conditions. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland highlighted, Scotland has also announced a consultation on those matters. We are keen to continue to work with the devolved Administrations so that we share ambitions to take things forward. We will recognise that as we take steps forward.

Our plastic bag charge has been in place since 2015. To give credit to the other nations, England was the last to introduce it. We have had huge success since then, with more than 9 billion bags being taken out of circulation. We have announced that we will take further action on all plastic bags, and in the short term, newsagents have started to take proactive action. Recent research by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science showed a decrease in the amount of plastic bags found on the UK’s seabed.

We will continue to look at ways to reduce plastic waste. Improving and encouraging the removal of high-harm material such as ghost gear should be encouraged. In his spring statement, the Chancellor launched a call for evidence to seek views on how the tax system or charges could reduce waste from single-use plastics. We need to get better at understanding potential forms, sources and types of impact of different types of marine litter. The Marine Management Organisation is looking at evidence in English seas for that. To improve understanding about the origin of litter and its potential extraction, we are working through the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation to improve capability to mark fishing gear, which supports our guidance in UK waters. Ropes, lines and pots are marine litter of the highest harm type. To reduce that threat, the UK co-leads an action group with Sweden within the OSPAR convention to develop and promote best practice for the fishing industry and competent authorities.

The Government cannot do it alone. We support initiatives such as Fishing for Litter, the beach cleans run by the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage, and the other work that people do every day to clean up our seas and look for new ways to reuse and recycle what is recovered. We are pleased that Morrisons has recently announced that it will sign the global ghost gear initiative. We are delighted to be supporting the ground-breaking UK plastics pact that was announced last week, which brings together more than 40 companies, NGOs and the Government with the aim of creating a circular economy to tackle plastic waste.

I hope that I have provided the House with a satisfactory outline of what we are doing to reduce plastic waste in the marine environment. We will continue to work with other countries, NGOs, industry and experts from across the board to go further.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:59 p.m.

Before she finishes, will the Minister give way?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:59 p.m.

I will.

Sir Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair) - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:59 p.m.

I hope Alistair Carmichael will have 30 seconds at the end.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:59 p.m.

I appreciate that the Minister is not feeling very well this afternoon, and I commend her for persevering none the less.

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard
2 May 2018, 3:59 p.m.

Thank you.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 26th April 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard
26 Apr 2018, 9:56 a.m.

When we publish White Papers, we always ensure that there is plenty of time to discuss their content before legislation is proposed.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Apr 2018, 9:56 a.m.

Given that the Government have failed in their pledge to take back absolute control of our fishing waters from day one of leaving the European Union, can the Minister be explicit about how he intends to use the powers that he already has domestically to redistribute fishing quota, to deliver a better and fairer deal for our coastal communities?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Parliament Live - Hansard

We have already made many changes to give additional quota to the small under-10 metre fleet in particular. We permanently realigned some unused quota in 2012, and since the introduction of the discard ban, the annual quota uplift has been top-sliced and additional quota given to the under-10 metre sector each and every year.

Leaving the EU: Fisheries Management

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Tuesday 20th March 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 12:46 p.m.

Yes, my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is absolutely right. One of the critical things we can do is make sure, not just from 1 January 2021 but in December 2020, that we are negotiating as an independent coastal state. We will be able to join the regional fisheries management organisations in advance of the December 2020 negotiations—organisations that any independent coastal state has to be part of to secure fishing opportunities and ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 12:46 p.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this urgent question and to the Secretary of State for his response. However, I am afraid I still have several questions.

The Secretary of State, alongside the Fisheries Minister, has asserted time and time again that the UK would take back absolute control of our waters from day one of leaving both the European Union and the 1964 London fisheries convention. However, following announcements made in the last 48 hours, we now know that the rest of the Government has been having very different conversations with the EU27. The announcement made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, ahead of formal phase two negotiations, made it clear that the UK would continue to be part of the common fisheries policy for the duration of a 21-month post-Brexit transition period, extending up to 2020.

The announcement that Britain’s share of the total allowable catch will remain unchanged during the transition period contradicts all other previous Government statements in relation to post-Brexit fisheries, and it is understandable that many coastal MPs and fishing communities feel so angry and let down. The Government’s failure to meet their previously stated aims through negotiations is one that now requires greater explanation and examination on the Floor of the House. The Government must be absolutely clear about who is leading the negotiations on fishing and what their position is. Have the Government failed to secure their desired position, as advocated by the Secretary of State and the Fisheries Minister, or was that never the position of our negotiating team and the rest of the Cabinet? If that red line has moved, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether there has been an exchange, and if so, what was secured instead?

Less than a month ago, in a Westminster Hall debate on the UK’s fisheries policy secured by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), I asked the Fisheries Minister whether he had seen the draft proposals from the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries—the PECH Committee—and what the Government’s response was. He informed me that

“at the end of the day, it does not really matter what the European Union asks for, but what we are prepared to grant it.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 314WH.]

With that in mind, can the Secretary of State now be explicit in outlining what the Government are prepared to grant the EU in relation to fisheries? Can he also inform the House what the transition arrangement with the EU will mean for the London convention?

The Secretary of State will have seen the comments from the less-than-satisfied representative fishing organisations and the bold statements—and actions—of his own Back Benchers. Any post-Brexit fisheries policy must be rebalanced to work for our coastal communities and have a sustainable approach at its very core. What we need now from the Government is a move away from the chaotic approach we have seen this week and, instead, honesty and clarity about their negotiating position and exactly what that means for the fishing industry.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 11:30 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. The first thing to make clear is that we are leaving the London fisheries convention, and we will be fully out of the convention, as we will be out of the common fisheries policy, by the time the implementation period ends.

However, it is also important to recognise, as the hon. Lady mentioned, that our share of the total allowable catch during the implementation period, including 2019, will not be altered. That is a protection for all those who want to make sure that we have the stability required to prepare for the additional opportunities that will come at the end of the implementation period.

The critical point remains that the dividing line—I hesitate to say it is a red line—between the Government and their supporters and the Government’s critics is that we believe that, when we leave the European Union, we should leave the common fisheries policy. It is not the position of any other political party in this House that we should leave the common fisheries policy and take advantage of the opportunities that accrue. In that regard, the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the capacity of the UK to say what it will and will not accept refer clearly and unambiguously to what will occur after the implementation period ends and we are an independent coastal state outside the European Union.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 8th March 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Mar 2018, 10:05 a.m.

We have always been clear that when we leave the European Union, we leave the common fisheries policy and become an independent coastal state under international law. There are, of course, always annual negotiations—even for countries outside the EU—to agree an approach on the management of shared stocks, and we envisage that such meetings will continue. I can confirm that the UK Government’s view is that there is a trade discussion to take place. We want a free trade agreement and a fisheries discussion to take place, and we want to take back control of our waters.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Mar 2018, 10:05 a.m.

Last week’s freezing temperatures caused chaos to water supplies this week. Households in London were among those hardest hit, with customers widely reporting a systemic failure by Thames Water to comply with its legal obligation to provide 10 litres of water per person for every day that a customer is disconnected. Will the Minister confirm that that was the case and, if so, when the Department was notified, as is the requirement? What actions does she intend to take against companies that fail to meet that obligation?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey) - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Mar 2018, 10:06 a.m.

As I said in my recent statement to the House, I have ordered Ofwat to undertake a review of what has been happening. I have asked for a report to be made available—there might be an interim one by the end of this month—and I will be able to update the hon. Lady after that.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Parliament Live - Hansard

I hope that we can ensure that water is getting to customers who are still without connected water supply this week. Given that executives at the top nine water and sewage companies in England earned a combined total of nearly £23 million in 2017 and those companies have paid out £18.1 billion in dividends since 2006, but that Ofwat has already said that taking action on pay, dividends and tax structures is not in its current thinking, what is the Government’s plan to rebalance executive pay with investment in infrastructure and resilience and to get a grip on our water companies if Ofwat has said it does not intend to do so?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard

As we set out in our strategic policy statement to Ofwat, there is an expectation of the increased investment that needs to be made by the industry, and the price review is under way. Water companies will be coming out with their consultation, but when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke to the water industry at Water UK a few weeks ago, he read it the riot act. He has said that he will give Ofwat whatever powers it needs so that the water companies will up their game.

Water Supply Disruption

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Tuesday 6th March 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey) - Hansard

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I promise my response will not be diluted.

I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on the water supply situation following the severe weather experienced last week. The exceptionally cold spell and the rapid thaw that followed has caused widespread water supply issues in the country. Over the weekend, and at the start of this week, tens of thousands of people across southern England have experienced loss of water supply in their homes, and even more have had to cope with low water pressure following leaks from burst pipes. I entirely recognise that it has been a stressful and difficult time for many residents and businesses.

The immediate priority is to get water back up and running for those who have been affected, particularly vulnerable people, businesses, hospitals and care homes. Water companies have been following standard practice, including isolating bursts and redirecting water to mitigate the problem. Bottled water has been provided in the areas most badly affected, and water has been provided by tanker to keep hospitals open.

