Debates between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey

There have been 7 exchanges between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey

1 Wed 2nd May 2018 Reduction of Plastic Waste in the Marine Environment
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
7 interactions (2,820 words)
2 Thu 8th March 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
4 interactions (346 words)
3 Tue 6th March 2018 Water Supply Disruption
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (1,919 words)
4 Thu 22nd February 2018 Air Quality
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2 interactions (739 words)
5 Thu 25th January 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (197 words)
6 Thu 7th December 2017 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
3 interactions (218 words)
7 Tue 14th November 2017 Marine Environment
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2 interactions (3,761 words)

Reduction of Plastic Waste in the Marine Environment

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
Wednesday 2nd May 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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.

Break in Debate

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

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
Thursday 8th March 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
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.

Air Quality

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
Thursday 22nd February 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
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

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
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.

Marine Environment

Debate between Holly Lynch and Dr Thérèse Coffey
Tuesday 14th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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.