This morning I chaired a meeting with water company chief executives, Ofwat and Water UK to make sure that water companies in England are working to restore supplies as quickly as possible and that water companies in other parts of the country are preparing for the thaw as it spreads across the country. That will include learning any lessons from places that have already experienced thawing through higher temperatures. The challenge the sector faces is the sheer number of bursts following the rapid change in weather across multiple companies’ networks.  Many of them have been relatively small and difficult to detect, and some of the loss of pressure is due to leaks in private homes and businesses.

As of 10.30 am today, based on the information provided by the chief executives on the phone call, we are aware of 5,000 properties still affected in Streatham. The principal source of the problem is airlocks in the water network, which Thames Water is acting to remove, and we expect that to be completed today. Southern Water reconnected supply to more than 10,000 properties overnight, and 867 properties in Hastings are still experiencing problems. We expect everyone there to be reconnected by this afternoon. South East Water has identified approximately 2,000 properties spread across Kent and Sussex that are still without supply, and we expect that they will be reconnected today. South West Water has approximately 1,500 properties affected, but that is changing on a rolling basis as the thaw progresses west. Yorkshire Water has identified 13 affected properties.

Some water companies have identified higher demand than usual on service reservoirs, which indicates that there are burst pipes that need to be dealt with. I want to encourage householders and businesses to report leaks and burst pipes, including those on their property, not just those on public highways.

Water companies have been working hard to address the issues for customers, though I recognise the frustration that many have had in contacting their water companies. I have been assured that companies have increased their staff on the ground who are out identifying where bursts have occurred and repairing them, as well as moving water across their networks to balance supply across the areas they serve. We should recognise the efforts of the hard-working engineers and all involved in working through the night to fix these problems.

Once the situation is restored to normal, we expect Ofwat to formally review the performance of the companies during this period. That will be a thorough review. As well as problems being identified, I want to see excellent examples of practice and preparation shared across the sector. The Government will consider any recommendations from the review and act decisively to address any short- comings exposed. As part of that review, Ofwat will decide whether statutory compensation should be paid. Of course, water companies will want to consider how they compensate customers on a discretionary basis, and I discussed that with the chief executives this morning.

This Government actively support a properly regulated water sector. We have high expectations of water companies increasing their investment in their water and sewerage networks. That was laid out clearly in the strategic policy statement issued to Ofwat last September and reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary when he addressed the water industry last week and said that he expects the industry to increase investment and improve services by maintaining a resilient network, fixing leaks promptly where they occur and preparing for severe weather.

As my right hon. Friend has said, we want a water industry that works for everyone, is fit for the future, improves performance and makes sure that bill payers are getting the best possible value for money. Ofwat will be given any powers it needs, and we will back it in action that it needs to take to ensure that water companies up their game.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for that statement.

While last week’s freezing temperatures presented serious challenges all over the country, the failure of water companies to supply water to customers as the weather has improved has now descended into chaos. The aftermath of the “beast from the east” and Storm Emma meant that yesterday, 5,000 homes were without water in Kent, with thousands of properties across Wales, parts of the midlands and Scotland also affected by intermittent water supply.

In London, Thames Water battled to re-establish supply to around 12,000 homes and several schools. Two of the country’s flagship businesses, Jaguar Land Rover and Cadbury, were among several forced to cease production at the request of Severn Trent Water, as it sought to prioritise household supplies. Even today, as we heard from the Minister, South East Water says that around 12,000 of its customers still have no supply, and companies continue to struggle to reconnect homes and businesses across London, Kent, Sussex and Wales, leaving some homes without water for up to three days.

While we all accept that last week’s weather conditions were incredibly challenging, the reality in London is that although freezing temperatures persisted over several days, temperatures did fluctuate and only fell as low as minus 6°C on one occasion overnight. Where is the resilience in the system, and why have we seen such systemic failure?

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a speech just last week outlining that in many areas, water companies were failing to deliver. Six companies missed their leakage targets for 2016-17, with Thames Water’s performance data showing that 677 million litres are being lost to leakages every single day. To put that in context, the entire city of Cape Town uses 631 million litres a day.

Despite those failings on leakage, water bills have increased by more than 40% since privatisation, with many consumers set to see another rise in a few weeks’ time. Further to that, analysis by the House of Commons Library shows that executives at the top nine water and sewerage companies operating in England earned a combined total of nearly £23 million in 2017. The highest paid executive, the CEO of Severn Trent—the same water company that yesterday asked Cadbury and Jaguar Land Rover to cease production—took home a total of £2.45 million last year, or 16 times the Prime Minister’s salary. That is on top of the billions paid to shareholders—the owners of those same nine water companies paid out £18.1 billion in dividends in the 10 years to 2016. In addition, six water companies have offshore finance structures registered in the Cayman Islands.

We have had tough words from both the Secretary of State and Ofwat, but where is the governance, and where is the action? In his recent speech, the Secretary of State said:

“Some companies have been playing the system for the benefit of wealthy managers and owners”

and stressed that he would give Ofwat “whatever powers are necessary” to get all the water companies to “up their game”. Rachel Fletcher, Ofwat’s chief executive, has been tough on water companies in the past 72 hours, saying that

“we won’t hesitate to intervene if we find that companies have not had the right structures and mechanisms in place to be resilient enough.”

However, just last month, Fletcher confirmed to the BBC that a dividend cap was not in Ofwat’s current thinking, nor was direct action on executive pay or tax structures. Instead, she said, Ofwat would require water companies to provide more public information on each of the areas of concern. If the Secretary of State’s plan is to empower Ofwat to intervene, I am afraid that based on what we have seen, there is no appetite in Ofwat to do so.

That regulatory failure on this Government’s watch has contributed to a situation where executive pay is out of control, and the failure to invest in resilience has left households and businesses picking up the cost. With that in mind, I would be grateful if the Minister could answer this question: if Ofwat lacks either the appetite or the powers to tackle—pay and rebalance profits so that less is pocketed by executives and more is invested in improving the service and resilience, what action will the Government take to make that happen? Will the Government respond to calls for a public inquiry into the handling of the crisis, and can the Minister outline whether that will involve the role of Ofwat leading up to where we are today?

Finally, can the Minister outline what compensation packages will be made available to customers, some of whom have had to seek temporary alternative accommodation or pay for childcare because schools have been closed? How will businesses that have lost a day’s trade be both compensated and reassured that this will not happen again?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard
6 Mar 2018, 2 p.m.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions, mostly about company structures, but she will understand that we have been focused on customer experiences in the past 48 hours in particular. That said, my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary read the riot act to the water industry last week.

We recognise that over £140 billion has been invested in infrastructure since privatisation, but we still believe that more needs to be done. The hon. Lady will also recognise that, on average, water bills have fallen in real terms in the past five years—over the price review period. It is important that we get an appropriate balance between investment, recognising that people expect to be able to turn on the tap and get water—I fully accept that many households in London are still not receiving water—and customer bills. It is important to have a regulated water industry to achieve such a balance.

I think Jonson Cox has been an active chairman of Ofwat in challenging the water companies. In particular, he has taken on Thames Water about its financing arrangements. Again, the Department and Ministers have made it clear to the water companies that we expect them to accelerate the changes to their financial structures. I recognise that those structures were put in place some time ago, but we have said that we expect them to change more rapidly than some of their current plans suggest.

Overall, we need to recognise that the review—I have asked Ofwat to report back to me by the end of the month—may be only an interim one, with the initial lessons about what has happened. In the short term, however, I am conscious that we must continue to put pressure on Thames Water in particular to make sure that it reconnects households as quickly as possible.

Middle Level Bill

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Wednesday 28th February 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Sir Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 5:54 p.m.

Okay, amendment 26 is to clause 15, line 38. The clause, on the protocol of removal of vessels, states:

“The Commissioners must, in consultation with the Navigation Advisory Committee, prepare, publish and maintain a protocol on the use of powers under or by virtue of this Act to remove vessels.”

My amendment proposes to change “in consultation with” to “in conjunction with”, because it seems to me that the Navigation Advisory Committee should work jointly with the commissioners rather than just in consultation with them on this important matter. Again, amendment 25 tries to reduce the powers conferred upon the commissioners under clause 14(4) and how they can be exercised.

As I said at the beginning, this is a much improved Bill, compared with how it was. It has now reached the stage where, because all the amendments have been grouped together, it would not be sensible to test the will of the House on each one—I am glad that you agree with me on that proposition, Mr Deputy Speaker. However, the Bill’s promoters are worried about whether the fact that we are discussing these things in the House today means that they cannot be discussed further when the Bill gets to the other place. My understanding is that when it goes to the other place, there is a fresh opportunity for people to put in petitions, in which they can include whatever they wish to, and I am sure that the other place will build upon the discussions that we are having this evening and have had prior to it, so that eventually, the Bill will be even better than it is now.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 5:58 p.m.

I am pleased to respond on the Opposition’s behalf to this opposed private business. Although it might not be the most conventional way to introduce legislative change, and I have heard the detailed reservations of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), we are none the less satisfied that the Bill makes sense, and our intention is to support the Bill as it stands. Although the Bill is fairly narrow in scope, we acknowledge that it has important consequences for those who will be affected. We are satisfied that due scrutiny has taken place in Committee and is taking place at consideration stage this afternoon.

The Middle Level of the fens was first drained in the 17th century to reclaim an area of farmland in Cambridgeshire and west Norfolk. The Middle Level Commissioners are the navigation authority for the waterways, established through a series of local Acts passed between 1663 and 1874, so we appreciate that the legislative framework underpinning the role of the commissioners is in need of an update. This is not least because almost all the fenland within the Middle Level waterways is below sea level, and if it was not for a complex system of flood mitigation and drainage schemes managed by the commissioners, the waterways could pose a significant risk to the estimated 100,000 people who live and work in the area.

In the simplest terms, the Bill will introduce a registration scheme for vessels in the Middle Level and allow the commissioners to bring in revenue from boat owners that will be used to improve the waterways. The Environment Agency, the Canal and River Trust and the Broads Authority all have similar powers in respect of their own navigations, so in many ways, the Bill is long overdue in bringing the Middle Level into line with its neighbours. Additional income for the commissioners could make a real difference to the fenlands and waterways, and although I appreciate the desire of local boat users for improved facilities on the waterways, as we have heard, the Bill will allow the commissioners to raise revenue to deliver this.

Break in Debate

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 6:01 p.m.

Does the hon. Lady have any sympathy with any of my hon. Friend’s amendments, particularly the one about no charge

“being payable in respect of the use of the waterway by a vessel being used by a person who is registered disabled”?

Is that not something the Labour party would welcome?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 6:01 p.m.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is a valid one, and of course we want to improve accessibility so that everyone can enjoy our waterways. It is certainly something we would consider further in later discussions on the Bill, but it is not something we would vote for later today.

Taking everything into account, we are satisfied that the Bill is sensible in updating the legal framework setting out the role of the Middle Level Commissioners and bringing them into line with what is now standard practice across comparable waterways. Despite its unusual journey through Westminster, we have no problem supporting it this afternoon.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 6:02 p.m.

It is a pleasure to get another opportunity to speak on the Bill. Given that it has already had its Second Reading, I will focus my remarks on today’s amendments and the changes made in Committee.

As the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) just mentioned, a number of positive changes were made to the Bill in response to the petitioners’ concerns, and I was grateful to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) say that changes had been made and that people had listened. It is appropriate, however, that I say briefly why I do not think it would be appropriate for the amendments and new clauses to be accepted.

New clause 1 would set a minimum navigation depth actually lower than the one in current legislation. New clauses 2 to 5 refer to specific facilities that could be provided. As suggested in an intervention, it does not seem logical to specify in statute things such as coin-operated water showers. Were that to sit in primary legislation, it would run the danger of the Bill becoming completely outdated. It also makes sense for users, via the mechanisms proposed in the Bill, to be able to discuss what are appropriate facilities. The inclusion of some of these items might also render particular powers ineffective where planning permission is refused. I therefore urge the House to reject all the new clauses.

UK Fisheries Policy

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Tuesday 27th February 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:35 p.m.

HMRC and the Government have taken a number of steps to lose tax over a number of years, so it is interesting that they might be trying to have the best of both worlds, or have their cake and eat it, while leaving some of our boats unfortunately without fishermen.

I am mindful of time—I agreed to give up some of my time so that more Members could speak, because I think a plurality of voice is important. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) mentioned 29 March 2019, as did a number of other Members. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) expressed the frustration that we all feel with the centralised, bureaucratic and unresponsive CFP. The point about data collection every two years was important.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) mentioned the Danes. I was reminded of how the Secretary of State had one message for our fishermen when he was in Peterhead, but when he was in Copenhagen a few weeks later, quite a different message for our fishermen turned up on Twitter, together with a nice message for the fishermen of Jutland. Perhaps we can get that sorted out one way or the other.

Coal and fish were mentioned by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), as was Aneurin Bevan. I am tempted to ask who sold out the fisheries and closed down the pits, but I wouldn’t do that. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) made important points about the improvement in fish stocks. Nineteen key stocks are now about 70% fished to sustainability, up from 60% in 2015. There has been some improvement.

I have debated with the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) in this Chamber many a time. In fact, many years ago, she tragically lost her late husband and is forever held in respect in fisheries debates—we all listen closely to whatever she has to say.

The right hon. Member for Newbury was right in what he said about the tragedy of the commons. That can affect fisheries, and we must remember that under the previous fisheries policy, herring stocks collapsed from overfishing. We must look to ourselves, because we are as guilty as anybody if given the opportunity to go over the quota on fishing.

I would like to touch on a number of points, but will not because I promised to allow others to speak. However, I wish to stress the importance of migrant workers. We talk about getting migrant workers in for agriculture, but we need them for fisheries as well. People come from the Philippines and Ghana—I know some of them personally—and they live on the island I am from. They are fantastic men and we need more of them. They are great and they add to the community. We want them and there is no reason for not having them. It is usually the Minister responsible for immigration in London who stops them coming—everybody else wants them. I asked the Secretary of State what will happen to EU boats when he takes the quota from them, whether there will be a difference between a historic quota and a boat quota, and how and when that will happen. He dodged the question and said that the catch was going on

“to the plates of people from the Western Isles to the south-west of England,”—[Official Report, 25 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 396.]

I said, “Good dodge”, and he said, “Thank you” in the Chamber, but today I am looking for more of a straight answer from the Minister.

Finally, the antipathy that I and many others feel towards the CFP is not really mirrored in Ireland, and I wonder whether they had better negotiators back in the ’70s and the ’90s than we had in Scotland going through London. Certainly, Ireland would not move discussions from Dublin to London, which is why we should start in Edinburgh this time round.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:38 p.m.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), and I thank you, Mr Paisley, for chairing this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate. He opened proceedings with an incredibly balanced and insightful speech, and has a passion for fishing. I think I speak for everybody when I say that we are all ears regarding any and all measures we can consider that will put an end to the wasteful practice of discards. I lend my support to his proposal to pilot schemes wherever possible, so that we can build that evidence base and inform the incredibly important decisions in the following weeks and months that will form the basis of future UK fisheries policy.

Today’s debate is timely and important considering that we are just over a year away from leaving the European Union, and phase 2, which will include negotiations on the future of fisheries, is about to begin. As with the annual fisheries debate last December, however, it is not entirely possible to use this opportunity to consider, scrutinise, or get to grips with the detail of fisheries policy post-Brexit because those negotiations have not yet happened. Nor have we had policy papers of any colour to help shape or steer the discussion. With the timetable for the fisheries Bill still shrouded in ambiguity, it brings me early in my speech to my first ask to the Minister. MPs on both sides of the House, as well as stakeholders across the fishing industry, would be grateful for any update on the timetable for policy papers and the fisheries Bill to assist with preparations for what will be an incredibly intense period once that process gets under way.

As we have already heard, there are a range of Brexit interests and opinions within the UK’s fishing community. People’s fears and aspirations for a post-Brexit policy vary significantly based on where they are in the country and what is being fished. Those fishing eels in Northern Ireland—I sympathise with the frustrations of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—will have a different outlook from the trawlermen from Peterhead, and the large fish processors in places such as Grimsby will see things very differently from anglers in Lyme Regis.

To ensure that the Labour party has the most comprehensive understanding of those variations, at the end of last year we launched a consultation ahead of the upcoming fisheries Bill. We want to ensure that those with an interest can have a say in that process, and I am looking forward to going through those submissions in detail when the consultation closes.

The rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has driven expectations for a significant uplift in economic activity in the fishing sector, which we are all keen to see. It will not have escaped the Minister, however, that much of this Government’s rhetoric on fishing has been far from harmonised with that of the EU27. Has the Minister seen, and had chance to reflect on, the draft statement produced by the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries—the PECH Committee—which will form the European Parliament’s resolution next month that will facilitate phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations? The statement makes it crystal clear that the EU27 will seek to ensure mutual access to waters and resources in accordance with the relative stability principle. It stresses that reciprocal market access for fishery products has to be negotiated as part of a free trade agreement or an association agreement, and that the level of access to the EU domestic market has to be conditional on the level of access for EU vessels to UK fishing grounds, linking both matters in the agreements.

That position could not be any more at odds with this Government or the Secretary of State. Faced with that, will the Minister outline for hon. Members the Government’s red lines on fishing? Will the Government seek to deal with access to waters and access to the single market separately, or accept the PECH Committee’s terms of both matters being intrinsically linked? How do they intend to build support for our position within the remaining EU27?

Mrs Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:42 p.m.

Could the hon. Lady clarify what the Labour party’s position is? Has she just read out the Labour party’s position? Is it what the PECH Committee has said?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:43 p.m.

No. I want to be clear that the policy statement has come from the PECH Committee of the European Parliament. We will all have our concerns. We are going through that consultation and will outline it in more detail in the coming weeks, but I am clear that we are about to embark on phase 2. That is the position of the EU27, and I am keen to get the Minister’s perspective on it.

With that in mind, I appreciate that the Government have been walking a tightrope for months. Despite his tough taking-back-control narrative, the Secretary of State apparently told the Danish market back in August of last year that

“boats from EU countries will still be able to operate in UK waters after Brexit, as the UK does not have enough capacity to catch and process all its fish alone.”

During the annual fisheries debate in December, I asked the Minister for the evidence base for that assertion, which has been contested by the representative fishing organisations that I have met—they have been mentioned in the debate. Can he add any more meat to the bones of that suggestion?

As an MP for a thriving fishing community, the Minister will be aware that access to European markets is incredibly important for our fishing industry. Although the level of dependence on the European market varies by sector, up to 85% of our crab, lobster and prawns are sold into Europe. We will need the freest possible trade with our neighbours if we are to satisfy the demand from European consumers for our top-quality shellfish.

Last year, the Financial Times reported on the Coast Seafood company on Norway’s west coast, which is obliged to pay 2% tariffs on exports of raw salmon, trout and herring to the EU. If it wants to sell processed products such as smoked salmon or salted fish, those are classed as value-added and, in the case of smoked salmon, face a tax of 13%. That is because Norway is outside both the EU and the customs union. The firm’s owner told the paper that the tariffs hold back the Norwegian industry. It is for that reason that Labour is committed to a customs union with the EU. We want to prioritise trade and ensure that those routes to market for our seafood products remain open. A situation where fish processing becomes uncompetitive would be a massive problem for constituencies such as Grimsby.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:45 p.m.

The Brexit Committee was told by Norwegian witnesses that, because Norway is not in the customs union, there are high tariffs on processed fish and they send their fish to Poland and Germany to be processed. Does the hon. Lady agree that, if the United Kingdom leaves the customs union, many fish processing jobs will be lost in Scotland and beyond?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:44 p.m.

That is the fear. There will be constituencies around the UK, such as Grimsby, where many jobs are involved in the fish processing sector. We seek clarity on that from the Government as we go into the negotiations.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:45 p.m.

Is the hon. Lady also saying that it is Labour policy that we should be prepared to bargain away fish stocks in order to get that customs agreement?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 3:47 p.m.

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the opening speech, where we had a nuanced approach. That will be in the discussions. Access to markets will be important for our fish, but having control of our waters is incredibly important. The Government will have to strike that balance as they go into the negotiations, which is what we are reflecting on today.

In contrast, the Conservative Government have moved from saying that they want trade with the EU after Brexit to be tariff-free to saying that they want trade to be as tariff-free as possible. It is starting to feel as though we are moving only backwards against the Government’s, if not the leave campaign’s, initial bold assertions for a post-Brexit fisheries policy.

It is reassuring that there is firm common ground between the fishing industry, conservationists, recreational fishers and consumers alike that a sustainable approach to a new fishing policy is the only game in town. That was the theme running through a fisheries discussion of experts that I chaired on behalf of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology just last week. For a sustainable approach to work, however, we need two things if we are to have confidence in managing fish stocks responsibly. We need a means of robustly enforcing our approach, and we need to get the science right. Those two things have been mentioned in the debate today, and I am sure they will be considerations for the Minister in the coming weeks and months.

There is renewed public awareness of the need for action to preserve our marine environments—a point made passionately by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). I am hopeful that consumer movements will play an important role in reducing the plastic waste in our waters. The success of the Marine Stewardship Council certifications shows how environmentally aware consumers can bring about positive change. However, we will need Government action to prevent plastics and protect marine environments.

Labour are proud of our record in government and of introducing the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. We included bold commitments in our manifesto ahead of last year’s general election. We support the blue belt proposals for our overseas territories, and our recently released animal welfare plan announced a consultation on the creation of national marine parks. I hope that those matters will not be overlooked as the negotiations on the future of the UK’s fisheries policy move forward.

Marine protection and fisheries management, as we have already heard, are two sides of the same coin. If we get it right and set the standard both domestically and in our waters around the world, we can secure a flourishing marine environment and a strong and profitable fisheries sector. However, on many of the biggest questions faced by the fisheries sector, hopes are high, but we are still in the dark on much of the detail. There are plenty of opportunities for our fishermen and women and our coastal communities as we leave the EU, but what we desperately need from this Government is the road map, outlining just how we deliver against those opportunities.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair) - Hansard

Given that the mover of the motion had such a good innings, I do not intend to call him to make a wind-up. I call the Minister, George Eustice.

Air Quality

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 22nd February 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mr Speaker Hansard
22 Feb 2018, 10:40 a.m.

This matter warrants the urgent attention of the House, which is, of course, why I granted the application for the urgent question. However, I am keen that we make timely progress, as the Back-Bench debates are heavily subscribed. There is, therefore, a premium on observation of time limits from the Front Bench and on very pithy inquiries from the back. I know that that will be reflected in succinct replies from the Minister.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Feb 2018, 10:44 a.m.

I have heard the response from the Minister, but the reality is that yesterday the Government’s plan was ruled unlawful for the third time in three years. Here we find ourselves once again having to take the Government to court and having to summon them to the Dispatch Box for them to take any action on this serious issue of public health.

We know that air pollution is responsible for about 40,000 premature deaths each year, with cardiovascular disease accounting for an estimated 80% of all such premature deaths. Research by the British Heart Foundation found premature deaths and diseases attributable to air pollution in the UK result in over £20 billion in economic costs every year. The UK is currently routinely exceeding the legal pollution limits set out in the 2008 EU ambient air quality directive. That poses the serious question of whether this Conservative Government can be trusted with our environment and to deal with illegal air pollution after the UK leaves the EU, given the kind of ducking and diving we are witnessing now.

As the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated, this situation has escalated into a public health emergency, yet the Government’s attitude and actions do not appear in any way to reflect the severity and urgency of the situation. A press statement released by the Government yesterday appeared to try to spin the Court ruling—we have heard it again today—as some sort of win for the Government and played down responsibility for this incredibly serious failure. It is typical of a Government who provide high talk on the environment but are not capable of demonstrating the leadership and action necessary to make changes on the ground when it really counts.

Given that the matter has effectively been taken out of the Government’s hands, through what is an unprecedented step, does the Minister recognise her Department’s chronic failure to grasp the nettle on this issue? Will she confirm whether the Government plan to appeal the latest Court ruling? I understand that leaders of the affected local authorities have been invited to a workshop on 28 February. Will the Minister outline the purpose of the workshop and, crucially, what support will be made available to support those cash-strapped local authorities in delivering the action we now need?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Feb 2018, 10:46 a.m.

As I have said before, I take this issue very seriously. I am not surprised that the hon. Lady failed to mention that the Welsh Labour Government were also a defendant in the judicial review. Welsh Ministers admitted that the Welsh element of the air quality plan last year did not satisfy the legal requirements, which is why they have undertaken to publish a supplemental plan. Frankly, therefore, the issue is not confined to the Minister at the Dispatch Box today.

Present problems with air quality in the UK are a direct result of the EU’s failed emissions testing regime, the actions of certain irresponsible car manufacturers and the rapid increase in the number of diesel cars on the roads since 2001. I should also point out that 21 other EU member states are also breaching legal air quality limits. I try not to take a partisan approach on this, but I am fed up with the Opposition simply not accepting their part of the responsibility. It was the last Labour Government who incentivised diesel cars. Between 2000 and 2010, the sale of diesel cars shot up from 15% to nearly half of all vehicles sold. I am not saying that previous Labour Ministers did not act in good faith, but as we have found out through a freedom of information request, Labour ignored advice that diesel fumes were toxic and pushed on, on the basis of lowering CO2 emissions.

We do not intend to appeal the ruling because, in essence, the judgment turned on a narrow issue: that areas with shorter-term exceedances ought to be mandated to take action. We had already asked local authorities to do that and are more than happy to say that we will now issue legally binding directions stating that they need to take action. We will work with them. We had already asked them to provide initial information and plans, and we are now asking them to come to London next week so that we can go through those in detail and talk through the kinds of resources they need to ensure better air quality for the citizens we all represent.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 25th January 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Jan 2018, 9:55 a.m.

We are talking about water companies and the protection of assets. Surface water is the responsibility of local councils. We are working on a strategy, led by the Environment Agency, which has overall strategic oversight on this, and we will be doing more on surface water flooding this year.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Jan 2018, 9:56 a.m.

As we have already heard, parts of the country, including my constituency, were affected by both flood warnings and flooding again this week. The 25-year environment plan gave the Government the opportunity to think long-term about responding to flood risk. Although I appreciate that the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy will be updated in 2019, can the Minister explain why the plan itself fails to include any proposals or funding relating to reducing flood risk beyond just the next three years?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard
25 Jan 2018, 9:56 a.m.

When the Government made the decision to have a six-year plan for funding, they dramatically changed the situation for householders and businesses. The decision allowed the Environment Agency to have long-term plans instead of having a year-to-year hand-to-mouth existence. The hon. Lady should welcome the fact that we have that in place, and we will be working on future budgets at the appropriate time.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 7th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard
7 Dec 2017, 9:55 a.m.

Since the floods of December 2015, when about 600 properties were flooded, we have invested £17 million to upgrade the Foss barrier. That includes eight high-volume pumps to provide an even greater standard of protection than before, and we have developed a five-year plan to invest £45 million in new defences that will better protect 2,000 properties.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Dec 2017, 9:55 a.m.

Following Storm Desmond and Storm Eva in 2015, the Government made welcome direct payments for resilience work to residents who had been devastated by the flooding. Following the floods in Galgate last month, however, the Government told Lancaster City Council that that flooding was not severe enough to warrant the same assistance, despite 143 homes being vacated because of flood damage. Will the Minister make representations to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and urge him to allocate money to fund essential flood resilience work in flood-affected communities like Galgate, right across the country?

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey - Hansard
7 Dec 2017, 9:55 a.m.

As I have indicated, the overall level of flood defence resilience is good, including in Lancashire. I am very concerned about the people who suffered that shock flooding the other week, and I will of course meet the affected MPs. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is seeing me next week to discuss this very matter.

UK Fishing Industry

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 7th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP) - Hansard
7 Dec 2017, 4:34 p.m.

This is the first time that I have taken part in the annual fishing debate, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to sum up for the Scottish National party. Although I was born in Aberdeen and have lived most of my life there, before I was five I lived in Gamrie, which is also known as Gardenstown, near Banff in the north-east of Scotland. That little community has historically been dominated by fishing and continues to be so to this day. My great-great-grandfather, John Murray, was killed while fishing, at the age of 34, during the first world war. My grandfather—my “granda”—John West, was the skipper of the Banff-registered May Lily, a 70-foot trawler that went out from Gamrie. He skippered that vessel from 1968 to 1975, having been on it for a number of years before that. The fishing history is strong in my family, particularly on my dad’s side.

It was a very different landscape back then; people had very different attitudes. The boats were much smaller, and people stayed on one fishing boat for much longer than they perhaps do nowadays. Things have moved quite significantly, particularly since the 1970s, but even in recent years there has been a significant change. One of the big changes in recent years has been the increase in sustainability. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) mentioned cod stocks, and the reason for the increase in sustainability is the better management of the fishing stocks. We are able to look at this scientifically and sustainably to ensure that the stocks continue to grow so that we can ensure the future of the fishing industry for the long term in the north-east of Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom. In the UK, 65% of the tonnage of fish landed by UK vessels is landed by Scottish vessels. Over 50% of all fishing jobs in the UK are in Scotland, as are 56% of the jobs involved in going out fishing, rather than in the processing side.

The SNP has regularly raised a number of concerns about the way in which the UK deals with fishing. The deficiencies of the common fisheries policy have been raised by my colleagues and by other Members across the House today, but we have particular concerns about the way in which the UK decides to divvy up the quotas. The North sea whiting top-slice continues to be a major concern to us. Allowing English coastal communities to have more for their 10-metre-and-under inshore vessels is disadvantaging Scottish fishermen. The Scottish Government have been absolutely consistent in their criticism of that policy, and we will continue to be so.

Another thing that my colleagues have mentioned is the UK’s swap package, particularly in relation to blue whiting. That continues to be a concern for us as well. We cannot be swapping with Norway and not getting back what our fishermen fish. We have been consistent in our criticism of the way in which the UK Government have prioritised the fishing industry. It is incredibly important in the north-east of Scotland. It is not that we want to see less priority being given to fishermen in English coastal communities; we want to see more priority given to those who are trawling for white fish in particular in the north-east of Scotland and across the whole of Scotland. That is another major concern.

A number of Members have talked about Brexit. I want to mention the new port and the refurbishments that have been done at the port in Peterhead. More than £5 million of the money that went into the new port came from the European Union, and a further £6 million came from the Scottish Government to improve the port at Peterhead. I understand that the new fish market is under way, and is looking very positive. However, that could not have been done in the same format without the European money that we have received, and we would like some clarity from the Minister as to what will replace it. What will he do to ensure that our fishing industry is fit for the future, particularly in relation to the critical infrastructure that is needed? Peterhead is an amazing port that lands a significant proportion of the fish that is landed across the United Kingdom, and we need to ensure that we can continue to have the curve on them.

In more Brexit-related issues, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who introduced the debate, talked specifically about trading with France, but few people seem to realise how much we export to France, which is the destination for 27.5% of our fish exports. It is therefore incredibly important for our fish processors and fishermen and for everybody involved in the fishing industry that we have a trade deal with France, and therefore the whole European Union, that allows us to export that amount with few hold-ups at customs and that does not have the 7% to 11% tariffs that we would see under WTO rules, which would be a major problem. As has been mentioned already, leaving the single market will cost the industry about £42 million, which is an incredible amount of money.

My last point is about the Government’s prioritisation of looking at the industries that will be hit by Brexit. I am unsure of their level of prioritisation, but the little prioritisation that they are doing seems to be concentrated on industries that offer a particularly high tax take for the Treasury, such as the finance and car industries. I want them to look a little more at the communities that will be decimated by the loss of a certain industry, such as fishing, and to prioritise on that basis as well.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Dec 2017, 4:41 p.m.

We have had an excellent debate this afternoon ahead of the annual December Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting. I start by thanking all those who have taken part in this thoughtful and considered discussion, which saw representations that reflect the diverse fishing activity that is happening all over our country. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who secured this debate, for her characteristically insightful speech—I know that this policy area is close to her heart. I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), because there have been tragedies at sea since last year’s debate. I send our thoughts to those who have lost loved ones and to those who have been injured at sea, particularly the friends and family of the crew of the fishing vessel Solstice. I ask the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) to send our condolences back to her constituency following the tragedy that she shared with us. I join all those who paid tribute to the RNLI for its incredible work and to organisations, including the Fishermen’s Mission, who do so much to support the wellbeing of not only those who spend their lives fishing at sea, but their families.

In anticipation of this debate, I looked back in Hansard at last year’s discussion. This is the second fisheries debate since the referendum, yet many of the questions that hon. Members from across the House were asking in December 2016 are still being asked a year on. In the past 12 months, we do not seem to have moved any closer to clarity on what a post-Brexit fisheries policy will mean for our fishing communities up and down the country. While there is diversity and robust adaptability within the UK fishing fleet, which have allowed it to weather both rough seas and changing political landscapes, people’s fears about and aspirations for a post-Brexit policy depend on where they are in the country and what is being fished. Last week, the Labour party launched a consultation on fishing ahead of the upcoming fisheries Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech, to ensure that those with an interest can have a say in that process, and I am looking forward to going through those submissions.

The rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has driven expectations for a significant uplift in economic activity in the fishing sector, which we are all keen to see, so the challenge now is how and when he proposes to deliver it. I hope the Minister can update the House today on what progress has been made to prepare the UK to become an independent coastal state and on where fishing currently features in the Brexit negotiations. When this country leaves the EU in March 2019, what will be the framework for agreeing the total allowable catches as a means of managing fish stocks that we share with neighbouring countries? Despite his tough taking-back-control narrative, the Secretary of State apparently told the Danish market back in August that

“boats from EU countries will still be able to operate in UK waters after Brexit, as the UK does not have enough capacity to catch and process all its fish alone.”

Like most of the fishing industry, I am keen to see the evidence upon which he based that policy decision. Will the Minister explain to us how that system would be managed, who would have access to our waters, and what the mechanism will be for agreeing allocations of quota to vessels from the rest of the EU?

In addition to the question of our waters and access, the other area of uncertainty for the fishing industry is trade, which has come up many times today. Although the level of dependence on the European market varies by sector, up to 85% of our crab, lobster and prawns are sold into Europe. We will need the freest possible trade with our neighbours if we are to satisfy the demand from European consumers for our top-quality shellfish. The point has already been made—including in the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who represents a constituency with a thriving fish processing sector—that, when dealing with fresh produce, financial barriers are not the only challenge, and ensuring there are no delays that could compromise the smooth and timely movement of fish across borders will be essential if we are to maintain our existing routes to markets outside the UK.

That was made clear to me when I met fishermen in North Shields with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who represented his local fishing community admirably this afternoon. I thank him for his kind remarks, which were certainly kinder than the remarks I heard when I worked under him in the Opposition Whips Office.

It is reassuring that there is firm common ground between the fishing industry, conservationists, recreational fishers and consumers alike that a sustainable approach to a new fishing policy is the only game in town. For a sustainable approach to work, we need two things: we have to get the science right if we are to have confidence in managing fish stocks responsibly; and we have to have a means of robustly enforcing that approach. With that in mind, I am concerned to see that the number of fishing vessels inspected by the fishery protection squadron has fallen from 1,400 in 2011-12 to just 278 in 2016-17. Does the Minister agree that, for all the technological developments, which I certainly welcome, the ability to board a vessel and inspect the operations on board will be essential if we are to manage fish stocks sustainably? I hope the Minister will indicate how he envisages the future of fisheries enforcement to work post-Brexit and confirm that the fishery protection squadron will be resourced to carry out its objectives effectively.

Another issue that came up time and again as I visited coastal towns is the failure to attract the next generation into fishing. If we are to capitalise on an increased quota that drives economic activity and job creation in our coastal towns, we will need a new approach to training. The Whitby fishing school explained to me some of the difficulties of securing funding for courses. The school finds it incredibly difficult to deliver courses that both truly equip young people to work at sea and tick the relevant boxes to secure funding for that training, so it has asked the Government to reflect on whether the framework in place for delivering apprenticeships and training programmes is fit for purpose in attracting and retaining the fishermen and women of tomorrow.

On funding and infrastructure, the European maritime and fisheries fund has facilitated crucial strategic investment that has helped to support jobs and promote sustainability. For the benefit of those planning bids for investment in their area over the coming years, such as the fish quay in North Shields, will the Minister provide further information on the plans in place for replacing the fund? I am keen to hear his response to the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on infrastructure to support aquaculture.

On conservation, there is renewed public awareness of the need for action to preserve our marine environment as a result of David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II”, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said in his powerful speech—my right hon. Friend has always used his experience to be a real champion of responsible fish management. More than 10 million people are tuning in to watch every week and, as anyone who has seen the show will appreciate, there could be no better showcase for our marine life, demonstrating just how visually stunning yet incredibly vulnerable it is.

We are proud of our record in government, and of introducing the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. We included bold commitments in our manifesto ahead of this year’s general election. The Minister will be aware of the blue belt pledges, which include the goals of establishing a marine protected area around the South Sandwich Islands in 2018 and of delivering on the commitment to establish a fully protected area in at least 50% of Ascension Island’s waters in 2019. I hope he will reaffirm his commitment to conservation and express Government support for such an initiative.

Marine protection and fisheries management are two sides of the same coin. If we get it right and set the standard both domestically and in our waters around the world, we can secure a flourishing marine environment and a strong and profitable fisheries sector. It is fair to say that the need for certainty from the Government is a theme that has run throughout the contributions today. On many of the biggest questions faced by the fisheries sector, although hopes are certainly high, we are still in the dark on much of the detail. There are plenty of opportunities for our fishermen and women and those in related sectors as we leave the EU, but what we desperately need to see from this Government is the road map outlining just how we deliver on them.

That having been said, may I take this opportunity to wish the Minister all the very best for the upcoming Council meeting? We all have an vested interest in it going well and we all have our fingers crossed that he is a better negotiator with our European neighbours than perhaps some of his colleagues.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Dec 2017, 4:49 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for her good wishes for us at the upcoming negotiations. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and the all-party group on fisheries on securing this annual debate. It takes place at a crucial time, because every year in November and December we have a series of important fisheries negotiations, and this will be the fifth year I attend the December Fisheries Council. It is also crucial because of the context: the fact that we are leaving the EU and working on future domestic fisheries policy, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out.

Fishing, aquaculture and fish processing is an incredibly important industry for this country, contributing £1.5 billion to our economy and employing 33,000 people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) pointed out the great potential for aquaculture, and we have seen some fantastic results in the Scottish salmon industry —this is one of our great exports. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss his thoughts and proposals to take that forward in his constituency. The catching sector is also vital to many of our coastal communities, as the sheer number of contributions we have heard today attests. We have heard contributions from Members from Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and the east coast, and from those on the channel. We have heard from Members from right around our country—[Interruption.] Sorry, have I missed one?

Marine Environment

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Tuesday 14th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP) - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 3:28 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has secured a vital debate today on marine degradation and the threat to our seas. We have heard many good points about how marine environments and resources are being threatened, degraded or destroyed locally and internationally.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield made some excellent points about sustainable development and mentioned the sage advice of David Attenborough. I think we all thank goodness for that man, because the world actually listens to him. The hon. Gentleman made us aware of his longstanding association with social entrepreneurship; his concerns about plastic and microbeads are shared by all those in the Chamber, and his passion was not lost on us. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), in an intervention, made an important point about the Marine Stewardship Council tick—something that leads us all to assume that ethical, approved practices are in place. Real doubts are now emerging about whether the MSC awards the blue tick to questionable fishing areas.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a point about recycling, and about educating people from primary school children through to older people such as me, to think about what we do with our purchases, and how we dispose of them. His point was well made and much appreciated. International co-operation was also mentioned, and I will refer to that later in my speech. Again, the point was well made and much needed.

The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) shared his concerns about the future of his beautiful area, and expressed his views on the plastic throwaway culture. It is good that the Government are trying to help as much as they can, because we all share the same concerns. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) shared her knowledge and concerns about marine protected areas and the threat to the marine environment in her constituency. Her consistency on these matters throughout this Parliament has been well noted. The hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) mentioned his awareness of the amount of plastic bags being washed up on our beaches, and through the tributaries and along the river networks that lead to them. My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) made excellent points about marine planning, of which she is a great champion. She described the positive steps that the Scottish Government were taking to address those problems, and said how valuable our seas were to us all.

The right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) made an interesting observation on the lightbulb moment throughout the world on MPAs in general. That was much appreciated, although I do not know the poet to whom he referred—perhaps I will try to research him a bit later. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) pointed out the need for global co-operation on action that needs to be taken, and I totally agree with him.

The principal threats are climate change, marine pollution, unsustainable resource extraction, and the physical degradation of marine and coastal habitats and landscapes. Such transnational problems can be solved only by international co-operation. Globally, humans are exerting multiple pressures on 41% of the marine area, and we harvest 40% of the ocean’s productivity. Some 30% of global fish stocks are recognised as being overfished, and the quantity of predatory fish has halved in 40 years. The world’s seas have already absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide emissions for which humans have been responsible. Although that has been a valuable carbon sink, it has reduced the pH of the oceans from 8.2 to 8.1, with the possibility of a decline to 7.8 by 2100. That reduces the concentration of calcium and other minerals in sea water, threatening shellfish and coral species. Such acidification hinders the ability of marine ecosystems to absorb carbon, and it is thought to be one of the reasons why the marine absorption of carbon has slowed since the year 2000.

Melting sea ice has caused a global average rise in sea levels, and the rate by which it is rising is increasing. Local tidal variations and the effects of post-glacial rebound mean that rises are higher in the south of England than in Scotland—southern England is subsiding by about 1 mm to 2 mm per year; Scotland is rising by a similar amount. A 50 cm rise in relative sea level would endanger 200 km of England’s coastal flood defences. That represents 20% of the total length of those defences, and their destruction would nearly triple the number of properties at high risk from coastal flooding—a very concerning and worrying trend for those communities.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said, Scotland has a massive fish farming industry, which we recognise is not without its problems. The salmon industry in Scotland, Norway, Canada and elsewhere is under investigation for its impact on wild fish and marine ecosystems. I am sure that the House will welcome the inquiry into the environmental impact of fish farming that will be carried out by the Scottish Government early next year—they have not shied away from their responsibilities.

It has been estimated that 8 million tonnes of plastic enter Europe’s oceans every year, which represents an extraordinary and insidious threat to the health of our seas. In light of the findings of an inquiry into microplastic pollution, which was carried out by the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, I ask whether the “renewed strategy” on waste and resources that was promised by the Secretary of State will include effective measures to tackle the origin of most marine litter, which is litter on land. We should work with and follow the Scottish Government in establishing a strategy to tackle marine litter, and support efforts to reduce the escape of pre-production plastic pellets—I have here some nurdles. We should praise the efforts of the charity Fidra, which is raising awareness of this awful problem in Scotland, and hopefully we can ensure that the upcoming ban on microbeads extends to all consumer products.

I had a lot to say about the Chagos islands and various other things, but I shall now conclude my remarks because of time. As a wealthy maritime country, the UK has more opportunity than most to show leadership in the fight to safeguard the future of our oceans. However, as we have heard, there is a long way to go before that is achieved in reality as well as on paper. Today we welcome this debate, and we hope that the Government will now deliver the political will to follow through on what we have discussed and debated today.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 3:37 p.m.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, and I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) who, as he said, has long been a passionate champion of these issues. I thank him for the detailed and passionate speech that he gave to kick off this debate today.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, there is nothing particularly new about some of these issues, but there is real urgency about where we are today. This debate is timely because latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs suggest that the amount of litter in our seas has increased, and research this week indicates that carbon dioxide emissions are set to increase by 2% by the end of this year. In addition, many of us will have seen recent images of the sea covered in plastic waste. With that in mind, it is thoroughly welcome that there is renewed public awareness of the issue, largely as a result of David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II”, which is watched by more than 10 million people. I am sure that hon. Members, and anyone who has seen the programme, will agree that it is a visually stunning showcase of all that is important in our marine environment. It gives us a sense of why that environment is so precious and how important it is to protect it.

The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) represents a particularly beautiful coastal community, and he shared some examples of best practice from his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) has an outstanding track record of campaigning on these issues. I join the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) in welcoming the charge on plastic bags, which he rightly suggests has shaped consumer behaviour and attitudes. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) highlighted, very much from a Scottish perspective, the importance of addressing marine and coastal litter, and the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) enlightened us with some poetry, and also gave us some hope about all there is to look forward to—there is more that we can do on these issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) stressed that no one-nation solution is available, and that we must consider all ways we can work internationally to address this issue. I am pleased to see the Minister here today, and I am hopeful that she can provide a positive response to some of the issues raised in the debate.

Our seas and oceans face a changing climate, and a long-term, strategic approach will be essential. Research this week suggests that, disappointingly, global carbon dioxide emissions appear to be increasing once again, after a three-year stable period. Our oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with knock-on effects such as inadequate shell growth in marine animals, and a variety of risks to coral reef ecosystems. Temperature rises are already having an impact on marine life around the UK. For example, reports suggest that squid, anchovies and bluefin tuna are being drawn into our waters by the warmer temperatures, while other species are being driven north or deeper as the seas warm.

Earlier in the year, I visited the US, and Congressmen and women who represent districts on the west coast told me about the impact that the so-called “warm blob” has had on their fishing communities. This mass of unusually warm water in the north Pacific ocean was first detected in 2013. It is nutrient poor and has had a detrimental impact on marine life in the area. Although a significant distance from our shores, it is a stark reminder of the fragility of our oceans. According to UN figures, 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihood.

As already mentioned, the public are more aware of plastics in our oceans than ever before. That has generated a real appetite to do more to reduce all pollutants, such as heavy metals, oil, radioactive materials and plastics, including microbeads. We welcomed the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that he supports a deposit scheme for plastic bottles, yet there is still much more that could be done to tackle the problem of single-use plastics.

Non-recyclable disposable plastic waste, such as straws and takeaway coffee cups, generally ends up in one of three places: incinerated, in landfill or littering our natural environment. How can we ensure that consumers and businesses share the responsibility of limiting our use of such items? My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield already mentioned the campaign, and I am grateful to him for his kind words: in September, I wrote to the top 20 bar and restaurant chains in the country, urging them to adopt a “straws on request only” policy, and asking them to stock only biodegradable straws. Plastic straws are designed for a single use, lasting for a matter of minutes, yet once thrown away, they will litter our planet for centuries. They have become ever-present in our bars, pubs and restaurants. It is not unusual to order a drink that comes with one or two straws, whether we have asked for them or not.

Millions of people have viewed the difficult-to-watch video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nostril. The straw had to be removed, causing a great deal of distress to the animal. That is at the extreme end of the impact of the estimated 500 million straws that are thrown away every single day. I am pleased to say that there has been a very positive response so far to my request, with a number of major chains, which operate thousands of outlets, committing to join the movement. I anticipate that another of our biggest chains will be making an announcement on that soon, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of straws from finding their way into our oceans.

I would be grateful if the Minister, in summing up, would take the opportunity to update hon. Members on the microbead ban, to assure us that there will be no loopholes and that the legislation will be tight enough to deliver the ban as intended, setting the standard and removing unwanted microplastics from our waters.

One of the proudest achievements of the previous Labour Government was the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which created a system for improving the management and protection of our precious marine environments and coastal ecosystems. The Act allows the Government to designate marine conservation zones in our territorial waters to prevent further deterioration in marine biodiversity, while promoting recovery and supporting healthy ecosystems. The intention was, and remains, to achieve a coherent network of well-managed marine protection areas. We very much hope that the Government deliver that as they begin the consultation on the third round of marine conservation zones in English waters next year.

Labour remains committed to building on our proud record on conservation, and I am sure that the Minister would be disappointed if I did not at least touch on one or two causes for concern under the current Government—not least, the fact that the “polluter pays” and the precautionary principles are currently missing from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I urge the Government to think again and adopt the amendments that have been tabled to correct that omission.

The reality is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has suffered the largest cuts of any Government Department. The Minister will be well aware of the impact that has had on staffing levels at a time when expertise is so essential as we leave the EU. To deliver our aspirations for a healthy and pollutant-free marine environment, we must have the resources and the know-how to plan, deliver and manage environmental protections effectively. The Secretary of State is the man who once claimed that the people had had enough of experts; that cannot be a healthy attitude in a Department that relies heavily on science, evidence and research to determine how best to protect our climate and our seas.

On the wider issue of the Government’s strategy for environmental protection, I imagine that many Members are keen to find out if the Minister can shed any further light on when we might see the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment. Ministers initially signalled that it would be released last summer, and although I appreciate being invited to a discussion about the plan several weeks ago by the Minister, I am concerned that after a series of delays, we are still no nearer to understanding what the plan will mean for the marine environment, or the environment more broadly. Environmental groups have grown impatient, with Greenpeace urging the Secretary of State to get on with publishing the plan. The Green Alliance has said there is now an urgent need for it. I urge the Minister to reflect on the need for as much certainty as possible as we leave the EU. I hope that she can provide us with a date for the publication today, or, at the very least, an update on its progress.

Although some of the Government’s work in this area is certainly welcomed, I think we would all like to see efforts going much further. I have high hopes for our post-Brexit fisheries policy, but only with healthy, thriving and protected marine environments will we be setting the foundations for a science-led, sustainable fisheries policy. With fewer people at DEFRA than ever before, and the stalling of progress on both the 25-year plan and the Brexit negotiations, I am looking to the Minister to allay our fears, commit to fighting for our stunning marine environment, and take the boldest possible steps to combat the pollution of our precious seas and oceans.

Dr Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey) - Hansard
14 Nov 2017, 3:45 p.m.

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Owen. As I represent a coastal constituency, I can assure hon. Members that the marine environment is very important to me.

Dare I say, when I first saw the title of today’s debate, I was slightly surprised: the UK’s historic role in the matter would perhaps have been more appropriate. I hope to inform the House today—I thank Members for what has already been said about the progress that has been made—about the leadership role we have taken in enhancing the marine environment around our coastline, in the north-east Atlantic and throughout the world, especially through our overseas territories. The United Kingdom has an excellent track record on protecting the marine environment and we will certainly continue to do so after leaving the EU. We will continue to honour our international obligations and note the importance of UN sustainability goal 14 in that respect. That is why we will continue to pursue local and global alliances to protect our rivers, seas and oceans.

We all know that there are increasing global pressures on our marine environment. That is true in terms of managing the different uses of the sea, whether that is fishing and aquaculture, maritime, energy or other uses of the seabed. In the United Kingdom, we have a comprehensive set of measures in place to ensure that we protect and enhance our marine environment and ensure that it is managed sustainably.

The UK’s marine strategy—our current maritime plan—sets out our overall approach to managing the marine environment around our seas. We have nearly 300 marine protected areas and, by 2020, we will deliver an MPA network that will cover 25% of the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone. We are on track to provide 4 million sq km of protected ocean across our overseas territories by 2020. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) said, together that provides a substantial blue belt for our seas and oceans. We will continue to work globally on marine protection and are committed to establishing a new UN agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of the marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, which will deliver MPAs across the world’s oceans.

We are also making our fisheries sustainable. We have a well-developed approach of evaluating stocks alongside ways to monitor how practices are impacting the marine environment. That is successful. The United Kingdom continues to make significant progress in achieving maximum sustainable yield, with 29 stocks that are of UK interest in line with that standard in 2017, compared with 25 last year. The actions that we are taking are working, and the 2016 “State of Nature” report showed that the change in abundance of marine species overall has increased by 37% since 1970. But we do not hide away from the challenges of what is affecting the marine environment, including marine pollution. We know that we all need to work together to stop that pollution at source, in transit and at its landing point.

There are various sources of plastic entering our seas and oceans and, unfortunately, a lot of that is due to human behaviour. It is estimated that 80% of the plastic in the ocean comes from land. Active pursuit of our litter strategy, which the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) mentioned, will help to address that. We want to continue to recycle more of our plastics at home and in the business environment. As has also been pointed out, the 5p plastic bag charge has cut the use of plastic bags by more than 80%, or 9 billion, in just over one year. All four nations have that levy.

Our microbead ban will be one of the toughest in the world. We are using the information gathered from the consultation on the use of plastic microbeads to identify what further action is needed to address marine plastic pollution. In terms of an update, we had to notify both the World Trade Organisation and the European Commission because of a potential single market restriction. We have had clearance from that perspective and are now finishing our final bits of regulatory process in preparation for laying the appropriate legislation before the House. We have taken evidence in our consultation and are making sure that it will be the toughest ban in the world.

We have a call for evidence on reward and return schemes for plastic bottles, but I should point out to the House that, although bottles and caps are often found on our beaches, we still need to tackle other issues of litter, such as wrappers, fishing gear and other plastics. We have also signed up to Operation Clean Sweep, which focuses on eliminating plastic pellets—or nurdles, as the hon. Member for Falkirk said—from the environment. We have ring-fenced 10% of our litter innovation fund for the marine environment, but it is clear that, despite those efforts, we cannot prevent all litter from reaching the sea, although we will try. It does not sit still; this is a transboundary issue. As hon. Members said, we literally see waves of plastic circulating around the seas.

Managing the marine environment is a global issue. The United Nations sustainable development goals set the global targets for the sustainable use of the marine environment. The Government will use the forthcoming Commonwealth summit to further co-operation to deliver those global goals. In June, the UK joined the UN Clean Seas campaign, which aims to connect individuals, civil society groups, industry and Governments to transform habits, practices, standards and policies. The G7 adopted its marine litter plan in 2015, and we continue to work on that. More recently, we joined the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative—an alliance of the fishing industry, where non-governmental organisations and Government agencies work together to solve the problem of lost and abandoned “ghost” fishing gear, which can trap sea life.

We continue to work with the International Maritime Organisation. One of its conventions, MARPOL, is one of the most important international maritime and environmental conventions. It seeks to eliminate pollution by oil and other harmful substances completely and minimise the accidental spillage of such substances from sea vessels. MARPOL is regularly updated and forms part of UK law.

Thinking further afield, we are providing £10 million to support key marine initiatives abroad. We have allocated £4.8 million to drive forward the creation of the blue belt across the overseas territories, and £5.2 million to marine projects in the two most recent rounds of the Darwin Initiative and Darwin Plus grant schemes, which help to protect coral reefs and increase coastal communities’ resilience to climate change. However, as I said earlier, there is more we can do, which is why the UK Government are committed to the UK agreement on protecting more parts of the world’s oceans.

The risk of global CO2 emissions is a greater threat. As hon. Members highlighted, there has unfortunately been a change in the output of China and India. To tackle that issue, we need to work together globally. We need to save ocean life and the very planet we all inhabit.

The oceans are key to generating oxygen and are directly responsible for every other breath we take. Climate change is having a direct impact through ocean acidification, which threatens the very basis of the marine foodweb itself. As has been pointed out, corals vital to biodiversity, fisheries and tourism are threatened by the twin threats of acidification of the seas and the continuing rise in water temperature. That is why this Saturday, in Bonn at COP23 on the United Nations framework convention on climate change, I signed the “Because the Ocean” declaration on behalf of the UK, which links us directly to the Paris agreement. In the UK, we brought scientists, Governments, their agencies and NGOs into the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, which has just published a study entitled “Marine Climate Change Impacts: 10 years’ experience of science to policy reporting”.

Earlier this year, we published a synopsis of our UK ocean acidification research programme. Based on current projections, cold water corals will be 20% to 30% weaker, causing reef disintegration and losing the rich biodiversity that they support. Such linkages have been further developed by the UK’s active engagement internationally on ocean monitoring and observing.

We have world-class marine science in the UK at several universities and research facilities, including Government bodies such as the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. We intend to work internationally to address the challenging scientific questions that remain, and we will continue to invest.

I was delighted that the National Oceanography Centre has just been awarded £19 million from the industrial strategy challenge fund, which will help it to develop autonomous underwater vehicles with sensors measuring nutrients and seawater carbonate chemistry, again extending our knowledge in that area.

I am sure the House recognises the amount of work that my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) has done through his all-party group. He wanted me to mention combined sewer overflows, which prevent sewage from backing up into homes and businesses. I assure him that we are working with South West Water and local councils in Cornwall to help to prevent discharges from combined sewers at times of heavy rainfall by reducing the amount of water entering the sewerage system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) referred to the issues affecting Burnham-on-Sea. I am happy to talk to him further about that matter to see what we can do to work with local farmers to reduce the amount of run-off. He is right to point out that there are many readily available alternatives to plastics, including cotton buds and a deposit-return scheme. The hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) talked about reducing the number of straws in circulation. I agree—straws suck. We need to work together wherever we can.

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) asked a series of questions. The Government of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands produced a 2012 plan for a marine protected area, which is working. They are undertaking their first review of it. Working with the Satellite Applications Catapult and OceanMind, we are using technology to ensure that monitoring and enforcement are more effective than ever before, but I am aware of the wider calls for that.

On the Antarctic, the Government are absolutely committed to working with other nations. In 2009, the UK proposed the South Orkneys marine protected area, and it was accepted. Last year, the Ross sea MPA was finally created—it is about the size of the UK and France put together. We continue to support further MPA proposals. On the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, I am aware of the draft resolution, and we are actively engaged on that matter.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury was right to highlight the blue belt, which we want to continue to make effective. I will raise his concern about pulse fishing with the Minister with responsibility for fisheries.

I hope I have addressed the issues that have been raised. I assure the hon. Members for Falkirk and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) that we will continue to work with the Scottish Government, but they will take their own action to tackle the issues that have been raised.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does listen to experts. That is what he did when he listened to the Expert Committee on Pesticides and voted for further restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, which I am sure have been welcomed across the House. The 25-year environment plan is still being formed, but as I pointed out, the UK marine strategy, which has been widely welcomed, is already in place. The principles to which the hon. Member for Halifax referred are very important. They were originally set out in the Rio declaration, and we will continue to put them into effect in our environmental legislation.

I hope I have been able to address most of the other points that were raised. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was right to talk about recycling. I encourage Kirklees Council to get its recycling rate up from 28.5%. I know he will lead by example.

I commend hon. Members’ concern for the marine environment. It seems that we are all avid watchers of “Blue Planet II”. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are not complacent about this issue, which is why we are taking a proactive leadership role. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to demonstrate to the House exactly what leadership actions we have taken.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 26th October 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard

I very much agree with my hon. Friend and I know that many Scottish Conservative MPs have worked closely with Scottish industry on the issue. The fishing industry is very important in Scotland. Roughly half of the industry is located there, and sectors such as the pelagic sector, which targets mackerel, the largest fish species that we target in this country, are of incredible economic importance. I reassure my hon. Friend that I regularly meet fishing industry leaders in Scotland to discuss their concerns.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Oct 2017, 10:04 a.m.

May I take this opportunity to send our sincere condolences to the family of the crew member of the fishing vessel Solstice who sadly died at sea since the last DEFRA questions?

While the Brexit negotiations on the common fisheries policy continue, the fishing Minister will appreciate that the safety of our fishermen and women must be paramount. The Solstice is the third fishing vessel to sink involving the loss of life in the last two years where there has been a delay in launching lifeboats. With that in mind, will the Minister reassure the fishing industry that he is working with his colleagues in the Department for Transport to secure a full investigation into the Solstice, in order to rebuild confidence in the fishing community that the coastguard is able to respond quickly and effectively to incidents at sea?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard

I join the hon. Lady in offering sincere condolences to the family of the crew member who sadly lost his life with the loss of the Solstice in the west country. She will be aware that this issue is covered by the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, but I have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with my colleague the shipping Minister, and I know that the marine accident investigation unit will carry out an investigation in the normal way. In addition, and to respond to the points the hon. Lady has raised, he has asked the marine accident investigation unit to consider whether we have adequately learned the lessons from previous accidents—which, as she said, have some similarities—and whether there are wider trends on which we ought to reflect and change policy.

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 20th July 2017

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove - Hansard
20 Jul 2017, 10:05 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It did not surprise me, though it may have surprised others, that we increased the representation of Scottish Conservatives in this House by 1,200% at the general election, not least in the north-east and Ochil and South Perthshire, where farmers are suffering as a result of the maladministration of the Scottish Government. Many of them are asking why the Scottish Government cannot learn from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs and, instead of prating on about independence and constitutional uncertainty, learn from their partners in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
20 Jul 2017, 10:06 a.m.

The Secretary of State talks a great deal about gaining control of our waters after Brexit, but, as usual with this Government, so much of the detail is sadly lacking. Since 2013, three British-based vessels of the Royal Navy fishery protection squadron have not been exclusively used for fisheries enforcement. The Government’s own figures show that the number of boats boarded by the fishery protection vessels has plummeted from 1,400 to just 278 over the past six years. Will the Minister explain what, “Take back control of our waters,” actually means and why fishing enforcement has dwindled so dramatically under this Government? Will he agree to conduct an urgent review to assist the level of fisheries enforcement required now and after Brexit?

George Eustice Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) - Hansard

I can tell the hon. Lady exactly what taking back control means. When we leave the EU we automatically, under international law, become an independent coastal state. That means that we will have responsibility for managing our exclusive economic zone, which is 200 nautical miles or the median line. We already enforce those waters. The hon. Lady raises concerns about the number of vessels, but most of the work these days is digital. We have a control room in Newcastle that monitors the movement of every single fishing vessel in the country.